My Two Census

Formerly the non-partisan watchdog of the 2010 US Census, and currently an opinion blog that covers all things political, media, foreign policy, globalization, and culture…but sometimes returning to its census/demographics roots.

Orlando workers walk off the job

The Orlando Sentinel brings us the following story:

3 census workers quit, citing waste and inefficiency

Census complaintFormer census worker Andy Miller, who quit over procedures he considered wasteful and illogical, in front of the Volusia County office of the U.S. Census Bureau –with his complaint papers in hand– in Daytona Beach, Tuesday, July 27, 2010. (JOE BURBANK, ORLANDO SENTINEL / July 27, 2010)

By Jeff Kunerth, Orlando Sentinel7:39 p.m. EDT, July 29, 2010

As the 2010 census winds down, three Volusia County census takers couldn’t wait for the latest phase of the headcount to end. They walked off the job three days after they started, adding to the complaints that the effort is wasteful, inefficient and frustrating.

Andy Miller, 54, of Daytona Beach said he quit after being told by his supervisor to return three times to a vacant house that he verified with a real-estate agent had been empty for more than six months.

“It was clear to me the Realtor had the information, but I was told, ‘No, go back. You might find someone who was living there that the Realtor didn’t know about,’” Miller said.

The same instructions — go back three more times — applied to an apartment above a store; the owner said the apartment was used for storage and was unoccupied. Miller also was told to go back another three times to a home where a relative of the homeowner provided all the information by proxy.

“If you get the person who lived there, you don’t have to go back. But if you get a proxy, you had to go back,” Miller said.

A Census Bureau spokeswoman said the check-back-three-times routine is standard procedure to make sure the census takers get the best information possible.

“That is the policy we expect people to follow,” said Pamela Page-Bellis. “We don’t want people to take the easy way out. They are to gather the most accurate information possible.”

Miller was told the same thing by his supervisor when he appealed what he considered absurd and illogical instructions. That was when Miller and two others in an eight-person crew walked out July 10 — three days into their summer job of checking for vacant houses and addresses that should be deleted.

Jeanne Tanke said she walked out with Miller because she was frustrated with the policy of going back to a vacant apartment or condo three times before being permitted to talk to the building manager about whether anyone was living in the units. In some cases, the same addresses had been visited three times by the door-to-door enumerators in the previous phase of the census.

“It didn’t seem logical to me that we kept knocking on the door when nobody answers, but we can’t ask the manager until we’ve been there three times,” said Tanke, 71.

The third person who quit said he objected in particular to having to go back three times to empty houses that are verifiably empty.

“It’s just inefficiency. That’s all it is,” said the 68-year-old retired sales manager who didn’t want his name used for fear it would jeopardize any future employment by the government.

All three former census takers worked during the manpower-intensive, door-to-door part of the census that ended in May. Thousands of enumerators were laid off, but they were among those chosen to continue in the slimmed-down follow-up efforts that started June 28 and are scheduled for completion by Aug. 25.

What the Census Bureau defends as being as thorough and accurate as possible, Miller and the others regard as a system designed to take as much time as possible. The attitude of managers, they said, was that the three-visit rule was a good way to make the job last longer.

“They alluded to this can take three days or three weeks. It’s up to us,” said the retired sales manager. “I don’t feel right about padding hours.”

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43 Responses to “Orlando workers walk off the job”

  1. HermHollerith Says:

    This three visits before asking a proxy rule is not based on any science.

  2. DontBHatinEnumeratin Says:

    I disagree wholeheartedly with these whiners. If it costs the government $300 in enumerator salary to insure an area receives $10,000 in federal funding … YOU DO IT THEIR WAY! Whether they ask to go once, three times or twelve times. When you look at the bigger picture, it’s actually more efficient than this particular blog alludes to.

  3. HermHollerith Says:


    My dictionary defines efficiency as
    “ability to produce the desired effect with a minimum of effort, expense, or waste”.

    You are not talking about efficiency, you are talking about unthinking obedience to census rules.

    Sure, the truth is hard to ascertain but the Census Bureau hasn’t even tried to be efficient.

  4. anonymous Says:

    Of course, if they didn’t do it this way, if they let EQs get closed on the first proxy, people would be complaining about the potential for mistakes, fraud and miscounts.

