This was a post I wrote Sept. 9, 2011 while I was working in a particularly harsh environment: a complete lack of employer support, no training, and a boss who was constantly contradicting herself by telling me she supported me and my efforts and then changing her mind and said she could not support me when our big boss disagreed with my suggestions for expanding the project they had hired me to expand. The nice thing is that all the changes I created were very successful and never failed us. Anyway, like most bad things, I did learn a few important things about myself.
Do you ever find yourself fighting against a specific part of who you are? For instance, say you have a dire aversion to broccoli but everybody keeps telling you to eat it. So you try to eat it. It makes you sick. But you still feel pressured by friends and family to keep trying to eat broccoli. No matter how many times you try it, no matter how many times you change it up, it’s still broccoli and it still makes you sick.
At what point do you accept that you do not like broccoli, never will, and move on with life? Accept that you are created specifically to not like broccoli and that it would be okay to never ever eat it again?
It’s not broccoli, but it’s similar. This story begins years and years ago based on some poor choices. Because of the poor choices, I worked various office jobs to help make ends meet. These jobs are the easiest to come by (if not right at this moment) and usually pay okay. The work is stable and so is the paycheck and benefits.
I started office work because we were poor and there wasn’t a whole lot of call for inexperienced theater majors with a second Bachelor’s in journalism. At least, that’s what I thought. My frame of mind was, “I graduated college, now where is my job?” I had no idea that I would actually have to go out there and find these jobs on my own, beyond online job searches. I felt entitled.
I know, finesse is not a trait I have.
Years later I’m still working in office jobs. I hate them. I hate office politics. I hate people who don’t communicate. I hate playing corporate games.
But I do like my steady paycheck, my benefits, my paid vacation and separate paid sick leave. I like knowing that it will have to take a lot, and I mean moving a mountain a lot, to fire me (don’t ask how I know this).
But office jobs bring out my worst. At least what I perceive is my worst. Specifically, my lack of “tough skin.” I’m, apparently, “too sensitive”.
Lack of tough skin is my broccoli. No matter how many classes I take, books I read, therapists I see, I am just a very sensitive soul. And for some reason that is a bad thing. My entire life people have told me to toughen up. Grow some thicker skin. Stop being so sensitive. Don’t take everything so personally.
A couple of weeks ago I heard a co-worker say about another co-worker, “He’s just really sensitive. We need to toughen him up.” I know the co-worker being commented about, and yeah, he is another sensitive soul. He’s a good guy. He’s kind-hearted and funny. He sympathizes with the students he works with and worries about them. He has worried right along with me through all the trials I’ve faced in this job. He loves his wife and supports her in just about everything she wants to do. He isn’t whiny. He doesn’t complain. He’s just struggling and frustrated with his job. Just like me.
But this makes him “sensitive”. And in this case “sensitive” equals a dirty word; as in, “She’s so smelly. We need to encourage her to take a bath”. Telling someone like me, like my co-worker, to grow tougher skin would be like telling Shaquille O’Neal to grow short. But why should we change?
My boss repeated tells me that I’m too sensitive and need to toughen up. At least she tells me to my face, unlike my sensitive-soul counterpart whom she just talks about behind his back. Oh, I know she talks about me behind my back, too, I’ve walked in on discussions about me she’s having with two of my other co-workers.
She told me again today that I needed toughen up, grow that crazy thick skin EVERYbody else has (all the cool kids have thick skin!), I realized that I was told to be somebody I’m not.
I am a sensitive person. But I don’t think this should be considered a bad thing. When people are fighting around me, I’m usually the first person to step up and make everybody back away (Halloween 2009). I like to work in a harmonious, drama free environment where people work together not because we have to but because working together makes everybody’s lives easier. It’s important to have sensitive people like me around.
It’s a shame that when I’m told to toughen up I can’t say, “You know, three years ago I chased, on foot, one of the three guys who broke into my home; a guy carrying a gun. The only reason I didn’t catch him and beat the shit out of him was because he can jump fences. Please don’t tell me to toughen up. My skin is thick when it needs to be. Apparently, this is not a time when thick skin is needed. Instead of me changing for you, why don’t you change for me?”