Monday, May 25, 2009

Missing Genes, the final part

Finally, the gene that appears time and again in others, but not in me...the lack of which I’ve finally had to surrender to, once, for all, forever:

The “Corporate Maven.”
This final gap in my internal chemistry has probably cost me untold wealth (at least that’s what many executive-types will tell you) over the years; the battle to “acquire” it after the fact—or “act as if” in the meantime—is one I’ve waged for much of my adult working life. You see, I know that Proving Oneself to the Mighty Corporation is the way that leads to advancement, and advancement is always a Good Thing…right?

Well, for me, the answer to that is, “Not necessarily.”

I probably cooked my goose several times over, in different situations over the years, simply by being very upfront and honest with potential employers instead of speaking “corporatese” at the proper times. I remember interviewing for a job as a legal secretary in which I said that I didn’t see any particular reason why most legal secretarial work couldn’t be done in a normal eight-hour day. The lawyer I was interviewing with said, “Interesting,” which I took at face value…until I learned that he was probably trying not to laugh that my unbelievable naïveté. He was probably in the midst of billing a 70- or 80-hour week, more than likely had secretaries there from early in the morning until well past five, and he probably found it terribly amusing that I thought that legal work would, in the course of ordinary business, fit into a neat 40-hour-week time frame.

And yet…I had a reason for saying what I did. The law firm in question, as I recall, dealt primarily in commercial and residential real estate. Contracts. Closings. Yanno…all the things you normally do during a customary business day? As in…a nine-to-five schedule? So, while my statement may have sounded really stupid to him—I still believe at its heart, it was actually saying, “If this office learns how to use their time rather than wasting it, you can send everybody home at 5 and still get everything done that you need to do.”

I didn’t say it that way, at least not to my recollection. (Maybe I did. Maybe that’s why he thought it was interesting. :-)) All I do know is, following that interview, the placement person at the agency seemed almost angry with me…only she never really told me why. (!) Looking back on it now, I know I probably violated the laws of Corporate Speak, costing me a great job and an employer a great employee (and the agency person a great commission). I know it’s happened before that, and I know it will happen again, as long as I’m placed in the position of feeling like I need to “take a side” and “make a stand.”

Because, you see, at heart I am not corporate.
I never have been.
And, despite repeated attempts to tell myself I could be, inevitably I end up speaking or acting in a way that, while it’s very honest and straightforward, probably shoots the tips of my corporate toes off…and I can’t stop myself from doing it.

I know. I’ve tried.

So I’m in that unenviable position of discovering, indeed, that I do want advancement and recognition and promotion and the corner office, for the prestige’s (and, let’s face it, money’s) sake of them. But when the chips are down, apparently, I’m not wired to be on the management side of the desk. Not because I can’t handle people…but because I can’t handle the personal sacrifices and compromises necessary to get there.

I’m not talking about hard-work sacrifices. Those, I can do. I’ve already proven beyond the shadow of any conceivable doubt that I’m willing to work hard. So if working hard were all there was to getting ahead, heck, I’d already have the corner office of corner offices.

No, the sacrifices I’m talking about are more like enduring a zillion little paper cuts…or swallowing many bitter pills along the way of getting the presidencies or even the managerships in the corporate culture; problem is, I’ve never been able to swallow pills—literally or figuratively. They just don’t go down, and I have to find ways to punt.

This isn’t an easy thing to come to this point and realize. But it’s a true thing. It’s an honest thing. When the rubber hits the road, I side with individuals: the worker bees, the authors, writers, artists, and/or their agents. And, as an individual, I cannot, no matter how I try, countenance the notion that a company “owns” me. No one owns me but Jesus, thank you very much. But, while yes, that is a healthy psychological attitude to have, it’s not the mindset one needs in order to progress to increasingly bigger “individual” rewards in your average company. In the end, if my possible promotion will depend on the company being able to have me at their beck and call...I’ll be a worker bee forever. Because I simply can’t do otherwise. Not without paying far too high an emotional price.

