Helping You Help Yourself #4

feature image via shutterstock

If you are a person who needs to work at a computer for work or school, and you would rather be working in Gryffindor’s common room or inside a verdant forest creek, this ambient sound mixer is great news. Here’s another one if you’d prefer some different sounds. Way better than listening to the person next to you in the coffeeshop talk on the phone about their abscess.

Need to apply to a job soon or ever? Here’s tips and an example of a good cover letter, and here’s some comprehensive advice about interviews, both from a real-life manager. Here’s a guide about phone interviews specifically.

Next time you are in an airport/a stressful traveling situation, mount a campaign of being as nice to people as possible, especially employees. Thank everyone who does the tiniest thing, no matter how cranky you are. If you’re really not feeling it, try making a game to see how many times you can say “Thanks, I appreciate it.” Even if this does not actually result in any favors being done for you, I firmly believe that it will be paid forward karmically, and it’s a better thing to focus on than the fact that you just paid eight dollars for a bag of potato chips.

Hey look here’s how to do a spring clean, if that’s something you’re into, because you’re gonna be a lot happier when your bedsheets smell like fabric softener instead of winter and ennui.

If you find yourself panicking when others tell you about their personal issues because you feel like you don’t know what to say or how to respond, you’re gonna love active listening. Basically the concept here is that when someone is talking to you about their job stresses or relationship worries or family troubles, you don’t have to worry that much about what to tell them, because they’re likely not looking for advice (unless they say something like “What do you think I should do?”). Probably they’re looking to be listened to, really listened to. So your job is to repeat/rephrase what they’re saying back to them — “Wow, so your boss just assumed you could work all weekend?” — ask clarifying questions — “Do they do that often?” — and affirm their feelings — “It sounds like you’re really frustrated by this.” Problem of what to say SOLVED. Here’s a more in-depth primer if you’re curious.

Ever wanted to know how to start a fire with a gum wrapper and a AA battery? Great news.

Here’s some goats yelling like humans. I don’t know, seemed like you would be into it.

If you use a smartphone, take a second today to put some hand sanitizer on a cotton pad or a tissue and gently wipe down its surface. There! Next time you use it you’ll have a clean phone screen touching your face, and not a phone screen covered in weird old face cells.

Hey do you know about the new Google thing, Google Keep? It’s pretty nice and also free if you like making lists, like of all your favorite ice cream flavors or types of flowers that remind you of Michelle Rodriguez.

Allegedly this is the best way to bake a sweet potato. Is that true? Is this the one true way? I guess you’ll find out soon.

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Originally from Boston, MA, Rachel now lives in the Midwest. Topics dear to her heart include bisexuality, The X-Files and tacos. Her favorite Ciara video is probably "Ride," but if you're only going to watch one, she recommends "Like A Boy." You can follow her on twitter and instagram.

Rachel has written 1142 articles for us.


  1. The only way this list could be more soothing is if Rachel read it aloud to me. The world feels a little more bright than it did five minutes ago.

  2. omg, this ambient sound mixer is changing my life right this moment. you’re a godsend, rachel <3

  3. I have a creepy paternalistic neighbor in my building, so I have been making a concerted effort to be extra nice to all my other neighbors so we have each other’s backs. It has been really nice so far!

    Also next time he talks to me I’m going to imply my family is in the Mob.

    • I would be very interested in a followup re: how this goes. I hope Paternalistic Neighbour backs off; nobody likes creeps in their place of residence.

      • I will keep everyone posted! (Should also probably disclose that I am cento percento Italian from a suburb that is 2/3 Italian-American and my family probably would make the dude disappear if anything happened. So the next time he asks after my “controlling husband that doesn’t let me live my life” I’ll just say “oh, my father and poppa and uncle tony are gonna take care of him” and let him assume the rest.)

  4. and have been my standby sound mixers because they’re simple and allow you to mix a variety of sounds at different volumes and has a space ship option which is the awesomest. HOWEVER listening to the Gryffindor/Ravenclaw common rooms is going to tremendously improve my studying habits and overall quality of life so THANK YOU.

