Friday, May 11, 2007

Caught in the Crossfire

I now don't work. I'm 31 years old and at this time I cannot see me ever going back to work. I cannot see me ever trusting anyone enough to work for them. I cannot face the workplace politics and just plain shyte that goes on. I think this means I have to find a job where I am the person I am working for.

Snoskred left this comment yesterday and it has stuck with me.

I don't think I've ever been able to pinpoint exactly why I can no longer be in workplaces. I have a general sense of it. Like Snoskred, I can not work outside the home. While I have a very small eBay business that I control exclusively, I can not extend beyond that. It's not a matter of lack of skills. It's frankly an inability to take the workplace culture without becoming spiritually, psychologically and physically ill.

I can not engage in anything that is competitive, that requires me to give pieces of me away or that functions on the principle of power-over.

When I left for good, it took months for my muscles to release the tension. My muscles ached constantly and I walked like someone with severe arthritis. Putting one foot in front of the other felt like walking through deep, dark molasses. At the risk of sounding melodramatic, I believe I was physically dying. I believe that if I hadn't gotten out, I would not be alive today to think about things like moving to Thailand, watering my roses, writing this post. It took months before I realized that I wouldn't have to go back, that I could relax and feel safe. It took months before little pieces of me began to re-emerge, letting me know that I really was more than just a shell of a human being. It took months before I was able to enjoy anything again.

I'd forgotten what it was like to enjoy, to feel good, to feel at peace. I'd forgotten what it was like to not wake up each day and wish I was dead. I'd forgotten what it was like to feel safe again in my own skin. It was like being given a reprieve from a death sentence.

Bob said in his comment: Recognizing your own strengths is not prideful, it is part of knowing yourself. You, for instance, are a talented writer and it would not be bragging for you to tell an employer this. As others have said, there is a difference between recognizing your strengths and making others who can benefit from them aware of them - and bragging about them to all and sundry.

You probably have no idea how much this idea paralyzes me to a point of absolute terror. You say I am a talented writer and maybe you're right, maybe you're not. At any rate, it is not for me to say. It is only for those reading to decide whether I write trash or something of value.

I can not imagine ever telling someone something like that about my writing or anything else about me. I'd rather eat my own eyes. Why should I have to tell anyone something like that? Truly. Why? Why should my right to earn money to live on be dependent on my willingness to examine myself for "marketable" qualities and promote them like some QVC host?

I don't get this. Truly. I don't get it. Perhaps some of you have thoughts on this. The very thought of it brings bile to my throat.. in this very moment.

In the final analysis, I believe some of us are not "made" for the way of life here. I believe I am one of those people. It is not a defect. It is a difference. It's only been for the past several years that I've come to realize it's okay.




jen said...

i agree about some of us not being made for this life. it's a faulty construct of earning to produce and consume rather than self sustainability (living off the land)

for many years i found joy in my work, NGO work, because i went every day to fulfill my passion. i've never worked for the corporate side, never have, never will. others can. like you said, it's just differences not defects.

Snoskred said...

I don't think anyone is made for a way of life where bitching, backstabbing and pure nastiness is the norm. It's not ok that people act that way. I don't know why they do.

Maybe it's different in workplaces where people have to work as a team, where they have to rely on each other in life and death situations. Maybe somewhere out there is a place where people are loyal to each other, where they say what they think to each other and respect each other for it, where people aren't fake towards each other. I do not believe I will ever find this place unless I am the one paying people - and I am the one saying be good to each other, or find another job.

I think it sounds like you have been through similar situations to what I have as far as workplaces go, and I think this could be linked to some of the other stuff you've blogged about here recently.

As far as your "marketable" qualities - the fact is there are some people out there who cannot write - who cannot *spell*, even. To be able to communicate with others and have them hear what you are saying is a talent, and a gift, and is no less a qualification than a college degree, or typing 90 words a minute, or having done a course in a programming language.

So for Janet to write a letter where it says I'm really unhappy with how things are, and I'm thinking seriously about leaving, and if I do leave remember I take all this with me {list qualities which make her a good employee and someone they should want to keep} is actually a fairly sensible thing for the most part. If an employer is paying her a salary, they need someone to do her job and right now she is trained in it, she is qualified to do it, she knows what she is doing. It is reasonable for her to say to her employer I'm not happy, here's why, now it's up to you, do something - or not.

