Monday, December 30, 2013

The Year 2013

2013 has been an amazing year for me. This year I really recovered from Colby and began to get my life back on the track that I actually want to be on.  Here are some of the awesome things that happened this year:

1. I was done with school forever. This was my first year that began in January and ended in December since I’ve been old enough to read a calendar. I will never have required reading or homework or studying again. I am really, truly done with school FOREVER. As I watched the ball drop on New Year’s Eve, I knew this was a new beginning. I knew this year would be special.

2. I had a birthday party with all my friends on my REAL birthday weekend. No more pushing it off till spring break because I couldn’t get home from school in February. No more homework interfering with my ability to be completely focused on my party.  February was once again the second Christmas month that it always was to me. I also realized my priorities and chose not to work in public accounting, which would have involved lots of overtime during my birthday month.

3. I made a very deep connection with a friend. I had known this friend for about two years, but we had only gotten together at big group events. We had a lot of interests in common, but we had never sat down and had a conversation just the two of us. One day in March, we got together and were browsing around the bookstore.  My friend asked if I wanted to go to the coffee shop in the bookstore, so I said sure, and we sat down and talked. She told me about a problem that she had had with another friend and that I had posted a link about invalidation on Facebook (http://eqi.org/invalid.htm) that was exactly what she had been going through. She had been reading my blog. I had no idea that anyone was reading my blog other than my boyfriend. I honestly thought that I had been talking to nobody for three years. But my friend had been reading it all along – she was referencing things that I had written back in 2011. She related to a lot of things I wrote about. We just seemed to have the same understanding of a lot of issues. I took a deep breath and told her what I was afraid to tell most people: that I hated Colby and it was still a really big issue for me after three years. She didn’t think that was weird at all. I told her that I had a really hard time trusting people to believe me because so many people didn’t take me seriously when I told them what was going on at Colby. She also had a hard time trusting people after what she had gone through, but we both felt so much better after talking to each other.

Something really changed inside me when I realized that someone else understood.  After Colby, I had avoided discussing things that were important to me because I didn’t trust anyone to take me seriously. I expected people to tell me to get over it, even when they hadn’t done anything to indicate that they would say that. When I had sprained my ankle around New Year’s Eve in 2011, I kept it a secret from everyone who didn’t see me on crutches because I didn’t think anyone would accept how upset I was. But once my new friend had validated me, I felt like maybe I should give people a chance.

4. One day in April, I was planning to meet up with my new friend, but I had to cancel because I was really sick. As I was wondering the house, annoyed that I couldn’t do anything, I stopped dead in my tracks and listened to my thoughts.  I was annoyed because I was sick. I was thinking about that one single fact. There was no trace of invalidation in my mind, no predictive reactions of, “That’s not a big deal – get over yourself!” I was honestly just thinking that I was annoyed at being sick, not concerned that other people wouldn’t think it was a real problem. My mind raced frantically back to all the other things I had been upset about recently and I realized that I hadn’t had that invalidation in my mind for a while. Not since my friend and I had had that conversation in the coffee shop. I emailed one of my closest college friends that day to tell zem that I was finally getting better.

5. On May 17th, I posted this as my Facebook status:

In 2011:
Eric: Want to go on a hike with some friends?
Me: Who’s going to be there? Are they all better than me at hiking? Are they going to look down on me because of it? Is everyone really outdoorsy? Will they criticize me for not being outdoorsy? How hard is the hike? Whose standards are you basing that on? Will this come with pressure to go on more hikes or to get better at hiking? Is this gonna be COOT all over again?

In 2013:
Eric: Want to go on a hike with some friends?
Me: Yes, that sounds like a lot of fun!

I can’t even describe how free I felt when Eric asked me about going on a hike, and I said sure, and I stepped back and realized what I had just said, how far I come since we first met. The hike was amazing. I tried to be conscious of everyone else and adjust my pace so that no one felt like I was running ahead of them. One of our friends wasn’t able to finish it, but I kept telling him that it was really hard. I really wanted everyone to feel good.

6. About two years ago, I learned that my college friend and I had a common interest that I had never discussed with anyone else. Ze had written about this topic on zir blog back in 2011 and I wrote zem an email saying that I was into the same thing. Ze didn’t answer that email. I brought it up another time in an email, but Ze still didn’t say anything about it. At that point, this common interest felt very private, so I didn’t feel comfortable bringing it up in front of zir family when I visited.  For some reason, this common interest re-entered my mind in 2013. My friend and I hadn’t talked for a long time and I really wanted to bond over this. So I wrote zem a very long email about it, and the next thing I knew we were emailing back and forth and video chatting almost every day.

It was scary at first for me to discuss something so private with my friend even though I knew that ze would be accepting, but once we started talking, we had this amazing connection. Somehow, this new connection made me feel far away from Colby, like I’d entered a new chapter of life or something. I think it’s because my friend and I had never talked about this while we were at school together. I had no idea that ze had this interest. Most of things we had really deep connections over were Colby issues. One time my friend had said that ze wished we could talk about something other than bashing Colby and I said that I needed to talk about Colby and ze was the only person who would listen. But now we were bonding over something completely unrelated to Colby, something I never would have been comfortable discussing on campus, and it felt amazing.

7. My friend was graduating. Ze was a freshman when I was a senior, so this was zir last year at Colby. A long time ago I wrote, “I look forward to May 2013. At that point everyone I know will have graduated from Colby and my connection to the school will really be over.” It was April 2013 now. Ze was graduating and it was really going to be over forever. I would never have to hear about Colby again. I would never have to care what was going on there again. There had been times when I didn’t ask my friend for all the details of what ze was doing at school because it was just really hard to hear about it. I just wanted to pretend that Colby didn’t exist anymore, and now I finally could.

8. I started working on my blog essay, The Unencrypted Truth, in which I told my story of everything that went on at Colby. A lot of things inspired me to write my essay: My friend’s graduation made me realized how much time had passed. It had been seven years that Colby had been affecting my life, and enough was enough. I had to do whatever it was that would make me feel better, and what I wanted to do was tell my story.