  5. Tristate Says:

    We had office clerks sending back EQs because of the use of proxies after less than 3 visits. But it was clear to us (out in the field) that they were not reading our detailed notes. Like using a proxy on the first visit because the person DIED before census day, and thus the next door neighbor was the only reliable source of the best possible data.
    We also had an EQ kicked back because on the 2nd visit, the FATHER of the occupants was the only one home. He was the proxy and was able to give ALL the info–DOBs and everything. Everything was noted clearly, but the clerks must have been instructed NOT to read notes, and simply look at the front and back page to evaluate the cases.

  6. TR Says:

    Tristate, your first story reminds me of an experience my girlfriend had during NRFU. She showed up to a house where a bunch of people were sitting on the front lawn. She asked if anyone lived there and was told to “come back again since it’s a bad time”. Turned out the resident committed suicide and the body was still inside! The coroner pulled up while she was there. She was able to get the info from a proxy. Should she be expected to come back two more times when all the necessary information was given on the first try? The family obviously has much greater things to worry about than the census.

    This is another example of the one-size-fits-all methods of the census operation. Permanent census management does not trust the temporary workers at all… FOS, CL, and enumerators alike. That’s what leads to inefficiency.

  7. one of the anonymous Says:

    Good for them! I received a SF-50 today extending my appointment to 10/24/2010! What? We were laid-off due to lack of work. There are no more jobs! Kansas City RCC, stop sending out appt. extended forms – you are playing with unemployment figures …. maybe, that was your intention.


    My oh my DontBHatinEnumerator you must be on the “pad!” That’s right the payroll! Yes while working I used proxies the first time for houses vacant for years, burned out, not there, and so forth. And yes I am against wasting money like the enumberators in Florida who packed it in after a couple of days because of waste and/or mismanagement. It is odd that there are so many “whiners” out there as you allude to. Me thinks that you should look at a famous quote by one past great President Abraham Lincoln. It is “You may be able to fool all of the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time. But you will not be able to fool all of the people all of the time.” You in my opinion fit into the category of “some of the people all of the time.” Look in the mirror and get a reality check because you need to look closer at the big picture. And to conclude I used a proxy on one house where the dude commited suicide months before and the family vacated the house before April 1st. That was my second visit to the property that Census first did not want to accept!

  9. anon Says:

    Let’s be honest: VDC is probably not what they expected and they don’t really need the job. All three joined like the rest of us. They probably wanted to serve, meet their community and make a little extra spending money (not in any order btw). The VDC operation is different than NRFU in that they don’t encounter as many people. Disappointing, I am sure, for those who like to meet people. They walked off the job…No big deal, someone will do the job for them.

    Morse – Correct me if I am wrong, but doesn’t the 3 visit rule make the count more accurate?

  10. Amanda Says:

    I overheard at the LCO (so consider the source) that the reason they didn’t want proxies to be used, especially on the 1st or 2nd visit, was because some high percentage (I think 60-70% is what I remember overhearing) of proxy information was verified to be incorrect information. Supposedly, people don’t know what they think they know and therefore, they truly wanted the information about a particular address “from the horses mouth” aka from the person who actually lived in the house on April 1 to ensure accuracy.

  11. pranita veeria Says:

    Got another question…the Census Bureau offices in Brooklyn/Staten Island have no outward visible markings stating “Census Bureau”. We were instructed not to “broadcast” that these temp offices were Census offices…I guess Florida has their own rules…interesting

  12. NarfooSnafoo Says:


    Our office in Indiana has only the words in small letters on the glass door. You could drive and pass it easily without notice.

  13. Carol Bradley Says:

    I and my crew worked on EUQC — reinterviewing proxies mainly. Many of the houses/cabins are seasonal, and the area is stable since it is largely rural or semi-rural — neighbors know each other and their habits re vacationing, etc. We were NEVER TOLD TO VISIT 3 TIMES since our LCO did not want to incur hours and mileage. This 3 visit is either not a printed census rule, or some LCOs did not get “the word” — I worked the 1990 and 2000 Censuses in L.A. as a production enumerator, and we were told to get things wrapped up within 2 visits. Same when I returned to do NARFU.

    Regarding dead people — I worked probate law for years, and so I asked my LCO admin if they would provide a Ouija board so we could contact the dead — that seemed to shut them up regarding non-proxy interviews.