In a reasonable world, this would be a perfectly fine thing to do. But to someone like me who has been bullied into - shut up, say nothing, don't rock the boat, it is not reasonable. For someone like me who has been bullied, this line of your post "I believe she should remain silent, tender a one-line resignation and be done with it." screams out to me Yes, this is the wise and reasonable thing to do. But is it? Or is it just because I have been so bullied and so stomped on in the past that I am unwilling to speak out even when it is right to speak out?

Is keeping your dignity keeping silent, or is it standing up to be counted when necessary? Is keeping silent actually a way of letting the bullies and bosses get away with behaviour which is absolutely unreasonable?

Anonymous said...

Regarding yesterday's post about Janet, I think an email is unprofessional, but a meeting to discuss her concerns about the job, reiterating her accomplishments and strenths, is reasonable and perfectly dignified.

Even though I think that's the right thing to do, it would be difficult for me because I have a low level of tolerance for "confrontation" and tend to cry easily.

And, maybe wrong, depending on what sort of "mistreatment" took place. Some things, yeah, you walk out.

For me, it is necessary to have some sense of self-worth. I believe the fact that it's shaky and a little scanty is part of my "problem." (Whatever. Maybe I don't have one. Or many.) But it's those times that I wait around for validation from others that I feel invisible. (This is sounding awfully familiar, Chani....)

Wait. Are you saying that you don't acknowledge your "strengths" out loud, in public, or you don't define/acknowledge them to yourself?

thailandchani said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cecilieaux said...

Wow, some real agoraphobes here!

It's not the water-cooler rumor mill, the backstabbing and so on that are the problems. People are the problem. Put them in anything that is theoretically good -- work, unions, relationships, government, etc. -- and people will always manage to make a mess of them.

But there are enormous pleasures of working with others, sharing and bouncing off ideas, getting a sense of what others are saying, wearing, thinking, even if you go home and laugh at them for being totally silly. That's what workplaces are about.

Sure, most of us hate bosses (unless we become one). It feels strange to submit to a total stranger, even if the stranger is wrong. It feels sometimes alienating to give away time to someone else in exchange for a piece of paper -- but, hey, that's how we get food, clothes and lots of fun stuff.

We cannot all live as survivalists. Most of us wouldn't survive for ourselves. I will bet that none of us survived for their entire lives entirely on their own.

That's what social institutions, such as employment for pay in offices and factories and so forth, are all about.

thailandchani said...

Jen, I agree completely re produce and consume. Self-sustainability should always be the goal. Culture used to be so different. People worked within families or close units to provide a service. It's that way in many parts of Thailand. Fortunately, the government's self-sufficiency program is encouraging people to stick with that model.

I think they've realized the damage that's been done by allowing the devil to get his foot in the door, just a little bit.


Snoskred, keeping your dignity is keeping what's yours. It's decorum. It's about face, in some ways. It's about knowing what's yours and not giving it away like penny candy to those who will ultimately use it to harm you.

The things I tell my friends are quite different than what I tell an adversary. Trust is hard won and easily lost.

Dignity is about discretion.


De, as far as strengths and weaknesses, I don't even think in those binary terms. I am a whole person ~ not one who is compartmented into a series of traits. For every positive, there is a negative. Every positive "trait" also has a negative application. It all blends together somehow to become the people we are. We are all an amalgamation.

The western practice of constant self-evaluation, self-criticism and the constant need for "improvement" is something that turns me off completely.

To answer your question directly, no, I would never say things like that out loud. Either my behavior reflects character or it doesn't.


Cecileaux, I'm glad that has been your experience of work places. Perhaps you are one of those who is made for it, who does well in it.. and that's great. Working in cooperative groups is something most of us could do. Working in groups where lip service is given to cooperation but the underlying objective is competition is deceptive, unhealthy and destructive. As I've said before, don't crap on a biscuit and tell me it's a muffin. :)




May 11, 2007 10:12 AM

meno said...

I worked in the corporate world for 11 years. There were good people, there were a few bad people, but for the most part, it was good. I trusted the people i worked for, and i stood up for the people who worked for me.

