On the outside I consider myself to be a rigid, get-it-done person.
I get in the grocery store and get out as soon as I can, and because I’m tall and can cry naïveté I barrel through soccer moms and older couples without an issue. I have to-do lists and a pristine room and excellent self-discipline. I have spreadsheets and I make my bed every morning and I am so, so annoyed when things don’t go my way.
But on the inside, I am very soft, and moreover I still carry with me a child-like sense of wonder at the world around me. From the office upstairs where I’m writing, I can see the pond in our backyard, majority frozen, and just watched some baby ducks skate along the icy surface and plunge into the frosty waters on the other side. I like stepping on crunchy leaves and staring up at trees and kicking around in puddles. And I wish with all my might that baby and wedding showers involved more card games and Play Doh than niceties and spiked punch.
The past year at my job has been interesting for that soft-hearted child within me. The corporation I work for is a business software company and operates more like a start-up than a corporation- and yet I was still confronted with “corporate America,” which is the least child-like thing I can think of, this past year working there.
I’ve always heard that corporations are “the enemy” and “the bane of human existence” and “run by greedy fatheads whose only goal is to line their own pockets.” I don’t know if I fully believe all of that. But I do know that if you’re a sensitive, relatively sheltered young lady who’s always been told she can do anything she put her mind to, spending a few years in a corporation can be quite the challenge. It’s almost like as I started my journey into the world of corporate work, I held my sparkly Amanda self in one hand, all goopy and sappy and fun, and a spiky little metal ball in the other hand, all “work for 8 hours” and “some people are incompetent” and “that’s just the way it is.” Goopy Amanda started a slow evaporation, and the spiky little metal ball started shooting little metal spikes into my heart, my soft center as I met wall after wall of new information about how the world really works. The drive to work into a foggy, billboard-infested city and “he said she said” of business not only depressed the hell out of me, but made me question why I was doing any of this anyway. Is this really all there is to life? To work for 5 days, get 2 days off, and repeat until you die?
My coworker and I had just wrapped up our typical work chat, and I shared with her that “some life stuff” was stressing me out and I was worried it might affect my performance. She nodded, picked at the dust between her laptop keys for a second, said, “I don’t know if this helps, but…” and then proceeded to say some of the most helpful things imaginable.
She started out by saying that work, having a job, just plain sucks, and it will always suck for everybody. That the people on LinkedIn are lying about a whole-hearted experience in work. That there are probably a million different things I would rather be doing than showing up here, working for 40 hours per week, and that’s how everyone feels- but it’s just the way society is structured. And that’s something we have to live with, that took her years and years to accept.
As she was saying this I thought about the version of me who had just started in corporate a little over a year ago, who designed adorable logos for her fake companies in her software demonstrations and included no less than 5! exclamation points! in introductory emails. That innocence, that naive sentiment about being able to change the corporate world all on her own through the Power of Love, made me smile a sad smile.
That version of me saw something ugly, something black and white and very dull, and wanted to make it beautiful. But the truth that my coworker’s words helped me form is that the world of corporate work is not very beautiful. I have found nothing glimmering, gorgeous, or humane about it. It is a completely mental construct that requires completely mental work- the heart is neither valued nor favored in getting the job done. The world of work, at least the one I live in, exists in a room with dry air and dozens of computers and dozens of people. There’s beauty in that, in the Isness of it, and the people I work with are the best around. But I thought about how there’s really no vibrancy in the simple fact of the work I do- that is part of the deal.
As I listened, she talked about how we learn in full-time positions that we are not special, and we are completely normal, and that we have to be okay with that. That the words “I don’t want to be average” can be a death wish to our contentment on this planet. We are normal. If we weren’t normal, we would have known by now, and had something to show for it. And if we don’t accept ourselves as normal, we will find ourselves suffering.
I’ve never been comfortable with the idea of being normal. In college one time I felt so sick of what I was seeing, the world I was heading into, that I picked up a piece of chalk and wrote out the whole timeline on a study room chalkboard.
Birth. School. College. Job. Marriage. House. Kids. Retirement. Death.
My friend was in the room with me, and when I turned to him, he quirked an eyebrow at my exasperated Pepe Silvia-esque appearance. “This doesn’t terrify you?!?” I half-shouted at him. He shook his head. “Not really.”
I slammed the chalk back onto the holder and threw my hands up in defeat. It certainly terrified me. I couldn’t imagine a less appealing path. I was not going to be normal. I was going to travel and run my own online business and post about it on Instagram so my high school friends would finally think I’m cool. I was going to not settle down until I was 30, have kids at 35 MAYBE (I might want to be a cool Millennial and never have kids), and then… I don’t know, travel some more?