One day I was writing a blog post about the importance of being honest in interviews (Lies and Implications), when I suddenly felt like I wasn’t getting anywhere. I had started my blog for the purpose of writing about what happened at Colby, but I had never done that. I always worded everything in the context of a general issue or a metaphor, but I had never just flat-out said, “This is my Colby story.” I thought that if I kept writing everything that popped into my mind, I would eventually say all that I had to say. But it wasn’t working that way. Not only was there always more, but I felt like I was recycling the same ideas over and over again. I was never satisfied that I had gotten my point across because I never said what I really wanted to say.

I had talked to my college friend about trust and how good it felt to do a trust fall and know that the other person will catch you. There’s that saying, “Love is giving someone the power to destroy you and trusting them not to.” I wouldn’t say that this is the definition of love, but it’s definitely an important component in a friendship for me. Sharing intimate secrets is an essential part of any relationship for me, and I had been missing that in the aftermath of Colby. I was too afraid to close my eyes and fall. And the more I talked about this level of trust with my friend, the more I realized just how much that was what I needed.

My essay took three months to write and was 34,000 words long, about 100 pages double-spaced. This was extremely concise for the amount of material I had. I estimate that I would have had about 90,000 words if I had just written openly and honestly about what was going on in the course of those four years.

My responses were amazing. It’s not everyone who’s going to read a 100-page personal essay – I was surprised how many friends actually read it all the way through. My friends were so understanding about it. I had one close friend who I’ve known since high school, but I had never shared a lot about Colby with her. She is a very good friend and there was no reason for me not to share with her, but so many people at home were so invalidating that I just didn’t feel safe sharing with anyone (this friend doesn’t have Facebook, so she didn’t see what was going with me unless I told her directly). She read my essay within 4 hours of when I sent it to her and could not believe everything that had happened. She said, “Honestly, I have never been affected by such a piece of writing in my life…I think this would make an amazing story for anyone who is experiencing what you have or is still scarred from the institution known as college. I respect your honesty and wish there were more people like you in this world.”  Wow. My other friends were also very understanding and we’ve talked a lot about everything that went on. My boyfriend couldn’t get through the first two paragraphs without giving me a hug, and senior year made him cry. I never felt so validated before. I could trust people now. There was no reason not to. I have the best friends in the world.

9. I made a lot of new connections this year. My college friend introduced me to new friend who had also gone to Colby and hated it. We weren’t there at the same time, but we bonded over our shared experience. When the four of us (my two friends and my friend’s sibling) were talking together, I felt a really special bond, like we were in a secret treehouse. My new friend and I started video chatting and we shared lots about our experiences.

I also introduced my new friend (the one I connected with at the coffee shop) to my college friend. My friend and I had gone for a walk together and I told her about this bulletin board in a Colby dorm called “How to Be Awesome,” where students had written things like, “Smile more!” “Be happy so people will like you!” and so on, and how my college friend had written a long response about why it was wrong and how ze was awesome in spite of what the bulletin board said. The response had meant a lot to me, and I recited as much of it as I could from memory to my friend. She really wanted to meet my college friend, so we arranged it and all had a great time together.

It sort of reminds me of Stand by Me, when the character says at the end, “I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?” I don’t think that’s true, but in this sense, I really feel like I’m that age right now, like this is that time when we all have that really special connection.

10. I have readers now. Real readers. Now I know I’m not talking to nobody – I have friends who read my blog and that means so much to me. My close friend is working on a personal essay about something she went through, and she said that I inspired her to write it. I was hoping to inspire other people to talk about what matters to them. I feel like I’ve done what I set out to do.

I learned what it means to be a positive influence. I never understood what people meant about friends bringing out the best in you. I always thought that was only for people who wanted motivational pressure, like someone to push them to study or go to the gym. I didn’t think it was something I was looking for. But I learned this year that a friend can be a positive influence by supporting your goals and encouraging you to do what you really want to do. That’s what my friends did for me this year, and that’s the kind of positive influence that I want to be.

11. I started a sex blog. I got the idea for it when I started talking about sexual things with a close friend and realized that I wanted to write about these things, but I didn’t feel comfortable doing so on my blog, under my real name. In “The Unencrypted Truth,” I talk about the things that led to my writing the essay, but one of the biggest factors actually had to do with a conversation I had with my friend about sex, how some of the sexual things I do require so much trust that it doesn’t feel right to not trust my friends entirely with my Colby story. I thought about mentioning this in the essay, but decided against it. That’s when I realized that I needed another place to write about sexual stuff that I can’t post here. I also got really hooked on the sex blog: pervocracy.blogspot.com. The more I read, the more I kept thinking, “I should be doing this too…I should start my own sex blog!” I’ve been confused about a lot of my sexual desires, and reading The Pervocracy helped me to understand what I feel and realize that it’s okay.  I’m hoping that other people will read my sex blog and feel more comfortable discussing their own sexual interests.

Writing my sex blog feels liberating. Not just liberating a sexual way – liberating in the sense that it has nothing at all to do with Colby. I mean, Colby does have a lot of issues with sexual assault and sexual repression, but I’ve seen these issues almost everywhere I’ve been. It’s not something that I associate with Colby specifically. Colby has been behind everything I’ve written for a very long time. That’s not necessarily a bad thing because I have written some important things that were inspired by Colby, but it just feels really freeing to do something entirely different.  This is my first major writing project in five years that has nothing to do with my college experience.

12. I hosted an amazing Halloween party. Halloween was no longer filled with stress and uncertainty because I’m not a student anymore and October is no longer midterms month. I knew I’d be able to carry out all my fun plans, and I did.  And I didn’t have any bad flashbacks about what happened on Halloween weekend senior year of college. I’ve officially taken the holiday back!

13. I started a new job in August and got really close to the people. (You can read more about it here: A New Beginning). I felt confident and capable again, and the whole experience just made me feel really far away from school. The day that I left, my coworker gave me her own pencil mug as a parting gift so that I could put it on my desk at my new job. I was really sad to leave, and I’ll always have positive memories of the place. I still smile inside when I pass my old company’s highway exit or when I see that a store sells their products. I still pick up bottles just to read the label on the back that says “bottled at [company name].” I haven’t felt this level of loyalty and attachment to a place since high school.

