Problems at Work

I graduated college nearly five years ago today. I’m part of a generation of college graduates that have, for the most part, come to realize that the power of a college degree isn’t exactly what we hoped it might be. The Great Recession, globalization, technology, automation, immigration, broken government, and perhaps our own individual weaknesses, have combined to dampen our economic prospects.

I’ve been gainfully employed for the majority of my time since college, working from September of 2008 through April of 2012 before making the insane decision to quit in order to pursue a writing career. After nine months of that pursuit—which was personally rewarding but monetarily useless—I agreed to return to that company on a four-month temporary contract.

I don’t usually write about myself. It’s uncomfortable to do so. However, I’m trying to make changes in my life, and part of that change has to be having the courage to speak (or write) the truth about myself and about the world as I perceive it to be. It’s very hard to make those self-assessments. It’s hard to look in the mirror and see a 27-year-old manchild that lives with his grandmother still and remains dependent on his family for financial support. That’s embarrassing. I’m one of the 47 percenters that Mitt Romney was probably referring to. There are other, more naked truths we could get into, but this article is about my experience returning to a job that I shouldn’t have ever come back to.

I’m the guy who was the first to return to his old high school. I don’t move on well. I think that has to do with being easily depressed. The present can be too difficult to bear, the future is absolutely terrifying, but I somehow managed to get through the past, which is comforting. The past is a paradise in my deluded mind, no matter how unbearable it was at the time.

When I started at this company back in 2008, I almost didn’t make it out of the second week. I’m a very sensitive person. So, when one of my bosses—there are no shortage of bosses and micro-managers at this place—continued to berate me for minor infractions that were due mostly to my ignorance about the job, I broke down crying and nearly didn’t make it back the next day. It’s a stressful job, and the anxiety was wearing me down very quickly. My stomach was in knots, I couldn’t eat. I tried to eat something the next morning, but couldn’t. I’m not sure what kept me from quitting—quitting had long been and remains my main preferred coping mechanism in life. Somehow, I drove to work through an hour of mind-numbing traffic that day, and for nearly another four years thereafter.

Anyway, I never had planned to write anything about my experience there. For one, I don’t want a libel or defamation suit against me. Secondly, I’m not sure what the employee handbook says about blogging about the workplace. Finally, I would never want to burn that bridge, since one day I’m sure I’ll need a reference from them. Alas, the bridge has been so thoroughly burned at this point that I don’t think a reference from them will be very positive at this point. I crossed the wrong person there somehow, so there’s no need to pull punches anymore.

Instead of quitting three months through a four-month contract, I’m writing this essay as my defense mechanism. It might as well be a letter of resignation, but I’ll show up the next day regardless. Somehow, I learned to keep showing up, even against my want not to.

My decision to return was an example of really poor logic. At the time I made the decision, my return date was a few months away. My logic was that committing to returning wasn’t really a commitment at all. It was an opportunity to buy myself a few more months of writing time to keep people and myself off my back about the whole being unemployed thing (I was—and technically remain—an intern for a sports website). I figured that by the time February rolled around, Sports Illustrated would have swooped in and hired me. Alas, Sports Illustrated never did come calling, February 4th rolled around, and I was back in the cubicle.

The first day was surreal. I couldn’t believe that the bill had come due. I was further shocked to learn that I had apparently made a mistake in training my replacement nine months earlier that was allegedly a pretty big deal at the company. There were also rumors that my attitude over the last 90 days after I gave notice—yes I gave 90 days notice per their request—wasn’t well received. I allegedly did not take the training process seriously enough, even though I was never asked to train the prospective employee. Additionally, since he had remained gainfully employed there in the intermittent nine months with no further critical errors, I must have done something right. As a former high school basketball coach, I think I know a thing or two about leadership and coaching people up. After hearing all of this office gossip about my failings, I couldn’t quite comprehend why they brought me back at all.

In the three months that I’ve been back there temping, there have been other frustrations. My workload was suddenly and drastically increased due to the shocking incompetence of another employee. The decision to make me work more was understandable. They weren’t paying me to sit around and blog, afterall. One thing I clearly understand about the economy is that no one wants to pay me money to read what the fuck I think about anything, especially not a company trying to turn a profit in an industry that has nothing to do with crappy sports writing. However, the communication surrounding that episode was somewhat lacking in my view.

But the real kicker came on staff appreciation day. This one took the cake, and I can’t help but laugh at it. The company gave me a $25 gift card to show their appreciation. I was pretty stoked. I immediately spent it on half of a tank of gas. Most companies probably don’t do a staff appreciation day, and the ones that do probably don’t give any additional compensation to their employees. I thought it was a nice gesture, even if they called me Mike instead of Mark. (There’s a meme at this place that I often hear when a decision is made that someone doesn’t necessarily agree with: “Well, his name is on the door.” This infuriates me because yes, I can see the fucking names on the door when I walk in and even if I couldn’t, I do in fact know the name of the company I work for.)

The next day at lunch with some of my co-workers, I mentioned to one of them that they should use that $25-gift card at lunch. He replied, “$25? They gave me $50.” Since he had been there only a week, and I had been there for four years including my prior service, I was a little bit taken back. I wasn’t too surprised when the rest of the staff told me they also got $50.

I mean, you have to laugh. You can’t go complain over 25 measly bucks that the company gave out of the goodness of their own hearts, even if it was a way to spite you. Complaining about that would be unbecoming. In some ways, you have to hand it to whoever I pissed off there. It’s a small company. The powers-that-be knew that I would find out about the slight since we all sneak off to lunch together everyday. And, knowing me so well, they knew it would irk the shit out of me. I think it’s funny, and I laugh about it and make snarky comments about it at least once a day. But clearly, they got me.

One of the company’s policies is, “Don’t suffer in silence.” I’ll be out of there again in a month. After writing this, I probably won’t ever work again. One day, I’ll probably be one of the 47 percenters arguing for a tax increase on the folks that stiffed me on the $25 so that I can leach off the government instead of my family.

I’m suffering from my incompetence and aversion to reality. A 25 dollar slight isn’t the problem. My reaction to that slight is the problem. My decision to write a passive-aggressive blog is the problem.

But I’m a writer, and a coward. I wouldn’t ever be able to go fight in a war or do anything else that required bravery. I wouldn’t be tough enough to turn the other cheek, either.

So, at some point, you have to find a measure of courage in some other way. For me, that’s writing something that could do me some harm, I suppose. At a certain point, you have to start to accept that we’re all going to die, and when we get to heaven or hell, none of our names are going to be on the door.