That Time I Urinated on Myself at an HR Conference

wc-265278_1280-1-1For years, I resisted getting a cell phone. Until peer pressure eventually caught up to me. So by the time nearly everyone else on the planet was sending emojis, GIFs, and dick pics on fancy devices, I finally got a flip phone.

People, we aren’t talking the ’90s here. Not even the early aughts.

I didn’t start T9ing on my iPhone 0.5 until some time after 2010. And for a while, that sufficed. I shuddered and shunned at the idea of owning a smartphone. I saw what having one did to my friends, how the growth of a third appendage that promised greater connection spurred persistent disconnection, how something that was supposed to be a tool ended up making you a tool. No thanks.

Besides, word on the streets of Newark was that the CEO of Prudential (my employer for a couple of years starting in 2014) used a flip phone. Maybe this was an urban legend, but I figured, hey, if such a device was good enough for John Strangfeld, then I was obviously on the path toward becoming chief executive of a Fortune 50 company.

In 2016, peer pressure caught up to me again. I got my first smartphone — the iPhone 5s, originally released in 2013. Baby steps, OK?

Flash-forward to today. I still have that same 5s. I am afflicted with a third appendage. I am connected but disconnected. I am the tool I feared and predicted I’d become.

This was really clear a few months ago when I attended DisruptHR Long Island. During a break between speakers, I went to the bathroom. Even though I needed only to urinate, I decided to sit in a stall to multitask by checking texts and emails.

Quick aside: I’m no amateur at this. I’m often on the toilet at home with my laptop, pretending to pay attention to my workplace’s daily morning meetings. “Sorry, peeps. I was on mute. Oh, and yeah, my camera is kind of glitchy right now.”

Back to DisruptHR: It wasn’t until I finished answering a couple of texts and deleting some CVS and Seamless crap that I realized a national tragedy had just happened: Having paid more attention to my phone than the direction of my urine stream, I ended up drenching parts of my jeans.

OMG, OMG, OMG! I thought. I have to walk out of this restroom and through the crowd sporting pee-soaked pants. Worse, I have to take the stage as a speaker in about 20 minutes — and you know that denim takes about 55 years to fully dry! Granted, my shirt was able to conceal some spots, but only some spots.

I rushed to my seat and texted my friend Mary Faulkner, who coincidentally organizes DisruptHR Denver. Something terrible happened, I told her. “I spilled a drink all over my jeans.”

“Just tell the crowd you peed on yourself,” she joked.

So I did. I also followed up by explaining that I was kidding. It was clearly just some spilled water. Clearly!

I nailed my presentation because, you know, I’m a professional (something that you might be doubting right now). Nonetheless, the moral here is probably evident. I let my addiction to technology take over. I couldn’t even allow a few moments to relieve myself because of my compulsion to what? I don’t know. Get a dopamine rush by clearing junk email and answering some dumb texts? (The irony that I messaged Mary about pee-gate almost immediately after pee-gate is not lost on me.)

Look, I recognize that technology isn’t the problem. The problem is me. It’s probably you, too. So let’s all do better in 2019. Let’s do our bathroom business without mixing in other business. Let’s not check our phones 8 billion times a day. This is one of my resolutions this year. Maybe it can be yours — if for no other reason than because pee pants are not a cute look for 2019. Urine is never in.

By the way, here’s my DisruptHR Long Island presentation, “Shut Up About Authenticity”:

This Is Gay

Scan 6-2-2Does this photo make me look gay? Do I make this photo look gay? And what’s with the hair? It looks very Presidential, only fuller, don’t you think?

This was me around the time I realized that I liked boys and the power of Sun-In and a hairdryer. I’ve been thinking about the person in this picture as I recently watched a TV show that you probably did not. ABC’s When We Rise condensed the sweeping arc of gay-rights over the past 50 years into a four-night, eight-hour miniseries. A big commitment, I know—and I don’t just mean from viewers. That a major TV network devoted a week of prime time to telling queer stories is a major sign of progress.

Yet this was no Roots. Ratings sucked, which some might say also signifies progress. Today, the notion that gay people are, you know, people isn’t as wackadoo as it used to be. And so a history lesson depicting the heartaches, struggles, and triumphs of the gay movement can’t capture attention the way that the heartaches, struggles, and triumphs of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills can these days.

Still, I liked the show. It spoke to me, maybe because I was born in 1976 and pushed open the closet door when I was 13. Not many middle-school boys back then openly proclaimed their love for Madonna or knew the entire “Vogue” routine. Even fewer kids supported those who did; gay-straight-student alliances were not yet a thing.

