emotions at work

[ramble, GoTxHamilton] Wait For It

My back hurts.

I never feel the knives going in. Instead, I wake up and find a brand new wound, joining what I feel must be dozens–going in deep, twisting, bleeding out despite my best efforts to hold everything together.

By now, it’s old news: the knives, the sting, the unknown-but-known assailants. And me: the girl who refuses to die. Refuses to fall apart. By now, even I don’t know why I keep going. But I do, because hope is the last bit of defiance I have left.

Each knife is one less reason to stay, but somehow isn’t enough reason to leave.

I tell my friends I envy Jon Snow, the bravery it takes to whisper “Now my watch is ended.” I have died and returned and died and returned so many times, and each time I feel something must get lost. But if something does, the pain of living drowns out the pain of losing. I stumble through my days, plastering the mask of calm on my face, pretending not to recognize the fingerprints on the handles of the blades.

The mercenaries among those I hold dear tell me–unapologetically, with a blissful pride I can almost find it in myself to envy–that stab-wounds are badges of honor for those on their way upward, forgetting (of course) that not everyone aims to climb. I only ever envisioned a life of service, of devotion to a leader or leaders whose visions burned bright in my eyes. I am a girl built for adoration, a kingmaker instead of one who rules. I pledge my service. I take my oaths.

I shall wear no crowns and win no glory…

I never wanted to stand atop anything. I do not stand atop anything. Instead, I take a breath and continue to climb this neverending series of days, struggling through the pain and the blur of tears I have taught myself not to shed, because salt causes the wounds to burn, even as they close.

Each scar is one less reason to hang on, but somehow is not enough of a reason to let go.

I know I am not the only one. There are other knives, other backs, other bleeding wounds and half-knit scars on other endless uphill climbs. My mother was one, as was her mother, as are so many others who came before and will come after. We are a battered, broken brotherhood with no banners and barely any blood left…but we refuse to die, because hope is our last defiance. Is my last defiance. Life, with its weapons, does not discriminate: it takes and it takes and it takes. But we keep living anyway.

…I shall live and die at my post.

Through the blood, salt, cold, I whisper: If there’s a reason I’m still alive, when so many want me to die…

I’m willing to wait for it.




The Narrative

I wanted to write to get this out. Because I’ve tried to talk it out and all I get from these people are suspicious eyes and faint comfort that you know means they don’t mean it because they don’t believe me.

No one believes me.

Here’s the truth. People will call me many things and I will own to many of them, but people who know me know that I am not someone who tries to steal someone else’s glory. I’m too proud for that. If I want praise I want to have earned it, and there is no one harder on myself than I am. No one more aware of the fact that I am constantly ten steps behind anyone who matters. Challenged and grateful and yes, sure, insecure, but never, never so malicious as to try to steal spotlight.

What’s the point if you steal it?

And here’s some more truth: there are only a few spotlights in this world I would dare want to be in. Most of them are stages on West End. A few are music festivals. This? My job? It’s a job. I do it for money, not for glory. I do it to eat, so that I can sing. I do it so that I’m not afraid of how to pay for the album or the studio.

Here’s the truth: I remember the people who help me. I remember them like I remember every single person who hurt me. Sometimes the names intersect, but I never stop remembering the help. And I never stop acknowledging it. I will never stop acknowledging it. I have been in a place where my hard work has gone unappreciated and I know it feels like crud and I never want anyone to feel that way. Yes, I take some people for granted–my mother, for one–but if I “use” you (and I never wanted to use anyone), I will cite you. I will acknowledge your contribution. I will admit loudly and proudly that you are ten times smarter, work ten times harder, are ten times better than I will ever be.

I am a lot of horrible, no-good, very bad things. I am selfish and emotional and immature and unfocused and dramatic and paranoid and rude and unrefined. But I am not ungrateful. And I am not someone who connives to take a good name from someone who deserves it more. And I’ve tried my best to show that fact, but I guess all the other bad stuff drowned it out.

(And you wonder why I feel like I’m stagnating? I feel like the world won’t allow me to grow; it keeps holding my past against me. But it does that to everyone. I should just get over it. I should just grow a thicker skin.)

(I should. But will I ever?)

I’m tired of running to people who have for me only those skeptical eyes and dull voices and refrains of “Why didn’t you do [this]…?” “Why didn’t you do [that]…?” as if my innocence in this instance was suspect. But I will be the first to admit I am in the wrong, and this time…I don’t know what I did that was wrong?

I overlooked a citation. One email missed a beat. One out of dozens of emails, hundreds of statements, thousands of grand hand gestures: I have never been stingy with crediting other people for what might be perceived as “my” successes, because I know they’re never mine at all. I know I’m not good enough. You don’t have to tell me to pray to my God that I don’t screw up, because I do that every night. And I thank Him every night for the people who help me…

…even if (even when) they turn on me afterwards.

I don’t know what comes afterwards. I don’t know when I’ll stop crying at my desk. I don’t know if I’ll ever stop wanting to run away. I don’t know if I can even keep doing this. I don’t know if the jokes about the Zzzquil might one day become real. I don’t know if I’ll ever be okay.

I didn’t want this. I didn’t want to climb. I didn’t want to be a senior anything, a head of anything, a person in charge of anything. I have always been a follower. I have never wanted to brag, and I know it’s hard to believe because I keep making stupid moves that make it look like I am but this is not the spotlight I wanted.

I just want some semblance of control over the narrative. This is the narrative. Someone, please, believe me.  I’m a lot of bad things, but I’m not the enemy.

I’m not.

“…and you can pray to the God you believe in…”

(He let this happen. I’m not sure what to believe in right now.)

