I didn't smoke until my first promotion at work. I was a call center agent in 2001 and back then, I only did five things during my breaks:
1. Eat - there were no rules against eating in one's work station. It was ok and I loved it. Some filthy inconsiderate people just ruined this piece of heaven for people like me. People left leftover food on their desks, spilled food and drinks on their keyboards, etc. So that ended pretty bad. Hate you slobs. Forever.
2. Work - while eating or not eating, I'd check pending cases, emails and online resources on how to be great at my job.
3. Having fun with my big ass set of crayons and coloring books (not the grown up ones, I'm referring to hardcore coloring books from the kids' section of National Book Store)
5. Sending love notes and emails to the boyfriend (now the hubby)
Then I got promoted to the SME (Subject Matter Expert) role. This job had one major responsibility - walk the floor to help out agents and take escalated calls. Briefly explained - international callers have a very different customer service orientation from the typical Filipino. If they don't get what they want, they will push and scream and ask for a supervisor to push some more. That's where the SMEs are needed.
It was 2002 and call center management principles and frameworks are at their infancy stages in the Philippines. There was no trunkline to line supervisors. Like I said, we were walking the floor. This also means that while I'm quietly taking my breaks on my station, agents will still approach me to ask questions or escalate calls. Saying no was very difficult and heartbreaking because ---
1. I had my own share of SMEs-from-hell experiences. This dark kind of employees acted like God's gift to humankind and made agents feel sorry for having to ask for help. When I applied for the post, my vision was to change this perception. I wanted to serve and protect. Haha!
2. I still had dreams of moving up the ladder. I wanted to build the best reputation in town. There were nasty rumors about SMEs avoiding tasks. I did not want any tinge of this bad rep on me. And when you're on your desk, on your break, it was just so difficult to explain that you are on break.
3. I did not have the heart to say no to people who were on the verge of tears (actually some were already all cried out by the time they got to me and some waited behind me until I finished my 15-minute break!). Being an agent with a screaming customer on the other line is not easy.
Eventually, I just decided to leave my desk during breaks. But where do I go? I don't like being in the pantry. So I decided to go outdoors, at the ground floor, where the cool smoking people had all the peace, quiet and fun that I could never have in the agony bay. I got curious one time and puffed a few. And the rest is history.
It has been 13 years since the first puff. And it is getting more and more difficult to break the bad habits. I have had several promotions after the first but the routines stayed with me all these years. I start my days and nights at work with happy sticks and coffee. I took my breaks with these addictive companions. They were with me during the darkest and happiest hours of my young adult/adult years.
I blame no one for the addiction. I still believe that every act is a matter of choice. There is no such thing as being pushed to do something against your will. But it is also true that certain environments and motivations are catalysts for building good and bad habits. I just need to find the perfect and real blend of "that" which will make me good. And the will to put 13 years of hazy zen behind.