“You know, Justin,” the Chilean began during one of our regularly scheduled calls for a one-on-one meeting. “You are only competent at your job and I just don’t know where this behavior of yours is coming from and why you are being insubordinate.”
“I’m sorry, what?” was all I could say as I was perplexed, and frankly surprised, at having such implications leveled at me. “I am just doing my job and doing what I have been doing at this company for the last 10 years. Could you clarify where I am being insubordinate and I’ll try to fix it?”
“Well, you know,” her voice became elevated and strained as she failed to hide her annoyance. “You need to run everything you do through me because I am your manager. You should not even be interacting with people or discussing anything with them without notifying me.”
“You are on CC of every email response and conversation I receive from anyone asking for help,” my eyebrows pursed and one of them raised, I am sure the had we been sitting in front of each other, the Chilean would have been well aware that I found her line of reasoning lacking resemblance to anything in the realm of logic. “We have worked this way for at least as long as you have been here, in fact, when I trained you 5 years ago there was a section in the training about how to work effectively within the culture of this company and that we are given the freedom to help others if we have the time to fit it in. If this is no longer the case, I can send you specific emails and send anyone who requests my support right to you and I will wait until you find time to respond to their request. That is not a problem for me, but if there has been a decision to change the manner in which we work and have been working for the last 10 years, providing some type of official communication would be super helpful.”
“I am the manager, Justin,” her tone was very pointed. “You need to know your place and not speak to me so directly.”
“Please accept my apologies,” I replied. “However, this meeting can only continue with the presence of HR as I am not required to humor your sense of superiority. I am going to hang of up the phone and return to work and HR will handle this from here on. Good Day.”
As a co-worker, the Chilean had been great: helpful, considerate, and a team player. The moment she was named the manager and stepped into the role, though, her sense of entitlement and previously occulted feelings of superiority erupted like a volcano. At first, there weren’t any problems, really; everything just went on as usual. However, after a few months, the Chilean began to micromanage — the most loathsome of practices. Secondly, the Chilean became very passive-aggressive and manipulative. During our one-on-one meetings, she had a habit of going on tangents about being brought up in Chile under the dictator Pinochet. Perhaps this was the only way she could express that she was having a very difficult time transitioning into her role. But, while I can be kind to people who deserve it (though, the question of deserving is wholly subjective) as most deserve compassion, I was just not the one to give it to her in this case. That is to say, I was not willing to give her any grace as she had power over me and she was using that power to attempt to “put me in my place.” Something that I find to be scummy and the marker of a weak-minded person.
I was unaware that I was out of place, too. On the job, I was respected, trusted, and sought out by colleagues for my expertise and work ethic. But, when it came to my emotionally-stunted manager bringing her real-life problems into the professional environment, something that is bound to happen from time to time, I quickly realized that there was something about me the woman didn’t like. I wasn’t sure what it was and I was long past the point in my life where I gave damn, but initially, I thought that perhaps, I was just being paranoid. In a short time, it was clear that the issue was personal. Somehow and for some reason, the Chilean had some idea that I wanted the manager position when I never had any inclination to even attempt to apply for such a thankless, unrewarding job. The idea of a being granted a corporate title has never been a motivator for me, nor has competition — I just think both are unreservedly dumb in how assinine the idea of winning or having a collection of letters or words behind your name somehow raises you to the level of being a superior being. I have never competed well because I think its stupid and I do not care about winning anything that is contrived for the sheer joy of competition.
To say I was inflamed at the sheer audacity the Chilean had to try to put me in my place because of a childish sense of paranoia would have been an understatement. I took a break from work, grabbed a cigarette and called a colleague, one who was very diplomatic and certainly more gracious than I, to see if I was being irrational.
“Hallo, Justin, how are you?” she answered, her noticeable but understandable Dutch accent was such a welcome sound. After recounting what had happened to her and asking her for her wisdom on the situation, I was surprised at the response.
“I think she is going through some growing pains,” the Dutch lady confided. “It’s hard for her to go from an equal to a boss I suppose. But, yes, she is trying to assert her power.”
“Oh,” I said, feeling validated and relieved. “I am glad it isn’t just me, then.”
“No,” she agreed. “Just give it some time to blow over and maybe she’ll get more comfortable in the new position.”
After thanking the Dutch lady, I went in and wrote my resignation letter. In a moment’s time, I made the decision to end what had been the most stable part of my life for the past 10 years. Not only that, the relationship I had with that company, as unhealthy as it was, had lasted longer than any family situation I had growing up. The longest amount of time I had ever spent in one familial situation consisted of 6 years of fighting and demeaning behavior. I was overcome with emotion, but after I signed the letter, scanned it, and sent it to HR. There was a feeling of failure, relief, and foolishness that washed all over me. Regardless, of what anyone thought, especially the Chilean (for whom I still hold a fair amount of disgust), I decided that I deserved better and I was willing to take the risk, at that moment, to strike out on my own and not be bound to people and situations that sowed, grew, and proliferated resentment within me. For what? The pleasure of continuing to work in a job, where I had not gotten a raise or promotion in 10 years, now to be even more resentment-festering with a woman who allowed Pinochet to be a boil on the ass of her life? No. Absolutely not.
