The Boss you can Say “No” to

I have a problem with saying no, even when I should. This tendency used to serve me well. As a college swimmer, I rarely missed a day of practice. One cold January afternoon, I went to swim practice without eating because I didn’t have time. My coach nearly had to fish me out of the pool. I collapsed on a bench and he gave me a chocolate Chewy granola bar. After the requisite five minute break, I jumped back into the pool.

Despite my conviction that this was a good trait, I burned out and quit swimming in both high school and college. I did not want to keep repeating this pattern in my work.

At Pratt and Whitney, I barely brought my laptop home for the first few months. However, this job required travel, so I was bound to yes to months-long stints in other states. After I was sent to Tennessee for 4 months, I demanded a return to Connecticut. My managers actually obliged me and sent me home. I felt like I had lost four months of my life, but I was able to reclaim my boundaries.

I was not as successful at my next job, though I tried. My major battle was with answering emails. It was mandatory that my work email was accessible on my phone. In an effort to stay sane, I set my phone to manually update, so I wouldn’t see notifications about work emails unless I clicked on the icon. Once an evening, I would check it and respond to anything I thought was necessary. It seemed reasonable to me, until my lead engineer sat me down and calmly explained to me that I must answer the President’s emails, at any time of day, within an hour. Saying no was not an option if I wanted to keep my job.

Eventually, I said no emphatically and moved to another job. At the new job, I ran into the same issue. My boss told me that I could work flexible hours. I would come in at 6:30am and leave around 3:00pm to avoid the hellish traffic between West Seattle and Redmond. Then that was deemed unacceptable because every else worked more than 8 hours. Silly me, wanting to work 40 hours a week…? My little “nos” did not work here either, so eventually the big “no” came out and I quit.

It seemed like every time I constructed a reasonable boundary, the company that I worked for tried to demolish it.

So I looked for a job where I could set my own boundaries and found Uber. I was excited by the total freedom in my schedule. I could work the exact hours that I felt like working, no more, no less. With this level of freedom, I thought it would be easy to say “no.”

But it was still hard at first.

For the first week, I never declined a fare. I knew from looking at my ratings that declining a fare was bad, so I tried to never do it. My finger popped the screen and I jumped from one rider to another until my bladder was about to explode. Then I discovered that it was acceptable to just go offline (no ratings impact), so I did that.

It was still hard to say no.

Uber sends out messages when you try to go offline in an effort to make you feel guilty or inspire you. My least favorite is “You more money last week at this time than this week. Make $17.64 to catch up!” But I had committed to saying no, so I hit “go offline” anyway.

For days, I waited for the hammer to fall. What would happen if I didn’t do what Uber wanted to me to do? After about a week of going offline when I wanted to, I finally realized that there was little consequence to say no. I lost out on a few dollars, I suppose. But I wanted my freedom more.

On Friday night before Halloween, I got a text message from Uber about the high demand, asking me to go out and drive. I just laughed. I told my boyfriend that I would not be setting down my wine and stopping our movie to go drive around in the dark.

Finally, I have a boss that takes no for an answer.

My first day as an Uber Driver

What am I doing?

It’s a good question. I’m making time to write and explore opportunities. I’m choosing a job where I can decide how much I work – and the hours are directly proportional to how much money I make. I’m committing to writing my novel and memoir pieces. I’m not going to stop writing because I’m unable to pay rent and have to get a full-time engineering job.

So I’m driving with Uber.

To be honest, my first day as an Uber driver started poorly. I live in West Seattle and it’s not exactly a hotbed of Uber users. I’m pretty sure that I could have sat in my driveway all day and gotten maybe one fare. So I set off toward the airport. I figured that maybe some businessmen staying in airport hotels may need a ride downtown. The Uber app remained silent. I tapped it a couple of times to make sure it worked. There was no way I could know. I didn’t know what getting a fare looking like.

Then I noticed Queen Anne erupt into red hexagons (on the Uber app). I had heard rumors of this phenomenon. It was called a surge and it meant that Queen Anne was so busy that fare prices had increased. I was 45 minutes in and had no  fares to show for it, so I headed north. Of course, I got stuck on 99 north. I sat motionless on the viaduct as the hexagons faded to orange and then eventually disappeared. But I kept my course toward Queen Anne.

Then it happened. The app made a popping sound and a round timer started spinning. I tapped it frantically. “Sending” popped up. I had my first fare.

She was hard to find. I pulled into a gas station and called her to let her know where I was. My heart was pounding. It was too early to have messed up! She appeared. My hands were shaking with excitement. Hopefully, I thought, she wouldn’t know this was my first fare! I rushed her downtown as quickly as I could. She was running late for work. I had survived my first fare – hurrah! Maybe this would work after all. I stuck to my new plan. Once again I turned toward Queen Anne.

Pop, pop, pop.

This was how the rest of my “online” day went. It was incredible. I would drop someone off and start heading toward a neighborhood (usually Queen Anne or Capitol Hill). Then 45 seconds later, I’d have a new fare! I tapped all of them with excitement. This was working! I appreciate the smoothness and ease of the app. I could drive constantly, almost always heading to or from a fare. I’m pretty sure that I did a specific loop in Capital Hill at least three times, picking up people and dropping them off at different points along the way.

There were some hiccups. I suppose you could call it bad luck or lack of consideration. I accepted a fare on Mercer Island. My rider needed to go about 5 blocks. I spent about 15 minutes commuting to and from Mercer Island for a very short ride. There is no way that the fare was cost effective for me – either in gas or time. But it was okay. My rider made me feel like I was doing a public service instead of driving people around for money.  I was not deterred. I kept excitedly tapping any fare that popped on my phone.

The best part of the day was knowing that I could go offline whenever I pleased. When I felt like I needed a break, all I had to do was slide a button on my phone. No one would berate me for leaving the office early or “not being a team player.” Life was pretty simple. I was either online or offline. It was my choice.

I took an enjoyable break in the middle of my driving. I had a pot of tea and wrote my entire memoir class assignment in one sitting. 1200 words in one hours. Not unimpressive. The idea that my time was limited – because I had to make some money today – drove me to write without hesitation.

In total, I made $48 today.

Since I love math, I decided that worked out to $16/hr (if you removed the 45 minutes that I wandered through Tukwila with no fares). That’s pretty cool. I’m happy because I worked the hours that I wanted to work. When I had to pee, I stopped and took a long break. When I was hungry, I went home for lunch. When I wanted to write, I stopped and I wrote for an hour. This is the flexibility that I have always craved.

Uber money might not be as much as  I am used to, but I love the freedom.