    P.S. I’ll admit to being a fan of nuking sweet potatoes in the microwave b/c it’s quick and easy and more energy-efficient (I think?), but the tips on baking them are much appreciated.

  5. 1. …Do people…not…normally… thank service workers and act nice to them when traveling? I’m pretty sure that I can count exactly two instances in my entire life that I *didn’t* act that way to a service worker, and in one of which it was because they were unmistakably acting in bad faith.

    2. The thing about the advice is a great strategy, but “they’re likely not looking for advice” is a complete and utter typical mind fallacy. Years ago when I first heard that there existed people who *didn’t* want advice when they told other people their problems I thought it was incomprehensible. Apparently people tend to self-cluster in friend groups by their griping preference (advice or sympathy, roughly speaking) and so tend not to encounter many of the other type. Myself and 85% of my close friends are all the advice-seeking type. So a better metric than “they’re likely not x” is…asking them.

    • To clarify 1), I’m not doubting that people don’t, because if this item is on this list then clearly some don’t (and obviously service workers get a ton of crap to deal with all the time), but I’m surprised to learn of the existence of (non-terrible) people who don’t. “Be nice to servicepeople who aren’t being mean to you” feels in the same mental category as other ways not to defect on the social contract, like “follow the yellow lines on the road” and “keep your voice down in libraries”.

  6. Great on thanking airport and other employees, especially if you feel grumpy yourself! It will help you feel better and make the world a little nicer.

  7. And once you’ve baked that perfect sweet potato, try opening it up and dropping in a spoonful of mincemeat and mashing it in and eating that sweet thing. I feel like I should come up with a “One Weird Trick” click-bait headline, ’cause it sounds really weird. But oooooh is it good. Really good.

  8. I have never felt more accurately represented on this site than in that screaming goat video. Pretty sure the one wandering around aimlessly while screaming hoarsely in an empty barn is actual footage of me going about my daily life.

  9. I’ve had a tummy ache all day and nothing has successfully distracted me from it until the screaming goats video, so thank you!!! My bro and his gf and I sat and laughed a lot over it. Also all your other advice is very on point, as per ushe.

  10. Rachel you are a national treasure. I would totally hire you as a life coach

  11. This article is so lovely. Couldn’t agree more on thanking employees who do nice little things for you, as someone who works in retail (and has to deal with cranky/sexist middle aged men most of the time) it really brightens up my day when someone thanks me for helping them out with something!

    Also I defs need that new Google thing for my ‘types of flowers that remind me of Michelle Rodriguez’ list. How did you know?!

  12. omg rachel the active listening. it’s almost all i ever need and you bring it every time. RACHEL I L U.

  13. 1- I have found that making an extra effort to say kind words is the surest way to brighten both your own day and the days of those around you, even if it’s something very simple. (Also, I think everyone should have at least some experience working in retail and in the restaurant industry so they can appreciate that the worker is actually a human being.)
    2- Those ambient sounds are so much fun! (And as a bonus, my cat always starts loudly purring whenever she hears noises coming from my computer. It doesn’t matter what it is: music, youtube, goats…)
    3- When I was in undergrad, my school did this thing where they decided to rent a bunch of goats to clear out weeds, so ‘baa-ing’ goats actually were my ambient sounds for the summer months in my dorm…

  14. I find these articles so soothing. *is gently lulled to sleep with thoughts of being nice to people in an airport*

  15. I did peer support training during my undergrad, which was like active listening on steroids, and it was probably the most educational experience I had during those three years. When I am in the right headspace to do it and commit to it properly, it genuinely facilitates some of the most supportive communicating I’ve ever had.

    That said, active listening “techniques” are never a substitute for genuinely caring and demonstrating that. If I try to use them without investment/genuine engagement, it is so obviously a learned ‘technique’ that it ends up with most people clamming-up.

  16. I have been baking my sweet potatoes the right way all this time! and here I thought not wrapping them in foil/not preheating the oven before sticking the thing in there/refusing to take it out till it’s cooled was just laziness on my part.

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