    I would suggest that Congress give a thorough review to all Census procedures and come up with a consistent and written policy, then can the individual admins who try to wing it for whatever reasons. Groves will hopefully be replaced by 2020 since he is both a fool and inefficient as a manager. No wonder people do not want to be counted in the future — imagine all the visitations received — it would make anyone into a paranoid.

  14. Stephen Robert Morse Says:

    @Carol – Ouija board comment is hilarious!

  15. uptownside Says:

    Thank goodness they quit thus saving taxpayers the possibility of paying unemployment. The job is what it is. The procedures are what they are and in this case seem reasonable. I’m surprised Carol can remember what she was told to do 20 years ago but can’t remember how to spell NRFU.

  16. pranita veeria Says:

    @ snafoo….didn’t even have that…the offices looked like bookie joints

  17. Jimmy Says:

    Boo Hoo they are asking me to actually do the job I was hired to do, this is absurd, I quit!

  18. 2514 Says:

    Nothing wrong with visiting 3 or even 5 times, as we did here in Chicago with some cases. Will you find someone there if it looks vacant? Probably not. But the cost is very small, if you are an efficient enumerator with a good workload. I completed 100 plus cases during VDC in 7 days, and found a number of occupied HU’s that were found to be vacant in NRFU. Following Census Bureau policy makes perfect sense if the data is to be of high quality. Stop your whining and do the job!

  19. Makes No Sense Says:

    I think it depends on where you are when enumerating. I have no doubt in large cities/urban areas the 3 or more visits makes sense. It small towns or rural areas that many visits get grossly wasteful. The was the forms are written it appears geared for only condensed populations and that mainly occurs on the east coast, not the midwest, south, or western areas until California.

    It is very narrow minded to assume a ‘one size fits all’ attitude in this country when clearly that attitude can not even be applied to this forum.

    I get offended when some assume the only thing that mattered about this job was the money or the opportunity to meet people. I took this job on for numerous reasons, mainly to get the most people accurately counted I could. That said, there is gross ineffiency with all operations that should not take place at this day and age. It started at the top and is passed down to all RCCs and LCOs. If you can’t balance a check book or think for yourself then no wonder you don’t question the job.

  20. movin'_on Says:

    Census day is April 1st, yet in my LCO no one went out to enumerate until the end of April/beginning of May. Did that happen in other LCOs also? If it did, why is that? Does anyone have any insight into the time lag?

  21. Yawnnnn Says:

    Stop the presses! Three people working in a temporary job that’s about to end this month, anyway, quit out of *principle.* Wonder how many people *took a stand* and quit when they still had several months to go, lol.

  22. Shirley Says:

    movin’ on, if we started enumerating on April 2nd, no one would have had time to send in their forms. As I’m sure you know, NRFU stand for non-response follow up. Supposedly we only visit the homes where forms were not returned, though we all know that is probably not accurate.
    It was frustrating to work VDC-at times I know people had to think about whether they lived in the home on census day, since it was over 3 months later!!
    I agree that the proxy issue needs to be consistent. In our area, we could proxy immediately if the house was obviously vacant or not a housing unit. Otherwise we were asked to make three visits. In VDC we were told to make detailed notes about why we used a proxy, especially if we had not made three visits, and detail about who the proxy was.

  23. DontBHatinEnumeratin Says:

    George, not on any pad. Just doing what I’m paid to do. I believe I’ve been paid 6-7K up til now for ten plus weeks of work and brought in literally millions of tax dollars for the city of LA. 6-7K versus 6-7Mil (give or take) … so tomorrow (and I am working tomorrow) if they ask me to go visit an address that has been three times confirmed as DNE … and IT’S STILL NOT THERE … they’re still way ahead of the game. That’s the way they look at it, and as their employee, that’s the way I look it. And maybe that’s why I have a job tomorrow. Look, I don’t care how you cut it. There are valuable tax dollars up in the air. And the communities that need them the most are the most difficult and treacherous ones to enumerate … if you worry less about THEIR job and worry more about YOUR job … we’ll all get the job done.

  24. DontBHatinEnumeratin Says:

    I believe 26% of NRFU vacancies turned out to have occupants in the VD phase … were it 2.6% instead 26% I can see enumerators flipping out over revisiting and revisiting and revisiting … but 1 in 4? Come on, folks, just do what you’re told to do and shut up.

