The Unintentional Rebel

Hey, folks. Today’s Daily Prompt is all about rebellion. Specifically, times when you’ve tried to stick it to “the man” or whatever the terminology is these days. I should preface this by saying that I don’t consider myself a rebel. I really don’t. As long as everything is working fine and beneficially, I’m perfectly fine. If anything, I’m usually the one who ends up in positions of authority; for whatever reason, people seem to defer to me as a leader. I still don’t understand why, and my therapist says it’s a quality that I need to further explore. I think it’s partly because I treat those who are supposedly of a higher status than me as real people; rankings and titles mean little when compared to actual skill and capability. I have zero interest in politics. No amount of catchphrases and glad-handing will win me over. The reactions to this attitude are usually either appreciative candor, or resentful fear. Those who’ve tried to lord their position over me learned quickly that, despite being quiet and shy, I’m made of sterner stuff. And those who’ve tried to physically threaten me…well, let’s just say I’m not always quiet and shy. In the end, we’re all just human beings. Mortals. Fallible. Nothing more, nothing less. I’ve long lost the patience for people arrogant enough to believe themselves otherwise.

And yeah, you’d better believe it’s gotten me in trouble before. I’ve already written about my decision to grow out my hair, and the consequences that came with it. Still worth it, though. Some clashes aren’t limited to family life; when you question things while working in a corporate environment, conflict is inevitable. I lasted a dozen years in banking. I’ve dealt with bosses mishandling records, screwing up procedures, and attempting to cover it up to make themselves look better. Since these problems typically involved audits and logistics, they usually came at the expense of my time and effort. You know what’s worse than having inept management? Having inept management that knows it’s inept and refuses to admit it, then pushing the blame on others. If I catch something like that happening, I will point it out. If the higher-ups won’t listen, then I’ll just go higher and get HR involved. I can’t go into any details without getting personal, but I developed a reputation for being all-business.

Even early on as part-timer, I had that kind of thing going on. Without going too deep into it, there was a time in which smart phones were just starting to become popular. Some of my coworkers used them too much, causing the management to decide to confiscate them and leave them in our lunch room. If we didn’t comply, we’d have to resign on the spot. That was a big problem for me, as I had an old-fashioned flip phone that I kept for (highly likely) family emergencies. I rarely used it, but as a caretaker, I needed to have it on hand. The assistant manager tried to round up the phones – a few workers quit immediately – and came over to me. The following exchange happened:

Manager: Okay, your turn.

Me: No. I’m not giving you my phone.

Manager: Why?

Me: I need this on hand for my family. It’s strictly for emergencies. You know that.

Manager: …Yeah. But it’ll be in the lunch room. They can call the office.

Me: You know how terrible our incoming call menu is. The time it’ll take for a call to actually get through could mean life and death. Also, leaving it in the open lunch room? Where it could be easily stolen or looked through for important information? You really think I trust you or anyone else on this staff that much? No. Not happening. I’ll have it right here in my pocket, out of sight, and hopefully never used.

Manager: Give me your phone, or you’ll be terminated for breaking company policy. We can fire you anytime, you know.

Me: And private property laws supersede company policy. There’s no way you can legally confiscate my personal belongings. (Back then, there wasn’t…) You’d better do some reading before you lose any more of the staff.

Manager: This isn’t a debate!

Me: No, it’s not. We can agree on that, at least. I’m going on break.

I went to the lunch room, fuming and mentally preparing myself to walk out. One of the workers came back there in tears, apologizing profusely for letting the situation get out of hand. I just gave her a calm look and told her not to worry. I came back from my break to find that management had given up and punished the individuals actually responsible for the whole debacle. The management eventually gave me a halfhearted apology, but I think it had more to do with the fact that about 3/4 of the staff was willing to quit. I might’ve just triggered the others’ desire to stand their ground, and management decided to stop being foolish. If it happened today, I’d probably be fired on the spot. Either way, I was glad to do it. It wouldn’t be the last time.

Maybe I’ve been a rebel all along, even if I never intended to be.

A Dozen Years: The Rise And Fall Of The Boss Man

Hey, folks. Today’s Daily Prompt is all about loss. That one’s really relevant to me because I lost my job not too long ago. