We work.  We work hard.  We sit with people in pain, people in the aftermath of their own bad decisions, decades of bad decisions, generations of bad decisions.  We absorb a lot of that pain, we absorb their anger at the inequity of life, their anger at us for being on this side of the desk.  We respond to that anger with varying degrees of success, our immunity to it a product of our own lives– did we argue with a partner last night?  Was the youngest up with fever, did we get four hours, five hours of sleep?

We drive in snow, ten minutes, forty minutes, an hour and ten.  We’re on time– all the time, most of the time.  Some of us manage that well, some poorly.  We are going through divorces and sick children and bankruptcies, we get bad news, we get good news.  We come in.  We work.

We seek hilarity or silliness now and again to keep us alert, to buoy the immunity, to combat the cynicism, sometimes to feed the cynicism.  Sometimes cynicism is the immunity, because we can’t be fully present for all problems, all extenuating circumstances.  We can’t handle that.  We can’t handle, “you don’t understand.”  For we do understand– we’ve heard it all.  But we can’t cry about it all, that would leave us completely depleted.

In exchange for this front line defense, in exchange for being the face of this massive organization, we get “your numbers are low,” “you need to clean this up,” “I need this done by close of business today.”  In exchange for this we hear, “oh I know, I used to do exactly what you do.”  No, you didn’t, at least not with these new corporate values, at least not for this long, at least not with this supervisor, at least not with this spartan curmudgeonly atmosphere where we’re caught only doing something wrong, never doing something right.

We’re caught being unprofessional, being inappropriate.  Our emails are read, our conversations overheard,  the minutes late noted, the hash marks of each collated into a dossier of naughtiness.

The office knows within minutes who is in trouble.

Picture this: the office knows within minutes who’s been given a $5 gift certificate for coffee, for doing something right, something management has overheard, having noticed someone being patient, being kind.  Picture this: everyone gets two free “lates” a year, two times when unforeseen things kept us 15 minutes later than anticipated.  Picture this: we are thanked or praised regularly, singularly: no blanket “thanks” at holidays to cover the whole year.

It’s not nirvana, it’s a positive support system for a difficult job we do week in and week out for years.

We need that, because we work.  We work hard.

2 thoughts on “Work

  1. This is interesting to me, your daily experience is so very different than my own. It sounds exasperating yet noble, in a sense. After 30 years I fear that little I have done has impacted anyone’s life for more than a few minutes, an hour, maybe a day. And the experience of working with a group of like people must be heady, maybe not always in a positive way, but stimulating? I spend so much time alone which I like, left to my own devices, but maybe not too healthy mentally.
    Do you mostly enjoy your days or is it like going into battle? Any sense of satisfaction?

    1. First: you have no idea the lasting impact you’ve had on people. Case in point, me. A friend emailed me about this post and asked, “would you rather be doing flowers?” And yes, I would. But not only because I’d rather be doing many many things other than this: it’s because my boss at the flower shop was the best boss I’ve ever had. You! Same goes for all the people over the years that have worked for you!
      What I do is very frustrating and would be less so if we didn’t also have poor management scolding, never praising. I have likened it to construction workers working on a highway with crappy tools, trying to drill with a faulty drill bit, while the following are happening: the boss is screaming to work faster, the taxpayers are screaming that this highway should be done by now, and it’s way too expensive, and the construction workers are overpaid AND, the people who want to drive on this particular highway are screaming too: “LET US DRIVE! YOU DON’T KNOW HOW BADLY WE NEED TO DRIVE!!” All of which will squelch any satisfaction, and incinerate any nobility…

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