The “F” Word, or The Karma’s Gonna Getcha
(originally published March 24, 2006)
When my brother and I were growing up there was a joke in our family that in our house the “F Word” was not the actual “F Word”, but instead was the word “flexible.” As in, “You need to be flexible.”
This is actually really good advice, and it is the reason that now I am able to get along with just about anyone I meet. But at the time my brother and I reacted to this parental guidance as if we were being asked to swallow broken shards of jagged glass, washed down with a chaser of smoking sulfuric acid. (Incidentally, this is exactly the same reaction my mom would get whenever she said, “I think somebody needs an ‘n-a-p’.” “I do NOT need a nap, and I am NOT CRANKY!” we would roar, as flames erupted from our skulls and incinerated half of the kitchen.)
So I have to admit that a small part of me was secretly pleased when she called me the other day and said, “Well, they’re telling me that I’m going to have to be really flexible at work these days.” This is not a new thing for her, as this is the same company that sent out a profile of its ideal employee as one who was “not fearful of acting with a minimum of planning,” and who, “makes tough decisions in a timely manner, sometimes with incomplete information,” among other things. (This is also the same company who causes her to frequently remark on how she now finds herself living inside of a Dilbert cartoon.)
Apparently she is being assigned to a new project, one where “you cannot write down the instructions.” My first thought was that she was getting to work on something cool and classified, and so you weren’t allowed to write anything down. But no, you can’t write anything down because “every step is an exception”. So she is working on a project that is composed entirely of The Opposite Of Instructions.
This got me to thinking about my own job history, and about how my mom is a MUCH better employee than I ever was, which is why I now work for myself. If there is craziness in my company, I have only myself to blame. But I also have the power to fix it.
That was not the case when I was teaching at a small, private, religious school a few years ago. I was responsible for Spanish, music, and being the librarian for all 120 students from PK3 to the 8th grade. One day I was told to teach all the kids a specific song for a school festival. That was fine, since I was the music teacher. What wasn’t fine was the fact that I was only given the words. I never received the music to this song, music without which there could be no singing.
One day the principal of the school cornered me in the hallway and demanded to know why none of the children knew yet how to sing this song. I explained to her that it was due to the fact that I, the MUSIC teacher, had never received the MUSIC that accompanied the words to the song.
“But [your supervisor] gave you the words to that song a long time ago,” she replied, staring at me like an evil Svengali, trying with all the power of her not inconsiderable might to bend me to the force of her will.
“But. I. Don’t. Have. The. Music.” I replied. “I can’t teach them how to sing the song if I don’t know the melody.”
So we stood there staring at each other, locked in an epic battle of wills until the bell rang and saved us from having to settle this matter once and for all by wrestling each other to the death in the middle of the parking lot.
Then there was the time that a bunch of us faculty and staff were standing around in the office discussing The Pantyhose Rule (you had to wear them if you were a woman). As was the norm, there were a number of pregnant woman there participating in this conversation.
“But what about if you’re pregnant?” I asked. “Do you still have to wear pantyhose then?”
“Well, yes,” they all replied, stunned that it would even occur to me to ask such a question.
Now, normally I was MUCH better at keeping these kinds of comments to myself. But for some reason on that day my inner shit kicker rose up, leaped out of my mouth, and before I could stop her, said, “Well, clearly a man made up that rule.”
And there was silence. Not just any silence, but the kind of silence that would’ve been appropriate had I just said, “You know, in my free time, I kill kittens. Just Because I Can.”
(And these people were S-U-R-P-R-I-S-E-D when I told them I was not coming back to teach there the following year.)
Not that I am bitter. Or cranky. But it is clearly not by chance that I now work alone in my home all day long, surrounded by no one but cats.