What is work?

I believe I’ve contemplated the definition of work before. It’s something you do with your energy, to … do something. Move something. Shift something. Right now I do not have work that produces a monetary income, so that’s a bit of a pain in the arse. I do not miss the deadlines, the conformity, the refimentation, the rules. My disgust, however, had very little to do with the tasks I was trained and hired to do. I looked upon those as existing to help people, to help people use a technology they were required to use in a helpful way. Sometimes, even the recipients, saw that quite differently. The coporation had weaponized the work I did, so that it could be used to terminate you if you didn’t conform, if you didn’t fit into the mold well enough. Get your hands and arms back inside the car until the ride has come to a complete stop. You are not allowed to enjoy this, nor control your relalationship to it. If the widgets are going to move, everyone has to march toward them in lock step. There are metrics and all. Metrics rule us, but we rule you, so get to steppin’.

Um, no. There simply came a time when not only did I no longer want to march in step, I couldn’t. My rhythm was off, my legs didn’t work, my feet didn’t lift. The army discharged me, saying that I was unfit for duty. Incompetent was their exact word, I believe. I have never been defined as incompetent, and that was a bitter and large pill for me to swallow. It took a minute. This label was affixed by people who could not write an intelligent sentence, had never mastered the art of punctuation or, heaven forbid, logical thought process. All they had was power in the system, and a script. They followed the rules, and their paychecks depended on weeding out dead weight, outliers, malcontents, nonconformists. That would be me, reporting for duty, thank you very much. Y’all are NOT gonna break my spirit. But, they nearly did, and I will never forget that. Never. But I had a part in it.

I should have left that job a while ago. It had ceased to be fun, ceased to feed my spirit, ceased to provide fertile ground to enhance growth. This was corporate share-cropping. Yes, I got a paycheck, with an alleged stake in profit sharing, but all of the financial reward distinctly undervalued effort. Yes, there were health benefits, which provided a great coercive factor, but at what point did I surrender my dignity for that? I should have left there, but I didn’t. I lasted nearly 20 years, although I must say all 20 years weren’t quite so deadening. The last eight or so were particularly bad, courtesy of a takeover by a less than respectable corporate culture. Why didn’t I leave? I pretty much know why…I thought I could wait it out. Thought I’ll show them, they are not going to break me. Thought…I have to survive. That is what I do. I survive. Not live, just survive. There’s a huge difference between living and surviving, and I knew that, but I did what I always do by default. I survived.

They damaged me, but told me I shouldn’t look at it that way. Everyone was treated exactly the same way. I did not have the confidence, nor language, to convince them systems like theirs were the problem, that their system was oppressive. Their response would have likely been “Maybe this isn’t the place for you, then.”. And they would have been right, but … and I’m now realizing how big a part of the confidence problem this is for me…I did not believe I had anywhere to go. I felt trapped. The cage door was open, but I was too afraid to walk through it and smeel the air outside. If you’re going to sleep with the devil, it’s better if it’s the devil you know. At least that was my thought process. There’s a saying in recovery, “My best thinking got me HERE.” And that was certainly true of my tenure, and end, in corporate America. My best thinking got me there. Cue the applause.

I am told no experience is wasted, so on that level I did not waste 20 years there. But it feels rather like that. This moment, as I am writing this, I wonder why the hell I didn’t think more of myself and my skills to tell those idiots, summarily, you are NOT going to treat me this way, as inhuman, with the only value you see in me being what I can do for you. I don’t have to take that. I SHOULDN’T have taken that. But I did, because I felt trapped, as I usually do when I am faced with something unacceptable. I had choices, but could not see them. I had power, but could not use it. I set up a false dichotomy between power over and power with; I believed they had power over me. I did not have power WITH me. That’s my part in the whole unpleasant experience. I have to own that.

Sitting here writing about this, and more importantly writing at all, tells me that I am much happier doing this than I ever was working in corporate technology. I get paid nothing, but I have my self-respect, sitting here in sweat pants and socks and a stupid t-shirt. This one has a slightly frowny-face on it, and says “Despite the look on my face, you’re still talking.”. Exactly. I sometimes have that look on my face, when people are making no sense whatsoever, and they keep talking. What goes on in my head, silently, is a forceful dialogue about how little sense they are making, how my dog could make more sense, and please stop talking. But I usually let them go on and on and on, because, well…you know…people have a right to say what they want to say, no matter how stupid. So, I’ll just go someplace inside my head, and escape.