[I’m INFECTED: Life As a Virus, Inc. Intern] Professional Does Not Mean Soulless

It’s been a while since I did a Virus, Inc. update.  Actually, it’s been a while since I’ve done a substantial update at all.  Things have been a bit crazy recently.  Or, well, for a while now.  But I’m back, with four updates (because I need to have nine updates by now), of which this is the first.  So here goes, update 1/4!

Today is actually one day after the anniversary of my summer internship last year, what I like to call my “Brazilversary.”  A year ago, I flew to Maringá, Brazil, for a two-month GCDP internship as a CEEDer/Project Talk intern.  (You can check out the full story in my travelogues; just make sure to start with the oldest post first.  Incidentally, those travelogues were also started because I was required to send in intern journals.) Side by side, those internships were wildly different, and yet they have some key similarities: I had to talk a lot, I had to make a lot of presentations, and (true at least for the Business Development side of my internship) I had to do a lot of “credentials presentations” and “client follow ups,” only in the case of my AIESEC Maringá CEED-work this was done without the benefit of technology…or proper grasp of the language, to be honest.

Unlike my Maringá internship, though, my internship at Virus has allowed me to put down roots.  In Maringá, I was a butterfly and sure to be gone tomorrow, or at least in six weeks.  In Virus, on the other hand, “intern” is more of a pet-name than anything else–my supervisor André is constantly telling me to stop referring to myself as “just the intern” when it comes to talking about actual work.  It’s been said time and time again that I am “considered to be part of the Virus family”; heck, I’ve even said it in my blogs a lot.

Except I’ve only really understood what that’s meant rather recently.  You see, in early February, my grandmother died.  Just two months before that my dad (her son) had a stroke.  So, while I’ve done my best to look cheery and welcome my twenty-first year (did I mention I turned twenty-one?  I did, a few weeks ago.  Man, I really haven’t updated!) with optimism…it’s been tough.

Ordinarily, I’d show it.  When I was in school I had the luxury of being able to tote Elinor around everywhere and sing emo tunes at the top of my lungs in every empty auditorium or “sulk corner” or deserted stairwell I could find, and barring those locations there was always the CAS garden, where my sadness would be drowned out by the student traffic.  As a student, I’d always worn my heart on my sleeve–a weather system of emotion–and while it wasn’t the most healthy choice at least it kept me sane.  But I’ve always prided myself on a sense of “compartmentalization,” as incomplete as it might be.  When it came to work, I could be all work.  I could be a machine.  I’d slogged through numerous group-works and major projects nursing heavy hearts and personal issues before: I’d always managed to bottle it in until I could safely let it out.  So I figured I could do that at work: be all smiley happy picture-perfect intern and never let show that I was, inwardly, crumbling.

And I managed.  I refused to take a leave off work despite being offered one during the funeral week.  The most I took was a half-day off to “de-stress” with my mum on V-Day, which was when, as this post mentions, I went redhead.  But I powered through, trying to look as cheerful as possible, or if not cheerful, then at least functional–I figured I could hide the cracks…

…until I couldn’t.  Eventually, it became too tiring to even pretend to be cheerful, and I settled for functional.  In a “good vibes” workplace like Virus, the slipping of one mood causes a ripple effect.  People started to notice, radiating from my desk and outwards.  I kept being told to take a break, to eat lunch, to relax, even for a minute.  But I didn’t want to.  I didn’t think it was right.  I had to be a professional and being a professional, to me, meant powering through.

Cue the intervention.  One by one, each in their own time, and in their own way, my Virus family acted like, well, a family.  They took me aside and insisted that I tell them what was wrong, the truth this time, and when they finally drew the whole story out of me–particularly the part when I said that I thought being part of the working world, being a professional, meant never letting it show when something non-work related was bothering me–I got told off.  Big time.

Of course, it is mature, and right, to make sure that life’s storms, big and small, don’t affect the quality of work.  However, it is completely a different story to shut people out of your problems entirely, especially in a place like Virus where, I learned, they take that whole “We are a family” vibe very seriously.  I am not “Employee 0051” (as the time-in machine lists me as) to them, not simply a deck-maker and email-sender.  Being professional means turning in high-quality work when required…but not at the cost of the quality of self and relationships.

So I was told to open up.  To take a breaks.  To even allow myself to cry (although this conversation happened outside of office hours).  To do everything except pretend to be fine for the sake of being considered a “professional” employee, because apparently being professional does not mean being eternally unflappable–it means that in spite of being, err, “flapped” (o-kay, that is a really bad verb choice), you are still a great worker.  And sometimes being a great worker isn’t so much about short-term outputs as it is long-term sustainability.

How sustainable would it have been to keep holding it in?  To not take a second to talk when willing friends were ready to hear.  Because that’s where I erred: to my mind, work friendships ended at the office door.  Much like how a theater family largely dissolves after the show is over, I thought that once the project ended or office hours were up, people dispersed to deal with their own lives, though a few might still get together into their own little groups as outside-of-work friends.  But that wasn’t the case, at least not with my Virus friends: part and parcel of creating the great working environment I was enjoying was the commitment to actually care about the people who interacted within it.  It isn’t part of the typical organizational development textbook or HR tactic: it just exists, almost like instinct, a human element in a human organization.

While I don’t think I’ll be fully going back to my “heart-on-my-sleeve” younger self (though heaven knows I’m not that good at “hiding” things anyway)…I’m trying to find a balance, now, between keeping cool at work and totally shutting everyone out.  To sum it all up, the experience of the last few months has taught me that professional is not equivalent to soulless.  That work is as much a group of people as it is a business.

And that sometimes, what sounds like just a warm, fuzzy saying–You’re family.  We care.–is actually true, and you can trust it.

So there you are!  Update 1/4!  I promise the next three will be less soppy!