  25. HermHollerith Says:

    anon, You asked Morse “doesn’t the 3 visit rule make the count more accurate?”.
    Please read my first comment. No one, not even the Census Bureau, knows the answer to your question.

    You and many others have accepted way too much Census Bureau propaganda without thinking.
    There is so much the Census Bureau is keeping secret.
    Even reasoning simplistically, $10,000 – $300 is $9,700. Someone has to pay.

  26. DontBHatinEnumeratin Says:

    Even reasoning simplistically, $10,000 – $300 is $9,700. Someone has to pay. Herm

    Someone has to pay? What the hell does that mean, Herm? Or what part of death and taxes being the only two certainties in life didn’t you understand the first time?

    Herm, taking the hypothetical 10K in tax money (which IS tax money lest you forget) … where would you rather see it go? I mean, what other purpose could it serve? Tax dollars ARE collected regardless. They are then allocated. It appears to me you are not breaking this down simplistically enough and therefore need someone to do it for you. The purpose of the Census is seeing that those tax dollars that are collected are allocated accurately. In order to do that, they need to assign workers and delegate duties. I mean, if you’d rather not see ANY of our tax dollars be spend for the betterment of our communities, that in it of itself is an entirely different issue and one which you’re not likely to see changed. But since tax dollars are being allocated for that purpose then procedures and operations must be implemented. My estimate is for every $10,000 in US Tax dollars allocated to the betterment of a community, a measly $300 is paid to employees (including office help) to complete that task. And if someone can challenge me on those figures, I guarantee you I’m not off by much. That’s 3 bucks for every hundred. Too wasteful? Many next census enumerators can volunteer and we can get that figure down next to nothing.

  27. DontBHatinEnumeratin Says:

    Has anyone come up with stats as to how much money how been saved by Uncle Sam, getting the recession plagued unemployed off the dole and getting them work in the US Census? Essentially killing two birds with one stone, taking a hypothetical unemployed man and rather than paying him $300 a week on a unemployment extension, have him enumerate for that same $300? Factor that in to your inefficient, wasteful calculations and see what mathematical theorem spills out.

  28. movin'_on Says:

    “movin’ on, if we started enumerating on April 2nd, no one would have had time to send in their forms.” Ah! knew I was forgetting something. My bad for posting late at night… Thanks Shirley.

  29. HermHollerith Says:


    According to your employer, ”
    A decennial census is enshrined in
    the Constitution for the primary purpose of
    providing data for the reapportionment of the
    Congress. ”
    Check it out at

  30. PM Says:

    You’re all right. I took some version of this job a year ago, ran out of that, got another one, and after that, another one. What I’ve experienced drives me mad- not the least are the temporary uber-persons (not so much the career gov’t RTs I know who are as super as any old hands in my ordinary work) who see their chance to impose whatever angst they feel with their dysfunctional families, hemorrhoids or the like on anyone whom they can, under severe pressure to turn out those numbers yesterday, make a big mess and bail. The enumerators are a good bunch of hard workers, generally, who are often given a jumble of chores and told to get it right or else- just look at the books. And the CLs and FOSes… some are great; some can be AHLs to the max. Have you seen some of the whining on D-283s from them? Vague, subjective and wouldn’t be taken seriously by anyone in another venue, I’m thankful to have missed out on some “bosses” who really come across as HUA, no matter how well they bully “their” crews (once one clerk went to OOS, he actually said “Now that I have people under me”, which evinces some sort of power trip in itself vs what he could’ve said: “Now that I have broader responsibility”- see the difference? It’s rampant. People who were ready to sue are bought off with a bumped-up position and now everything is of course rosy… for them.)

    I see a lot of it as stupid, and speak on it when I can. Does that mean I have to quit? Does being paid mean I have to put up and shut up?

    No, and Ditto.

    Remember Clarence D.- “True patriotism hates injustice in its own land more than anywhere else.”

    Did the colonials run away… or did they cave in to the fact that provisions (including tea) were shipped by those people they hated?

    No, and Ditto.

