Sheer Determination

She describes herself as the "Dalai Lama of unemployment." That's because actress Claudia Shear labored in practically every profession--nude model, chef, whorehouse receptionist, legal proofreader, translator--before her acting career took off. She wrote a play, Blown Sideways Through Life, about--what else?--the 65 jobs she sampled before trading it all in for the performing arts; it's now out in paperback. We asked Shear to share her workplace insights.

Psychology Today: How much lying should you do to get a job?

CS: Well, I once said that I knew how to bartend--and not only had I never done it, I didn't even come from a family that drank. My first night, when a woman ordered a screwdriver, I said, "Now that's made with..." And she said, "Vodka and orange juice." I said, "Right. I knew that." And that's how I got by.

PT: Did this way of operating ever get you into real trouble?

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CS: How bad could it be? No one was going to hit me.

PT: So if you got caught in a lie, it just rolled off you? You'd just pack your things and go?

CS: I was much more accustomed to being fired than anybody was at firing me. They were more nervous than I was.

PT: Is that generally the case?

CS: Unless they're a 24-carat bastard. Few people are so callous that it's not uncomfortable for them to fire someone. Even the worst person I ever worked for--this alcoholic bully-thug manager who fired me over the phone on my birthday--even he was nervous.

Rejection hurts. So it's difficult to be fired. I think a bit of bravado can go a long way. Having a hysterical fit won't get you the job back, usually, so you might as well just go home and call your friends or see a movie or whatever you do to take care of yourself. And then you get out of dry dock and back into action.

PT: What makes a good boss?

CS: The best boss I had was a woman at a law firm. They say power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, but this woman had such respect for other people. She didn't have any ego, so you couldn't help but like her; you wanted to do things right because it was great to please her. I worked for her in every sense of the word.

I don't believe that everybody is just sort of miserable, like in Dostoyevsky's Notes from the Underground. If you give them an environment where they're glad to be, and you don't scream at them, you can really bring out the best in people.

PT: Is it better to work 9 to 5 or 5 to 9?

CS: Oh, I think that's a body dock thing. As far as I'm concerned, if God had meant us to get up at 4:30 in the morning, he wouldn't have created beds. He would have just propped us up in a doorway.

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