Common Denominator

2015 has been a big year, suffice to say. Between the wedding, the honeymoon, the legal documentation changeover, a few illnesses, an injury or two, and adjusting to a new job, it has been…active. I got through the first six months in a haze of wedding planning and then, suddenly, come June it was just…silence. It’s like when you graduate from college and overnight all those parts of your brain that ticked and buzzed with papers, dates, study notes, and all the minutia that goes into the knowledge required to attain a degree just…stop. Wind through trees, cars whizzing by, a weeknight with nothing to do. Your life is handed back to you different than how you left it but enriched (we hope). You go forward.

Sometime around middle June, I began to wake in the night with stomach pain. Not cramps, it didn’t come and go, it was a full on attack. The stomach, that fist-sized sack right behind and under where our ribs come together, for me has always been an indicator of stress level. Generally actually, a little south of the stomach, ifyougetmymeaning. So that night I sat up in bed, sitting up was the only way I was in less pain, and I waited. Water didn’t help, gas pills, Tums, nothing. Then I reached for the hard drugs I was taking when I had the back issue last summer and was finally able to sleep. It happened three more times and each time I skipped trying to figure it out and went straight for the opioids. I made an appointment with the doctor and have since been scoped with negative results. He says it’s too much stomach acid production and the heartburn pills I take daily are useless. Another prescription is coming, as soon as I see him again.

Stress, I am sure of it. How can a newlywed, giddy as the day is long, be stressed? Well ok, I guess there are some factors like being the sole breadwinner while Dylan begins school soon (fortunately it’s an accelerated program for IT training complete with four certifications and job placement), and my job has taken a bit of a turn.

I enjoy my job, let me say that right away. When I’m busy the days fly by and I feel productive and useful. Lately however, the days drag and in the last three of them I managed to clock all of one hour’s worth of actual work accomplished. There are few things worse in a working life than being bored out of your mind. The days tick by at a glacial pace and you begin to resent every element of it from the first alarm beep to the pedestrians extending your commute, to the quality of the coffee, to the inane requests of coworkers who would rather have their work printed out and carried to them than get it themselves. Add to that a shared office and a wicked case of misophonia, and it’s very possible that this stomach situation cropped up exactly when work slowed down and the magnifying glass of boredom settled in squarely over my desk.

The more I work a desk job with regular office hours, the more I think I would do things differently if I ever have the misfortune to run a business. I had a college professor who ran a small design firm. He gave every single employee a key and told them to come and go whenever they pleased. If Bob is a morning person and Carol is a night owl, they can work according to their body clocks, provided the work gets done (because that, at the end of the day, is the only reason anyone is at work to begin with. The money is the reward for the work). He said that 90% of the time, people policed themselves and it worked out how it should, and the ones who didn’t work out ultimately fired themselves in one way or another. I mean think about it: you can get all your work done in five hours but you sit there, online or on your phone, watching the clock tick, until eight hours has passed. Why? Doesn’t that just encourage clock-watching behavior? If the work is getting done and the work is good, encourage communication between staff and if Carol has work coming to Bob that day, then they should let each other know and the work won’t be put off. Right? Is that just simplistic and assuming that people will rise to the way they’re treated (or sink to it just the same)?

My boss doesn’t suck, he’s a good dude who let me have WAY more paid time off this year than a new person should have been granted. But, you know, to be fair, he hired me the day before I got engaged and well before we picked a date so it’s not like I accepted the job knowing I’d have all that time off to ask for. I knew I wanted a short engagement though, so it stood to reason time off would be requested. Fortunately, a week’s paid was included in the offer without a probationary period so at least I was able to use that legitimately.

The problem now though, is that I have no more days to take until the office is closed for a holiday. That means that anything, illness, funeral, anything, needs to be cleared first and dire in order to be approved. So if I’m hacking, temperature of 103 ill, do I call off or do I risk the office’s health? This is why things get dicey when you start watching the clock and making sweeping rules for people. It’s something I think about. I don’t worry on it, but I do think about it. I just made a follow up appointment with my stomach doctor for next week, the very first appointment of the day and I will still be at least a half hour late getting in. This is priority, health. And as an employee you just have to hope that your boss sees it that way too.

The office is small. Really small. There is one other artist and we share space, then four other Project Managers plus the boss. Dynamic and chemistry are important in such a small environment. Two things are working against me here and they are: 1. everyone has worked here for anywhere from I think four to 15 years and maybe even more in one case (I’ve been here nine months) and 2. I come to work to work, I don’t save all my best material for anywhere I have to be. But I was encouraged to try to make it better for myself and the others.

I’ll admit that this caught me off guard, I had no idea anyone considered me to be unpleasant. I spent the day stewing and wondering who had said what, and what I said to make them think I was being a jerk. I ran it by a few friends who empathized and one confessed to a similar conversation with her boss, wherein she was told to try to be more likable around the office. I mean… ok? I come here to work. I am not a bitch. I mean, I don’t put up with being talked down to or insulted, not that it happens ever or often, but I’m not a smile/bend over type. I never have been. My mother, sisters, and niece all suffer from this same lack of bullshit filter. Typically, this serves us well… until we find ourselves in tiny offices where we can’t hide behind anonymity and humorous snark. But. Here I am, the sole earner, saving for a future in warmer climes. I have to do something I never, ever thought I would do: Go along to get along. Ouch.

I have to smile through gritted teeth while handing a coworker a six page printout of a PDF that I just emailed to her (that she could print herself), knowing a change will be made and all six pages will have to be packaged and printed again, and walked to her office, and handed over. Again. Now, in the vein of treating people in a way that they may rise to return the treatment, I like to think these small gestures (if done convincingly if not genuinely) will buy me some office goodwill. I certainly don’t want to be the unhappy black hole everyone complains about behind my back, that would be terrible. But I also really struggle with being (feeling) subordinate in a position where I am simply not, by job description. There will always be those people in offices who seem threatened or generally unhappy and who take it out on you, but one of the worst ways anyone can possibly insult me, is to imply that I have inferior intelligence. That is probably my Achilles if I’m honest, and I work with one of those. I have to tell myself that maybe she’s bad at sarcasm or doesn’t know how to joke with someone, or just doesn’t have a graceful pause when asking for things which makes her come off rude. These things help, true or not. A blessed part of aging is knowing that by 40, you’ve pretty much met everyone there is in the world and you eventually learn how to navigate them appropriately.

I have no clean way to end this post, some of it is venting and some is rambling. It always helps to get it out and see it though, and in the last week of rolling all that around in my head and bouncing it off Dylan I have come to a vital realization: I am not meant for office work. No job I’ve ever had that I loved took place in an office, and they all seem to bring the same problems with them. I wind up unhappy and the stress makes me sick, repeatedly. So once again, it’s time to start looking around for something less boxed in, less Office Space, and more me. Whatever that is.

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