Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Ring Ring: Guess What, Your Day is F*cked!


I was having a normal Tuesday morning a couple of weeks ago -- at my desk, drinking coffee, replying to work emails, about to start working on some client-related something or other -- when I got a phone call from my sister. She had called once that morning already, at 7:00, but I didn't answer. I knew that if she was calling again, it was for something urgent.

So I answered this time, and before I knew it, I had been listening to a 15 minute long rant about an argument she'd just had with my mom. There was nothing surprising about the contents of the rant, but what was remarkable was the way it perfectly encapsulated my family's particular brand of emotional dysfunction. Those were 15 minutes that called to mind a lifetime of frustration and familial misery. I'm embarrassed to say this, but I was leveled after that call -- concentration shattered, deep feeling of despair, spirits in the gutter. I don't know if it was just that I'd been anxious about other things and this triggered something larger, but I couldn't get anything done for an hour or so after that.

A close friend experienced something similar the other day when she had a meeting with her bosses and their bosses about a creative project they have in the works. As my friend tells me, this particular project is in horrible shape, but everyone smiled and talked about how great it was, and how it was so amazing and blah, blah, blah. Clearly they were saving face -- a LOT of money is going into this project -- but it was demoralizing to her to see everyone just pretend it all was well and good instead of talking constructively about how they could make it better. But she kept the happy face on throughout the meeting, and when it was over, she went back to her office and cried tears of frustration.

Both of these incidents were disturbing for different reasons, but they reminded me of how hard it is to go about your day when horrible emotional shit happens. Does this happen to everyone? Or just those of us who are perpetually on the verge of a nervous collapse? Mind you, I did recover, it just took a while.

One of the things that continues to bug me about the corporate world is the mask wearing it requires. Over the years I've just started to take mine off, mostly because it exhausts me too much to keep it on and pretend like everything is fine when it isn't. When I graduated from college and got my first job, I was so worried about presenting the right appearance. Wearing the right clothes, obviously, but also talking in the right way and using the right terms suddenly became of paramount importance. (Is there any doubt about why bullshit corpo-speak exists? It's because of insecurity -- people use these words to signify that they're in the know.) Anyway, the more time I've spent in this world, the more I've learned what is and is not essential, and while it is essential to keep a professional appearance, it is not essential to use terms like "decisioning" or "circling the wagons." No one needs to hear that shit.

But I digress. Whether this slow process of mask-taking-off is helping or hurting me is debatable. On the one hand, I put less pressure on myself to feel like I need to constantly be cheerful and approachable -- I'll tell anyone if I'm having a crappy day and that it might not be the best time to approach me -- but on the other hand, these little meltdowns are the kind of thing that has led people to declare that women are too emotionally unstable to be trusted with serious work. I don't believe that is true -- so what if I'm unproductive for a couple of hours every once in a while? It's not like ANYONE else is productive all the time, and anyway, I always make up for it -- but the stigma is troubling. It's not like I'm openly crying at work or anything, it's just that now I know my limits better, and I'll do what I have to to take care of myself first.

I guess I'm getting at something larger here about women in the working world. Stigmas disappear the more you shed light on what's behind them, so hey, maybe it's good for me to openly admit to my ups and downs. I have to imagine I'm not fooling anyone anyway. Over time hopefully my work makes up for it. Now can everyone else do the same so I'm not the only crazy one? Thanks.


Anonymous said...

I've stayed out of the corporate world largely for these reasons, and I have cried in the bathroom at work (only once, when I was 23, and I told no one). You should look into Anne Kreamer's recent book about crying at work. It's all about this, seriously. I haven't read it but have been wanting to. - Kristen

Jane Donuts said...

Interesting, I will have to check it out. Thanks!