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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?

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Comment Preferences

  •  I hope you can accept it. (6+ / 0-)

    It's the economy and the culture it creates that is damaged and sick, not you. Your ability to see the reality of our broken society at the micro (personal) level is a gift, not a sign of brokenness.

    •  thanks for this (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      2020adam, Killer of Sacred Cows

      It's weird, I do know that it's what's around that's broken. But I keep unearthing these pieces of "how I see" that come from my partial assimilation into the cultural system.

      I had to engage in some amount of assimilation to survive in this insanity, because otherwise I would not have understood enough to do anything and would probably have ended up in a mental institution due to sheer incomprehension (at the very least).

      But the result is that I have a dual vision sometimes - seeing myself and my surroundings both through my own eyes and the inserted eyes of the dominant culture.

      •  The way I, personally, make that distinction... (2+ / 0-)

        is that it's necessary to survive, regardless your deeper understanding of the system you inhabit.

        I was fortunate to grow up without the burden of the capitalist ideology. None of that drivel about growing up to be a good worker bee, so I too, one day, could be an asshole to those below me.

        So I don't really have any useful thoughts on how to rid oneself of an ideology that tells you honesty and reality are for losers. I do, though, know that our day is not too far off. The Crashes are becoming more spectacular, with the 'recoveries' melting right into the next Crash.

        This way of doing business can only last for so long. Deference to hierarchy and self-stupification are significantly less useful when the "system" you were bred to accomodate is flipped on its head.

        Or I'm just optimistic. Who knows.

        •  I do know how to get rid of it (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          2020adam, Killer of Sacred Cows
          So I don't really have any useful thoughts on how to rid oneself of an ideology that tells you honesty and reality are for losers.
          For myself it's just making the choice to embrace what's more organic to me. Doing so means letting go of something that has helped me to survive but that I assess as no longer so useful to survival as to justify the harm it does me.

          I've done stuff like this before, stripped away inserted pieces of what I assimilated to. This is another round. I'm not quite there yet with this one - but I do see the necessity. Need for survival is what keeps me bound. But I'm thinking that this doesn't really help my survival - it just has the facade of doing so.

          I was fortunate to grow up without the burden of the capitalist ideology.
          Where/how did you grow up?

          And yes, to my perception this system is falling in on itself - cancer eventually kills its host, would be one metaphor. Unfortunately it's causing a whole lot of pain to a whole lot of beings even as it does.

          •  I grew up on the East Coast. DC, NJ, CT. (2+ / 0-)

            Nowhere interesting. But until I started grade school, I didn't know there was anything beyond Channel 13 on TV and 93.9 on the Radio. PBS and NPR. Mr Rogers was my homeboy. Garrison Keillor was the voice of my weekends.

            Mom just worked real hard to make sure we knew we could be whatever the fuck we felt like being, with no judgement. None of that crap about "always try your hardest" or "you can be the best at anything if you put your mind to it".

            The only ideology I remember her sticking to in the early years was atheism, but that eventually softened, and the Unitarianism exposed us to the huge range of beliefs beyond that.

          •  I wonder how one breaks into the kind of... (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Michellebird

            consulting you mentioned in Case 1.

            The kind of job where the boss actually wants your opinion on this subject.

            •  there's a lot I/we don't know about (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              2020adam

              what that consultant experienced and did. I do wonder what information she shared, how she shared it, and what she got back from the owner when she did so. I wish I had had the chance to find out more at the time, but I was deeply stressed and it was all I could do to hold my own self together at that point.

              In most cases that I have seen since then, it seems to me that organizations generally choose consultants who will validate the organization's foundational assumptions. Basically it's can be having a consultant for show while nothing substantial changes. Which is its own form of deception.

              As far as the field itself: I've done a little bit of project work from time to time that could go into the category of organizational consulting, in a way. For me it's been through a combination of qualitative research and facilitation skills I developed as a teacher and little projects coming up in various ways.

              My wife has said this is something I maybe could develop/do more of now, with whatever I'm moving into now. I may end up there one way or another. Or I may not. See above re: deception. I mean - speaking of my wife, she has has a great saying: "Don't ask if you don't want to know." But a lot of times that's exactly what happens.

              •  Branding is all a joke. (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                Michellebird

                There's nothing stopping you from branding yourself as exactly the kind of person your old boss would've wanted to bring in.

