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.
This post has more than the usual share of disclaimers. In addition to sharing some of my own unflattering traits, I share those of my parents and supervisor. I want to stress first that I do not share about my parents with an attitude of blame, but rather simple cause and effect. We are all products of our genetic makeup and the influences of those who raised us as well as the other people and events in our lives. I have a very close and loving relationship with my parents, for which I am extremely fortunate and grateful. The second thing I want to stress is that in regards to me, my parents and my supervisor, every human who walks this planet is complex. None of us can be reduced to a small description of a few traits, as defined by another person. We are multi-faceted, ever-changing, and of course how we are seen is in large part a product of the one doing the seeing. So my purpose in describing those people as I do in this post is really to further illuminate my perception of my own journey. Thank you for understanding.
What happens when a woman raised to be passive and to pacify others, and a man with a sharp intellect and a mammoth sized chip on his shoulder meet and fall in love? Me. I am what happens.
Well actually four children happen, each with extraordinarily different personalities and different life paths, of whom I am the youngest. Each of the four of us wrestles in our internal tug-of-war at a different point along the line between passive and defensive, mollifying and inciting.
I am quite convinced that every day I move continuously along this line between passive and defensive, and how obvious this is to others depends entirely on the circumstances I find myself in.
We all have those experiences in life, the recurring ones. The path we reluctantly find ourselves on time after time, even though we are quite sure we have approached the journey every possible way, responding to it with every possible action and attitude.
There was a long time when I viewed these recurring themes as spiritual in nature: lessons coming into my life to teach me something; knowing they would return until I learned the lesson. Now I view them as the simple random occurrences of life combined with my personal psychological “snags.” When Mari and I were trying to conceive, and when I miscarried, I saw pregnant women everywhere. They flaunted their rounded bellies, clear glowing skin, and contented waddling gaits. Despite my impression that my part of the world was suddenly populated with an extraordinary number of pregnant women, I know that there have always been, and always will be, pregnant women. I only noticed them because this was a psychological snag for me at the time. Because I was so preoccupied with pregnancy and because of my longing and pain, I would notice a pregnant woman clear on the other side of a crowded parking lot or across the field at my son’s soccer game.
I know it isn’t a perfect analogy, but my point is that my “lessons” aren’t being brought to me by The Universe so that I will learn; they are simply the random turnings of life that frustrate me because … they frustrate me. If at some point they stop frustrating me, it doesn’t mean those situations will stop coming into my life, but that they will no longer snag as they go by.
So this dreary path that I find myself on once again is with my current supervisor at my temp job. Not surprisingly, authority figures are a common snag for me; for many of us.
(Because it is quite likely I will be looking for other jobs in the future, and because this blog is public, I want to mention that I have had many bosses in the past with whom I’ve gotten along famously; bosses who would go to bat for me in a heartbeat, who give me outstanding references and letters of recommendations; bosses who have recognized in me the traits I bring to a job – any job: dedication, intelligence, and my best effort.)
I have mentioned that this is a path I have walked on many, many times. On this path my supervisor seems not to recognize, not to believe, that I am bringing my best effort to the job; but rather questions and even challenges that I am bringing my best effort. When I was a young adult new to the workforce, I responded with a combination of defensiveness and digging in my heels. Truthfully, shamefully, in the face of their skepticism I stopped bringing my best effort.
Somewhere along the way my response to supervisor doubt changed – partly. I decided that my efforts needed to be exemplary, beyond reproach. I did not want my supervisor or the powers-that-be to find anything to point their finger at and say, “There, see? She isn’t doing her best.” However I still became defensive; very defensive. So while my actions were exemplary, in fact I would start working twice as hard to ensure it, my attitude would deteriorate. Exchanges with supervisors took a downward turn; their criticisms would make me angry and belligerent, which in turn fed their convictions.
This struggle has been a baffling one for me. And I have tried so many different ways. I have had some successes, but I will say this – the only situations that started going bad and then turned around were those where my supervisor was willing to be completely honest and up-front, was truly willing to work things out with me on equal footing, one human to another.
But supervisors who have already decided for whatever reason that I am not bringing my best, and who are looking for evidence of that, are not interested in honest dialog; they have already made a decision about me. And what I have learned over the years, during my many tedious journeys along this path, is that no matter how I walk it; no matter how hard I strategize; if I categorize and display my achievements; if I tirelessly document unfair treatment; if I appeal to my supervisor; stand up to her; go above his head; none of that changes the outcome, and none of that makes me feel better about myself.
The other afternoon at work I got an email from my supervisor detailing her expectations of me that convinced me that indeed we are on this familiar and dreadful path. This scenario of supervisor disapproval, really any scenario involving conflict with another person, is enormously, overwhelmingly triggering for me. The rest of that afternoon, and all of that evening, two things happened. One was expected, my anxiety response: my heart rate accelerated, my thinking got cloudy, and a migraine took hold of the right side of my head. But the other was entirely unexpected, alongside the anxiety response: I started clearly and rationally thinking through my options for earning an income, and the pros and cons of each. I realized that my challenge while going down this path will be to keep a clear head about my income options and to know if and when to make a change, rather than freezing in place or acting impulsively.
The next day, with a migraine, I scheduled an emergency session with my therapist. I immediately told her what I needed this session to be about. I gave her the synopsis about work and my two priorities: 1. to be able to manage my anxiety while this plays out, and 2. to be able to continuously balance my income options so that I make the best decision about if and when to change jobs.
Having that knack as therapists do for bringing up things we’d rather they not, she mentioned this recurring theme I have with bosses and suggested that we use this as an opportunity to study it further.
I agreed to that as long as studying it comes in at #3, as it would certainly be a relief to stop being snagged by this particular issue.
We talked about the exchanges I’ve been having in recent weeks with my boss, my theories about when things changed between she and I (which of course are only theories as none of us are mind readers), and my even more shot-in-the-dark theories about what she is thinking. What I finally came up with was, “Somehow, for whatever reason, I think she’s got me all wrong.”
My therapist said, “Then that’s the solid ground you stand on. You ground yourself in the knowledge that every day you earn your pay. No matter what she throws at you, whatever she seems to think of you, wherever this leads, she’s got you all wrong. And she can’t tell you who you are. Because you know who you are.”
For the first time in 24 hours I took a deep breath and slowly let it out. “It isn’t about changing the path I’m on. It isn’t about strategizing. It isn’t about changing what she thinks of me. And it isn’t about changing the outcome. The only thing it is about is returning, over and over again, to the solid ground that I know who I am.”
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