I can only conclude that the many people who can do what I cannot—can look the other way when a company stiffs a friend, can compromise, can shrug their shoulders, make cynical jokes, and get on with stuff—with seemingly no ill effects at all, have a hidden (and really useful) gene that renders them able to see what’s really happening, yet ignore it; hear things they don’t like, yet give a benefit of the doubt that would choke a horse; and act “as if” they neither heard nor saw nor experienced any of the things that, bit by bit, chip away at my soul until I want to scream.

Funny thing is, in the mental health field, ignoring what you see, telling yourself you didn’t “really” hear what you actually heard, and pretending that reality is different from your actual experience, is the definition of codependency.

And that’s a bad thing…right?

But the inability to consider a company as more important than any individual leads to…no advancement, no promotions, and the wary eye of a supervisor who may end up considering you a “loose cannon.”
Also a bad thing.
(Kinda shoots the old corporate buzz-term of “win-win” right in the foot, though, doesn’t it?)


So, the end result of all this navel-gazing?

I’ve got some deficiencies in areas I wish I didn’t have…for the sake of just being able to live with a bit less emotional upheaval in my heart of hearts. I wish I could run around dispensing the most positive slant on everything and everyone; I’m not made that way. I wish I could be the “it” girl in an office, not worry about whom I could or couldn’t trust, willingly gossip and chatter and flatter; I simply can’t. And I do wish, and have wished, that just once I could perfectly align my values, my gut instincts, and my beliefs about how to treat people and their work with some corporate entity that would see me as the gem I am and make me the boss, as in yesterday. :-) But that ain’t gonna happen.
So what to do?

Well, there is a silver lining here. It’s called acceptance.
Real acceptance.
Not the kind that says, “Well, I’ll work on these things,” but the kind that says, “Yanno what? Working on these things is lot of hooey. It gives me a headache, and I’m at the point in my life where it’s just too dang much work to keep trying to be something I’m not.”

In short, I’m sick of trying to mold myself, improve myself, build myself or grow myself so that I fit someone else’s idea of what success looks like. I’m at the point where I need to just be myself—and let the chips fall where they may. They’re going to anyway, even if I play all the games right. Because we all know people who played every game right, all their lives…and all they ended up with was regrets in the end.

I don’t want to be there.

I don’t want to regret what I think I don’t have. I just want to enjoy, and cultivate, and start really having fun and blessing the world with what I do.

I’ve often decided this, and then gone right back to trying to remake myself. Whether I “should” or not. But I’m just too tired to do that anymore.

That, in itself, is probably a blessing in disguise, and one I will endeavor to make the most of.

So if I’m missing a few genes, oh, well. I’m a pretty resourceful woman; I’ll cope.
(I can always stop and buy K-Mart. Right?)


Missing Genes, Part 2

Very few people would deny that, say, the ability to hit a golf ball like Tiger hits it is more than just “practice, man, practice.” Most of us figure there’s more than a little genetics involved in being able to cook like Child, sing like Ramey, or paint like Monet.
But, now and then, I start to wonder if there’s some degree of genetics at work in some “smaller” things…more organic things. Personal stuff. Ever wonder about that?

For example, I mentioned last time that if there were such a thing as a “tact” gene, I was definitely born without it. I will never be an instinctively tactful person; I can work at it, but it’s not going to come naturally.

But there are a lot of other “parts” that, apparently, I lack, and people I cannot be. Like:

The “Self-esteem Fairy.” This, of course, is the person who runs around sprinkling affirmations like pixie dust. This is the person who first thought that giving grades in school damages precious little egos—yeah, we can all see how great an idea that was—and was no doubt behind the institution of those colorful Participation Ribbons for kids, so that everybody gets “rewarded” with something…no matter how “average” their performance may be. (The fact that this practice rewards mediocrity, thereby diminishing the self-esteem of the kids who really do excel, apparently escapes this chick. And why is it almost always a woman?)

