In To the Deep End

Playing the game, reaching the goal, schmoozing, being politically correct.  These are all things I am not good at.  All things I have struggled with my entire life.  All things that are going to be part and parcel of the new career that I am investing the next year of my life in to becoming.  What have I done ?  Sweet Jesus in Birkenstocks – I am throwing myself in to the deep end of the corporate pool wearing cement shoes.  The question is: will I sink or swim ?

I’ve never been good at the corporate gig.  I’ve never been one to pick up quickly on office politics and play along.  I’ve never been one to engage in survival tactics in the office workplace.  I’m more of an outside the box kind of worker with little ability to schmooze.  I can’t stand small talk, especially if I’m the only one talking or the other person just doesn’t have anything interesting to say.  I’m full of quirky facts to share but if the other person in the conversation doesn’t read or learn or watch movies, what the hell am I supposed to say then ?  Banal comments about the weather or the latest fashion trend ? Picture major flailing of limbs in open water with no lifeguard or floating device handy and you get the general idea of what happens to me in these types of situations.  It ain’t pretty and I sink quickly.

One of the things I am good at is asking for advice.  In a round about way I did that today and got some very good advice.  Advice that I actually plan to follow without asking why as for once the answer is obvious.  Because I have to.  Because I need to.  Because it is time to learn to play the game just a bit so that I can improve my lot in life without constantly digging a hole in the middle of it.  Because I am tired of not getting ahead due to my faulty filter (I blame some genetics).  Because I want to succeed at something beyond my marriage and my kids.  Because I’m tired of people saying “Oh what do you expect ? It’s Elizabeth” after I’ve once again said something outrageous that I should have used my inside voice for.  It’s time to learn the rules.

So this is my plan and so far it’s a cracker.  I went to Chapters, which is always the best way to start a plan as far as I’m concerned, and bought some books.  Before I purchased the books, I snagged one of the many salespeople who know me and my children on site and are patient with this chatty customer.  To be fair to me, she did ask if I needed help.  She just didn’t realize what she was in for.  And so to her I said, “I am looking for information on people engagement.  I need to learn to be nice.”  She promptly burst out laughing which set the tone for the rest of our visit.  Oh that Elizabeth….

Don’t get me wrong – for the most part I am a nice person.  I try to remember birthdays.  I buy little surprises for friends that I know they will like just for the heck of it.  I call to check up on people when I know they might be having a bad day.  I help out on committees at my kids school and at church.  I help lost kids find their parents.  Heck I just baked cupcakes (Bannoffee and White Chocolate Cheesecake ones) for the new lady in our office to welcome her.  I do nice things on a regular basis for a wide variety of people.  However, I am also easily annoyed by stupid people and am told constantly that I can’t call them stupid people even though they are stupid people and that is what they deserve to be called.  Apparently it’s not nice.  Frowned upon even.

I also have a hard time with processes when they don’t make sense, make extra work and just generally seem stupid.  This can cause problems when following the process is very important and makes a difference to the other people involved in the process.  Even though, to my little mind, the process might seem stupid I need to follow the stupid process so I don’t muck up other people.  But me being me, bucks and fights and ask’s why rather than just accepting that this is the process and you need to follow it and just do it for crying out loud !  It’s tiring and frustrating and disruptive and stupid.  Is that not the most multi-use word you’ve ever encountered ? It can be applied to so many different things which amuses me greatly.

But I digress.

By now you can see why I am working on changing my understanding of the rules.  Just because I don’t like them doesn’t mean they don’t exist.  Just because I think they are stupid doesn’t mean I don’t have to follow them.  Just because blindly conforming hurts me like a monthly cramp doesn’t mean I don’t need to occasionally put on a smiling face and follow the lemmings.  What I need to find is balance.  What I need to find is the happy medium between following the rules and staying true to the power of why.  I need to develop some skills which brings us back to Chapters.

Luckily for me, the local Chapters staff are a quirky bunch themselves.  I enjoy each and every one of them and know a lot of them by name.  I know they recognize me as well and hopefully it’s because I am pleasant and not a pain in the ass.  Today’s lucky winner in the help Liz lottery was a lovely lady whose name I’ve forgotten but will try to get next time.  When I spoke of my goals to be more PC in the workplace, she totally understood where I was coming from which was great.  Off we went to the business books to learn how to bond in the workplace.  I was sure this didn’t involve duct taping people’s mouths shut, which I know is not nice but might be fun, and agreed to have a look anyway.

You would be amazed to discover how many people want to Win, Win, Win ! or Lead the Pack ! or Win Friends and Influence People!  I just want to be able to listen without appearing bored.  I want to build up my filter so my outside voice learns when to apply duct tape before I have another “It’s just Elizabeth” moment.  I want to be able to read the cues from management about unspoken expectations.  I want to be able to communicate effectively and not make people want to put the duct tape on for me.  In essence, I want to be an easier employee.  I want to be able to succeed in the workplace.  I want to get ahead but not have to stomp on anyone else to do it.  I want to finally take off the cement shoes and swim confidently in the deep water of corporate life with some survival skills to ward off shark attacks.

So I’ve bought a couple of “life rings” to help me navigate those tricky corporate pools.  They are from an “Instant Manager” series of books that appear to address a wide variety of workplace issues.  Apparently I’m not the only one who struggles with these things and those that have either chipped off the cement shoes, or never wore them in the first place, have kindly written down their words of wisdom for those of us still looking for the jack hammer to freedom.  On my reading list for the next couple of weeks are, “Successful Workplace Communication” and “Dealing with Difficult People”.  My goal is to not only improve my own skills but to have a better understanding of those I work with wherever I am.  Maybe if I understand better where they are coming from, I’m less likely to reach for my stash of duct tape for myself or anyone else.

I believe very strongly in the power of educating oneself.  If you, or someone close to you, recognizes something you might need to work on to be successful, then I think it behooves us to grasp the opportunity for growth.  Flailing around like a victim will only get you saved so many times.  After a while, no one will hear you yell and you will sink.  Not because no one tried to save you, but because you never learned to swim.  Personally ?  I’m always up for improving my chances of success and survival.  If learning to do the sidestroke while crawling ahead keeps me afloat in the corporate pool, then I’m all for jumping in to the pool to learn how.   I’ll just make sure to keep a jack hammer handy for the times when I forget to take off the cement shoes.

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