                The problem, methinks, is that consultants are like most people. They prefer safety over honesty. They want to keep the job (or contract, or whatever). They don't want to tell the client something that will send them looking for a new consultant.

            •  And (a PS to my first reply) (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              2020adam, Thornrose

              So now I'm having a lot of fun imagining what my consulting business would be like.

              Truth Hurts Consulting:
              "Don't Ask If You don't Want to Know"

              (and a logo that somehow incorporates the words or concept: "Take It!")

              It just might be bedtime. Hmm.

  •  Interesting diary (4+ / 0-)

    And an illuminating personal reflection.

    It's really an age-old conflict, isn't it?  Does one go along to get along, or does one stay true to one's principles?  At some point, we all have to make this decision in every job we take.  

    I don't think it's possible to remain 100% true to principle in a job.  Some compromise is always required.  It just has to be minor enough that we can justify it without abandoning our personal integrity.  I left my former career in private practice in part because I couldn't make the compromises anymore.  (I also hated the horrendous hours and unrelenting pressure.)

    I think these are just choices we have to make.  Most of us need to work to live, so it's about finding a place that pays us what we feel we're worth without demanding that we sacrifice our integrity.

    "Ça c'est une chanson que j'aurais vraiment aimé ne pas avoir écrite." -- Barbara

    by FogCityJohn on Wed Jun 27, 2012 at 11:22:19 PM PDT

    •  for me it's a bit different (3+ / 0-)
      Does one go along to get along, or does one stay true to one's principles?
      and
      I think these are just choices we have to make
      It's visceral for me, the way I move. Meaning: from all the evidence I have thus far, I seem to do it whether I choose to or want to or not. I mean, with Case 3 in the diary for example, I deliberately decided in advance (told my wife and everything when I was deciding to accept the position) - deliberately decided in advance that I did not want to play this role I always seem to play. And yet - I did anyway. And at some level I probably knew I would, if I attend to what I said to my friend. But I really did not want to.

      I think for some people it is about choice. For me it's - I'm really coming to feel that for me this is just how it is. I watch myself and see that I can make X or Y or Z choice, and I still end up doing what I do and what I describe here. I can decide "I don't want to do this" and I still end up doing it.

      So I'm at this place where it's like - okay, this is just how it is for me and maybe I should stop struggling against what I can't change and start to look at being really deliberate in whatever I can change.

      So for example, I can already see some variation in how much of a beating I have to take as an individual in all of this. Leaving Case 3 on friendly terms, compared with being the campus-wide lightening rod in Case 2  is an example of that kind of variation. I'm hoping there might be additional ways to mitigate the harm to myself that might get clearer if I stop fighting the inevitable and look at what I do have some say over.

  •  You are so very self aware (3+ / 0-)

    -- that you cannot help but survive and thrive on the road ahead.


    Reality: "The world doesn't work that way."
    Pluto: "So? Change the world."

    by Pluto on Wed Jun 27, 2012 at 11:39:01 PM PDT

  •  A small story (3+ / 0-)

    my late husband worked construction he also was a dedicated volunteer firfighter /paramedic for many years. He was big on safety. Every time he took a job the company would turn out to have huge safety issues.

    Standing up and speaking his mind was never a problem he was known to back the owners of multimillion dollar companies into a corner and give them hell for putting the employees in danger.

    He was never fired, I think they were to afraid to find out what would happen if they tried it.

    In the wake of him leaving a company there was always massive trouble. Two were shut down by Labor and Industries safety division. One all the workers quit in mass. and so on. One had a major accident and was driven into bankruptcy, my husband trotted out his documentation for the widow of the man that was killed and testified in court about the things that went on before he left.

    I always saw it as his calling he empowered those who felt helpless to change their horrible circumstances and he stood up and often changed very dangerous situation and practices.In the end he probably saved lives.

    Your diary reminded me of that maybe you just need to look at the big picture and see if something similar may be occuring with you.

    It is the heart that makes a man rich. He is rich according to what he is not what he has -Henry Ward Beecher

    by PSWaterspirit on Wed Jun 27, 2012 at 11:41:53 PM PDT

    •  great story! (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Killer of Sacred Cows

      Thanks you so much for sharing it. You late husband sounds wonderful and I bet I would have been delighted to see him in action had I had the opportunity.

      I always saw it as his calling he empowered those who felt helpless to change their horrible circumstances and he stood up and often changed very dangerous situation and practices.In the end he probably saved lives.

