Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Stuck on Replay

Dear Reader: I write to better understand my experiences of life; I share with the hope that my words will touch something inside you, and together we will remember that we all walk through life with love and loss, joy and sorrow, hope and despair, faith and uncertainty.

NOTE: I will never write about upsetting details without a warning.

Being an introspective person is both a blessing and a curse. I can’t imagine not reviewing my actions and examining them closely, especially when I’m dissatisfied with the results. But sometimes it’s really hard to let go of the past and move on; some stories just get stuck in my brain and play over and over.

As a young adult I was let go from a job on the last day of my trial period. Some of the reasons they gave me were simply not true. In fact when I first accepted the job, they’d provided a misleading job description; and throughout my trial period they routinely made changes to my job when my boss was out of the office. I felt misled and yanked around. When I tried to argue the inaccuracies cited for my dismissal, my boss held up his hands and said, “Kjerstin, it’s over.”

But it wasn’t over, at least not for me. For years my thoughts would return to where they’d gotten stuck, to losing this job where I’d been mistreated, misunderstood, underestimated and undervalued. They had wronged me!

Self-righteous indignation: I can wrap it around me like a well-worn blanket.

Many years later I brought it up with a friend. I wanted to figure out why I couldn’t let the story go and just move on; I wanted to know if I’d done something to contribute to things happening the way they did. I told her about the job, explained how only the women in the office, regardless of their positions, filled in for the receptionist. And I complained about the time a male employee told me with disapproval that when Tammy came in to do his filing, she always had a smile on her face (unlike me). After telling the story, she suggested that it may have been a case of sexual discrimination.

Well that was interesting. And it seemed to fit. After replaying the entire story in my mind with this new interpretation, I felt like everything fell into place. That was it; I had been the victim of sexual discrimination! With my confusion resolved and my innocence confirmed, I was finally able to set the story aside. What a relief!

And then a few months ago the story began to resurface.

After so many years, I replayed the events with a fresh perspective. I remembered how proud I’d been of my title, marketing assistant, and how indignant I’d been when I was told to do some filing for another department. That wasn’t in my job description! I shouldn’t have to do filing, something so menial! I remember complaining that they really needed to hire an administrative assistant to do this for them. And when I was told that I was going to start providing filing assistance a few hours each day, I was incensed. They didn’t have the right to hire me for one job, just to change it without my agreement! I complained to my boss, complained to the other department, and even wrote a letter to HR insisting that my rights had been violated. I did the work grudgingly, making sure everyone knew how unhappy I was about it.

Since that early job two decades ago I’ve had many new experiences including supervising employees who too have used the rally cry, “that’s not my job!” And as a supervisor it struck me that it was the least experienced employees who were the most indignant. I also had the accumulated experiences of observing and at times participating in employee bitch sessions about how tough we had it. Over time I came to notice an inverse relationship: the better the job situation, the more employees seemed to complain about it. As I’d said to my own employees, and started saying to myself, “you’re paid the same either way. How is it hurting you to do this particular task?”

Now, this many years later I can finally admit that my actions helped the story play out the way it did. I wasn’t asked to do anything unreasonable; I was asked to provide a needed service. I was being paid the same, for the same hours of work. And yet I had responded with sullen, self-righteous indignation. There may have been gender discrimination and I’m not excusing that. But even so, I had to take responsibility for my own actions, and how I participated in this story. It was a humbling moment to realize that I was not blameless: I had not done my best.

It took me two decades to understand that I hadn’t been a hapless victim. And somehow by accepting responsibility for my behavior, the story was finally able to play out in its entirety. It is no longer stuck on replay; it is comfortably in my past, and I’ve moved on.

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