Wednesday, November 18, 2009

What's In A Name?

Many years ago when DH and I were in the early stage of our relationship before we were married, we wandered through a posh bookstore in Palo Alto. It had a second floor, jazz music playing, and the cool, hip kind of people with dreadlocks and hemp chokers embellished with small shells.

We browsed through the store, pointing out things we found interesting, curious if our interests would match up.

We came across a display in the middle of the store, piled high with books on numerous subjects. DH picked up a book on the meaning of names and decided to look mine up. I don't remember all of the meanings ascribed to my name. The usual is "harvester". However, this description's most prominent meaning was "competent".

DH thought this was hilarious. I was "competent", scare quotes inferred from his laughter.

I was happy with that description. In fact, I thought it was downright praise-worthy. I'd much rather be competent than incompetent.

I realized that we had a different sense of what it meant to be competent. DH saw it as a term for someone who just squeaks by; not exceptional, not special, and possessing the bare minimum of abilities required for a task. I saw it as a mark of solid dependability. A competent person is self-reliant, possessing everything needed for the job, knowledgeable about what they're doing, and trustworthy.

As I've continued to deal with my father's house and estate, I'm always surprised at how many incompetent people I come across. From accountants and lawyers, to plumbers and contractors, the lack of professionalism has been astounding. At almost every turn I have had to correct, and straighten out people who have been in business in their respective careers for years. It's quite astonishing to me that many of them have succeeded.

A few examples:

Two out of three plumbers who were supposed to give me estimates on some work to be done never followed through. One actually came by, looked at what I need don and said he would call me with the numbers. I never heard from him again. The other plumber was supposed to come by one day and never showed up or called me back. I eventually hired someone else, and as that plumber was finishing the job, the other, absent plumber showed up....2 days after he was supposed to, without calling.

The amazing part was that I needed quite a bit of work done, so not following through cost the other plumbers at least $1,000.

I set an appointment with an accountant, two weeks in advance. I showed up to his office, and he wasn't there. His secretary apologized and said her boss was picking up bagels and coffee for the meeting. A half an hour later, he's still not there and hasn't called to say whether he was coming, or to apologize for being late. As I left, I told the secretary that I would have preferred an on-time accountant more than a bagel and coffee. What made it even worse was that I had noticed his price schedule at the office....he charged $275 for an hour's worth of work.

I had to hound my lawyer to file paperwork that needed to be filed by a certain date. I signed the papers I needed to and sent them immediately after receiving them. Almost three weeks later I get an e-mail asking me when I'm going to send those papers because the filing date has passed. After putting my exploding head back together, I send an e-mail explicitly stating that "I am not pleased" and pointing out that the head lawyer had already e-mailed me two weeks before that he was handling it.....and now they claim they don't even have the paperwork I sent.

Then, there's the insurance agent who sent me a bill for an extra $220 for a policy that was paid in full and expired 2 months ago, because the insurance company, three months after the policy was paid for, wanted to increase the coverage. So...I was supposed to pay for a coverage period which had already elapsed and which had been paid for at the rate that the insurance company provided. I quickly explained that I didn't think changing a contract for services after the terms were already agreed upon, and in force, could in any way be legal, and that I would rather throw the $220 in the toilet, because I would be getting the same value for that money anyway. The insurance agent said she understood and that she would handle it with the insurance company.

I could recount at least four more examples, some that are even more glaring, but I will spare you.

Competency is a precious thing.

Perhaps because we are so interested in being "exceptional" we fail to see that competency is the mark of a true professional. It's not exciting or sexy to be "competent"......but it's the competent people of the world that hold things together and get things done.

May my tombstone read "At least she was competent".


DH said...

Your namesake has proved to be very accurate over the years. I am very grateful that God blessed me with such a strong, reliable, and dare I say competent spouse. :o)

Assistant Village Idiot said...

A department head once asked me my opinion of a person from another agency who was applying for a job at our facility. "She's an adult," I said meaningfully. She got the job and has worked out well.