Is it them? Or is it me?

April 29, 2008

SJ and I were talking about what happens when work goes wrong. Has work gone wrong for us because we’ve been in the wrong jobs? Or would it feel like that whatever we did?

I’ve done a lot of different jobs, and many of them have gone wrong. I’ve never actually been fired – at least, I don’t think I’ve been fired – but I’ve often stagnated in the backwaters, wondering what was going wrong. Why didn’t they value me? I worked hard. I was nice to people. I had some reasonably good ideas. Most of all, I was loyal. I cared whether or not my projects were successful, my clients happy. My employers did well out of that loyalty. They should have valued me. Surely I was more than fulfilling my part of the bargain?

Anyway, how could it be my fault if things weren’t working? Employers have all the power. They make the decisions. I can’t force them to value me, to promote me, to appreciate me, to give me the projects I want.

So I concluded that I was in the wrong place. Maybe corporates just weren’t right for me because my face didn’t fit. I was too clever, or not clever enough. Too English, too female, too loud, too quiet. And I had different values – I could never really convince myself that the cult of the share price makes the world a better place. So I resigned myself to being a star-shaped peg in a round hole.

And then I had a mid-life crisis and quit working and started studying. And studying felt like a star-shaped hole. It’s about thinking rather than doing. It’s a cause I believe in. It’s a field that’s dominated by women. All my excuses fell away, one by one.

And, guess what?

I still felt like a star-shaped peg in a round hole.

So I’ve been forced to the conclusion that actually, the problem doesn’t lie with my employers after all. It lies with me.

This is somewhat disconcerting. Is it really my fault that I haven’t enjoyed the last fifteen years, that I haven’t felt like a success? I feel rather stupid, and as if I’ve wasted a lot of time.

But it’s also liberating as hell. Because, for the first time in a while, I’m starting to believe that maybe I could go back into the workplace one day. Maybe I’m not completely unsuited to corporate life. Maybe I’d be fine in corporate life if I could just grow up a bit and take responsibility for myself.

I’ve got some ideas about how to do that, and they’ll no doubt be the subject of future posts.

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17 Responses to “Is it them? Or is it me?”

  1. Sarah Jane Says:

    I think there’s probably blame on both sides. I do completely agree with you that personal baggage has a lot to do with this, but it’s not the whole story. I guess this should probably be a post of my own…tomorrow, maybe!

  2. francesca Says:

    I don’t think anything’s ever the whole story.

    I’m coming to believe, though, that I’m almost completely responsible for the quality of my experience, as an adult. I wasn’t as a kid, but it’s a long time since I’ve been a kid.

    If a situation’s a problem for me and I work on the situation, it’s rare that this makes things better. If I work on changing myself, I find that the problem disappears even if the problem hasn’t disappeared, so to speak.

  3. Sarah Jane Says:

    I think there are definitely wrong situations. I wouldn’t want to work in the private sector ever again, because it just doesn’t fit with my personal ethics, and a lot of the misfit was because I was being asked to contribute to something I just couldn’t believe in. But there’s still a misfit in the public sector, and that’s what I need to work on, I suppose.

  4. Francesca Says:

    Y’see, this is my question. Is there a misfit? Does there have to be one? Or do we create it inside our heads?

    I don’t know the answer, and I clearly don’t have a track record of success to show you. But I am learning that assuming I’m the problem works incredibly well for me in other areas of my life. So maybe it would work in the workplace too.

  5. Sarah Jane Says:

    I’ll post about this. I’m really uncomfortable with the whole concept of “I’m the problem”, because I’m trying very hard to believe that I’m unique and valuable and somehow better at what I do because of who I am than a corporate clone would be; I can see that a big part of the problem is how I relate to the organisational hierarchy (and I hate hierarchy, so this is definitely a bit fraught), but part of it is also that the organisation isn’t the thing I’m looking for. And perhaps that means I just need to revise my expectations, and learn to deal with feeling awkward (which might actually be what you meant). I’m not sure it means I should be busting a gut to change myself to fit in with such a dysfunctional system.

  6. Francesca Says:

    I think it’s fine for us to disagree about this.

