On Working

I had dinner with my boss’s wife and their preteen daughter tonight at a fancy club, of which my boss is a member. There’s a gym there and separate “grills” for men and women -built like an old Tuscan building with a sprawling dining room that overlooks a man-made lake with geyser-like fountain, kind of a shittier version of Lake Geneva, though on a sunny afternoon the view from the dining room is quite nice. They did everything they could to make the patrons forget that they were actually dining in the middle of a bland business park, less than two miles away from the airport, and instead created the illusion, with the tall windows, marbled hallways and crawling vines that they were in some sort of opulent yet rustic escape, a Bavarian king’s winter hunting palace. The whole place is very strange. The patrons are mostly white – a tense mixture of old, new and corporate money, and old. My boss once said he felt like a newborn baby when he hung out at the club because everyone else had one foot in the coffin. Well, he didn’t use those words exactly – I’m pretty sure the expression he used was even funnier, or it was the deadpan way he delivered it because I had burst out laughing and for a minute thought, “Hey, this man I work for is pretty damn funny.”

And he is. I think I’ve got a good sense of humor, but that sense stiffens when I’m in “professional assistant mode,” (which, sadly, really isn’t very professional or helpful at all). In front of my boss, whatever I say in the way of humor usually falls down flat. There are plenty of other people at the office who think I’m funny, and I guess that’s good enough – but in front of my boss I’m too much of a nervous, stuttering mess. I leave the jokes at the door along with my brain and put all my energy into not forgetting anything he says, though I usually do anyway, because if memory serves, the brain is where memories are stored. All that forgetting makes him pissed, which makes me less funny.

For the most part, I think I’ve written this before, I like my job. There are mornings I wake up, glare at my work phone (from which my two alarms ring) and think, “I think it’s time to enroll in a master’s program. Any master’s program, with classes that begin after 10AM,” and certain evenings, when I drag my feet out of work at 6PM, my body exhausted not because I’ve done anything particularly physical, but because I’ve been sitting and staring at the computer so long that my body doesn’t seem to know how to straighten up and move any other way. These are usually the days I drive past a homeless person sitting near the freeway entrance with a sign that says, “Please help me, I’m hungry,” but what I read is, “Be glad you have a job, you ungrateful wretch.”

On particularly taxing mornings I am heartless enough to roll my eyes and think, “Well, at least you can sleep in.”

I don’t know what it is, but lately, I’ve been losing it. And I know what I’m overdue for is an attitude adjustment. My parents are sensing my unease, and my mom has taken to coaxing me with her usual spiel, of “once you make a decision, stick to it.” She is, of course, referring to my casual mentioning some months ago that I enjoyed my job and could see myself staying here for a while. I left it deliberately vague then, because I am nothing if not self-aware, but after the holidays and CES, I had thought, stupidly, that the “taxing” part of the job was over and that everything after that would be cake. So one evening, I announced to my parents that I planned to work at the company for at least another year.

They were overjoyed, low are their expectations for me, and said they supported me in whatever path I chose, but that they were very happy I had decided to extend my current status as a productive, tax-paying, salary-earning member of society.

“If you decide to go back to school after you put your time in, we’ll fully support you then, but please work as long as possible. Who knows? You may grow to like it more and stay even longer!”

My father half-joked (other half entirely hopeful) about my climbing the corporate ladder, but I pictured the tree outside my bedroom window and thought of how much I preferred to climb that instead.

But of course the taxing part of any job is never over, just as the taxing part of life – for the long haul – is never over. In elementary school I braced myself for math tests and spelling bees (which I secretly enjoyed because I read a lot and knew some big words, until I lost to a girl who read more and knew bigger words. Then I hated the damn bee). In middle school I dreaded math tests and puberty, though it sort of hit me like a mild cold – something that made you uncomfortable, but wasn’t so harmful as to prevent you from having friends (with similar symptoms) and being, for the most part, an upbeat human being. In high school there were too many honors and AP classes and the godforsaken SAT’s on top of that AND the million clubs I joined when really, all I wanted to do was play badminton. And even then I didn’t think seriously about being a writer – because in high school, you think very seriously about other things, but becoming a writer is not one of them. But almost every day, I wrote something. Somewhere. Either online, or in my diary, or in a long letter to a friend. 

Any job, if you are seeking to turn it into a career, must be viewed as a marathon – Forrest Gump cross-country style – and not a sprint. It was stupid of me to promise what, at this point, I’m not sure I can deliver. I have a terrible record of commitment – to schools, to jobs (though to my credit I have never been fired, expelled or suspended and almost every job I’ve left – the ones I’ve bothered to list on my resume – have left their doors open to me in case I should change my mind one day. Imagined future epiphany: Oh my God, I did want to assist that funny man and get gas for him and lunches for forgetful executives forever and ever until the end of my days! I think not. No, I’ve come to recognize that my marathon is based on another road.

But when it comes to people, I stay. I have no problem committing my ears to their stories, their stories to paper. Some, I stay in their lives because I refuse to let them forget me. There is Jane, whom I met during my first week and liked immensely and who then promptly moved to Chicago. And more than a handful of others I’ve come to know and like and, when I get the chance, pepper them with questions about their lives outside of work because not only is it fascinating, it is sustaining.

At the Company, it is a rare bird who does not like the people. A young coworker once caught me on a bad day and in an effort to cheer me up, wrote a me a kind message telling me to look on the bright side, that we were surrounded by great people and that he had recently been offered a better paying position at a better job, but which he rejected because he couldn’t bear to leave the people. It was honestly a terrible day at work, but the fact that this young man took the time to write me the note cheered me immensely, and renewed my faith in myself. That is what the best kind of coworker can do for you.

I don’t believe everyone likes their work – I for one, do not mind the work, but I do not love it. I said I did in the beginning but that was me making the noises of a newborn – everything is new and fresh and you haven’t developed a sense of yourself in this new world. But then you grow a brain (the one you inevitably leave outside your boss’s office) and realize, “Hey, I don’t like the work, and perhaps I do not have to. Not as much as I think I need to. What I do like are my coworkers. I like almost every single one of them, even my boss when he is angry with me, even the strange, stoic product guy with the bad haircut who drives a rape van; even the loud, brash, borderline misogynist Chief of this or that because he is a good story and, more generously, misunderstood.”

And that’s why I stay. For the time being, anyway.

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