One thing that’s really hard about job interviews is when the interviewers ask me how I liked Colby or ask me to talk about my Colby experience. My mom always told me that they just didn’t know what else to ask me since I didn’t have much relevant work experience, and that once I had more experience, they wouldn’t ask about it anymore. When I interviewed for my new job (the one I just started in December), the interview was very relevant – they only asked me about things related to the job, nothing too personal or invasive. When I walked out of the interview, I realized something: they hadn’t asked about college. This was literally the first interview where no one asked me to explain how I changed from psychology to accounting, where no one even looked back that far. My mom was right. Now that I have the work experience from my old job, college is a thing of the past.

14. I've been drinking lots of hot chocolate this winter. I lost my taste for hot chocolate for the longest time because it had very deep associations with Colby, but this winter I like it again. I'm hosting a poetry slam party this winter with a make-your-own hot chocolate bar, where all sorts of poems (including hyper-personal angst poems) are welcome.

15. I started a new job. I’m not sure I like it. The commute is absolutely not okay so I’ll need to get a closer apartment for it to work. This scenario reminds me a lot of when I got accepted to Colby in high school – I told everyone how excited I was and how I thought everything would be great at this new place, but I ended up being wrong. But this time around, I didn’t let that stop me from being honest about what was really going on. I have seriously considered quitting, I told everyone I know that I was considering quitting, and everyone has been very supportive. Two of my friends assured me that they would support whatever decision I made. One of my friends thought I should get paid for all the extra time I spend commuting to my job. This was one of those times when I really didn’t think there’d be much support for quitting, when I felt like everyone would tell me to get over it, but my friends proved me wrong. All my writing about validating people’s decisions to quit actually paid off. I still have a hard time trusting people to accept my choices in cases like this, but it’s getting a lot better.

16. The Saturday before New Year’s Eve, my friend (from the coffee shop) gave me a Christmas present. She said that there were four parts of the present and I had to open them in a specific order. The first present was a gift card to a pizza restaurant. I liked that restaurant, but I knew there was some significance that I wasn’t getting. The second present was a handmade card with one person asking another person who is holding a piece of paper, “What’s that?” The other person answers, “Nothing.” Underneath it said, “True friends, like us.” And on the inside of the card, the two friends were laughing.
“Do you see the connection?” my friend asked. 
“Pizza,” I said, “And…an inside joke?” I felt like I was missing what the card meant.
“What are they doing?” my friend asked.
“Laughing.”
“And what are they laughing about?”
I looked at the first page of the card. “Nothing?”
And then it hit me. I knew what the next two items were and that this was one of the best presents I have ever received. When I first graduated Colby, I wrote that my life goals were:
1. To love pizza again.
2. To laugh about nothing.
3. To talk about why gummy worm colors are paired together the way they are.
4. To not feel pressured to have different goals.

The third present was a bag of gummy worms, which we’re going to arrange a date to talk about, and the final present was a really, really sweet note with the underlined line, “Never feel pressured to do anything that isn’t right for you.”

I was elated. I just couldn’t believe it. My friend understood how important that list was to me. I remember how I felt back when I wrote that list and I never in a million years thought someone would give me exactly that.

The New Year is approaching, and my heart feels full. Full of all the awesome things I’m going to do this year without past pressures holding me back. Full of all my amazing friends who’ve helped me get here.

When I blow out the candles on my 26th birthday cake this year, I don’t know what I’m going to wish for, because what I’ve been wishing for the last four years just came true.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Everything External

We live in a culture with a lot of emphasis on personal responsibility: that no one can make you feel inferior without your consent, that life is 10% what happens and 90% how you react to it, that wherever you are is a result of your own hard work and attitude, and that you are completely responsible for your own happiness. For the first eighteen years of my life, I bought into this. My own life was good, and it was easy enough to believe that I was responsible for my own success and happiness.

When I was at Colby College, no one accepted that my situation was causing the problem for me. Everyone loved the school so much that they just couldn’t conceive how it could be a living hell for someone who wasn’t exactly like them. All these quotes about success and determination and not giving up and not blaming other people for your troubles became personal attacks on me. There was no support out there for saying, “Hey, this situation is really bad for me and so I’m going to get out of it.” You were supposed to stick everything out and keep trying to make it work or else you were a failure.

I love to play games, and I’m very competitive when I play. One thing I’ve noticed about myself when I play games with other people is that I don’t give up easily. I never accept the fact that the other person is going to win before the game is over. Even when I’m really far behind, I’m always holding out hope that the next card I pick up will fix everything. I always feel like there must be something I can still do to win. Anyone would tell you that this is a positive trait, that people like me are successful because we don’t give up, but this is the very trait that caused me to stay in a situation that was bad for me. I kept thinking that the next thing I tried at Colby, the next card I picked from the deck would fix everything. I was a senior by the time I realized that I had seen all the cards and nothing was going to get better.

Every day of my life, I’ve been bombarded with messages that everything is all about your attitude and you just have to be positive, like nothing happening externally even matters. Some people I’ve talked to act like I was just born eighteen years old and Colby is the first real-life experience I’ve ever had. They don’t trust me when I say that my life was just fine before I went to college.

In one of my business classes, we talked about how businesses fail. Our professor said that when things are going well, people tend to attribute it to their own ability/hard work, but when things aren’t going well, people attribute it to external factors or bad luck. People want to think positively and believe that everything is going well when it’s not, which is often what leads them to make bad decisions and for their businesses to fail. 

I’ve never owned a business, but I’ve seen this play out in my own life. I was NOT wrong about Colby. Colby was something external that screwed me up and the only personal responsibility I accept is the fact that I made a bad choice by going there and not leaving. But where I was wrong - really, really, wrong - was in my attitude before Colby. I used to believe that I was responsible for all the good things in my life, for my own happiness. In reality, everything that made my life wonderful was external. I think when people talk about happiness being internal and not external, they’re using “external” to refer to things like going to Disney World or getting lots of expensive presents. But really, lots of things are external. Having lots of people who love you is external. Yes, you’re responsible for your half of the relationship, but I don’t think I would have had a happy childhood if I hadn’t been born into a family of people who loved me. And even things that seem internal, like all the fun I had making up stories and living in my own imagination, only exist because of external factors, because I had the kind of childhood where I could spend all that time daydreaming and didn’t have bigger things to worry about.

