Should We Stop Using Exclamation Points at Work?

Dot your i’s and…cross out your exclamation points?

After clicking “send,” I reviewed my email one more time, line by line. One exclamation point…two… three? I cringed and exited out of the message before I could catch another. As I drafted the email, the exclamation points seemed necessary; without them, my sentences fell flat. I wanted to sound enthusiastic. Friendly, with a can-do attitude! But now, my words screamed with a spastic eagerness that embarrassed me.

I noted this tendency of mine to one of my mentors, who responded, “No more.” She promptly sent me a link to an article titled, “Why Men Don’t Use Exclamation Points (and Women Do).”

“Periods are the resting bitch face of punctuation,” the piece opens. The author, James S. Fell, continues, “No one gives a shit if a man is blunt and uses a simple period to end a sentence. But a woman must use exclamation points to express enthusiasm lest she be thought a bitch and get talked to by a supervisor about her ‘tone.’”

Upon reading this, I understood that my proclivity for exclamation points may stem from sexist double standards. Women are conditioned to appear friendly—we’re supposed to smile at strangers while prancing down the streets in a sun dress!—and that pressure filters into every character we type into a work email. However, even with that in mind, I wasn’t fully convinced that I needed to get rid of them.

Thus began my article hopping—from the Huffington Post to Business Insider—to see what other folks were saying about this. Some writers scold women (specifically) for their peppy punctuation, claiming that it undermines the authority of their voice. Satirists suggest that exclamation points have become necessary for basic politeness – a cultural shift that several critics lament. Others declare that “exclamation points are feminist as f**k.” Angelina Chapin asserts:

“Friendly emails are a sign of progress, not weakness, in our working lives. The many women who already use exclamation marks in business emails know you can both act like a feeling human on Gmail and have professional success.”

So, where do I stand in the midst of this debate?

I like to make other people feel valued and secure when they come in contact with me. That’s who I am. I should not have to intimidate others in order to gain their respect, nor should I have to mimic “traditionally masculine” language to establish my authority. However, I don’t have to overload my emails with exclamation points to show my compassion or agreeability, either. Words have power on their own, without the aid of a “!”

In the end, it’s all about moderation and context. While I sprinkle texts to my friends with festive punctuation like it’s parmesan cheese, I try to be especially mindful of my language in work correspondences. There’s a sweet spot in the middle that I’m working towards—a style and voice of leadership that is uniquely mine.

Here’s What I’ve Learned About #Adulting (So Far)

After a month of floundering in the LinkedIn vortex, slaving over cover letters, and waiting for answers, I landed my first post-grad, real-world job as a copywriter for an online medical superstore.

Ah yes, to all of the skeptics out there who questioned my employability as an English major: I did it. 

Before I received this offer, I thought that I was “behind.” But as I walked into the office building’s gold-plated elevator on my first day, I realized how quickly it all happened. Childhood. Adolescence. College. My parents were right: life really does flash by. There’s no need to rush through it.

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From the kitchen at work. I’m happy to say that there are TWO coffee machines.
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On my second day at work, I went to a staff barbeque, at which the Vice President of the company made us burgers and hot dogs. I’m so pleased to say that the company I work for has a friendly, positive culture.

I’d say that I’m still getting acquainted with post-grad adulthood. There’s some things that will never feel right, like waking up at 5:30 a.m. five days a week. And I’m still figuring out how to contribute to social conversations with co-workers that mostly revolve around children. (Their children. Because they have children and spouses, being the procreating grown-ass adults that they are.) Admittedly, the eight-hour days that I spend in my cubicle writing product descriptions for scrub sets (allegedly, “fashionable and functional” must-haves) are not as romantic, adventurous, and creative as I’d like them to be.

However, there’s another #adulting concept that I’m beginning to recognize:

I am in the driver’s seat.

One, literally, because I’m driving [a car] now, a terrifying but liberating experience in itself. But also figuratively. It’s up to me where I take my life next–and it’s also up to me how I approach the situation that I am currently in.

Recently, I read #Girlboss by Sophia Amoruso, the founder of Nasty Gal and overall badass. Here’s a little quote that particularly resonated with me:

“Anything you do can be creative.” – Sophia Amoruso

Sure, writing ad copy and product descriptions are not the same as writing a short story, but who said that these processes can’t be creative? As a copywriter, I generate the words that draw potential customers to a piece of merchandise or to a sale. I must spark their interest and connect with them–and that requires creativity. If I tell myself that my job is dry, it will be dry. On the other hand, if I decide to take it as a creative challenge, then that’s exactly what it will be.

