Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Facts About Me

One: On particularly bad days, I get chips and guacamole on the way home.

I walk into Qdoba, for it’s on the way from office to home, and my heels click sadly across the tile floor. I pass the burrito-making workers, wandering past the majority of delicious items as I inform someone of my simple order. Then I stare through the glass as a small plastic cup is filled. They use a small paddle-like device. It’s white and with it, they scoop up the green glop and smoosh it into the translucent container.

After scooping some chips into a paper bag, they toss the guacamole – and salsa if I ask for it – on top, fold over the edge and exchange it for a couple of dollars. Because it’s always been a bad day when I do this, I force my lips to curve when I say thank you. Then I walk toward my car, climb inside, unfold the top of the bag and turn the key. I pry the little lid off the plastic container and tuck it in my left palm, fingers wrapped around the steering wheel. Then I slowly nibble on chips that have scooped up avocado-based goodness while I make my way home.

Two: I prone to giggles. When upset, however, I grow disturbingly quiet.

“So,” Beaker said after I put the guacamole in a cup holder and answered my phone, “you seemed frustrated at the meeting today and I thought we could talk things out.”

“I was frustrated,” I confirmed, though it had been blatantly obvious. We’d had a conference call since Beaker and BunsenBurner left early for the holiday and Adam had called my name a couple of times to make sure I was still on the phone. That’s not typically necessary. I did not laugh at jokes. I didn’t make cute comments. I asked no questions and the statements I made were sarcastic and sharp.

“It’s not,” I explained, for I actually like Beaker a lot, “that I have a problem with purple. But we had talked and talked about this. I thought we communicated very well – that we were cool with keeping each other up to date. But I’d been telling Adam tan and you said purple and I was obviously shocked.”

“I made you look bad in front of your boss,” Beaker said softly, sounding terribly guilty.

Three: I take it personally.

“Well, yes,” I agreed. “But more than that, you’re not letting me do my job! And I look bad sometimes – that’s OK. But we need a process that makes sense so this doesn’t happen again. I’m supposed to know what’s going on so I can plan around it and try to assist. But I can’t do that if you guys are strategizing against me. And I thought we were friends!”

“Katie,” Beaker said, beginning to explain.

“No,” I interrupted, full of hurt feelings and blinking back tears. “That was unprofessional – I’m sorry. I just think we need a mechanism that’s more effective.”

“Katie,” he began again, “I’m very sorry you were hurt. I understand completely and feel terrible about that. Really. It’s just that I’m shitty at my job lately and I didn’t want to do beige and tan became uglier the more I understood about it. So we all did strategize and decided purple made more sense. I didn’t even think – which makes me terrible – about how it would reflect on you.”

“We talked for thirty minutes before Adam came in,” I said, still hurt. “And you didn’t tell me.”

“I know,” he said. “I’m really sorry. It won’t happen again.”

“We’re learning,” I replied, trying to be OK again. “And it’s fine – you’re not at all shitty at your job. That’s just silly.”

“No,” he protested and gave me a list of reasons he felt justified in his evaluation. I returned with my own list – we’re all under pressure and feeling badly about not delivering everything despite a lack of time and money with which to accomplish anything.

Four: I'm probably not going to just let it go.

I did scold Microscope, replying to his email and addressing his message calmly. I then added, “Just as a note, I’m perfectly capable of understanding words that are not written in all capital letters. I find fully capitalized communication to be unacceptably condescending.” He apologized for his tone. I apologized for being overly sensitive.

Five: I'm good at making people feel sorry for me.

“It’s fine to deliver bad news,” Adam said after pulling me in his office. “You made the right call on [unrelated matter]. But you should have done it by phone. I used to use email for that stuff too, but the telephone helps them get their frustration expressed, you can listen and apologize over and over and then you hope for the best.”

I nodded in agreement but didn’t speak. “I’m not being hard on you,” he said, looking concerned. “I’ve done the same thing. It’s not a big deal – just a learning experience for next time.”

