ONE SUPER LIFE
"All actual life is
encounter." -Martin Buber
Boxes littering a bare parquet
floor. Packing material everywhere. Empty boxes in the hallway outside the
apartment door. Not fully moved in yet, only the second day of living in
A neighbor down the hall knocks on
Trying to decide whether or not I
should confront this person now or would a better time present itself, I
hesitate for just a moment.
In a nanosecond I decide I would
deal with it now rather than later. I go to the door. Impatient New Yorker
that she is, she's already walking back down the hall toward her
She turns around. "Is somebody
moving boxes in?" She says, with a straight face. Well, duh!
"Yes WE'RE moving in right now." I
say, not quite believing, or even comprehending, what I"m hearing.
"No, down the hall, there's dirt
all over the floor," She says, pointing toward her apartment door.
"Somebody should clean it."
"You must not lose faith in
humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty,
the ocean does not become dirty." -Mahatma Gandhi
I look down that way and see no
dirt. I have no way of knowing whether this is for real or if it is just a
passive-aggressive attempt to complain without really complaining about MY
noise and dirt and temporarily stacked boxes. I reply that I'll get it
taken care of, and she turns to walk away. The conversation is unfinished,
I sense. It's now or never.
"It's not appropriate for you to
knock on my door with such a request - not now, not ever." I say, trying
to walk that fine line between sounding at once quite definitive, yet be
as charitable as possible. As though this is the final word on the
subject. Sometimes ya gotta take charge and just let people know where
you stand, I'm thinking.
"Well, I just..."
"No. Please don't knock on my door
just because I'm the super," I reiterate, trying to smile at the same time
to make what I'm saying somehow more palatable, less threatening, yet keep
it real and meaningful.
"Indecision is like a
stepchild: if he does not wash his hands, he is called dirty, if he
does, he is wasting water." -African Proverb
I'm trying to remember that "it's
not what you say - it's how you say it," as the old saw goes. Not certain
how I'm coming across, I keep going. "That's what the front desk is there
for. They're open twenty four hours a day. Please, feel free to do so."
At this point I can't stop. I'm on
a roll. "It's not ever going to be OK for you to knock on my door to get
something done, and I don't expect that it'll ever happen again, except
possibly in an emergency. Thank you."
Did I step over that invisible
line of good taste, of what's best, or even of what's right? Could be, but
I'd like to think not. And I'll be the first to say that this direct,
upfront approach won't be for everybody. Each individual must find his or
her own way and tiptoe through the landminey rockfields that can be
There will always be people who
jump at the chance to take advantage of your position, or of their
proximity to you. Because you're the new resident manager and you're just
moving in, does that mean they can take you for a chump? I certainly hope
In the past I would have
brushed the whole incident off and not reacted at all, except to reply
that the request would be taken care of. But I think more and more that
this attitude is wrong, especially for so many hard-shell New Yorkers. If
you give an inch, you'll find yourself spread 'way too thin over a hundred
miles later. Down the road you will be reaping what you sow in
frustration, burnout and more frustration. And did I mention the sense of
frustration you will have?
"An ounce of
prevention is worth a pound of cure."
-Henry de Bracton
I've taken to telling my staff in
detail, on starting a new job, what are appropriate reasons to call me
during my off-hours, and what's inappropriate. If you don't detail it to
them, invariably there is one or more chuckle heads who will call you at
3AM to "advise you" of this or that, none of which is an emergency, and
none of which you need to know before you come on duty next day.
Any job will provide lots of
burnout opportunity for anyone. In the job of residential superintendent
or resident manager, because you live where you work sometimes it's hard
to mentally remove oneself from work when one is so close physically. For
this and many other reasons the job is even more of a burnout waiting to
happen than most jobs. If you don't feel in control of your life and your
job, you probably aren't, and if you don't put up some walls of
protection, some way to shut it all out at some point in your day (or
night), turn it all off and truly relax, you can watch yourself slowly
being eaten alive by the monster.
"It is difficult to get a man
to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding
it." -Sinclair Lewis
Don't let it. Take control of your
staff AND your residents as much as you can (and without making an
obnoxious jerk out of yourself, of course). It's your life - and your
sanity - at stake.
Let them all know what is
required, what is expected, and what your tolerances for stupidity are,
your threshold for ignorance, and don't allow them to walk all over you.
"Any change, even a change for
the better, is always accompanied by drawbacks and discomforts." -
Slowly I'm learning to know when
to say when. If you DON'T know (and there's nothing wrong with that, only
if you don't attempt to find out), work at figuring it out. Talk to
someone you trust. A friend in the same line of work or another close
confidant, your significant other; SOMEONE. Take time to learn where you
must draw that invisible line. Decide what you can tolerate for your own
sanity, and where lies the milepost beyond which you will not allow
yourself to be pulled. Try out your new policy. If it works, keep it. If
it doesn't work, try something new.
Little is written in stone here.
Let's not be afraid to tweak or totally overhaul your new policy if the
need arises. But do make a decision and try something. Doing nothing
decisive is an invitation to burnout all by itself, because if you don't
live by your own rules, you'll live by someone else's - by default. You
will be trampled over. It doesn't feel good. Believe me, I know from
"If you know the enemy and
know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you
know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also
suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself you will
succumb in every battle." -Sun-Tzu
It is your life, after all. Work
at understanding yourself and learn what your limitations are. Find out
what floats your boat and what gets your goat.
Learn when to say when.