Abbey Kos is one of the 10 finalists in The Washington Post Magazine’s @Work Advice Contest.

About me: Abbey Kos lives and works in Washington, D.C. She likes drinking white wine spritzers (heavy on the spritz), trivia nights, taking naps during parties and playing the ukulele. She was once described as having “a gangly elegance.”

Abbey makes her living as a digital grassroots strategist. This means she writes, thinks and plays around on the Internet all day. She is a firm believer in finding the right career based on how you’d spend your time if you didn’t have to work. For the record, Abbey would spend her time writing, thinking and playing around on the Internet all day.

Abbey Kos

Why I should win: “Why should I win this contest? Because I know what it’s like to mess up at work.

In my brief career I have been guilty of the following things: floundering, messing up, agonizing, weeping, making scenes. I have also been lazy, crafty, passive-aggressive, and sometimes just plain strange.

But in each of these instances, I have anchored myself to two important things: authenticity and forgiveness. Staying true to who I am -- and maintaining a sincere desire to be kind, both to myself and others -- has borne me safely through countless workplace minefields, and helped me learn from each mistake.

Authenticity and forgiveness are at the core of how I’m addressing each of these questions, too. Happiness at work includes being yourself; sanity at work includes forgiving those who do you wrong. Even the jerks who don’t deserve it.

Work mantra: “Think as hard as you possibly can.”

My workplace anecdote: Once I worked at an organization that thought my ideas were wacky, hilarious, and discountable. Every time we’d brainstorm, I’d throw out ideas and get nothing but chuckles in return. I felt like something between a circus clown and an alien from another planet.

I finally changed jobs and, at my first brainstorm, cautiously suggested an idea. The team loved it -- and the idea evolved into a project worth six figures’ worth of work. Moral of the story? Sometimes a job’s just not ready for you.


On the contest entry form, we offered five sample questions (submitted by real readers) and asked applicants to answer the two of their choice.

God bless … er, nevermind: I work in a small office where no one says “bless you” when you sneeze, nor do they say “thank you” if you say it to them. I am always careful to not add the “God” in fear of offending someone, but the complete lack of acknowledgement is odd -- or did I miss a new political correctness memo?

Kos: “Bless you” is a phrase that’s kind of like tofu -- it takes on the flavor of everything that surrounds it. If you’re the kind of person whose screen saver quotes Revelation, some non-Christian coworkers may think you’re leaning a little heavy on the “bless.” But it doesn’t sound like you’re aiming to evangelize every sneezer, so perhaps there’s something else going on.

Take a look at your office, and think about how your coworkers treat one another outside of allergy season. Do they hold doors for one another, offer to stay late if someone needs a hand, bring extra bagels for a morning snack? If your colleagues are more focused on their deadlines than their demeanor, that might shed some light on why they’re not following sneeze etiquette.

If you’re truly concerned that you’re offending, why not switch to Gesundheit? It’s a good, mostly secular alternative to “bless you” -- and honestly, it’s more fun to say anyway. (Though if you’re relying on a staid German word to brighten up your workday, there may be bigger issues at hand.)

Maternity fears: I’m pregnant and dread telling my boss. My job involves attending community meetings, building relationships and planning events, and would be a hard role to fill with a temporary worker. My boss can be very demanding, and often thinks work should be the center of everyone’s universe. What’s the best approach I can take to break the news to my boss?

Kos: First of all, congratulations! You have a tiny human inside of you; how weird and great is that?

Making such a big announcement can be intimidating, especially with a boss who isn’t the most cuddly. When you’re ready for the meeting, take a deep breath (think of it as a precursor to Lamaze) and walk into your boss’s office with pride. Make sure to focus on all the work you’ll be able to do throughout your term; a baby bump never stopped anyone from hosting an event or building relationships. In fact, it may even help -- who can say no to a pregnant lady?

Make sure your boss knows how committed you are to your job (assuming you plan to return) and emphasize how easy you’ll make the transition to maternity leave. Training junior staff to step in while you’re gone, giving personal contacts a heads-up, or offering to be available via phone or email in emergencies can go a long way towards alleviating your boss’s anxiety.

Though your boss is demanding, you’re likely not the first pregnancy he or she has dealt with. Your past prowess at work, your commitment to a simple transition, and the miracle of life itself will help make the announcement easier. And if all else fails, you can promise an intern eighteen years down the line.

What the judges had to say:

Carolyn Hax: An accessible style and chipper voice that works great in the light first question—love the “tofu”—but the second answer was thin, missing potential pitfalls beyond the self-centered boss.

Eric Peterson: I loved the combination of warm, genuine, and slightly goofy in her writing style, and combining that with sound advice made her a standout.

Douglas LaBier: Good blend of humor, perspective, and good judgement. Be mindful of keeping the pithiness in check and not overwhelm your answer.

Sydney Trent: I really like the moral of your anecdote, and it fits right in with the answer to the God Bless You writer. That is, it’s not all about you — consider the culture. Similarly wise and funny advice on pregnancy fears (“you’re likely not the first pregnancy he or she has dealt with.”) The barf factor on “the miracle of life itself” is high, but otherwise I’m a fan.

Lynn Medford: Abbey delivers common sense through zingers. I love her tofu line, her “how weird is that” line, and promise them an intern. Funny!


Meet the @Work Advice Contest’s 10 finalists

Leslie Anderson | Dean Buckley | Cindy Coe | Moira Forbes | Rachel Homer | Abbey Kos | Karla Miller | Nikki Stevens | Richard Wong | Michele Woodward