The company accepted my 3-week notice and the Chilean continued to be passive aggressive and I continued to hang up the phone on her childish ass when I had enough. Because why? The number of fucks I had to give had all been spent and went well into the negative when I pushed the send button on the email with my resignation letter. While I did not belittle or play any type of game with the Chilean, I found her immaturity to be repugnant and I had other things to deal with – getting myself sorted to leave Texas, setting up immediate plans for my life, and clearing away the shrapnel of the past 7 years. No more bullshit people, no more bullshit that I didn’t want to deal with, and no more bullshit work.
No place is all bad, just as there is no place that is objectively perfect. Texas had its plusses. I loved the sweltering heat of Houston, the diversity, and the food. What was difficult after a few years, though, was the fact that Houston is a “hustle” town and I had long given up hustling as I had never reaped the expected harvest of living an inherently manipulative lifestyle. Not only did the hustle aspect of the city become too much for me, but I had also allowed myself to become involved with people who, like I, saw only what was broken. Whether it was our lives, our nature, the city, others – the last 4 years I lived in Houston, the majority of my friend group consisted of people who were like pieces of shattered glass constantly trying to make their broken edges fit together. Melancholy with moments of mania was the norm. While I did have a few people I had been able to connect with, the fact of the matter was, the shards of my discontent permeated every moment of my existence.
A change of scenery would also help me to forget about the 10 years I worked in corporate America. All those years, I had been trying to fit into a system that was not for me. Horrible at playing politics and to direct in my speech, my years working in corporate America were a lesson in going along to get along — I failed the exam on that one. Much of my fed-up-ness came from a sense of superiority and general disdain for manipulative behavior, especially when it comes from a woman (childhood trauma, as it were, that I have yet to really try to overcome). My tenure at the company had been personally tumultuous, as I had been unprepared for the realities of working in a multinational company. However, by the time this new Chilean manager had come on, the immaturity and lack of discipline on my part had come a long way and I had been supported by some very gracious co-workers who helped me to adapt my approach and curtail my overwrought sense of justice-seeking in order to have a calmer approach to the job, in general.
The world was opened up to me suddenly, I had no one to answer to and freedom to go almost anywhere. So, the first stop would be Kentucky, USA.
Why in the hell would I go to Kentucky, a place with toothless, inbred mountain people with a desire to remain in a utopia of willful and arrogant ignorance created by their politicians, Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul; many of whom are desperately poor; and, of course, who keep alive the wailing cries of what is considered to be music by this not-so-ignorable swath of people – bluegrass? Kentucky being stereotyped as a backward and intolerant state with a desire to maintain “traditional values” and to “get back to god” is doubly supported by the blatant hypocrisy of those who chant such inane drive like the, at least, thrice-married, sex-crazed, many-baby-daddy-having, relatively-newly-converted religious zealot, who denied marriage certificates to people her church believes should not exist or should be punished for their nature, one Kim Davis, the bigoted and disenchanting Rowan county clerk who garnered national attention in her attempt to, I suppose, save the tens of residents of said county from the evil forces of gay marriage and general faggotry). Of all the places, why there?
Kentucky held something special to me. My best friend in the world – the only person who has always had my back and been my cheerleader, Rion. When I decided to leave Houston, he was the first person I called and we immediately began to make plans for me to come to Kentucky for an extended visit so that we could reconnect.
Rion and I have known each other since our very slow-paced youth. Both of us being from southeastern Oklahoma, we came up at a time when it seems, at least to me, that there was nothing but opportunity in the world. Rion is beyond brilliant. He was finishing up his last year of a PhD program at the University of Louisville and he had created a very full life for himself there in Kentucky. Unlike me, Rion has the perfect personality to adapt to his surroundings and carve out a life for himself, whereas I have a penchant to fight and argue in an attempt to demand people change themselves to live as I think they ought to do. Rion – definitely – has a more mature outlook on life.
Rion has always been the more “chill” of the two of us, though, “chill” is not a word anyone would really use to describe me. I am not “chill.” In going to Kentucky, the negatives weren’t a consideration because the one person in the world that cares about me and whom I trust is there. While this isn’t in and of itself selfish, I did have an ulterior motive. I needed a new perspective, I wanted to be heard, and despite it being “snowflake”-y, I wanted a safe space to reflect and maybe to calm down. Texas had become so untenable for me, for many different reasons: the people in my circle and periphery, I allowed the company I worked for to take advantage of me, and I just couldn’t seem to get into the groove of life and had not managed to encounter any lasting contentment. As I have always been wont to do, I left Houston in search of something better, completely ignoring the fact I hadn’t really tried to figure out what “better” would mean. Despite the fact that moving to a new place only ever worked momentarily, I was doing it again in the hopes that Rion would be able to help me see things from a different perspective.
Kentucky, and Rion, were only ever meant to be a place to transition. I never had any intention of staying there long-term. After the plans were set for Kentucky, I immediately began to fantasize about what was to come, travelling the world, being free of a boss and people who considered themselves to be surrogate parents to me who would “whip me into shape,” “put me in my place,” or fix through force that which they found undesirable in me.
So, I suppose I ought to give credit where credit is due: Thanks a heap, Pinochet. Had the Chilean not gotten on my last nerve because she was obsessed with him, I probably would still be in Houston, working from my house and wondering if I was ever going to be happy in the non-ending monotony of corporate work.