This abhorrence to being normal runs deep within me, so imagine my shock when I felt an intuitive nudge to start applying for full-time jobs a few years into running my post-college, oh-so-braggable online business. The thought of taking a corporate position and working for the man shocked and terrified me, and made me a shaking ball of indecision for a month. I’m going to do it. I’m not going to do it. Why would I do it? I have my own business! I can travel if I want to! But I’m bored, and I miss being around people… BUT I’M LIVING THE DREAM! Forget that I was making a meager wage towards the end and was, shall we say, a tad bit bored out of my mind with digital marketing. I was doing MY path, and now I was going to sacrifice that for THE path? The one that everyone takes? The one that made me sick to my stomach just a few years ago?
As it turns out, yes. I was going to do just that.
I took the corporate job, signed on the dotted line for a pretty awesome salary, and crumpled into an aluminum can of tangled emotions, sobbing in side rooms for the first few months as goopy Amanda tried (and succeeded in, but was quite fucked up about) meeting spiky expectations. But the human creature is nothing if not shockingly adaptable, and so after those first few months, I found my rhythm. I started saying “Good morning” to people in the hallways and introducing myself to new coworkers with a smile. I started cursing Monday mornings and exhaling on Friday afternoons. And I started understanding why people believed that other people were stupid- calculating a justification for their unbelievable actions required way too much work.
I met my boyfriend at the same time that I started the job, and after a few dates in his calming, grounded, very normal presence, these foreign feelings of deep romantic love and intimacy threatened to spill out of my chest and onto the ground below. While we had the time of our lives getting to know each other, figuring out how we fit together and what makes the other person laugh the hardest, my thoughts began to change. Images of fluffing up throw pillows on our couch and picking out wedding napkins started flooding my brain, and thoughts of years spent backpacking across Europe faded away. My inner punk feminist was horrified. The part of me that always feared settling down too young, missing my chances, shook her head and cursed the wind. But my goopy self to this day keeps whispering, Yes. This is right. Keep going. And so I do.
In spite of all my kicking, screaming and worst fears, I’ve found myself in the middle of a very normal 9-5 life. And I still don’t really know how to feel about it.
When I get to work and interact with my clients, I’m spiky metal ball Amanda. I do not fuck around. My emails do not have exclamation points, my notes and processes are refined and organized, and I hustle to clock as much productivity as I can into the time I’m paid for. And that works for me. It’s how I make the big bucks that a corporation can provide. I get it all out in those 8 hours, all my ambition, all my masculinity, all my people speaking and nimble communication and thinking and worrying and predicting the future and wondering what people think about me and fixing my hair and feeling special, dammit, in this utterly insignificant microcosm of a company.
And then, I leave.
The second I close my laptop I’m goopy Amanda, pliant, deep breaths, listening to a self-help podcast or some pop queen music on my drive home. I’m noticing the little spiders along the walls of the building and calling my boyfriend to talk about our days. I’m sighing as I set my bags down, wrestling with the dogs, eating dinner, watching TV, meditating then skincaring then bed. I read on weekends, and get breakfast with my besties, watch the same three shows with my boyfriend, think “Oh gosh, another week of this” every Sunday night and then proceed to do the same thing all over again. Sometimes I panic into an existential crisis, but more times than not, I’m totally fine.
“Totally fine” is not a sustainable state of living, so I don’t think a corporation will be my forever home. But working at one has shattered all my expectations of what I thought I’d learn on the job. The core skills of the actual position I picked up on pretty quickly. But the life lessons I’ve learned, the relaxing into “normal life,” the focusing on hobbies and the enjoying of the present, the understanding of the “real world” and “Mondays” and people and business are absolutely priceless.
My coworker and I ended up talking for 45 minutes. More specifically, she talked for 45 minutes, and I performed mental gymnastics fitting what she said into my view of the world.
In the end, every word out of her mouth was a relief. It felt like I had been pretending for a year to be completely cool with the experience of having A Big Girl Job that was so the opposite of what I had always been expecting. It felt like I had been trying to make corporate work not suck, when sometimes, corporate work just sucks. I felt the weight of struggling with these depressed feelings lift off my shoulders in the way that only a good talk can do- a good talk with someone who can speak to, and relate to, exactly what you’re going through in ways you didn’t even know were possible.
I’d be lying if I said that every Sunday I didn’t wish I were working for myself again. To face another full 40 hours of work ahead of me, at the behest of others, without breaks for TV time or dog petting in between, is… fine. But my discipline muscle has grown stronger every day on the job. I’m now excellent at time management and whip smart in managing a project. I know so much about so much that I would have never learned on my own. And goopy Amanda has expressed to me that this job is where I currently belong, has asked me to put both feet into it and take the risk of pouring my identity into who I am and not what I do. She’s asked me, basically, to just be here, instead of fantasizing about being anywhere else. And when she speaks, her small voice cutting clear through the thoughts like one pure note of wisdom, I’d be remiss not to listen. Though I’m wont to blame her for my troubles and my “just fine” life, she knows, and I know, I’m where I need to be.