    I completely agree with the take on management. Had they gotten it all together, they could take anyone who could pass the test and have a crack crew. Here we are, a bunch of (mostly) well-meaning people from all walks, thrown into a grinder of do-or-die over the simplest things (like how hard does it have to be to walk around talking to people in a civil manner?), with jerkjob unterscharfuhrers grabbing the chance to look tough- or thinking that’s the way to get people to work (ever see kids play army? I know it’s out of fashion now, but this is kind of like that, really, after just a week’s indoctrination, innit?)- and we have scores of good people getting bent by what should be a fun process for awhile, some change in the pocket, and that cool tent you saw on the poster.

    One of the first things in operations of irregular forces is that you consider where they’re from and how you can all get them in step- not burying them in mountains of procedure and forms (someone get that man in the picture a D-244 instead of a 225, or no one’ll read it who should… get it?) that they have to wade through. “Try 3 times before proxy… no, here’s the X1 form… now YOU get the X2 form- no looking on his! For HUs, mark this here. For Duplicates mark those over here instead…. this is expendable… no, wait, now it isn’t… oh, waste? Throw this all out. No, wait, give it to schools… no, here’s the list that says send it all to NPC. Remember, now, send back as little as you can to NPC. Here, it’s right on the list that says send this all back to NPC. [Hey, don't you think this is neat- after so many complaints, someone at HQ "created" a list that isn't all lined out- now you can actually read it! Thanks creator- you're as important as all those CLs and FOSes we really need to figure out what we could on our own to reach this age anyway...]

    “What don’t you get? Its written right here in 27 memos, each fixing the previous one!… That does it! Your activity is inappropriate and inexcusable- here’s your 283 written by your supervisor Mr. Bozo who flunked out of IBM so applied for Census- he’s really qualified to judge YOU- we’re lucky to have him!”

    Back to this, yes, it does look kinda dumb, all the competence and waste issues. It’s all this well-management looking for an outlet. We really need accountability other than Dr. Robert, who was neither here when it got put together nor has answered any of our thoughtful missives. We actually do need permanent people who care about how hard it is to listen to 14 conflicting directives at once, clean up the act, and put over a million temps to work as just that, getting the job out. Ever notice, no one who slams you (and your future employment) actually has to sign the 283? The LCOM or an AM can, but the temp idiot who screws you over gets to hide.

    If you look at how not to do it, it becomes clear (think of “Enemy at the Gate”, or “Nanjing Nanjing”: now subtitle them with “Anyone caught running back and forth between cases as you’ve been told to will be shot!”, and “You idiot! Interview the old woman tied to the pole!”).

    I’ll bet ya a free Census hat that if’n someone cleans this cluster jam up- by actually looking at reality (such as ya can’t do two or 20 things different ways at once, or the cases of quick proxies a la Mr. Reaper), we’ll all get along a lot better. I’ve worked on temp assignments forever, at both ends, and it always comes down to how well the lead presents the tasks to the crew and just how sensible those tasks are…

  31. Jake in Texas Says:

    You said a mouthful.
    I’m jotting down some of my experiences as a Enum and will run those up the flag pole when time allows.

  32. Current Resident Says:

    I’d agree with other responders that a little redundancy in a decennial campaign is a good thing, but there comes a point when management must begin to trust that not all field workers are goldbricking cheats. We know in fact that the 2010 NRFU workforce was uncommonly gifted with jobless professionals bringing applicable career experience and a strong work ethic.

    Some weeks back I heard a story from my second FOS (thankfully replacing a petty ineffectual type) about his investigation of an enumerator who used himself to proxy several homes in his neighborhood. As it turned out, the AA in question was full of seasonal homes this man watched over and sometimes made repairs for. Rather than parrot the rulebook, the FOS did something sensible. He toured the place with the enumerator in his pickup truck, and listened as the enumerator pointed at houses and rattled off family member names, where this one stays on vacation, where that one goes to work, when this one’s daughter comes home from college, how many dogs that one owns, on and on until it was painfully clear to the FOS this self-proxy was the very best possible respondent for the flagged cases.

    Personally I will defend every Deletion and Vacancy I turned in, no matter that I made three stops or just one. I seriously doubt anyone in VDC will get a different answer. Some examples:

    - I was sent to maybe thirty acres of empty field where a map spot and EQ insisted I had a case waiting. Upon inquiry at the one and only nearby occupied house, those people were as confused as I.