I nodded again and he frowned at me, rolling his chair closer and patting the hands I’d folded in my lap. “You’re right,” I finally said. “I screwed up.” He looked worried and assured me it wasn't a big deal. Then he patted my shoulder and told me I was doing a wonderful job. This was a lie.

Six: I'm better at feeling sorry for myself.

And so – thinking of tense phone calls and irritable email exchanges, requests I must refuse and moments when I’m lost and frustrated and exhausted – I reached for a Kleenex rather than guacamole.

I cried and cried, noisy and messy sobs that made me shudder and sniffle. I mopped my face when I was done, moving ever closer to my house, and swallowed hard. As I waited for the garage door to slowly rumble open, I placed the lid back on the plastic container and replaced it atop the bag of chips before folding over the edge. I extinguished the headlights and turned the key before opening the door and exiting the vehicle. My heels clicked sadly as I moved across the floor and up the two shallow steps.

Seven: Blog posts, oddly enough, serve to soothe and settle.

While my head aches from the crying, I am feeling better now. I can do this. It will all be fine.

9 comments:

Moose withthoughtslikemine said...

Your days are so sad...
And a lot of it has to do with your interactions with people...
You can't please everyone. And if you think you can than you're setting the bar way to high.
You NEED to be more selfish - otherwise you'll be trapped in this spiral of other people.

Caped Avenger said...

Katie is currently one of my favorite people. She's learning that other people can be complete fuckheads.

Please be nice to her.

Amanda said...

You can do this. I think you may be being a bit hard on yourself. I'm glad that writing it out helped. And I think that Moose is right about the last bit of her comment.

Moose withthoughtslikemine said...

Hey, I'm a he, not a she.
Please don't take my comment as a unkindness. I was just being very blunt.
I read your blogs often, and I think by your very nature you want to please everyone. That doesn't make you a push-over, it makes you a nice person.
But you can't keep putting the consideration of others ahead of your own welfare.

Amanda said...

Sorry, Moose! I've got to cut back on this commenting before coffee stuff.

post-doc said...

Moose. Sweetheart. Don't Capitalize Letters At Me. I hate it. A lot.

Apart from that, I appreciate your concern on how I interact with others. It's obvious that I value their feelings, oftentimes above my own. While that's unlikely to change - it's always been a personality trait - I can learn to cope with the effects in a healthier way.

I've always wanted an anonymous commenter to protect and defend me! How lovely.

Amanda, I am hard on myself. That's true. I don't know how to stop doing that either though. So we'll stick with the 'I can do this.' part.

Thanks for the clarification, Moose. I really do appreciate your thoughts on his - I'm just not sure how to apply them in a meaningful way.

Anonymous said...

If you telegraph your personalization and emotionalization of work shit, people sense it, interpret it as weakness on your part, and are thereby encouraged to get even more aggressive with you. This creates a vicious cycle that (1) makes it harder for you to do your job and (2) makes you feel bad.

Your co-workers are not your friends, and they don't give a flying fuck about you and your internal state. Accept this, embrace it, and distance yourself emotionally and personally from what goes on at work.

Project calmness and equanimity, even if you don't feel it. This keeps other people from thinking they can manipulate you via your emotions.

People are just like dogs. When they sense weakness or fear, they move in for the kill.

post-doc said...

OK, Anonymous. It's not that you're wrong - those are all valid points that make a lot of sense. But I think there's a difference in how various people deal with colleagues. My approach is a lot more personal and involved than most. If I understand why someone can't deliver, it gives me a mechanism to work around or explain and keeps me effective in this particular role.

The thing is that I think people can be like dogs but they aren't dictated by that desire. In my experience, people back off when they realize they've pushed too far. These guys don't want to make me feel worse - I'm in a position where I could make life difficult for them so it's sensible for us all to remain on good terms.

But. If your point was 'calm the hell down and be a bit more composed.' then I agree. I'll work on it.

Unbalanced Reaction said...

Yikes...thank goodness for guacamole.

I don't think there is anything wrong with interacting on a personal level with coworkers. And I know that you know that you have to put yourself first....but if your coworkers are manipulating your emotions, then they must be squished like the bugs that they are. Grrr!!

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