“At a recent potluck dinner,” Gloria said,”my friend Brian brought a six-pack of his special cider. We had more beverages than we needed. At the end of the evening, Brian went into the refrigerator and grabbed his untouched cider. He took it home.
“Our hostess, Nancy, was furious. She wrote Brian a strong email, claiming he had insulted her.”
My sympathies are with Brian. To me, a potluck means you bring a contribution to the party, not a gift for the hostess. And I avoid those events whenever possible.
So…what’s the relevance for careers?
Every time I changed jobs, even in the same career field, even in universities with similar structures, I bumped up against new cultures.
What do you ask the admin staff to do? Where do you get coffee (and when)? And if you miss a meeting or turn down a lunch offer, are you branding yourself as a maverick?
Inevitably I made mistakes. And I watched other newcomers do the same.
The reasons were innocent. If you’ve asked a staff assistant to make copies or calls for the last 5 years, you’ll automatically do the same at your new job. You probably won’t even stop to wonder, “Should I do this?” unless you’ve been made aware that customs might vary in that particular area.
But old-timers (who can’t imagine any other way either) tend to assume the worst. When I became an old-timer (or at least a medium-timer), colleagues would ask rhetorically, “Who does he think he is?”
The correct answer is, “He thinks he’s new, confused and lost.” Or, “He doesn’t think anything. It never crossed his mind to do anything different.”
I suspect Brian’s friends always take home the leftovers — their own and maybe everyone else’s. It never crossed his mind to leave his costly cider in someone else’s refrigerator.
That’s my own favorite part of a potluck. The folks who know how to cook never want leftovers. More for me.