    - Here’s one familiar to many in rural and suburban NRFU …. the lawn overgrown past your ankles, the house paint peeled, never a vehicle in the driveway, no furniture inside, (yes, which can be determined without looking like a prowler) and that other tiny detail of a rusted realtor sign poked into the ground. No, I am not stupidly knocking on that door in subsequent days, I’m finding two and three neighbors immediately who all say the place was foreclosed years ago, then sitting in the realtor’s office next day to hear the same thing.

    - My favorite was the spooky trailer site deep in the woods. If not for the two abandoned trailers yet standing among five sites I’d have never found my cases. One trailer was fully padlocked and the other had yellow caution tape draped around it and spider webs over the glass doors. I lucked into a good same-day proxy a half hour later, an old man who could give the whole history of the nearby failed housing project and would have talked off my arches had I let him.

    Even assuming someone on April Fools Day pitched a tent in that field, broke into that house, or camped by that trailer, there would be evidence … of the sort I was trained to find when I delivered for UPS and traveled as a salesman. (Funny how skimpy that training is from the Bureau.) Any unlikely persons crashing there were not residents but transients, which gets into an overcount issue.

    I will backpedal enough to acknowledge the Unreliable Informant, a character known well to reporters and documentary producers. For tougher cases I might question two to four neighbors on separate days and find conflicting stories, often submitting them incomplete with an intel-crammed Info-Comm. For those I welcome the survey redundancy. The problem there is the more you return the more irritated and resistant proxies can become, leading to sketchy or prank data.

  33. Pablo S. Says:

    Good idea to walk out rather than be fired for insubordination.

  34. jumpygrouch Says:

    This guy is complaining that the Census is illogical but I think many of this person’s complaints about going back, needing more proxies are illogical! we had people who talked to several proxies and everyone was wrong, once they found the owner. We had a person go to the Post Office to verify information about a building’s addresses and the Post Office was wrong. So, it just goes to show that going back more than once to find the true information can be the right thing to do.

  35. movin'_on Says:

    Hey jumpygrouch, let’s let the IRS take the Census!

  36. Shirley Says:

    Movin’On-If the IRS took the Census NO one would talk to them, LOL!

  37. seki Says:

    Same here; the BIG Florida LCO sign caught my eye.

  38. Charles Gordon Says:

    I read the post about California, and I thought I was reading about the NYRCC. The same thing. Managed by fear an intimadation with the threat of being terminated.
    It sounds like this was the method dictated from the top and was “cascaded down” to the various RCC’s and then down to the LCO’s who in turn passed it on to the LCO straff, both office and field.
    What a way to run a business. Your employees are afraid to come to work each day. That does a lot for the moral.
    It also makes one stop and wonder about the accuracy of the whole census operation. Maybe they should fire all the top brass from Dr. Grove down to the RCC’s and start all over with the current and former good LCO managers in charge and let them do the operation free from fear and intimadation.

  39. Charles Gordon Says:

    Awhile back it was mentioned that there are more RCC managers that should be terminated, after the ponzi scheme guy and the politician partnership specialist.
    What about the ARCM and her protege AM in the NYRCC.
    Specifically, Alison Canac and Darlini Lapez???
    They were beauts that should never have had management positions, not even in a pig farm.

  40. the truth Says:

    @ Charles Gordon: you are full of it. Beware rumor has it you are on the list. The list of groupies that is. What a joke. You need to check yourself. You wouldn’t last a day in the Boston RCC. May the Lord Bless you.

  41. Tellitlikeitis Says:

    @ Charles Gordon: U tellitlikeitis…kudos. If only the waste would be shredded at the RCC. Mr. Morse would luv a picture of that waste thrown to the street. But wait, isn’t the ARCM a permanent RO staff who wants to be in line for the DRD or RD position? Oh and isn’t the AM kissing up to become permanent too, as the newly created position….”TUUTB Manager”

  42. the truth Says:

    Tellitlikeitis I think you need to change your blog name to HATE LIKE THIS: president of the I hate Avil#s, Lop#z, CEn#c team. I am an LCOM who hopes you are never on my team. Looooooser

  43. Charles Gordon Says:

    To The Truth;
    I may not last a day at the Boston RCC, but I guarantee you that you would not last ONE MINUTE at the NYRCC with the maniacs running the NYRCC. Obviously you were a lemming that could not or would not think for yourself.
    Good luck in your future life.
    You will need it.