Before I went through what I went through at Colby, I didn’t understand just how many external factors had played a role in my happiness before. I used to act like my own experience was a universal truth.  I would tell people who had problems much bigger than mine that they should just be happy because life was awesome. One thing that made me really happy was going from my uptight Catholic K-8 school to a free-for-all public high school. But even though this was clearly an external thing that made me happy, I felt like it was my own doing. I couldn’t accept the fact that my high school was a bad environment for some people the same way that my K-8 school had been a bad environment for me. I even wrote a poem to Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul – a safe space for teenagers who are going through difficult times – about how I got so much pleasure out of the everyday things in my life and that someday my classmates would look back and wish they had enjoyed their teen years like I had. Like enjoying those years was a choice. I was a real jerk and I hope the people who received my poem burned it.

Things are going better for me now. I’m actually working on a long list of all the awesome things that happened to me in 2013, which I will be publishing here soon. The difference is that this time, I know how much of my healing comes from external factors. I don’t think for a second that I got here on my own. No matter what good things happen to me, I will never go back to thinking that my happiness is a choice or that it all comes from within. I will not encourage people to have a positive attitude about their situations. I WILL help people to figure out what they really want and how to get there. 

Friday, December 27, 2013

Apples to Apples

My commute is not okay and I need to move. I know that. But beyond the commute issue, I was thinking about the issues I have with the new job itself - how I don't feel special or warm and fuzzy like I did at my old job, how if I would have been really upset if I had had to suddenly leave my old job without saying goodbye, but I could walk out of this job without feeling much of anything. And I've realized that I'm not being fair here because I'm not comparing apples to apples. I'm comparing the first couple weeks of this job to the last couple weeks of my old job.  That warm and fuzzy feeling, that sense of belonging that I had at my old job was very, very recent.  Basically, I was just starting to feel settled in and connected and special at my old job when I got this new job offer.

When I first started at my old job in August, I was very, very stressed out. I did what I was told to do but I really didn't understand what was going on. I didn't know where to eat lunch so I ate in my car for the first week or so, which was stressful because you needed a key card to get back into the building (which I didn't have) so I was counting on the fact that my coworker whose desk is near the door would be there to let me in. I was so scared I'd be late because I couldn't get into the building. And that time I put thirty-eight dollars on the envelope with our stamping machine and my boss thought it couldn't be reversed, I was really, really upset that I had screwed up. It took that experience for me to realize that it wasn't the end of the world, that I wouldn't get fired for making a mistake.  And I was really stressed out another time when I couldn't reconcile something that I had always been able to reconcile on my own - it was just after I started cross-training for my coworker's job, and I really wanted to prove that I could handle everything.

Basically, that feeling that I'm missing at my old job - the feeling of security, knowing that other people trust me, knowing that I won't get in trouble for not being able to get in the door...I never felt that at my old company until the very end. I'm pretty sure they trusted me early on, but I didn't feel secure about it until the end. I started my old job on August 14th. On September 18th, we went out to lunch together and I felt extremely awkward. I was honestly hoping the lunch would be canceled. I remember how much courage it took for me to ask my supervisor how her dog was doing. She had mentioned that her dog wasn't doing well and I wanted her to know I cared but I had never initiated a conversation with her about something other than work before.  The first breakthrough I really felt with everyone was around the end of October, when my supervisor was all excited about Halloween and when I helped out my coworker during a difficult time. And all the other milestones - fixing their Excel problem and getting to take over my coworker's job - happened in November. Training for my coworker's job was what really made me feel attached and special. I felt special because I was getting promoted and they believed that I could do two jobs at once. I felt closer to everyone knowing that I was staying.

When I think about how I feel right now at my current job (aside from the commute), it's very similar to how I felt in the first month of my old job. I just didn't consider it a problem at my old job because I was a temp. That job was never supposed to become permanent, so I was basically staying there until I found a permanent job somewhere else. For the first two months, I would have been fine walking away from that job without ever saying goodbye, and I didn't see that as a problem because I was a temp. I never expected to get as close to anyone as I eventually did.

All of these things are a problem now because this is a permanent job. I mean it's temp-to-hire, but it seems like they plan to hire me. They're treating me like a real employee - I'm on email lists and go to department meetings. I'm not on the outside like I was at my old company. And I guess I still miss my old company. When I started at my old company, I had nothing to compare it to, but now I've left a job where I felt warm and fuzzy and special for a job where I don't. But when I take a step back and look at the corporate culture and how other people seem to like my current company, I think it's actually employee-friendly. I think the company itself is warm and fuzzy on the inside. The problem might just be that I'm forgetting how hard it was to start at my old company. If I actually look at the calendar, I'm in my fourth week of my new job. I understand way more about what's going on than I did in my fourth week at my old company. Even in the first few days of this job, I felt so much more competent than I did in the first few days of my old job. I didn't feel so overwhelmed - I knew that I'd be able to do everything once I learned it. We recently went out to dinner together just before Christmas, and it was nowhere near as awkward as that lunch I went to with my old company. If I compare where I am now to where I was at my old job, I'm ahead. At every step of the way, I'm ahead of where I was before. I've already been 45 minutes late to work because of the traffic and I didn't get fired and it wasn't the end of the world.

I'm not saying that I'm gonna stick this out or anything because I do need to get my new apartment if this is going to work. But I'm going to watch the calendar. I'm going to make sure I'm only comparing my first month to my first month and my second month to my second month, because it isn't fair to compare the beginning to the end.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Having a Job

Having a job gives me a lot of power. I hate that. I like having power, but I hate that I didn't have this power before I had this job. I'm talking social power - the power to be believed when I talk about job searches and workplace and culture and what I'm willing and unwilling to do.

