Tell Me a Story

Once again, I am in trouble at work.  For anyone who knows me outside of the abstraction of this space, this won’t come as much of a surprise.  Maybe it won’t surprise anyone at all.  The clear genesis of my professional challenges involve three basic facts:

  • I have a big mouth.
  • I have big convictions.
  • I have a hooha.

That explanation, however, leaves a limited collection of choices, none of which I like.  1) shut my big mouth and become careful.  2) Lose my moral compass and abandon my convictions.  3) Get a sex change.

Let’s start with No. 3.  Even if I felt the impulse that would drive someone to a gender reassignment surgery, transgendered people are still discriminated against in the workplace.  Problem not solved.

Alternately, the advice I received from a friend that is ahead of me as a woman in the workplace by a generation was to minimize the fact that I’m a woman to become less threatening.  Adopt a more masculine form of dress (it isn’t like I’m prancing through the office in pink as it is), get a more masculine haircut.

No one gave me this advice, but it is also a possibility – play up my femininity.  Flirt, tease, bat my eyelashes, giggle, and fit into that stereotype where I elicit the work equivalent of the sympathy f*ck.

The problem with all of this is that I fundamentally object to the idea that my gender should be a factor at all in the workplace.  Who cares what my plumbing is?  I mean seriously, are we three?  Am I supposed to be somehow deficient because I’ve got an “innie” instead of an “outie”?  My friends that have been in the workplace for longer than me think my outrage is cute.  Like “aww, look at the idealistic young thing.  That will be beaten out of her eventually.”

Moving on to No. 2: lose my moral compass.  Frankly, I don’t want to.  If I don’t have my convictions, if I don’t stand for anything, then who am I?  I don’t know and I don’t want to find out.  Too much of my identity is wrapped up in what I believe.

And finally, No. 1: Be careful.  I’m more and more convinced that being careful is the fast track to getting old.  And by old I mean rigid in your thinking, inflexible, intolerant, and unable to see the world with empathy or compassion because you are so careful defending your little careful world that you can’t afford anything else.  I don’t want to be that person.

That last statement is the point:  I don’t want to be that person.

Digression: let me note that I recognize that everything costs something.  It all depends on what you are willing to pay.  Make no mistake, being careful costs something.  It costs big, but it takes it out of your hide in incremental ways.  Refusing to be careful also costs big and the costs are obvious.  But f*ck.  At least you see them coming.  At least you know what they are and can deal with them cleanly and honestly, as opposed to the cost of careful which gets taken out of your ass in your integrity and your self-worth and your freedom.

I just got done reading Seth Godin’s All Marketers are Liars.  He makes the point that I made a while back (but never turned into something that anyone listened to or bought).  We don’t buy stuff, we buy the story we want to tell about ourselves.  You don’t buy a jacket from Land’s End, you buy the idea that you’ve got a cabin somewhere and you’re going to chop wood.  You are buying an identity, not a coat.  Pick a brand, any brand.  You are not buying the brand, you are paying for what the brand says about you.  Brilliantly, Seth takes the story-telling story and runs with it, making the argument that whatever you are trying to sell, from a resume to a widget, you had better have an authentic story to go with it.

Maybe he’s covered this in other books – I’ve only read All Marketers… and We’re All Weird – but I want to talk about turning that notion a little and looking at it from a different angle.  By doing so, I also want to dig a little deeper into my own professional challenges.

As someone who, for various reasons, isn’t ready to strike out on her entrepreneurial future just yet, I need to work for someone.  Every company I’ve worked for thus far, for various and assorted reasons, has resulted in some friction.  Asking whether the companies have been broken (truth be told, there are far more dysfunctional organizations than there are functional organizations) or if the broke one is me is perhaps the wrong question.  Even if it is the right one, the answer isn’t helpful.

I propose that I have simply been pursuing the wrong thing in my employers.  I’ve looked at things like benefits, what the job duties look like, the salary, and the commute.  All very pragmatic, practical considerations.  What I haven’t considered is whether the story I tell about myself fits with the story the company tells about itself.  It’s a hard thing to figure out in a single interview, and I know I’ve got a particularly challenging self-story:

I value clear thinking, reserved judgment, choosing the long-term gain over the short term satisfaction, not panicking, deliberation, intelligent answers that bring the best outcome for the greatest number of people, pragmatism, substance over surface, and achieving as much as possible with as little resistance or fanfare as possible.  I don’t like shortsighted answers that create more problems later, I don’t believe in kissing ass or lying.  I believe in calling a thing by its name and dealing with the reality, not what I hope the reality will be.  I believe that I can see more clearly when I’m not stuck in the middle of something.  All this makes me something of a loaner, and observer long before I’m a participant.  I don’t fake it easily or well and yes, I am difficult to manage.

So…  Is the issue that I need to change who I am or what I expect?  Or is it that I need to find a company with the same values and a similar vision of what it is and what it wants to be.

Where is the disconnect between who you are and who your company says it wants to be and what does that say about how you’re going to look for your next job?

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Tell Me a Story

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