      Your diary reminded me of that maybe you just need to look at the big picture and see if something similar may be occuring with you.

      I need to be careful with that, for myself specifically. I can observe that certain things happen. I can observe that there is a function in how I move - or in other language, an energy I am hosting. I also know for sure  that my piece is a very small part of whatever is happening that causes any outcomes.

      For me there is a grounded-ness in staying away from things like "calling." For me stuff like that feels viscerally like I'm standing on quicksand.

      All of which to say, I do also see a bigger picture, but it's grounded in a certain way for me.

      If that makes any sense outside my own head, that is.

  •  I used to work in the warehouse of a Sears (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Michellebird, 2020adam

    at a local mall. Back when such places had a significant amount of space dedicated to shipping and recieving and storing items "in the back".

    You would have thought we all made 150K a year with all the backstabbing, politics, double-crosses, and melodramatic storylines we lived on a regular basis.

    I remember almost getting into a fistfight with a fellow associate over a 'Supervisors' title that came with no payraise, no benefits, just extra work to go with the title.

    No wonder the GOP is so successful. No wonder.

    We were all so afraid to even ask for what we deserved. Like if we got fired from Sears, from the damned mall, we wouldn't ever work again or something.

    In the dressing room, where the time clock was, there was this poster about "what to do if a solicitor or survey-taker attempted to make contact with us'. Only, the cartoon on the poster was a blue-collar guy in a hardhat with denim overalls and a clipboard. Basically, we were all so far gone that nobody really realized at all that it was telling us to freak out if somebody from a union tried to organize the serfs.

    We were at each other's throats over empty titles and annual raises that were almost always nickles and dimes an hour more, lorded over by petty little tyrants who were also at each others throats over empty titles and annual raises that were almost always dimes and quarters an hour more.

    I try not to cry when I think about my twenties. I really do.  

    I am from the Elizabeth Warren wing of the Democratic Party

    by LeftHandedMan on Thu Jun 28, 2012 at 12:50:02 AM PDT

    •  what's work like for you now? (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      LeftHandedMan

      (If I may presume from your last bit that you are out of your twenties by this point)?

      •  I'm 42 (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Michellebird, Thornrose

        and I have been unemployed for, gah, two years now in good ol' Right to Work state Nevada.

        It's brutal.

        I've never lived anywhere where you have to have an 'in', or a hook-up, or know somebody, to work at McDonalds or WalMart.

        I've worked in retail. Grocery stores. In construction and landscaping. A carwash for a couple of years. I've worked as a freelance writer and illustrator. I used to do web design back before the internet bubble popped. Nothing compares to be over 40 in America, but being over 40 in a Right to Work state where you have your maximum value as a wage slave from 18 to 35 is pretty rotten. I'm betting over 50 and 60 is probably going to make being over 40 seem like a dream though. There is a built-in assumption that people who are older than, say, their mid-30's are going to be a pain in the ass about pay and benefits and not being 100% flexible with their hours.

        One of the things that happens when you go through rough times is that you start to inventory your life, and, sadly, the old cliche is true that youth is wasted on the young.

        Considering how slowly 2-22 passed at the time, and how 22 to 42 happened to seem to pass in the blink of an eye,  sometimes I wonder what I was thinking buying into the whole "if you work hard, keep your nose clean, don't ruffle a lot of feathers, and be a good little wage slave" nonsense.

        One thing that I am thankful for is that I never bought into the notion that people over the age of 40 were whining or exaggerating about how utterly disposable you get treated when you hit 40.

        If I'd been one of those people who rolled his eyes at older people hip deep in the shit and bewildered about it 20 years ago, I think I'd be beyond depressed about my life now.  

        I've reached a point where I don't expect to live to see the change, but I still fight for it anyway so kids today have better when they are gray and thinking about their own kids. I can live with how mixed bag my life has been if people who come after me have better.

        I am from the Elizabeth Warren wing of the Democratic Party

        by LeftHandedMan on Thu Jun 28, 2012 at 01:36:45 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  You sound like me. I still stick with my (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Michellebird

    principles. But it is a lonely road as most cast off truth for money, security, acceptance in community, fear etc., etc.

    But I have a joyful soul :)

    I do occassionally question my choices but only cause I see more people following the dark side of life cause apparently its easier but it is not better.