That post I wrote recently about job discrimination and coworker conflicts? I don't think I could have posted that while I wasn't employed. Maybe when I was a full-time student, but not while I was looking for a job. 

I guess it's like when I was a student: I was always very clear about the fact that school was not my priority, extra curricular activities and personal goals were more important than my schoolwork, and I would not let anyone else dictate the focus of my life.  But in spite of all of this, I still got good grades, and that gave me power. I didn't face a lot of repercussions for my attitude because I was still doing what I was supposed to be doing. And when I started my campaign against lying by omission in college interviews and doing extra curricular activities just to list them on your resume? I knew I was going to college. With my grades and SAT scores, there were plenty of colleges I could have walked right into. It was easy to say I was against the college-pleasing act when I didn't need the act to get into college myself. 

When I got bad grades my first year of college and was in the bottom twenty of my class (which I HAD to see by checking my grades - Colby doesn't give you the option of not knowing your class rank if you want to feel good about yourself), my first thought was I can't be honest anymore. I couldn't be honest about how everything else was more important to me than school when I actually wasn't doing well. When I got the lead role in a play, which had been my life dream since middle school, and my mom was telling me to make sure I put school first and to tell my director that I couldn't rehearse AT ALL on Tuesdays or Wednesdays because I had a busy school schedule those days, I didn't argue. I didn't stand up for myself and tell her that the play was more important to me and I was willing to rehearse any time that I needed to. I did tell my director that I couldn't rehearse on those days even though I really didn't want to. When I stopping getting good grades, I felt like I had lost the right to my own priorities.

I think the same thing is going on with finding/having a job. I've had recruiters who were very inconsiderate and did not respect my time at all. I've had recruiters tell me to LIE in order to answer questions "correctly." I've missed jobs for qualifications that were never listed on the job description. I have had to be dishonest about certain things (like when they ask me how I liked Colby College) in order to even have a chance. I've seen a lot of job "advice" that I don't agree with, that will never work for me, and I felt like I couldn't talk about how wrong it was because I didn't have job. I wasn't in that situation where I knew I'd get into college and didn't need to be dishonest at an interview. I didn't think I could talk to anyone about how my recruiters were treating me because everyone places getting a job as such a high priority, I thought they'd just tell me that I should be lucky to even be contacted by recruiters and I should be willing to do whatever they say. 

I have power now that I have a job, and it SUCKS. It absolutely sucks because I should have had this power all along. Logically speaking, people who are having a harder time finding a job are likely to know a lot more about job discrimination and other job-seeking issues than people who had an easier time. We are the ones who SHOULD be speaking out about job issues, but instead we're afraid that people will see these issues as "excuses" for not having a job already, rather than reasons. And you don't need a reason for not having a job anyway - that is your own business and it's not the moral issue that everyone's making it out to be. You are not less of a good person because you don't have a job. You don't need to have a job to stick to what you are willing and unwilling to do. You don't need to have a check mark in the "student" or "employed" box to do what you love or to be respected.  I personally don't care what you are doing as long as you are satisfied with your life. And above all, you do not need to earn the right to your own values. Your values are your own.

Proud to Be a Millennial

I am a 100% purebred millennial and I don't ever intend to change. Just so you know.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

New Job

I want lots of attention. I want to feel special. I'm not getting that at my new job. At all. I got that at my old job but I'm not getting it here. No one knows I exist here. My boss wouldn't notice if I just stopping showing up to work. I don't feel like they need me. I don't know why I'm doing anything I'm doing because no one notices.

Oh, and my 40-minute commute turned out to be an hour and ten minute commute. Google maps is bullshit. And I need to talk to my boss about if I can skip my two 15-minute breaks and go home at 5:00 instead of 5:30. If I ever get to talk to him. I'm not sure he knows I work there. I miss my old boss and my old coworkers. I miss feeling special.

Oh, and I'm done being all goody-goody about this job. No one notices me anyway so I'm not doing anything I don't want to do for this job. I'm not going to censor myself on Facebook or here or avoid saying bad things about my job in order to keep it. The only thing I'm willing to do is not say names. Not say the name of the company I work for when I write about it. That's generally my policy anyway because I don't know if other people want me talking about them by name even if I'm saying nice things.

Honestly, if I can move closer very soon and talk to my boss about that extra half hour, that would really fix my problem. The main issue I have is the commute and the longer hours, which I'm absolutely not okay with. It's not worth driving all that way for what I'm doing. I don't even feel special there.

Complaining vs. Bragging

In one of my college psych classes, our professor asked us to go around the room and each name a pet peeve. A couple of students said that they don't like it when people complain and brag at the same time, like they are only using the complaining as an excuse to brag about something.  Our professor wasn't familiar with this and asked them to give an example, so they gave the example of someone complaining about having an interview.

I understood exactly what my classmates were talking about, and I saw a lot of that at Colby. Particularly, people would complain about being too busy when they wanted to brag about how many things they were involved in. I found this to be more than just a pet peeve - this kind of communication caused lots of problems for those of us who didn't engage in it. See, I don't use complaining as a way of bragging because I have no reservations about saying, "Yay I have an interview today and I'm so excited! I hope I get this job!" If I'm complaining about having an interview, I am legitimately complaining. I'm not using complaining as an excuse to brag or bring up the subject of the interview. This Colby method of simultaneously complaining and bragging was so common that other people assumed I wasn't serious about my complaints. When it's commonplace to complain-and-brag about being too busy, it's harder to find people who will listen when you say that you don't want to be so busy and this is a serious problem for you.

This has been on my mind for a while now, with all the job interviews I've dreaded, all the recruiters who wouldn't leave me alone, my new hour-and-ten-minute commute that was only supposed to take forty minutes according to Google maps, my new nine-hour days because I'm required to take an hour lunch break, this feeling in the pit of my stomach that I might have made the wrong choice....I just wanted to let everyone know that I don't do the complain-and-brag thing, that when I talk about issues with my new job, or with anything, I'm not using these issues to brag about the fact that I have this job. I am actually serious.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

A New Beginning

I've been working at a part-time temp job for a while now, and on Tuesday, November 19, I got an offer for a full-time temp-to-hire job. As long as the first 90 days go well, they're planning to hire me! I'm so excited and anxious and sad to leave my old job all at the same time...