As I watched When We Rise, I obviously reflected on how today so many people take for granted the reality of being gay now vs then. In the early ’90s:

  • I remember being taken to a psychologist not to change my orientation but to confirm that I might be passing through a phase. (Confirmed! I’m still going through it!)
  • I remember stealing gay books from Waldenbooks because I was too scared to be seen buying them.
  • I remember being called a faggot one day in high school. I remember being called a faggot the next day, too. And many days after that.
  • I remember a guidance counselor who stood in the hallway like a deer in headlights after hearing such barbs hurled at me.
  • I remember a theater of moviegoers reacting in (likely feigned) disgust when two male dancers kissed in Madonna’s Truth or Dare. I also remember being one of them, pretending to be grossed out since I wasn’t fully out.
  • I remember wearing kooky clothes to school and feeling relieved that people were making fun of me for something other than being gay.
  • I remember wishing that I were fat, because I thought one F-word wasn’t as insulting as the other.
  • I remember another student coming out and admonishing me for being a disgrace to all gay people (it was either the bathrobe or phone cords I wore to school).
  • I remember a friend telling me to walk in front of her because she didn’t want to be seen with me. A friend.
  • I remember being fired from a summer job as a supermarket cashier seemingly for being gay, and letting them get away with it because I didn’t want to be that guy who played the minority card. (You can read about it here.)
  • I remember deciding to pursue a career in fashion design (my eventual college major), because gay people belong in the arts. I’m gay. I liked clothes. See the logic? A glamorous job in HR never occurred to me. To this day, I’m frustrated that I made a major life decision based on the wrong reasons, or the right reasons at the time, or without much reasoning to begin with.

I remember a lot more, and probably forgot even more. And though I enjoyed the TV show, it made me queasy to relive such memories. I bet the show unnerved lots of homosexuals. Homosexuals! To even hear that word used on TV was weird. Like I’ve always said: Never trust anyone who refers to gays as homosexuals.  Continue reading “This Is Gay”

I Am a Refugee

statue-of-liberty-1142486__340I came to America in 1979. That I am an immigrant is common knowledge among friends, acquaintances, and anyone who’s sat on my schmata-covered couch (it’s not plastic, OK?). But many people do not realize that I am also a refugee.

My family fled the Soviet Union about 37 years ago so that we could buy quality toilet paper at Walgreens. That, and something about an oppressive regime. I’m too young to remember growing up under authoritarianism (though I’m getting a bit of a real-life lesson now), but my mom tells me that life pretty much sucked.

I think nothing of my neighbor overhearing Britney Spears blaring from my apartment, but when my mom was young, her family used to listen to BBC Radio at home at barely audible levels. They did this in spite and because of the fear that neighbors might discover and report the illegal act, ensuring shipment to a camp (not the summer kind), or worse.

Like most Russians, my mom wasn’t allowed to say anything she wanted, live anywhere she wanted, or work anywhere she wanted. But hey, at least she could vote. The choice was always Candidate A or Not Candidate A. Not Candidate A consistently lost by a landslide.

There were also economic problems. You know, Jews. Many Russians understood the obvious: Money-hungry, cheap Jews were manipulating the ruble. Actually, you could trace pretty much everything wrong with the country back to the Jews. Forced to queue for toilet paper, bread, or whatever surprise staple awaited you (if there was a line, you got on it)? Blame a Jew. Lost a job? Blame a Jew. Stuck in traffic? Blame a Jew. Bad hair day? That’s on you, but take it out on Ilya Cohenbergman anyway because you know he’s doing something to ruin your life. Continue reading “I Am a Refugee”

I Got Laid Off

hand-65688_1280-2I really wish the title of this post ended after the first three words. Instead, I got screwed in a different way. Turns out that both types of experiences are pretty similar. They yield a weird mix of sadness and excitement, they involve a mess to clean up, and they leave you questioning life choices.

It went down like this: Two weeks ago my boss called me. “Would you mind coming up to our HR rep’s office?”

Of course I mind! Those words can only mean that I was being called into the principal’s office and about to get expelled. But then, I thought: Hmm…maybe they want to give me the raise and promotion I requested a week prior. (I cringed just typing that last sentence.)

So I stepped into the principal’s office and said, “OK guys, this is going to go one of two ways.”

My boss replied, “Well—”

“And there you have it,” I said.

