I’ve been out of work for 3 days, and it seems that I’m going through a period of mourning. I expected to be completely happy, but I’m not yet. Should I be surprised? It’s a farewell to six years of my life and to the many people that I’ve seen for at least eight hours a day, five days a week, 50 weeks a year. I get attached to people. But there is something else that bothers me, something that has to do with living for years in an environment that required me to change my behaviors and attitudes to fit in; and thus, necessarily, to doubt myself.
For six years, I had to adapt to the shape that my workplace had created for me. I did it with resistance and resentment, but I did it and I even got some satisfaction out of it. I was like one of those plants that grow in small awkward spaces. They adapt to their environment and proudly show off their small yellow leaves and tiny flowers; they may be charming, but sure they look ugly. Adaptation may be necessary to survival, but the results are often sad to watch. And when you leave the constraining situation, it takes a long time to regain your own shape.
At my job I got some good recognition and some good projects to sink my teeth in but also a lot of disheartening distorted reflections of myself. “For a hammer, everything looks like a nail:” this is what it felt like. The large company simplified social reality so that everybody looked like a corporate nail. And I was very far from being a nail. I was more like a thorny, purple wild flower. It didn’t feel good to behave like a nail and be hammered on the head.
For my company, I was a “manager.” A manager is supposed to think of her career. Instead, I thought the entire time about my happiness and my satisfaction. So selfish of me. A manager is supposed to manage other people’s work and to direct them. I was interested in doing work with my team. I took pride and satisfaction in creating things. I was fascinated by understanding how different people could contribute to the final outcome, in their unique, idiosyncratic way. I was interested in collaborative work: that amazing, bubbling process that happens when you put several brains to work on the same problem and give them the freedom to move and to explore, bounce ideas, and debate. But most of our work happened in gray cubicles; the thin walls were not enough to create privacy but enough to create isolation and compartmentalized work practices.
My company was interested in creating elastic, adaptable workers who could do everything and move flawlessly from one job role to another. I was interested in the unique skills and knowledge of each person, which made them amazingly good in doing some things and completely inept in others. Some people in my team were great in things I was bad at, and horrible at things that I could do well. It was not about who is up and who is down, who is good and who is bad; it was about who would be able to accomplish that particular task as nobody else could have done.
What came out of this struggle was not quite the corporate version of my job role and not quite what I wanted to create. The result looked rather like some mythological monster, half human and half animal (a Centaur, perhaps, or a Sphinx). My attitude was probably perceived as confusing and contradictory by both my managers and my team. I didn’t have the courage to push my experiment as far as I would have liked; and I’m not sure that it would have been possible anyway.
I asked my team to do things the way they thought best, I got amazed at the results, and I supported them as I could. But most of the times I had to go back to them and say: “Sorry folks, we need to disassemble the beautiful fairy tale castle we’ve just created; they appreciated the effort but said ‘thanks but no, thanks.'” I thought that at some point they had to stop trusting me; but for some reason they didn’t. Perhaps because they felt that even if I was delusional and made them do work that was not recognized, I was idealistic, sincere, and truly appreciated them.
For six years, I tried hard, I hoped, I got some success, I got some support; I laughed, I connected, I admired, I loved; I got tired, I slacked, I hid, I came back; I was abandoned, I was betrayed, I cried, I cursed, I got furious. And now it’s time to go and to let go. Bye-bye large company. I wish you the best of luck (and continue to keep my money safe!).