I felt like pulling my hair out and thought I was going blind. Total self-invalidation happening here.
I had two orders for signage from the same company that were supposed to look identical in styling because I submitted the same file just a day apart. But the two orders came out looking totally different.
Daniel happened to walk by. We kind of got along, but not really. He stopped and asked me what was wrong. I thought something was wrong with him. He’s not the kind of person that stops to ask what’s wrong. He was always busy working and didn’t handle any kind of distraction well.
I pointed at the signs laid out on the table. I told (cried is maybe more accurate) him about my looming deadline for the company event (that the signs were for) and how the printing company still thought that I should pay for the work no matter the situation and I didn’t know what I was going to tell my boss. I then crumpled into a pile of desperation moaning and groaning about how no one in the department even wanted the event and that they weren’t exactly discreet about directing their anger my way. All the signs were bad!
Let’s just say that I was in the mood for death in that moment.
And yet, at the same time, in the background, I felt like an alternate Universe was rising because I’d never really felt like myself at work before. I was saying how I was feeling (that was a no no), I wasn’t trying to please anyone (how dare I risk biting the hand that feeds me by verbalizing my dissatisfaction), and I was being completely unprofessional with someone I barely knew (I was complaining and negative – all those things that those newspaper articles tell you not to be because it’s your own fault then if your career isn’t working out because just look at how you’re behaving). According to my own rules for self-governance I should not be allowed to grace the earth with my footsteps.
But I just couldn’t help it. I hated withholding who I was for so many hours in the day. I was in pain.
I knew that Daniel, the gold standard for productivity, could crush my reputation with my boss by telling her about my episode. I mean I barely knew him and I was taking a risk by being who and how I was in that moment. I wasn’t being a good girl at all. Looking back, that particular moment was as devastating as it was liberating.
Then the unthinkable happened:
Daniel sat down beside me and asked if he could help.
I hesitated. I wasn’t sure what he meant exactly by the word ‘help.’ I wasn’t supposed to need any of that in this lifetime or get any for that matter. Besides, it wasn’t his job to help me anyways. Our roles had nothing to do with each other.
I remember deciding that I could stomach one more step down this road of being unprofessional. I said ‘yes’ and asked him what he had in mind.
He started to offer ideas and solutions and execute them with me.
My stories about how I should behave at work were shattering right before my very eyes. I went into a kind of productive shock (doing while at the same time feeling bewildered that reality wasn’t what I thought it was and feeling better with every passing second living out the opposite of what I thought to be true).
At this moment, this person that I thought was a near-enemy became my friend. Like a real friend. At work no less. Not just in words. But in deed. And in the workplace, there’s nothing as precious as a real friend. With them, you always re-member who you really are.
And really, this isn’t a surprise. You spend a lot of time working. Fearful that if you’re really you that the gig is over. That you’ll become a professional homeless bag lady (according to David Whyte, even men are afraid of being homeless bag ladies and dismiss the whole sex change thing as part of the process). You believe that being your real self has a consequence of extreme poverty because it means you’re not being good boys and girls at work. And by good, I mean rewarded in life for being obedient and slightly (if not mostly) shut down human beings.
And then you return to your real friend at work. A safe space for you in the same place where we perilously work to meet our needs for food, shelter and warmth. This relationship of realness is a reminder that we also yearn for work to be something more – a place for self-expression and self-confidence (those higher up needs on the Maslow hierarchy).
Much to our own chagrin, we deeply desire that our work be a place and space to be who we are. Because what we do for work and who we are is only compartmentalized in our minds and nowhere else. Authenticity is a yearning, an ache, a craving as well as an act of courage. Therefore it’s an imperative. It matters because without it we just couldn’t carry on.
We are mostly habituated to use authenticity intravenously – settling for a slow, steady drip rather than looking for an entire career and life of realness. We get by for a while, sure, but the soul knows the freedom of being real (the hills are suddenly alive with the sound of music!). And that pain of not being real while being in connection to a real friend at work is a life-line to a bigger, wider and freer world of what it means to work.
Do you think that you could risk being 10% more real in your work interactions just to see what happens? Remember, you can’t die of embarrassment. At the very least, you’ll make some more real friends, you’ll know the real you more (that goes a long way creating the next steps on your career path). And who knows what else – you might just fall in love with your whole life like I did. Because you can.
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