That’s the key word, I suppose…escape. When a person feels trapped, they dream of escape, dream of being free. I guess I don’t often feel free, and I’m caught between believing that I can change that, and that I just need to accept that. The serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, the wisdom to know the difference. Sometimes I am coming up with a goose egg on all three – no serenity, no courage, no wisdom. *sigh* Fortunately, that’s not every day any more, but some days seem longer than others. Progress not perfection, the recovery mantra screams at me. OK, yeah, that’s fine, but damn…how much imperfection can be tolerated, especially when progress seems a bit elusive.

So, now I am brought to the concept of progress. I listened to a Brene’ Brown podcast a couple of months ago, about success vs. mastery. That rang true, as she and her gues – a Ph.D. who has written books about creativity within the confines of structured disciplines, like architecture. They discussed at length the notion that repeated failure is a necessary element in mastery of a craft, while success may be more or less an element. Mastery is the more desirable outcome, since it demonstrates an integration of the craftsperson with the craft. As the oft-use adage states: BE the change you want to see. This discussion has left me to wrestle with my attachment to success, and how much I equate success with approval. I equate success with respect, with glory, with celebrity (not that I’ve ever achieved full celebrity, but just having members of the ‘system’ give me a thumbs-up can be good enough). I equate success with all of the material rewards of the capitalist system – if you are good at what you do, you wil be financially compensated, and you can capitalize on the compensation to buy…things. Those things convince others of your success…and there you are at the beginning of the cycle. The problem with that cycle, at least for me, is what I have to give up in order to stay in. In this last experience, I had to give up my personal ethics concerning what a good job looked like, what completion looked like, and boundaries on things like truthfulness. Yes, this task CAN be done but I won’t do it for you because…the policy says I can’t. That kind of – no, it DOES – suck in my book. That horrible sucking sound I heard all day was not the swamp being drained or the dirty dishwater running out, it was the sound of my brain matter drying up. Nope. Not this girl. Y’all just go on, ya hear? Actually, they told ME to just go on, and I heard just fine, but maybe they did me the biggest favor ever. Like I said, it’s taken a minute, but I do not miss one second of my time there. Not one. I thought I couldn’t live without it, but fortunately, that’s a lie. I can make it without being bled dry on a daily basis. There’s no paycheck big enough to compensate you for living life anemically. None.

Because I live in a capitalist regime, I have to make some kind of income at some point, so I suppose I’m working up to that. I don’t think I want to go back to technology, although it would still beat flipping burgers at McDonald’s. But not by much, if I have to do it in a corporate environment. I definitely need to work from home, at something that allows me to freely negotiate solutions to issues or problems. Something that allows me to leverage things like my writing ability, and my penchant for research (a.k.a. surfing the web). Something that allows me to learn, and grow, and approach mastery of a craft. Most importantly, I need a job where I’m treated like a human being, spoken to as an adult, and led by people who are competent and not on a power-trip. Authority is one thing, but power-trip is different, and not a good thing. I am too old to be fooling with that mess any longer, and too old to be biting my tongue all day. Part-time would be good, or at least working at my own pace, able to set my own schedule. I am enjoying some of the activities I’m becoming involved with, the social justice and spiritual work, the stuff that feeds me on the esoteric level. I am enjoying spending time with my dog (although this morning the little cur almost went out the 3rd floor window, without benefit of a parachute). What good is it to work outside the home for 8-10 hours per day, at someone else’s behest, and come home to be too fatigued to enjoy the stuff your paycheck allows you to acquire? That is bass ackwards, at best. I don’t want that anymore. No. More. Enough. We’re done.

When the world is in your hands…are you the master of the universe?

Published by annzimmerman

I am Louisiana born and bred, now living in Winston Salem, North Carolina. Fortunately for me, I was already living in NC before Hurricane Katrina decimated my beloved New Orleans. An only child, I now feel that I have no personal history since the hurricane destroyed the relics and artifacts of my childhood. As I have always heard, c'est la vie. My Louisiana roots show in my love of good coffee, good food, and good music. My soggy native soil has also shown me that resilience is hard-wired in my consciousness; when the chips are down (or drowned)...bring it on.

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