About a couple of months ago I submitted an application for a job doing fund-raising via the phone. This not only surprised me, but surprised some of my close friends and family too. I don’t know how many of you know me well enough to know I hate telephones, but I do.
It wasn’t always like that. When I was growing up, telephones were something I adored. I loved receiving calls, and especially those from overseas. You cannot imagine the excitement that I felt when receiving one from overseas. I would be jumping all over the place, shouting (if the call was for my mom), “Mom! Mom! Call! It’s from overseas! Quick! Quick! Mom! Call! Overseas!!”
Of course, there was the odd call or two there were more sinister in nature. Back in those days, my maid (or if you like, my domestic helper), would receive calls from what we in the family would call “weird men”. But even these were full of excitement and mystery, and the drama that often unfolded after such a call was legendary.
My love for phones only ever really died down since taking up a job eight years ago at the Hewlett Packard Customer Service Centre (which was essentially a call centre). It was then that every single call that I took was due to someone having a problem with a product that I represented.
Being young (I was only 16 at that time), and without much knowledge in the products these people were calling regarding, all I could do was to take down messages, and tell them that someone with the required expertise would phone them back soon. And as some of you may know, “soon” is a very rubbery concept, and the call centre staff stretched it any opportunity they got.
Some people who called in the morning would call back in the evening explaining (to put it nicely) to me that they had to take a day off from work to get the call in, and that it’d have been fantastic if someone had call them during the last eight hours that they’d be spending by the phone (mobile phones were not as ubiquitous then as they are now).
Needless to say, my integrity was questioned repeatedly (“didn’t you say they’d call soon?”), so much so that I, myself, questioned it occasionally (“how can I do this job lying to them; lying to myself?”)
Besides this call centre job, there was another notable factor leading to my disillusionment with phones: a girl.
This girl was one of my best friends during that time; I was chasing another girl at that time, and she just so happened to be from the same school. Getting close to her was at first an indirect means to an end, but after a while, she became a good friend, and I enjoyed most of my time with her.
But then she started ringing me up. At first, I immensely enjoyed her calls. I had, before this, hardly received any calls, and if I had, they were hardly ever for chat, and it was never from a girl. So this was novel; and exciting.
But then these calls started increasing in frequency and duration, and quite drastically too. She started calling what I think was every night, and these calls would last anywhere from an hour, to a whopping six! It was after that marathon call from her that I swore off telephones for the rest of my life.
I suppose I must admit that after that call I started ignoring her a little bit. Soon, the phone calls stopped, and I realised how much I missed not having to talk on the phone.
The years following that incident, the text-message and e-mail were my favourite communication tools, and even calls to my mobile (one would suppose, the most direct route to a person) often go unanswered (almost never on purpose, but that I think my subconscious mind automatically tunes it out).
And so the surprise when I took up this job as part of the fund-raising telephone campaign crew.
I suppose one of the main reasons why I took it up was actually because of my aversion toward it. I’ve been a long believer of doing things you don’t like — simply because you don’t like them — when there’s a choice between doing it or not, and if the doing of that thing is not intrinsically negative (i.e. it don’t hurt nobody).
In this way, I theorise, if and when you do have to do something, and you don’t have a choice whether or not you get to do it, at least you’d be prepared.
I’ve always felt that conversation was something I’ve always been weak at. I’ve written before how I despise small-talk, and I’ve just elaborated on the disdain I feel for the telephone — this job by most accounts, did not fit in with me. But I understand the importance of carrying out conversation; the importance of appearing excited, enthusiastic, and happy when you’re not; the importance of communication via multiple mediums.
So far, I’ve been rejected on the phone possibly a hundred times. And yet I’ve managed to talk to several wonderful people, including one who seemed more in need of the funds I was raising than in her ability to give; for her, I didn’t even bother asking for a donation after my first ask (and I wouldn’t have even asked but it was a formality I was obliged to carry out); but that’s okay.
Everyone who is able and willing to give should give; everyone else, well, so long as they’re able, it’s my job to make them willing!
Who knows, but this skill might come in very handy one day. My sensitivity to rejection has been reduced ten-fold now, and the phone has become yet just another medium of communication. This job has given me more than just a pay; and that’s why I hope you, too, can go out and eat your frog. Do what you think you would never do, if it’d give you value in some way in the long run, and maybe you will be, like me, much better off for it.