When I first started my part-time job, I didn't know anything about the company. I got a call from a temp agency back in August asking me if I'd be interested in the job. I had a very brief phone interview with my future supervisor and she asked me to come in the next day. I was so excited, but also really scared. I had never worked in an office environment before. Since we only spoke briefly on the phone, I didn't get a sense of the workplace culture that I would normally get in an interview. I mean, I once interviewed with someone who said that you had to be thick-thinned to work for their company because the boss was very critical and made people cry and lots of people left after a few weeks because of it. Without a normal interview for this company, I had no idea what to expect. When my supervisor explained what the job entailed, I honestly did not understand what I would be doing. I was just praying that I would be able to do the work.

Everyone was really nice to me on my first day. The first thing my supervisor did was introduce me to everyone in the office. My neighboring coworker said that I could ask her any questions and that I was welcome to the coffee she made every afternoon. I followed instructions, but didn't really understand what I was doing. I was so scared of getting something wrong or not being fast enough. I had a huge stack of bills and I was pushing my absolute hardest to go as fast as I could. I actually came home with a sore back my first day because I was too focused on all the paperwork to adjust my chair to a more comfortable position.

My coworkers welcomed me to eat lunch with them. My supervisor was really nice and was always trying to calm me down in the beginning, telling me that it was okay to take a break. She never got angry when I made a mistake - she would just tell me what the mistake was, and I'd fix it and make a note of what to do next time. There were a couple things I kept mixing up, but I eventually figured them out.

As scared as I was in the beginning, I got the hang of the job after a short time. I soon realized that the work was backed up when I first arrived because the last person had left; I would never again have as much work as I had in the first few days. Once I was caught up, I rarely had enough work to fill my 20-hour weeks. I would ask my supervisor if there was anything else I could do, and a lot of times there wasn't anything. My supervisor gradually gave me more responsibilities, which made me feel good. I got the hang of things and could anticipate what needed to be done. Sometimes I got carried away with trying to do things on my own - for a long time I was typing in journal entries before I had the invoice numbers in order to save time, only to learn that my supervisor had to then go through them line by line to change the invoice numbers. Another time I accidentally put $38 on an envelope with our stamping machine and had to go to the post office to get it reversed. But for the most part, I kept on top of things and my supervisor appreciated what I was doing.

Talking with my coworkers, or even just listening to them talk to each other, was very therapeutic for me. When I was in college, people talked more about school than I ever wanted to. Graduate business school really turned me off to the business world because all anyone talked about was getting a job. You didn't hear about the fun things that people did over the weekends or personal problems that had nothing to do with work or school. My grad school was big on pushing students into these huge accounting firms with lots of overtime during tax season. They made the entire working world sound harsh and competitive. They made me think that jobs are only for people who are willing to do anything it takes to get a job or get promoted. To hear my coworkers talk about their personal lives during the work day, to have my supervisor (who is a controller) talk to me about her favorite amusement parks really put my mind at ease. It sort of reminds me of when I read Cosmopolitan  magazine when I was younger and decided that I never wanted to have a romantic relationship because I didn't want to do any of the things that Cosmo described, but now that I have a boyfriend and more life experience, I can recognize that a lot of that stuff is BS. A couple years ago, I had taken a quiz that said I was a slacker who didn't do any work or care about accomplishing anything. The problem was that the quiz didn't ask anything about what you actually did at work - all the questions were like, "How many hours of sleep do you get each night?" "How often do you watch movies?" "How often do you visit out-of-town friends?" indicating that if you do all these things in your personal life, you must not be focusing "enough" on work. At the time, I proudly answered all of these questions honestly and wrote in "And I don't ever plan to change." I come from two schools where everyone bragged about how busy and fast-paced their lives were, when my goal is to NOT be busy. If I don't have time to get enough sleep or watch movies or visit my friends, then that means something is wrong with my life. (It's not just about one quiz - this quiz was the impression I got of the working world when I was a student.) Well, I took that quiz again now that I have a job, and all my answers are exactly the same. Except this time, where it said that I was a slacker, I wrote in, "My coworkers would beg to differ!" I'm sure there are plenty of companies and career paths that are as harsh as my grad school described, but there are also places like my company. I knew now that I could find that warm and friendly work environment that I was looking for - I just had to look closer.

Somewhere along the way, I stopped feeling like a temp. It didn't matter that I couldn't open the front door by myself.  I got along well with everyone, and everyone treated me like I belonged there. Certain coworkers and I liked to talk at lunch. On Halloween, my supervisor wore her costume to work and was surprised that I hadn't dressed up too (which I didn't know we were allowed to do). She loves Halloween and we talked for a long time about what we did. She showed me pictures from her family Halloween party, and later that day I showed her pictures of my Halloween party on my cell phone. On my first day I wouldn't have known if that was okay or not, but at that moment I knew it was fine. When I first started working there, I had this sense that we weren't going to get very close because everyone tells me it's not okay to share personal stuff at work, but little things like this just made me feel really connected.

When my coworker had a death in her family and was out for a week, I asked my supervisor if I could take over any of her work so that she wouldn't be in a mess when she got back. I wasn't trained in my coworker's job, but my supervisor gave me everything that I could do. In the following weeks, I continued to take over some of my coworker's duties while she was catching up. These were probably the most meaningful work weeks for me. I didn't know her very well, but I was really glad that I could actually do something to help.

Sometime later, our CFO left the company, and he left behind instructions for an Excel function that my coworker did not understand. My supervisor asked if I could take a look at it. I didn't understand what the CFO had been doing, but I asked my coworker what she needed to do on the Excel sheet and I played around with it all day until I figured out something that I thought would work. When I got to work the next day, my coworker and my supervisor were very appreciative and said that my method worked and was easier to understand than what our CFO had been doing before. They were going to use the method that I came up with! (My coworker eventually figured out our CFO's method, but my method worked to keep them from falling behind).