I am glad, and lucky, to not be there anymore, but i miss some parts of it. The camraderie, the conversations, the people.

It can't be all awfull everywhere, can it?

Gwen said...

I think people are people, where ever you go. So I think that lots of people bring their problems to work with them and figure it out there, for good or bad.

I find your idea that self-criticism and evaluation is a Western one interesting. I'd like to hear more about what you mean by that because maybe those words connote different things to us (since it wasn't my experience in Indonesia that this compulsion was anything other than human).

And strangely, since it is a huge bureaucracy, teaching high school can be a great job for self-starting, competent loners who have a difficult time negotiating competition and politics, especially if you choose a school district fraught with problems. Because in your classroom, you are the ruler of all that you see. And as long as you can control that, you will mostly be left alone, which is something I really enjoyed about it. Or at least that was my experience. Also, we always need teachers!

heartinsanfrancisco said...

My work experiences were mostly not optimal, but a large part of that was my own fault. Here is why:

I returned to college and dropped out several times, and never did get the degree. It turned out that although I have been a lifelong voracious reader and love to learn things, I was not cut out for academic life either. I saw no point in having to study subjects that didn't interest me for the privilege of learning those that did. I was not a good compromiser.

Because I did not have a degree, I had to work at jobs that were nearly all below my natural capabilities. I had many bosses who were despots with little talent for anything, and who were quite sensitive to the slightest intimation that perhaps I had a brain and a will.

I was not made for politics of any kind, or game-playing. Yet, I ended up raising three children by myself by doing whatever jobs I could. They all went to college and graduate school by means of scholarships, grants and student loans.

My first husband refused to support our two kids, and my second, father of my third, died when she was a child. So while I always knew that I was not cut out for most workplaces, I had no choice.

I developed fibromyalgia, probably as much from the constant trauma of unpleasant jobs and the stress of providing for my children as from several physical injuries I sustained. In fact, if I had not been so stressed, I might not have been injured.

I am happily retired and although we could use more income and it's a constant struggle to make ends sort of meet, I cannot even think of working for someone else again without feeling panicky.

Working for myself would be different. I would not want to be called my"superior," though. I hate corporate lingo.

Anvilcloud said...

I get your feelings about the workplace to some extent. The first year of retirement was one of absolute joy because I could still relate to last year and how tired I was etc.

But I get the other: about marketable skills, I mean. To begin, a potential employer doesn't really know you; this is one way of beginning to find out. One of the things they find out is if one is capable of examining one's own life. The question that I hated was, "Where do you see yourself in five years." I know why they asked that too, but I still didn't and don't like it.

Snoskred said...

I have only ever found it to be good in the really large companies which have very strict codes of conduct and good clear paths of upward movement, or government departments where people are paid a lot more money than a job is worth, so they are all so happy to be there that they're nice to each other ;)

Just to show you how petty it can get, at my last work place I got into trouble because I wore a hat inside while working. It was against the dress code. And this is so stupid but let me explain it.

I had good reason for doing it, I was sitting at a desk which wasn't mine because we all had to move downstairs for the late shift, and there was a light in the wrong spot basically right above my eyes. After about 10 minutes I could feel a headache forming, and I was on a call so I couldn't move desks. I put a piece of paper under my headset which blocked the light, which worked until the call was finished. I then asked the team leader on shift if I could either move desks, or put my cap on which would block the light. There was only an hour and a half left of work, all the 9-5 people had left, and he said sure, put on the hat.

Senior management was in a meeting upstairs and when they left, they saw me wearing the hat. They didn't bother to ask anyone *why*, and I just didn't sit at that desk again - and I made sure I sat in the chair at other desks before choosing to sit at them, to make sure there were no lights in the wrong place.

They made me sign a contract stating that I would adhere to the dress code, and which gave me an extra three months probation - that means they can fire you anytime they like and don't have to give a reason.

This same workplace later approved my holidays and then told me I couldn't take them two weeks before I was due to take them. I had booked flights and everything - they expected me to cancel and lose all my money which I'd paid in advance. I resigned.

Tabba said...

Chani - have you ever read "Ishmael" by Daniel Quinn? The diaglogue between you & Jen reminded me of one of the major points in that book (from what I can remember as it has been years. I think I'll re-read it.)

