In other words, I've been a bit of a pill to be around the last few days, kiddies. I held up fairly well to the stress of being "restructured" at work and told to my face by HR that they would never do the kind of dastardly things to me that I know for a fact they have done to several people I know well, including Mrs. Nator. I kept a civil tongue in my head and got things done. I also continued looking through job listings, brushing up on various software and composing cover letters. Then the weekend hit, and I suddenly found myself incapable of little more than rolling over and drooling, or rolling over into my own drool, as the case may have been. The stress had sapped my energy and optimism reserves and it was time for two and a half days of solid wallowing. (I also took Monday off, so as to better savour the complexity of this particular wallow. It was oaky, with harsh tannins, notes of despair and corn chip undertones. Or that might just have been my breath.)
The truth is, what's happening to me is not unusual. It's just the first time it's happening to me. I've known for some time that this job wasn't right for me and I wasn't right for it, but we both seemed necessary to each other. That is, they needed me because I was the only one who knew my way around the company site and how to maintain it, and I needed the money and health insurance. Unfortunately, the more I was thwarted in my attempts to use my creativity to better the site and expand my role, the less I wanted to use my skills at all to help the company, and it showed. My supervisors and I knew that we were only going to get so much out of each other, and resentment built up. What I did was necessary, but I was not important, and they didn't want me thinking I was, lest I realize I deserved better. So why didn't I leave?
I guess I'm an underachiever. I come by it honestly, as I can definitely see when looking at both of my siblings. Something in our minister's-kids' upbringing during the recession of the 1970s made us feel that there was only so far we could get. Both of my siblings are of above-average intelligence, personable and highly skilled, but both have been in jobs for years that they don't particuarly like, and that don't offer them the challenges or rewards they deserve. We had a lot of advantages growing up, but perhaps we were taught to be too cautious or "practical," to refrain from tooting our own horns and expecting too much. As a result, there's a big part of me that believes that I could never have a job that I actually like that would support me. Not only that, but that I don't deserve such a thing or am not good enough for it. From an objective standpoint, I know that I am only exaggerating and holding myself back, but it's hard to shake the feeling that The Powers That Be, whatever they are, don't want me to get too big for my britches and succeed. In other words, as my cantankerous grandmother used to say, "Sweetheart, you can't win for losin'!"
The truth is, I know that I sabotage myself. I know that when I consider a career move, I get overwhelmed by contemplating too many possibilites at once and focussing on the worst of them, trying to inoculate myself against projected failure. I know that when I read a job listing, within a few seconds my eyes will focus on the things that don't look good about it - aspects that may be difficult or skills I don't yet have. Even when I remind myself that I didn't know how to use much of the software I now use when I applied for this job over eight years ago, and that employers are usually looking for someone that they think fits with the company, not just a set of specific tools on a list, it's hard for me to check the visceral fear that wells up. It's that kneejerk emotional reaction that floods my brain with paralyzing chemicals, and the next thing I know I'm sleeping most of the weekend and crying during Diana Ross's last song in The Wiz.*
On top of all this, I've never been terrific with change. Yeah, I know, change is opportunity, blah blah blah. Unfortunately, enough of my formative experiences, from my parents' divorce when I was little to my first live-in lover cheating on my with a good friend, have involved changes that were both forced upon me and unpleasant. I suppose if I were an optimist, I'd be gushing about how the difficult times only made me better, and led me to some of the awesome aspects of my life today: a nice home, a loving family and friends, the best damn girlfriend anyone could have. There are even times in my life when I've been in a good space that I realized all this. But I usally revert to my glass-half-empty ways. This means that, for me, change is not only uncomfortable and uncertain, as it is for many, but perceived as a veritable Harbinger of Doom. In my little world, the cable guy can seem like the four horsemen of the apocalypse, especially if he's mucking with my premium channels.
So what's to be done about it? Well, the first thing is to take one step at a time. I can't get myself my dream job instantly, but I can do a little bit of resarch each day, and I can send out a couple applications every weekday, too. The second is to speak calmly and positively to myself. I have people rooting for me. If I have eight out of ten skills listed in a job listing, that's pretty good. The worst thing prospective emplowers can do is say no to me, and since I don't know the details, I can't even know if I want the job, yet. I also don't have to know I have one grand purpose in life that I must fulfill right away. Who does that? Shut up, Mother Theresa, who asked you?
Maybe it's time to consider that if I am overwhelmed by the range of possibilities in my life, that's a good thing. I am interested in writing, so I'm starting my writing workshop today. That doesn't mean that I must be the next Shakespeare or die. I can also explore other things I find interesting, and while all of them can be included in my future employment, none of them have to be forever. Likewise, I may be limited by certain factors, like what I can afford and how much time I have, but I'm not in a forced labour camp in Siberia being given the options of break rocks or starve (or both). I may not get to live the life of a leisurely gentleman scholar of centuries past, but I have more open to me than the majority of people in the world.
Good things are possible, and I not only need to believe that, but be able to imagine and be open to them. Right after this nap.
*Okay, it actually started during Lena Horne's turn as Glinda the Good. As she sung to Dorothy, I found myself whinging "why can't I believe in myself as Lena believes in meeeee?"