I do envy this person both their desire and ability to make everyone feel wonderful about themselves—something I wholeheartedly and enthusiastically lack!—and their status, since in today’s culture, their “gift” seems to be particularly valued. However, I have yet to be able to cultivate this particular talent…which leads me to think this deficiency is chemical, rather than psychological, in origin.

Another gene, apparently, I’m missing…

The “Social Butterfly.” All my life, it seems, it’s been that when it comes to social situations, I’m the one on the outside looking in. I’m not the Girl Everybody Wants to Go Out to Lunch With. (Heck, I’m not even the Girl Everybody Invites to Lunch.) I’m not The Girl Considered to Have Fun Ideas. Sometimes, I’m not even considered The Creative One, or The One Most Likely to Keep Everyone Else Loose. And I have to admit, this lack in my life hurts.

This might well be due to my personality: I do tend to sit back and listen first, and jump in with both feet later; because I do that, people may think either that I’m a snob, or that I don’t like them, or that I prefer my own company 99% of the time. From time to time, any or all of these assumptions might be true (!), depending on the person, but that doesn’t diminish the sense of loss I feel when people don’t even think to ask me if I’d like inclusion. Odds are, I would. I’m just shy enough—and I’ve just been burned by rudeness enough times—to want them to go first. My experiments, and experiences, at “insinuating” myself into groups turn out, at best, lukewarm…and I’m rarely over the feeling that I’m a sixth wheel somehow. (Yeah, sixth. As in the one that’s not even necessary in an emergency.) After you go through enough of these experiments, you get the hint: apparently, I lack a key social gene, and that’s a shame. Because there are very few things I love better than making people laugh—and I think that, should I get invited out for a few more lunches, there might be a lot more smiles in the offing for everybody.

The final gene, however, that I’ve discovered missing…well, that’s a bigger one. And that matters more. But realizing its lack has led me, finally, to a place I needed to be all along—one I actually was in all along, and just didn’t want to admit it. But this place is a place of peace, and I really, really need that kind of peace in my life at this point.
So I’ll talk about that one…next.


Sunday, May 24, 2009

Missing Genes

No, this isn’t scrib about the pair of pants you left in the dryer!

It’s actually wondering, which I’ve been doing a lot lately, about what seem to be key—and in some cases, embarrassingly obvious—elements in human chemistry that other people possess, yet I lack. I’m beginning to think Nature shorted me several genes in there that she gave other people, and I can’t help but wonder why.

Like…for instance…

The tact gene.

I never cease to marvel at the people I know who seem to edge into tactful behavior as naturally as breathing. While I struggle to keep my eyes from rolling into the back of my head, and bite my tongue to keep from saying the things I desperately want to say, these people find the exact right words to convey the same thing nicely.

Not that this effort doesn’t occasionally backfire, of course. If you’re trying to tell someone, prior to their going out the door, that lime-green and pomegranate together in the same outfit might cause onloookers fits of nausea, framing it in terms of their “unique use of wardrobe color” isn’t going to serve anyone. What’s worse, later on, some of these people will come back and say, “For Pete’s sake, why didn’t you tell me how awful I looked?”

But how to say it? Aye, there’s the rub.

I’ve always been in favor of “direct” as a communication style. This doesn’t mean “brutal” (we all know someone who thinks of herself as “brutally honest” when, in fact, she’s cruel and insulting); it just means, “The message I intend you to get, I don’t want you to miss.” To me, it’s way more loving to “speak slowly and use small words,” even if those words might sound brusque or harsh, than to risk the message going completely over their heads.

Yet I wonder if that’s not a weakness on my part. A way I just didn’t completely “grow up” and learn how to “talk nice.” When I see so much overwhelming evidence around me of people who seem to be able to frame “Your son is a terrorist” into “My, he truly seems absorbed in something way bigger than he is”…I wonder.

Tact’s not the only thing I figure I missed out on early in the Dishing Out Lovely Attributes department. I’ll get to a few more of them in the next post. In the meantime…