The Past and its model for self-destruction
When I was in college, we had mock interviews with local companies to prepare us for applying for work. That was all they did to prepare us for work I might add. We were asked to create a resume to present for it, well I was young and dumb, I’d never done anything or been anywhere, never even been drunk, so I rattled one together as best I could and made it pretty.
17-years-old and already two jobs down I wasn’t paying attention to the room and was accidentally stood first in line and that meant I won the First-Prize! First to be fired at by the snooty power-suited condescending-corporate lady, still-from-the-barbarian-age-and-full-of-judgement ready to pop her eyeballs. With one glance even at 17 I knew she was ready to tell me for sure.
Walking in there I reckoned she’d been thinking about the opportunity for a few weeks, warming herself up on what to say to put us – ragged bunch of kids – straight about ‘the real world’.
“Why didn’t you dress up, make an effort?” snapped the suited lady as I got near to the chair.
“What do you mean Miss? These are my best clothes?” replied the baggy teenager, as the lady adjusted her thick pressed cotton skirt so as to illustrate her point.
Best clothes to me, freshly washed droopy pants and a very important band T-shirt I paid £12 for, were not best clothes to her. I could sense I was totally out-of-place there in that small room and not just because of my clothes. Sensing that it was going to be painful I handed over my resume knowing there was no escape.
She looked down at it with cynical eyes and said “Why does your resume have colour on it?” I’d put on orange titles. “I dunno Miss, I’m studying graphic design here and thought it looked cooler… and that it might make me stand out bit…” I answered as I felt my belly tingle and palms moisten. Not convinced by this she glared at it then at me, her eyes shot a long look which I mind-read as her imagining crumpling up both me and my resume and throwing us in the bin together. I continued with an attempt to make her let me off. “Its only got colour on the headings” was my standing. “We do NOT put colour on our resumes” she spat and burst my bubble with her thin hot saliva, my mouth went dry she sucked out my soul. “Where did you come from today Miss?” I asked quietly, this was important information. “The Metropolitan Borough Council”. My days as Mayoress of my town were over before they even started.
I tell you this because that interview set a precedent for me, I walked or rather wobbled out of that room with a whole new set of values and perceived dangers. I never wanted to work in a world of black and white resumes or power suits, ever. I didn’t, and still don’t like the way that lady made me feel about myself, but of course I did learn the lessons.
1) I was going to struggle finding companies who would let me be me and still pay me.
2) That I could end up being very unhappy in a monochrome job very quickly if I didn’t find a place where being a colourful character was accepted
But at 17, who stands a chance? That little precedent I set myself got squashed out of me of course, along with my real values, real taste in clothes, music and boys – I ‘fixed’ my resume.
So here I am in my first ‘proper job’.
I didn’t understand what was happening in my mind when I first started out. I wondered why I felt like a black sheep for wanting to help or be creative once I’d done the work in the office job I had to take. Feeling that way gave me huge complexes, like does my work/do I actually just suck – it made me fearful, causing the doubt, leading to anxiety and depression – I know it now, but not then.
Look at this job, it confirmed I just do not work or fit inside the box. I was put in touch with a confidence coach once to guide me when I was starting my first company. He decided he liked me and offered me a job at his place and promised to support my business too, one day a week. I said yes and it never happened of course (silly me). It was my first ‘real’ job I guess, I worked hard at it for months. I struggled because his wife worked there too and she didn’t like me one bit, how I tried to fit in and make her accept me. Because she was so toxic and controlling, every little thing down to ordering paperclips had to get her approval, so I actually had all my confidence squished out of me there and ended up on venlafaxine for anxiety. So that worked!
One random Tuesday morning I sat at the meeting table in front of them with my social media plan for their company in front of me and as started my presentation I was interrupted – “We’re going to have to let you go, how can I put it… you’re like a square peg in a round hole” he said turning down a smirk as he fired me secretly, put me on gardening leave and locked me in to a lie to keep the contacts I’d made in the job. And I was going to need them now I had no job right?
I was instructed to tell those contacts a face to face lie, that I was leaving to ‘start my own business because I feel ready now’ not ‘because I’ve been fired for no valid reason other than being the wrong shape’.
He was right though I didn’t fit there, they wanted a square peg for a square hole to slot in the square box, earn a square paycheck and talk square talk. He was wrong though too, he was so far off about my shape. There is nothing square about me.
The Present and its and weather conditions
Right now I’d say that 15 years or thereabouts after that mock interview I’m still just as unemployable as I was then, by traditional standards. But because I’m smart and good at acting ‘normal’ I’ve snuck in to those normal jobs when I’ve needed to. What is normal? Not how I feel in those jobs that’s for sure. Working in these places most definitely did not leave me feeling empowered, I certainly didn’t win anything by getting in them, I felt more like an under cover cop seeing how normal people lived. Especially that time when I worked for the Police.
I learned to change my colours when needed, which was more often that not – a total chameleon. It made me feel bad as I was not being authentic and it never lasted anyway.
People see them come out on my face, usually a nice green colour, when they ask me over our PC monitors if I watched Eastenders or Britain’s Got Talent last night. If I find a job easy its worse, as I never get bored so I look for more things do.
Making two mistakes:
1) ‘going above my station’, and
2) ‘doing more work than my Boss’.
When management won’t let me make any improvements or do things I can do well to help, like brand management, teaching staff, innovation, graphics, improvising systems, events management, big thinking, photography, or anything on a computer at all – I feel knocked back, like a failure or worse – caged in.
If a job is too monotonous it gives me twiddling thumbs, the devil makes work for those and in my case, wading through the white-hot lightning fog of anxiety and the liquid black smog of depression – turning my face a nice even gray.
The Future, and the how I do worry about it still
Theres no way I’m going to face counting them, but I’d say I’ve had upwards of 25 jobs. The longest has been about 1 year-long. I have had so many runs at a 9-5, and suffered dual depression (got a doctor’s note) and anxiety (got a prescription). I can’t do it anymore.
Why? I see depression as a fear of your past actions and how they affect you now, so every time I leave a job or change my colour or shape I remember how painful it is. And anxiety I see as a fear of the future and how what you do now effects it, what if this what if that? I can’t do it anymore.
How do you focus on bland office work when all that fear about who you are consistently and what you’re doing at every moment is buzzing round your brains like poisonous stinging bugs stabbing and gnawing your head? Only once the inflammation fades you see them, as if captured on a dark hot stormy night by melted candle wax you see the disgusting dead form of the bugs you created for whatever reason.
So I worry.
I worry because I am genuinely and nice, therefore I am inclined to be ‘taken advantage of’ which means ‘used up, stolen from and binned off with no consequences’ right? Its happened.
I worry because I’ve never really ‘made it’, never done that ONE thing for LONG enough that will make someone I WANT to work with say “Wow, we need you on our team!” and actually make it work. Its half happened, but all attempts failed.
I worry because I’ve made it hard for my ideal companies to see me. I’ve hidden.
I worry because it looks, to someone who rates resumes, like I am some kind of jack of all trades with no integrity. It’s not that at all. I’m a poly potential person, a tough person who has tried, and tried, and tried, to live in a way I was told to, but can not force joy.
I worry that because I give myself permission not to live a black and white life, that every time I quit a job I listen a little more to 17-year-old me and some colour comes back to me at the cost of something else. Yet I am stronger than I ever thought I would be, for one who has faced so much and has so little from it.
I am confident, I will find a way to trade happiness for wages and although my resume is not standard, is more complex than the Da Vinci Code and as long as War and Peace – I am not a hopeless case – I am just who someone is looking for.
What happens when you hide who you are in work? It never lasts.