    I was never fired from any job but left dozens and dozens because I refused to lie cheat or steal from anyone (customers, fellow workers) and the trouble in these companies always found me. I didn't go in looking for the bad. Most of the companies I've worked for are all bankrupt now...go figure..

    I want to die as squeaky clean as I was born...:)

    "Time is for careful people, not passionate ones."

    "Life without emotions is like an engine without fuel."

    by roseeriter on Thu Jun 28, 2012 at 02:55:12 AM PDT

  •  The issue is that we are taught (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Michellebird

    to do the best job we can and we will get our reward. The problem is that people who do this are constantly undercut by sociopathic con artists who schmooze their way to the top. People like this feel threatened by those who are capable of doing their jobs, because they themselves are usually barely competent, and they will work to fire any "rising star" who might be a threat to their own security.

    •  my experience has been (0+ / 0-)
      sociopathic con artists who schmooze their way to the top
      I know the type - very very VERY well. They've been present in pretty much all of these situations, the ones I described and the ones I didn't.

      My experience has been that these sociopaths are drawn to me like a moth to flame. Meaning - even to this day, they find me fascinating somehow.

      Case 3 was instructive for me on that level because it was relatively recent. The head honcho at that place was really into me (work-wise). Still was when I left, to some extent.

      When these sociopaths are into people, it means they want to use us for their agendas and think they can do so.

      For some reason, these types often feel like I'm use-able. But I'm not use-able. I would have thought this would become more apparent as I got older. But apparently it has not.

      There's something about my energy that these people want and think they can use.  And there's something about me that in the end they underestimate.

      The issue is that we are taught

      to do the best job we can and we will get our reward.

      In case 3, I actually had a manager tell me that I should be careful with what I did in one of the projects I was wrapping up before I left - essentially said right out "don't do anything that will make the client expect the same high quality in any future projects."

      Really good work - high-quality, etc etc - is in conflict with the contexts that reward the con artist/schmoozer types.

      I thought it was kind of funny that someone basically came right out and told me to not do my best because it would raise expectations after I was gone and no one else would do it that well. And the thing is, it's not like I'm special in my capacity to do great work.  There are some magnificently smart people still there. They are muzzled, they muzzle themselves. And they suffer for it.

  •  sticking to your core (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Michellebird

    beliefs, being true to yourself, there is NOTHING damaged about that, if anything, you remain unscathed.

    Hell wear those firings and such as badges of owner.

    My mouth and gut has gotten me in a lot of hot water, but damn I sleep well at night, and I like the person in the mirror.

    It isnt about the money, its about being as good a person as you can be.

    Keep on keepin on. You are not alone.

    Bad is never good until worse happens

    by dark daze on Thu Jun 28, 2012 at 08:33:51 AM PDT

    •  for me it's not about being a good person, though (0+ / 0-)
      It isnt about the money, its about being as good a person as you can be.
      I do want to be clear that it isn't about this for me, speaking only for myself.

      I get at what it is is for me (to some extent at least) in this comment above.

      •  that's sad (0+ / 0-)

        and basically a poor excuse for allowing yourself to be less than you can be. Life is about choice, that's all it is

        And choice IMHO leads to and creates the karma we have to personally deal with.

        I find, what you put out in this world is what you get back from it.

        Bad is never good until worse happens

        by dark daze on Fri Jun 29, 2012 at 10:18:46 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  the limits of your religious/spiritual beliefs (0+ / 0-)

          Dark daze: you describe your spiritual/religious beliefs here:

          and basically a poor excuse for allowing yourself to be less than you can be. Life is about choice, that's all it is

          And choice IMHO leads to and creates the karma we have to personally deal with.

          These are your religious/spiritual beliefs and you are welcome to them. However, make no mistake, dark daze: Your specific religious/spiritual beliefs are not universal truths about the cosmos.

          I suggest you think carefully about how you could communicate these beliefs in a more respectful way in the future.

          One tip is owning them as specific to you rather than applying to others who may live in your landscape.

          Another tip is learning to thoughtfully assess the contexts and conversations you walk into to see if your religious/spiritual beliefs are shared enough for you to participate by applying them.

          The first step, though, is self-awareness: specifically, you'd need to learn that your beliefs about how the cosmos/universe operates are yours and not universally applicable.

  •  typo- owner=honor ... damn this software.. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Michellebird

    Bad is never good until worse happens

    by dark daze on Thu Jun 28, 2012 at 08:34:45 AM PDT

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