I'm on both sides of this. I've tried the corporate work. And even when I knew it wasn't for me, I didn't find it in me or a great desire to tell them what I'm worth. I felt that I learned *my* lesson and that it would better serve me to just move on.
It has only been in personal relationships with some rather ugly-acting people that I felt the need to defend myself and/or my actions/strengths. There's something about being backed into a corner...When really, it shouldn't matter. You can't rationalize with irrational people.
I think on one hand it's being able to be strong enough to walk away. And to satisfied with just the confidence of knowing. And that can be really hard.

Sorry to go on for so long....

thailandchani said...

Meno, it has changed a lot over the past five years or so. It has become horrible. I've been away for three years in June ~ and I suspect it's gotten even worse in that brief period. It's mostly social engineering programs that have been implemented that have a very bad effect. Think Charles Deming and Mao Zhedong ~ collaborating.


Gwen, perhaps I will write a post about that one day. When I was in Thailand, I found that people in general are not that concerned with self-evaluation. They accept life on life's terms and don't feel the need to obsess about themselves too much.

I think we all care about how we exist in the world and make changes to benefit ourselves and those who surround us when we recognize something destructive. I would call that human nature (unless, of course, one is a sociopath and doesn't care).

A whole post on that one day though. For sure.


Susan, I absolutely believe your fibro is caused by those horrid work environments. You've summed it up well. It wasn't limited to the lower-paying though. My degree is in sociology which doesn't offer much in the way of employment opportunities. I ended up working as a unix system administrator and experienced what you are talking about, too. If I'd stayed longer, it's likely I would have fibromyalgia as well. As it turned out, it just aggravated an already-existing PTSD, making it chronic and untreatable.

I hate corporate lingo, too. If you look at the root meaning of most of it, it's rather horrifying.


Anvil, I do examine my life. Who is it who said "an unexamined life is not worth living"? Can't recall.. but I will say this much: the product of my examination is not the business of any employer. It is my private business.

Not that employers these days acknowledge that anyone has a right to their own private business!


Snoskred, that is the kind of crap that consumes their consciousness. It has nothing to do any longer with quality of work.It's all about control. They also attempt very strongly to influence values. It's a scary trend.

Better you found this out when you are young enough to create some kind of life for yourself. I stayed stuck ~ way too long ~ and the damage is too great at this point for me to ever try it again.


Tabba, yes, I've read the Daniel Quinn book. He makes so many good points.

As for defending ourselves, I don't seem to feel the need to do that. I am among those who believes I know myself well enough to know when someone is stating a truth, something I need to hear, or someone is just operating from their own agenda and needs me to be diminished for some reason. My response to the latter is usually "I'm sorry you see it that way. Unfortunately, there's not much I can do to change your perceptions." I will not argue with someone like that.

Please don't apologize for the length of your comments. I always value your thoughts. :)




MsLittlePea said...

I don't have anything to add about the corporate experience since I have none and zero desire to aquire any. I do hear the "high school" drama and backstabbing that goes on from my husband who has the thick skin and patience it takes to exist in that world.
*I do think there is a way to acknowledge one's skills humbly. Saying you're a good writer(and you are) wouldn't make you a braggart.

Tabba said...

I do see your point. And you are wise.

Julie Pippert said...

Oh this is a really big issue. One I haven't enough time just now to get into. I need to come back.

I will say I am of two completely different minds about this, as I am of so many things.

In short, the office for me? I hated so much sometimes the working in it. I also loved it. When it was bad, it was very, very bad. Suffice it to say? I have a nasty, nasty sexual harassment law suit under my belt. And that was just the worst, not the only. People gasp to hear of that experience. Anita Hill thought a pubic hair was tough? BWAH! But when it was good? It was very, very good. I loved some collaborative projects, the excitement of producing, etc.

crazymumma said...

Once I stood up for a fellow waitress against a bitchy manager. I was fired the next day for having a voice and not apologizing.

Years later I ran into the woman I had defended. She worked with special needs children and there I was on the street with my grrrls hanging off of me.

Honestly, I had forgotten about that incident, my brain being as baked as it was by motherhood. But she reminded me and told me it was something that she had always remembered and appreciated.

Irony? The boss overrode the manager and hired me back. teehee.