It’s rent day again, and my office is short-staffed. While this is a situation I’ve dealt with before, it never gets any easier. Rent day is when everyone’s rent is due. There are always too many residents, too many phone calls, too many questions. Even on a good rent day, when I have two leasing agents to handle the crowds and my personal attention is rarely required, I go home drained. Rent day is too much, too fast, and too loud.
To read that first paragraph you’d think I hate my job. I don’t. There are aspects of it–the paperwork, mostly–that I deeply enjoy. I love seeing the numbers come together when I make my annual budget. The minutiae of lease legalese fascinate me. Sometimes I even like to sit down and talk with my employees during slow times. But on rent day there are no slow times, and even if there were I’d be too busy trying to catch my breath to savor them.
All My Residents Come in at Once
Today is Friday, the worst kind of rent day. Most of my 200+ residents get paid on Friday, and they all seem to come in at once to settle their bill. The best rent days are the ones that fall mid-week. Then people tend to trickle in over the grace period we give them instead of all flooding in together. I still go home feeling drained on the good rent days, but at least I can usually manage to keep my customer service smile on until five.
That’s not likely to happen today. There are too many people for my sole leasing agent to handle alone, so I leave my back office again and again to lend her a hand. My introvert residents pass me handwritten lists of maintenance problems that they’ve been having for two or three weeks. I’m torn between understanding and annoyance. Of course they didn’t call in each time they found a non-emergency issue; I wouldn’t have wanted to, either. On the other hand, I now have a stack of new work orders to type. I watch helplessly as each successive request that comes across the counter whittles away a few more of the precious moments I might otherwise have had to recharge.
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My fellow introverts can be irksome on a bad rent day, but my extrovert residents are worse. They always want to chat as I process their payment. In calmer moments I remind myself that it’s just part of who they are. When they’re making small talk in bright, oblivious voices, though, it’s a struggle to keep my desperate pleas to myself. I ache for them to enter their PIN, take their receipt, and move along; there are three more people behind them, and I can’t fade into the background until they’re all taken care of.
And between the tasks piling up on my desk, the phone ringing off the hook, and the people who keep coming in the door, I need to fade. When a break finally–finally!–comes I slither away to my abandoned desk chair. I take a deep breath, then let it out. Some of my stress lifts as I survey the projects stacked before me. They aren’t nearly as draining as keeping that fake smile glued to my lips is. Now, I think, maybe I can settle down with one and find my center again. A little progress, a little quiet, and I’ll feel better.
But there’s no quiet, and therefore no progress. The incoming calls and bodies are manageable for one person now, but that doesn’t mean I get to ignore the front. She’s still rather new, my leasing agent, and while she’s catching on quickly she doesn’t know all the answers yet. She has questions, and I have to reply to them. And she can’t wait, either, because Mrs. So-and-so from unit 4015 is tapping her impossibly long fingernails on my counter and sending her infamous sneer at both of us.
I am needed, and it should feel good, but it’s the last thing I want just then.
My Smile Becomes Little More Than Bared Teeth
What I want is to be left the hell alone for an hour, or two, or twenty. Maybe after that I’ll be able–not ready, but able–to deal with more small talk and work requests. Being alone on rent day, though, is a trap. My leasing agent does eventually go to lunch, and her questions temporarily cease. But with her gone I’ve lost my first line of defense. Now every caller and walk-in is up to me, and me alone. The hour passes, and my smile becomes little more than bared teeth.
I watch the clock like an antsy schoolchild waiting for recess. In twenty minutes, fifteen, ten, it will be my turn to run away. But I don’t want to use my outside voice and swing from the monkey bars; I want to curl up with my book and my meal and pretend that everything else has blinked out of existence. I want sixty minutes in heaven.
After lunch it should be better. There’s usually a lull between two and four, even on the worst of rent days. The problem is that I’m so frazzled from the morning that an hour’s reprieve isn’t enough. When I come back to my desk there are fewer calls to distract me, but I’m so heightened in my awareness of annoyances that a dozen other things take their place. My leasing agent is typing away out front, trying to catch up on her work. She has no questions just now, but the sound of her keyboard reminds me that there’s someone else right there who could interrupt my train of thought at any time. Even the lawnmower making passes across the street disturbs me. Its steady hum would be soothing if it was mowing a Mobius strip. Instead the pauses that occur each time the mower is turned send jolts through my brain. And there is no relief I can take, no ear plugs I can put in or white noise I can drown the world out with, because I never know when I might be needed.
My focus and patience are shredded, but I have to keep acting like I’m happy to see the people striding cheerfully through the front door. I can’t take my emotional exhaustion out on them, not only because this is my job but because they’ve done nothing to deserve my ire. They don’t, for the most part at least, understand why I struggle every rent day. If they are one of the few who do understand, the odds are good that they don’t want to stand around talking about it. That’s okay, because I don’t really want to stand around talking about it with them, either. We would both rather be locked away in our respective versions of introvert paradise.
I Need a Whole Night to Recharge
Five o’clock comes, and I am free. I want to fly home, but I don’t have the energy. I trudge instead. When I make it to my couch I sink backwards, letting it take me deep into its comforting corduroy embrace. Peace. Safety. Relief. It’s as if I’m a phone that’s been plugged in just before the 1 percent reading on the battery bar flickers into nothingness. A calm, quiet night will have to pass before I’m fully charged and able to face the world again. But at least the worst is over for another month.
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