True stories from the workers who spend their days on the front lines of frustration.
by Beejoli Shah
Illustrations by Ana Popescu
You’ve been that customer. You’ve sat on hold, forced to listen to the same endless loop of elevator music, only to have your call routed to the wrong department after a 16-minute wait. It may not have been Althea in Fraud’s fault that Ramesh in Technical Support actually meant to send your call to Rita in Account Management, but damn.
The angry hardly ever see themselves as angry. We treat anger as a temporal emotion, a lapse in our rational judgement, a strange impulse that took us by surprise. “I don’t know what got into me,” we laugh.
But what happens if you work in a profession where absorbing and internalizing someone else’s anger is an occupational hazard? A bad interaction with a customer service employee may be nothing more to a customer than an angry note that’s forgotten seconds later — but is it nearly as transitory to be constantly on the receiving end of someone else’s primal frustration?
The following accounts show how anger’s ramifications lingered far longer than people realized at the time — a fact that’s particularly poignant when you realize that many people’s career success is predicated on not letting this sort of anger ruffle them.
As Roman philosopher Seneca wrote, wrath isn’t just a temporary state, but a disease. The way to get around it, then, is best summed up by his simple aphorism: “Quiet cures the beginning of disease.” Stoicism in the face of unbridled anger is the best way to blunt the rebuke, but can biting your tongue so often sting in a different way, no matter how much quiet you practice?
Meet the people whose jobs mean they bear the brunt of our frustrations and our furies.
Once I offered to take a menu from a gentleman who was about to be seated, since we had set up plenty of menus on the table for the party. He asked me what would happen if he took it anyways, and I told him he was more than welcome to do so. He threw the menu at my face. That wasn’t the first or last time someone threw something at me while hostessing.
I used to work at a restaurant with an outdoor bar and patio. People liked to sit outside for hours, which is why we didn’t have wait times for the patio. I’d offer to seat people inside, explaining to them that the best I could do was give them a pager if they still wanted to sit outside, but after an hour or more of waiting, some would throw the pagers at me in frustration and walk out. I mean physically throw a heavy pager at my face.
For me, it isn’t just the anger to process — it’s my self-esteem. When people treat you poorly every day, it starts to affect you.
I’m not saying you can’t have what you want; I’m just saying you have to wait. And then they tell me that I’m bad, or I’m rude, or I’m mean. And that’s what chips away at me. I go home and carry that with me, especially when people are mean to me but perfectly nice to everyone else. It makes you think, “Really? You managed to be nice to everyone else in the building, but you’ll continue to tell me that I’m a bad person because I once asked you to wait for five minutes?”
29, San Diego
At my first job, angry and frustrated patients were pretty much part of my normal day. I’d be torn between patients calling left and right: One is vomiting, another is complaining of severe pain, and another has trouble breathing. I learned very quickly that people who feel like crap do not like to wait for help. Some days it seemed like I couldn’t do anything right. No matter how hard I worked, there were always patients who would chew me out. I cried a few times after work, not just because I was stressed out from the pressure, but because I felt underappreciated and useless.
I lost my cool with a patient once. She had accused me of not giving her pain medication, even though I was literally injecting her with it as we were talking. She started shouting at me, and refused to believe [I was using] the medication vial I had just shown her. She stormed into the bathroom and muttered “Chinese bitch” under her breath. I’m not Chinese. I was so pissed,I just walked out of the room.
Over time you learn that you can’t take everything personally, be it a frustrated patient or a cranky doctor snapping at you over the phone. If I let every negative encounter with someone ruin my day, I’d never make it through these 12-hour shifts. Wine and beer after a shift help too. A lot.
Last, I want to thank every backer, every family member, every friend, every friend of a friend, every online customer, every single person who shared their Anxy with us. We couldn’t exist without your love. It was absolutely a community effort. The awards and accolades are just a signifier of the impact we’ve created together. We see you and acknowledge your contribution to creating this legacy.
I couldn’t close without mentioning my partner, Jason, to whom I owe a great deal of gratitude for his patience, support, and understanding throughout this journey. He has witnessed every struggle, and held my hand through it all. He lent his talent generously, whether it was for the cover design of issue №1, the voiceovers in our videos, or the animation for our Kickstarters — you name it, he was there. Even in the darkest moments, he allowed me to find my own way, without demands. Love is healing, Jason, and you are a testament to that fact. ❤