I started my adult life with the belief that I needed to be a model employee in order to survive financially as a grown person. I believed that any deviation from this role would ruin my ability to get work and thus to have money to pay the bills.
And the fact is, I've always been very good at whatever work I do – meaning, the specific tasks. But I also have a little problem: I haven't otherwise been a model employee. I have had to quit jobs because staying was actually painful to me. I have talked back to authority figures on a regular basis, and refused unreasonable demands more often than not. And in one case, I was actually fired.
I'm coming to see a pretty interesting pattern in this movement of mine. The pattern goes something like this:
~I am drawn to work in places where there is deception just under the surface
~One way or another, I come into conflict with that deception and tell some truth as a result of the clash
~Things fall apart some time after I leave
At one level, I feel like damaged goods. I can see myself through the eyes of dominant culture and I know that I am not the perfect employee I believed I would have to be.
And although I have been able to get work even so, the reality is that when I am unemployed for even a day, the panic sets in. I observe myself feeling like I have dirty secrets that I hope no one learns about.
That's one part of me. But at another level, I genuinely like and approve of how I move in the world. I mean, I deeply deeply approve of this kind of movement. It speaks to me spiritually. And it doesn't require me to do or be or try anything special. It's just how things seem to go when I'm around.
I'm thinking now that it might be inevitable and maybe I should find a way to fully embrace it.
Case 1: My first full-time job out of college. It was with a small business owned by a woman who had built the company all by herself from nothing to a fair amount of success. By the time I came on board, she had married and given her husband a management job. He was my boss. He was a horrorshow – incompetent, deluded and mean.
His marriage to the owner protected him from real critical scrutiny. I stayed for two years, almost longer than I could bear. I remember telling the truth about my experiences to a consultant the owner had hired because her staff (including me) were so unhappy. Not long after that, I left. And not long after I left, the company began to fall into decline. The decline led the once thriving business to fold.
Ten years later, I happened to cross paths online with a woman who had left the company just before I started my job. From a decade away, we could both see that the owner's husband had verbally and emotionally abused us both and that there had been deep wrongness in the way he was protected by his marriage to the owner.
Twenty years later, I sat in the sun talking with the woman who had built and owned that company. She had long ago divorced the abuser. As we discussed old times, she told me about how horribly bad her marriage had been during the time I worked for the company. She also told me things that led me to the conclusion that the man who had been my boss was/is a sociopath.
Case 2: A job at an educational institution. My soon-to-be boss was so enthusiastic about hiring me that he wrote a job description with me in mind. I do believe he saw me as a sweet young thing who was eminently mold-able, someone to mentor and shape. He was wrong.
I moved to a new city to take the position. Not long after I arrived, people started taking me aside and telling me things about my boss and some of his cronies. And I myself started noticing some pretty intense deception in how my boss moved. Slowly but surely, I got the picture – he was engaged in multiple layers of some pretty serious deception and corruption.
He was a master at political games. I was about as far from that as anyone could get. Inevitably, we clashed. I refused to resign or to lie. I had a lot of support from people on and off campus, but his ties to the highest levels of the institution's administration won out in the end. After a drawn-out battle, he succeeded in firing me. To his chagrin, I did not go away. I remained at the institution as a teacher for some time.
During my remaining stay, I continued to tell the truth of my experiences to colleagues, administrators and community members whenever anyone asked. I didn't make a fuss about it – I just didn't hide anything about what had happened.
Within several years after I left, I learned that he – a tenured faculty member who had been there for a long time – had left the institution to take a position in another state that was clearly several steps down from where he had been. And since then, I've heard that he has changed jobs again and moved another few steps down in the career hierarchy.
Case 3: A job at a self-described “nonprofit organization.” I had contacted them seeking project work, but the head honcho offered me a near-full-time position. I accepted, but with the caveat that it was just a trial run and we'd each be assessing whether it was a fit or not as things unfolded.
I had had a conversation with a friend of mine before I started the job. She told me that from what she could tell, the organization was structurally deceptive – that it operated like a for-profit family business, but was set up and registered as a nonprofit. After telling me this, my friend grew concerned that she was being too negative. She begged me not to allow her perspective to influence my view of the organization or my experiences inside of it. I told her not to worry. I told her that deception, if it exists, always shows itself to me eventually, and whatever would be revealed would emerge for me as direct information. I told her that nothing she said could cause that to happen or stop it from happening.
Sure enough, the organization was rife with deception. It was in fact a family business run under the auspices of a non-profit. It was also tied into an entire industry of “community-based” deception and mild corruption in which corporate and government entities move money around in order to look good.
I experienced the place as a toxic fog and I could see that some others did as well. I stayed about a month past my tolerance. I finally could not bear it anymore and gave notice. I told some truth to various people in the process, but did so in a way that allowed me to leave on quite friendly terms. Before I left, noticed signs that things were not going well financially with the organization. I could be wrong, but I suspect that several decades after its founding, the organization is likely to fall apart within a couple of years.
These are just a few cases from my experiences I've selected to write about. There are others.
The question in front of me now, as I write, is whether I can discard whatever it is in me that sees myself as damaged goods because I have not been the model employee.
I suspect that there might be great strength available to me in accepting that this is just how I move – that is, accepting that this is inevitable and doing so from the start of any work I begin from here on out.
I suspect that a choice to completely align my perception with the part of me that loves this in myself would be amazingly powerful. I suspect that there are things possible from such a space that I can only glimpse in bare, small, random flashes right now.
I don't know the answer yet - but I do for sure know the question: Can I accept the inevitable?