    I have some complex thoughts and feelings around this. I’m hoping that they will work themselves out in some semblance of sense over future posts. I should say, though, that ‘assuming I’m the problem’ is not intended to translate into ‘busting a gut to change myself to fit in with such a dysfunctional system’ – far from it.

  7. Sarah Jane Says:

    I suspect that we agree more than is apparent from this conversation. It is a complex issue, and I didn’t really think you meant ‘busting a gut to change myself to fit in with such a dysfunctional system’.IAMC.


  8. F: really interesting post, thank you.

    I don’t think you can blame yourself for not being happy in work for the last 15 years – you were doing the best you could. Assuming that you now have information (about yourself, about the world …) that you didn’t have then, and went back to Corporatia without adjusting either your behaviour or your expectations, then that might be silly – but I don’t see you doing that. We learn and we move forward – who you are now isn’t who you were then.

    I’m really pleased if this reopens a door you thought had closed, even if you never step through it.


  9. Hmm. Inadvertent smiley!

  10. Francesca Says:

    I don’t think I blame myself. I think I take responsibility. And I think they’re different.

    Of course, I might be quite wrong about all of this. I’m often wrong about things, and most especially myself. But this is really working for me right now.

    I will be writing more about it, and I hope it’ll become clearer.


  11. I completely agree with you, though you did write:

    Is it really my fault that I haven’t enjoyed the last fifteen years, that I haven’t felt like a success? I feel rather stupid, and as if I’ve wasted a lot of time.

    … which sounded a little like self-blame to me.

    Please do write more, particularly if it helps you work through this.

  12. Francesca Says:

    I think we’re in semantics.

    I’m not beating up on myself.

    I do wish I’d worked some of this stuff out earlier – how not? – but, of course, I had to do what I’ve done to learn what I’ve learned.

    Interestingly, I don’t think this kind of writing does help me work through things these days, although it used to. I’m trying to do something a bit different now – explain it to other people. But of course things will often come out in the wrong order – hence much of this conversation, and others in the future, I’m sure.

  13. Calluna V. Says:

    I think that it’s usually true that there are things one can do to make almost any situation work. However–

    1. “Usually…almost.” I’d love to have control over all my deepest laid issues, and I hope someday to exorcise most of my ghosts, but I cannot do it just by deciding to. In my current work situation, for instance, I’m working with someone who routinely pushes my deeply laid buttons. I’ve tried to just “decide” not to react to her in those ways, and I’ve failed. This is one of those situations where I have to acknowledge that doing this will take a lot of time and work, and I have to figure out what I want to do in the mean time.

    2. Sometimes the only way we *can* make something work is by doing or becoming something we *shouldn’t*. There are some work situations, for instance, in which everything would run smoothly if only the person in question would lie routinely. But that might not be a good solution. It might, in fact, be better to have the problem.

    If either/both of you have never read Audre Lorde’s essay, “On the Uses of Anger,” I recommend it highly.

  14. Francesca Says:

    (1) Check. Again, I have now found things that work for me here – they are twelve-step strategies and they probably need a post of their own – but there are situations that I have to keep out of for a while, because I know that I am not in control of how I behave. I am fortunate enough to be able to do this.

    (2) I’m not being clear, sorry. My definition of success in this post is not ‘work runs smoothly’. It is ‘I feel okay about work whether or not it runs smoothly’. I’m still working on language around some of this – I hope it will emerge as we practice.

  15. Calluna V. Says:

    Hunh. I think I will talk less and listen more, because I don’t think I’m understanding you well yet. I look forward to further thoughts from you.

    I think probably the more you can give examples and contextualize the principles you’re discussing, the easier it will be to understand.

  16. Francesca Says:

    I’m sure you’re right. But I’ve no idea if that’s what I’ll do. This is a really experimental space, and it’s conversations like this that make me realise how experimental it is.

  17. Alithea Says:

    All this is most timely for me too, given that I am officially foot loose and fancy free (ie. unemployed) as of Monday and have no idea what I want to do!

    Also, nice to see you blogging again Frankie, I always find your writing thought provoking 🙂


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