And there I have it. But what do I have? I’m still not sure. It sucks getting laid off, and I’m sure you’re thinking, “Vadim, how can a company be so stupid to get rid of you. You’re so brilliant, intelligent, creative, funny, attractive. You have such a great fashion sense too!”

I know! I thought the same thing!

On the other hand, I feel enthusiastic and optimistic about my future, even if I still have no idea what I want to be when I grow up. Actually, it’s not that I have no idea—it’s that I have too many ideas. I just need to grow up.

That’s why I’m rebooting this blog. More than two years ago, I launched Ethical Escalator, a blog about ethics (you can still view its posts, dated before this one). But I got lazy. I’m also a great liar, so what do I know about ethics? Besides, I’d found a job in HR that I let take over my life, so I let the blog die.

Today, I’m breathing life back into it. A new title, a new focus, a new me! It’s a Weight Watchers commercial!

I’ll be writing about workplace issues. Because I know about workplace issues. Because I’d written about them for 14 years at a magazine where I was a senior editor (see how I snuck in a credential to give the illusion of authority). Because I recently worked at a Fortune 100 company (I did it again!) managing talent engagement and doing internal communications focusing on leadership, learning, development, performance management, and more. Because I care about creating better workplaces. Because I work.

We all work. We all have all sorts of feelings about our jobs, our managers, our companies, our careers, our lives. I want to share mine with you because…why the hell not? I love challenging the status quo and provoking thought. And this is a better outlet than Facebook, where no one cares what anyone says anyway.

I hope you’ll join me for this ride. I also hope you’ll comment publicly or send me your thoughts. I especially love when someone challenges my own thinking, so tell me when you think I’m right, but also tell me when you think I need a lobotomy. I love praise as much as hate mail. (Actually, I enjoy one of them more. Guess.)

In the meantime, below is the farewell letter I wrote to my work colleagues. It best explains how I feel and offers some thoughts on workplace culture.  Continue reading “I Got Laid Off”

So What If You Gave a BJ in College?

Joan AllenOver the past week, I‘ve been discovering that there are just as many dumb movies on Amazon Instant Video as on Netflix. I’m in the midst of a free 30-day trial membership with the former and almost every night, I look for a free good movie to watch for free, knowing that I won’t actually find one for free. (And by good, I mean something that measures up to my three favorite classics: Independence Day, Basic Instinct, and Madonna: Truth or Dare.) Basically, I’m Sisyphus—but hey, did I just mention my favorite four-letter F-word enough?

The other night, I slept-watched the 2000 political thriller snoozer The Contender, packed with enough famous miscast actors to guarantee that it would suck.

It didn’t suck. At least not completely. Without diving too deeply into the plot, after the country’s Vice President dies, Democratic President Jackson Evans (Jeff Bridges) chooses Laine Hanson (Joan Allen) to be the nation’s next Number 2. (Sorry, Hillary.) But some mean, nasty Republicans (what else would they be?) seek to derail Congressional confirmation by exposing Hanson’s torrid sexual past. Turns out, there’s alleged photographic evidence of Hanson reveling in a drunken orgy during a sorority initiation.

To be clear, I believe that to elevate someone who engaged in such debauchery to Vice President is an insult to the nation.

The woman deserves to be President!  Continue reading “So What If You Gave a BJ in College?”

My Nervous Breakdown

Man CryingI had a nervous breakdown earlier this year. Not the kind when your cable freezes just as The Price Is Right is about to reveal the winner of the “Showcase Showdown,” causing you to snap your head sideways and shriek to your pet cat, “Omigod, omigod, omigod, I’m gonna have a nervous breakdown!” I’m talking about the real thing, the kind that you can’t believe is real because it’s so real. The kind that sparks suicidal thoughts not because you actually want to or plan to end your life but because you realize that the life you had already ended and your new life feels like death as you fight to wrap your senses around a future devoid of sense because you can’t but can but can’t but can but can’t but can and finally do comprehend that things will never be the way they were. That kind of nervous breakdown.

I was a mess, sobbing, hyperventilating, pacing back and forth in my studio apartment for hours each day. I’d call friends for emotional support but could barely sputter through my tears. Is this really happening? It’s really happening. Totally surreal. I’d never felt worse.

I haven’t told many people about this because many people would not care, while others would fail at pretending to care. But I mention this here because a good number of confidants replied in ways that were well-meaning but lacked meaning. Continue reading “My Nervous Breakdown”