Something changed after that. I was really proud that I had helped fix their problem and that I'd contributed something beyond just keeping up with my regular work. It made me feel like I was more than a temp. After that, I was rarely waiting around with nothing to do because my supervisor and coworker started finding more things that I could help with. They could rely on me, and that felt really, really good.

A couple weeks later, one of my coworkers gave her two weeks notice that she was leaving. We were all really happy for her. That same day that she gave her notice, my other coworkers started talking about me filling her shoes. Her job was similar to mine, but she had more bills and full-time hours. I was excited at that prospect and decided to bring the subject up the following day. Before I had a chance to mention it, my supervisor asked me to speak with her in the conference room. My heart was racing. I knew what this was about. My supervisor told me about the open job and asked me if it was something I'd be interested in, that my coworker could train me before she left. I could work full-time and split my hours between my current job and my coworker's job. The only problem was that it wouldn't be permanent - they couldn't hire me as a permanent employee until they had hired a new CFO. This new CFO who didn't even exist yet had to make that decision, and they might decide that they didn't need me. I was kind of disappointed - I was really hoping they would offer me the permanent job, or at least the chance to apply for it. But still, I was psyched to get more responsibility and have full-time hours. I was sure that they would hire me for real if I did well - I just had no idea how long it would be.

The next day I started learning my coworker's computer system. I watched her go through the process and took lots of notes. The day after, I asked if I could try it on my own. I wanted to practice while it was fresh in my mind and while she was still there to help me. I spent my entire mornings practicing my coworker's job and did my own job in the afternoon.  I wasn't getting through my work as quickly and usual, but I managed to stay caught up. The following week would be my first full-time week. My coworker would be with me Monday through Wednesday, but Thursday and Friday she had off, so I'd get to try it on my own. I was ready.  I was really sure that I could handle both jobs for a number of reasons:
1. I used to work only three days a week. Spread over five days, my part-time job wouldn't be as much work.
2. I was doing extra things because I had extra time, like making copies and filing for my coworker. My coworker would understand if I had to cut down on stuff like that because I didn't have extra time anymore.
3. My supervisor always said I was fast and that we were paying our bills early. So even if I couldn't be as fast as I normally was, it seemed like I had a long way to go before I would seriously fall behind.
4. My coworkers would help me if I needed it.
5. Ultimately, my supervisors wanted me to do both jobs because it was easier than them hiring another temp, so they would understand if I couldn't keep up with everything like I had before. All I needed to do was ask them what my order of priorities should be and follow it.

I was totally pumped to show everyone that I could do both jobs at once. Then they'd have to hire me for real.

Okay, it wasn't quite going to be a full-time week because I had an interview for another job on Monday morning; I had still been applying to other positions since I was unsure about whether my temp job would ever become permanent. I wasn't holding out hope that I'd get the job I interviewed for. I'd been interviewing for months and they always want someone with work experience I didn't have. But I did my best at the interview. They asked me to talk about something I did that I was proud of, and I told them about fixing the Excel method at work. I normally had trouble with questions like this because I had never done anything very challenging in a work setting; this was the first time I genuinely felt proud of something I had done at my job. When they asked me about my current job, I mentioned that I was getting promoted. I did my best at the interview, but my heart was back at my own company. I was so sure that would be where I stayed for the next few years. When I got back to work that day, the IT person met me and asked me to give him the password I wanted to use. I was getting my own username and password for work. No more standard temp email address. No more logging in under someone else's name. I was almost a real employee. That night, I called my recruiter at the temp agency who had been trying to reach me during the day. She told me that she had gotten very positive feedback and was calling to thank me. I thanked her and told her that I loved the people and was psyched to be getting promoted and that I would definitely take the permanent job if they offered it to me. I went to bed that night feeling really good.

The next Tuesday morning, I did my first check-run under my own username. Just before lunch, I noticed that I had a missed call from the job recruiter for the interview I'd had the day before. I tried to call her back at lunch but couldn't get a hold of her. It was always really stressful having so many recruiters calling me during work when I couldn't call them back, and it would be hanging over my head all day that I needed to deal with them. I couldn't wait to become a permanent employee and tell all the recruiters that I was no longer looking for a job.

Later that afternoon, my supervisor was in a meeting and my coworker had gone home early. I had more than enough time to finish my work, so I went downstairs to the break room to give my recruiter a quick call back. She told me I had the job. Had it. Right then and there. I didn't know what to say. I was so torn - I was really set on getting the job at my own company, but I didn't know when that would happen and I knew this new job was probably the better choice. It was a bigger company with a lot more people my age. The starting rate was higher. There was enough growth potential that I'd probably stay for a long time, whereas I would probably only stay at my current company for a few years. The people seemed really nice there. There were some downsides, like it was twenty minutes farther away than my current job and days were 8:30-5:30 with an hour lunch break (my current job was 8:30-4:30). But most importantly, this company intended to hire me permanently, and I didn't know if my own company ever would. I told my recruiter that I needed time to think about it. She said if I didn't act fast, they would assume I wasn't interested and hire their second-choice person. I told her I'd call her back the next day with my answer. I went back up to my desk not knowing how to feel. I called my mom and talked to her about it for a while. I found myself trying not to cry while I filed the bills. I remembered sitting in this exact spot on my first day, being so scared and not sure I could do it, and now I was stepping right into someone else's job. I knew which cities were filed under different names. I knew what to do with every paper someone dropped on my desk. I had grown so much here. I didn't realize it, but all these little things just made me feel so settled. I couldn't imagine wanting to go somewhere else.

When my boss got back from her meeting, I asked her if she knew when they might be hiring a new CFO and when my job might become permanent. She said she wasn't sure. She asked me if I was getting other offers, and I told her that I had one and didn't know what to do. She sat down next to me so we could talk about it. She's really caring and has a motherly instinct; I was really going to miss that if I left. I told her about the job, how I wasn't sure what to do, and that I had to give them an answer by the next day. She told me to follow my heart. She also spoke with the other controllers and confirmed that they had no idea how long it would be before they'd hire a new CFO, and until then, they couldn't hire me permanently.

