This morning during a meeting I revealed more of myself than I intended to, and I didn’t even say a word. We were meeting with a person in another department to discuss the sticky logistics of a shared project and were trying (without too much luck) to get some clarity on our roles and responsibilities. I won’t bore you with any more details.
I’m not the most vocal person in meetings, but I always try to contribute. This time I just shut down. I stayed silent, kept my eyes down the entire time, and refused to speak when questioned. I simply could not talk. Throughout the meeting what kept my mood lifted was reminding myself that tomorrow I will be donning a white dobok, getting my heart rate up dangerously high, and duking it out with teenage boys. I’m not sure what was more hilarious or ridiculous—me sparring or the polite argument that was occurring in the meeting.
After our guest left my coworker, a wise man with a wealth of experience, looked at me and said, “Are you OK, partner?” Luckily I have the type of relationship with my coworkers that there’s a safe space to open up, so I did. I said the politics and emotion involved in the project turned me off from the beginning, plus, there was something about our guest that (a) I didn’t quite like and (b) reminded me a great deal of myself. I said the politics and confusion around another project similarly pushed me away. I might be overly sensitive to things like that; I’m not sure. Also, and I didn’t admit this–I was totally lost. I got so lost in the rhetoric that I wanted to throw up my hands and say, “Stop going around in circles, just tell me when to show up and what to do,” but it was so far into the meeting that I didn’t want to admit they’d lost me thirty minutes ago.
Then a deeper, darker feeling of malaise washed over me. This was all pointless. Everything is pointless. Life is pointless. Wait a minute, what?? Where the heck did that come from?? All I wanted to do was have my little peanut butter snack after we got out of the conference room and now this?? What the hell is going on??? The same thing happened this past weekend when I finally had to have a come-to-Jesus meeting with myself about the way I was not taking care of myself very well and letting my health decline. I’d like to think it’s old resistance sloughing off as I progress to brighter and greater manifestations…but for now it kinda sucks.
I felt myself getting a little flustered and so I clammed up before the tears that were starting to spring to my eyes could do any damage. I am usually emotionally detached in the workplace, and it’s served me well. I exhibit a great deal of care and compassion, but there is no love. For me love and work are mutually exclusive, although I know it’s not that way for some other people, therefore, when I sense myself getting emotional about something work-related I’m frustrated. I absolutely loathe the idea of crying at work or feeling anything more moving than a sense of obligation to do what I’ve been tasked to do, no complicated questions, no arguments, no politics, no games, no anger, no emotions. My happiness isn’t hinged on work…or at least that’s what I tell myself to stay tough.
“I get the sense you saw something in her you didn’t like about yourself,” my coworker said quietly as we walked down the hall back to our desks.
“She seemed fake,” I said. This woman was very intelligent and very nice, but her mannerisms and choice of vocabulary were like a parody of business buzz speak. I added, “And I’m very fake. Everything you see is an act…and…and…[I waited for some privacy before I blurted out the next part] I hate corporate America, I really hate it and I don’t fit in…but I’m here.” I don’t lie or withhold information. I’m just a different person in the office. And it’s wearing me out.
My coworker patted my shoulder and offered to talk if I wanted to. I’m not sure I can open up again. Some feelings I didn’t know I had were stirred up, and now that they’ve surfaced I’m not sure what to do with them. I wonder if that’s been contributing to the general low mood I’ve been in for the past few weeks. I felt like Holden Caufield, that whiny little asshole who thought everything was “phony.”
Overall I’m satisfied in my job. I have a great team, great boss, fulfilling work, a decent work-life balance, and the means to support the lifestyle I want. Even though I work for a non-profit service-oriented organization I think capitalism is absolutely fan-freaking-tastic. But… I don’t “lean in,” I hate politics and power plays, and I feel like I’m putting on an act every day. On one hand what they see is not the True North I talked about in a previous post. On the other I have lived in the skin of my professional persona for so long that it does feel real to me. As for the corporate America thing, it’s all I’ve known during my professional life. The money and perks are good, I’ve learned a lot and met nice people, and although I’m very curious about what life outside the cubicle is like, I’ve gotten along OK on the inside other than eye strain and a messed up hip from sitting in front of a computer all day. If were truly living my dream I’d be a life coach and a yoga teacher. Right now I’m just too practical and comfortable. I don’t think “corporate America” was really the problem this morning, though; I was looking for a target to take the hit for my frustration and unhappiness. Maybe I’m the one who needs a life coach.
Suddenly the Tide Turned….to AWESOME!!
Back at my desk I was lost in my thoughts, my face hot from embarrassment, sadness, and confusion when another coworker snapped me out of my fog. She was a new employee and was conducting brief one-on-ones with everyone in the department to get to know them. It was time for her to meet with me. We happened to be wearing white jackets and black pants so we hit it off immediately. Texas women don’t get mad when someone is dressed alike. We’re just tickled pink to have found a “twinkie.”
I talked for a few minutes about what my team does and described our current projects…and I was already exhausted and bored with myself. There I was going again as Miss Slicked Back Serious Professional and I was tired of hearing myself talk. Thankfully my new coworker caught a glimpse of a picture of my boyfriend (“very handsome” in her words, and she’s right) and when I told her that we had martial arts in common she dropped a delightful bomb on me.
She is part owner of a team with some fairly renowned and respected fighters in the UFC. They have a gym not far from our workplace.
W.O.W. AAHHHHHH!!!!!! I nearly jumped out of my seat I was so excited.
After that the professional facade dropped and I animatedly chatted with her about taekwondo, what it’s like to own a fighting team, all the events she’s gotten to attend, how incredibly nice so many fighters are under all that muscle and grit, and who we thought got cheated in their fights. I instantly felt relaxed, happy, and I forgot why I was upset in the first place. Who knew I’d ever be this excited to talk about sports?
“I’m really a fun girl. This is just my professional persona,” she said slyly when our little informal interview ended. She straightened her lacy lapel and trotted away in her high-heeled sandals. It was like she was giving me permission to put on the act in the office. Maybe everyone else is putting on a bit of an act too. Maybe I’m putting too much pressure on myself to “keep it real.” Can we truly be ourselves in the workplace? Am I truly myself in the workplace? Do I need to be? Does it matter as long as I’m doing honest work? Do I even really care? Not really. It’s like going to another country with a working knowledge of the language. I’ll get by in Mexico with my broken Spanish, but underneath I’m thinking in English, and when I’m by myself I’ll revert back to my English-speaking American customs. I’m who I need to be to get by during the day.
“Let go, you’ve been holding it up all day,” my yoga teacher said tonight as he encouraged us to relax into foreword fold and let the weight of our heads loosen from our necks. I chuckled. I’ve been holding up a lot more than my head, and it’s a relief to let the weight go.
If you want to see the real me, go to the dojang. Come on, you knew I’d link it back to TKD at some point.