Here’s another #adulting concept that I’ve embraced:

Achieving [personal, self-defined] success is a step-by-step process.

Dreams don’t come true overnight–not for most of us, at least. Sophia Amoruso’s $280+ million company, Nasty Gal, began as an eBay store. Perhaps this job is my eBay store: the embryo of my career, one that will develop and flourish. I’m laying down the foundation, cultivating a skill set (and savings!) that will allow me to bring my goals into fruition.

Lastly:

I should celebrate my successes. All of them.

Throughout the month that I applied for jobs after graduation, I floated around in a constant state of searching and waiting. I had just graduated from an esteemed university with Latin and departmental honors–but I diminished that significant achievement by focusing all of my attention on the fact that I did not have a job. And then I got a job. Instead of reveling in that triumph, I thought, where will I go from here? 

I’ve decided to give myself more credit. Before looking ahead–because looking ahead is still important–I will allow myself to bask in the present moment. I will pat myself on the back and say, look at what you’ve accomplished. You did that. As I said earlier: life really is flashing by. I don’t want to miss a second of it.

What Post-Grad Life is Actually Like

…when you are unemployed and not going to grad school in the fall.

Sure, graduating from college is exhilirating and surreal–a dream come true. And we departing seniors go to great lengths to show everyone how exciting it is…like paying people to photograph us frolicking around campus with our Class of 2016 sashes and bursting champagne bottles.

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PC: Terri Shih // Apologies to the shrub that I ripped these flowers from.

On the other hand,  graduating from college is also terrifying. Within a two-hour commencement ceremony, I went from being a driven UCLA student and Assistant Director at a wonderful writing program, to an unemployed adult. After all of the graduation festivities and moving back home, it all sunk in: now, I must completely reconfigure my identity, my lifestyle…my entire sense of self.

Surely, this is a great opportunity to reconnect with myself. I can finally pick up the violin again and whip out the Prismacolor pastels. I can drop by the Y.A. section of Barnes & Noble and reunite with some old friends. I also look forward to generating new goals and finally pursuing my passions in the “real world.”

But then there’s that Catch-22.

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Let me be 100% honest: the job search is absolutely soul-crushing.

Now is the time to get real-world experience, but everyone expects applicants to already have a whole lifetime of experience under their belts. We recent graduates have to be Olympian professionals before we even set foot off campus, fluent in every computer program and foreign language known to man. Nevermind if I have great social media chops by 1) being a millenial and 2) cultivating an online presence of my own–skills that I can develop to a higher level. In order to secure an entry-level social media management position, I should have already worked social media for a major brand for at least three years. Oh, and I essentially need to be a graphic designer, computer programmer, and videographer.

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Every time I see “preferred” and “a plus” // via monstermoviaitalia.com

I spend most of my post-grad days writing letters to faceless individuals, demanding that they see how qualified I am, how I deserve their time and consideration. It’s an exhausting, never-ending process of trying to prove my worth.

Yet, my determination to launch my career pushes me to persevere and apply, apply, apply.

Truth be told, I am still figuring out what this ultimate career goal is, exactly. Whenever people ask me what I want to do with my B.A. in English and Creative Writing…

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There are a lot of things that I want to do (i.e., social media management, writing/editing, arts administration, filmmaking). But I can’t seem to package all of those aspirations into one short, sweet, and specific answer. I wouldn’t call this indecision, but my struggle to articulate my professional goals with precision (“therapist,” “doctor,” “lawyer,” “accountant”) makes it even more difficult to convince skeptics of the Humanities that I can transform my English degree into a fantastic career.

Throughout all of this, I must remind myself to not compare myself to others. Whenever I see a peer of mine post an update on LinkedIn or Facebook about landing their dream job or internship at Google, Adobe, or Disney, I need to take a step back and tell myself: everyone moves at their own pace. Everyone has a unique path. Everything will fall into place. 

I must deliver the same pep talk while watching my friends go off to prestigious graduate programs. I remind myself, again and again, that I decided against pursuing that path right now for a reason. Though I long for the security of knowing what to expect next, where I will be and what I’ll be doing for the next few years, I did not want to jump right into another school before understanding who I am in the working world. Who am I, apart from being a student?

But this, I’ve found, is the most important thing to remember as I navigate post-grad life:

There is not one version of success.

Sure, working for a well-known company like Disney would be amazing. But so would working for a non-profit that supports the arts. Whether I go into copyediting, screenwriting, or administration–it is ultimately more important for me to be happy, to love what I do, than to impress people. Sometimes, I forget this. I will make it a goal to remember: I decide what my version of success is, and only I can bring it into fruition.

 

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