That night I talked it over with my parents and my boyfriend, and I realized that the new job was really the better choice for me. I told my supervisor the next morning. I didn't make a big announcement to everyone, I just went to her quietly and said that I decided to take the other job. She told my coworker and pretty soon everyone was running over and giving me lots of hugs and saying that they were so happy for me. Word spread fast. People I barely crossed paths with came over to congratulate me. Meanwhile, my supervisor was meeting with the other controllers to decide what they were going to do now that I was leaving.

This job was temporary. I knew it. They knew it. I'd been applying to other jobs the entire time that I was there. But I felt really bad leaving after they had started to train me, after they were counting on me to take over my coworker's job. It hurt me to leave just after they gave me a username, after they thought of me first for my coworker's job, after I was really starting to feel attached.

I wanted to do something extra for them, something to make their transition easier, something to show them that I cared and that the experience had meant a lot to me. On my first day of work, I was very stressed out when I had to file bills by city and couldn't find a lot of the cities because I didn't know that certain cities were filed under different names. I've also called vendors to ask for paperwork, only to realize that I didn't know our fax number, my work email address, or the number of the phone I was calling from. I had always had in mind that I would leave the next person with a list of contact info and things that are filed under unusual names.  After I typed out the list and pinned it to the bulletin board, I didn't have anything else to do. I was only working a full day so that I could train for my coworker's job, which I wasn't going to do anymore. My supervisor would probably let me go home early, which I didn't want to do. I flipped through all the notes I had taken in my first days and decided to type out all the procedures for the next person. I wrote the procedures for the two computer programs I used, and daily procedures including where everything gets filed. No one asked me to write this out, but I just wanted to leave them with something. I pinned all of the instructions to the bulletin board at the end of the day.

The next morning, my supervisor was very appreciative of the instructions I had written, and she told me that she was happy about my new job. Since I wasn't training for the new position anymore, my supervisor told me I could leave at noon that day (Thursday), and I had Friday off and half-days the following Monday through Wednesday (just before Thanksgiving). My supervisor said she didn't see why I couldn't take over my coworker's job for those last few days since I knew how to do it, but the other controllers wanted to get a new temp in quickly, before my coworker left for good.

You know how sometimes when you miss a place, you start to miss all sorts of little things that didn't actually matter to you when you were there? Normally I would be thrilled to go home early and have a day off, but seeing the little bit of time I had left at my company reduced to practically nothing made me feel empty inside. I wanted to be back at work. I would never have said that if I were staying, but knowing that I was leaving, I just wanted to be back there. I kept replaying all the mundane tasks I had to do everyday, realizing I was actually sad to never get to do those things again. I met my boyfriend for lunch that day. After lunch, I called my temp agency to make sure my notice had gone through (I technically worked for the agency, so I had to give my official notice to them). They told me it had, and that they were actively working with my company to find two new temps to replace me. That made me feel better.

The following week was really hard. With every task I did, I just felt so sad that I'd never be doing it again. I'd never be there again. Without realizing it, I had started to feel at home there. It was first time since high school that I had felt so attached to a place and such a strong sense of belonging. On my final day, my coworkers were really psyched for me. The new person who was filling my coworker's job wished me luck at my new job. I wished her luck and told her that everyone was really nice. I talked to my coworkers a lot, more than I normally would during the work day. I told them how sad I was to leave, and they all agreed that I was doing the right thing. I gave my supervisor a thank-you card saying how much the job had meant to me and how nice everyone had been. My coworker gave me her own pencil mug as a parting gift, the mug she had at her first-ever job. She remembered what it was like to be just starting out and wanted me to have something personal to put on my desk at my new job. She wrote "To Nicole, Best wishes! Love, [name]" on the bottom. I hugged her and tried not to cry.

My coworkers went to lunch at 11:30. I was supposed to leave at noon and not take a lunch break, but I decided to go and eat with them one final time and just stay later afterwards. We talked about how long I had been there, how I started back in August when we used to eat outside together. I only took a few bites of my sandwich. I didn't feel like eating.  After lunch, I kept working until absolutely everything was finished, at about 1:30. I left a sticky note on my procedure instructions for the new temp saying, "All of these instructions are saved on Word docs on this computer. I wrote these for your convenience, so feel free to add or change anything that works better for you. Best of luck!" I asked my supervisor one last time if there was anything else I could do, but she said that I had gotten her all caught up, ahead of schedule. I went around and said goodbye to my other coworkers. I came back to my supervisor and my main coworker, the one who had given me her pencil mug. They both hugged me and I told them how much I would miss them. They walked me over to the fridge and told me to take one last bottle of free iced tea. My supervisor walked me down to the door and told me to take care of myself and to use her as a reference because I had been a great employee. I told her it had been a great experience.

I started crying the moment I stepped out the door and cried all the way home. I did my errands as soon as I got home and started packing my things (we were going to my boyfriend's grandparents' house for Thanksgiving weekend). I got on the computer and deleted 700+ job-search-related emails. It wasn't so much a cleansing ritual - it was a way of assuring myself that I had done the right thing, that I had a real job now, that I may have waited months to do this if I had stayed where I was. I had written an email to my most persistent recruiter when I first accepted the new position, for the same reason.

I start my new job tomorrow. Everyone seems very friendly there, and I've gotten a positive vibe. My parents said I'll fit in and make friends more quickly because everyone will assume I'm going to stay there. There are a lot more people at this company and more people my age. I feel like it won't be long before I'm not the newest person there, before I start to feel at home there. I'm on a 90-day probation period, but I know it's going to be okay.

What I learned at my first real job goes beyond work experience, beyond anything I could list on a resume. I learned what I'm capable of when I'm in an environment that's right for me. When you spend too much time in an environment that's bad for you, you can get a warped perception of yourself. You start to think that you just aren't good enough, even if you know logically that you just don't like your situation. Working with all of the kind, encouraging people at my company reminded me that I am good enough. In time I'll start to feel at home in my new job and I won't miss my old one anymore. Wherever I end up from here, I will never forget where I started. I love you all.