This week, I’m pondering the implications of being the literal new girl at the office, as well as an evolving version of my personal self. No longer the serial monogamist in search of a romantic partnership to verify my lovability and human value, I have made a conscious decision to draw my self-esteem, as I wrote last week, from “multiple jobs well done.”
I have been on the job a full two weeks in my new position as a Marketing Manager for a major insurance brokerage, and only today did I sort out where the kitchen garbage can is located. Until now, I’ve been tossing food scraps in the waste bin under my desk, resulting in some fragrant 5:00 PM aromas for my cube mates. Why then, you may be wondering, did I not ask one of my colleagues to point me in the right direction? For complicated reasons, I associate a high humiliation factor with having to articulate a question and await an answer that should be obvious. I accommodate these irrational emotions by dithering and substituting while I keep vigil, watching the kitchen (conveniently viewable from my seat) until someone reveals the answers I can’t bring myself to solicit. Just beforenoon, I watched a man pull out a rather unassuming looking, large drawer that divulged the trash receptacle.
This pattern of reticence has already produced several minor intrigues as I acclimate to my new professional surroundings: The Case of Locking Myself in the 17th Floor Stairwell, The Quandary of 2nd Floor Gym Entrance, and my personal favorite, The Great Working Overtime Needlessly Debacle.
It occurs to me that this stubbornness in requesting simple information has played a very large role in personal problems I’ve faced over the years. I certainly can’t be helped if I never ask for it, but when I find myself marooned on an island, it’s easier to self-shame for not speaking. The alternative – relying on another only to be let down, a verification that my need didn’t matter enough – cyclically repeated itself throughout an overall hellacious childhood. I learned to navigate bureaucracies on my own through trial and error, leaving myself plenty of time to rectify missteps before the final deadline. If this was inefficient, it was certainly empowering, and from a young age, I started to receive compliments from other adults regarding a preternatural level of responsibility and organization. I became addicted to this type of affirmation and my personal mantra quickly became “ I don’t need anyone. I can do this on my own.”
The thing was, I secretly and desperately wanted to let go sometimes. I wanted to be that kid who could call their helicopter parent to set things right. I wanted Mom and Dad to tell off the person making my life hard, without making a scene or ending up in jail (as happened more than once) throw money at the silly, juvenile jams I’d gotten myself into, let me come home when things got rough and while you’re at it Mom, could you feed me and do my laundry too? But these options were not available to my sister and I. There was no such safety net and we were forced to live by our wits way before we should have been required. My parents lived on another planet when it came to grasping adult responsibility and all you can do when the garbage piles up in your home, when the IRS seizes your family’s bank accounts and the mortgage goes into foreclosure, is plan your escape – in great detail. Survival mode can be useful in the sense that it doesn’t allow much time to slow down and think about the horrifying reality of the moment.
I’ll be 35 next week. I have plenty of time for assessment now. That’s what this blog, and the work I do with my therapist has been about – taking apart all the pieces of me and having a good look at them. And as I’ve stopped running myself in high octane circles, I’m able to sit still and consider that I took the same approach to many of my failed romantic partnerships. I’ve engaged with them in the same way I once interacted with my parents: “I expect you to fail me. I won’t tell you what I need because dammit, you should already know. And when I exhaust myself from doing too much, things I’d like you to help me with that my pride won’t allow me to articulate, I reserve the right to silently resent you.”
I’ve already implemented small changes. With my last ex, I think uttered the phrases, “Don’t go, I need you,” and “I can’t do it alone,” more times in 14 months than the previous 14 years. I gave him the chance to do right, and also the opportunity to disappoint, before I drew any conclusions. The fact that ultimately, our dynamic wasn’t compatible, is the result of fundamental differences rather than self-fulfilling prophecy. I don’t feel weaker for the metamorphosis. I am as capable as I’ve ever been, minus the fear of abandonment I’ve allowed to be mistaken for arrogance. This more balanced approach takes far less emotional toll. When I reach out for help only to have my hand slapped away, the outcome is about the other person’s limitations, not my unworthiness.
It’s a work in progress. I’ve shown marked improvement when it comes to big ticket issues: health concerns, the celebration of personal achievements, reaching out to a good friend when I’ve had an epically bad day. But I’m still working on the trickle down. Maybe this new girl should kickstart that process by asking where the recycling bins are located so I can get all this scrap paper out of my desk drawer….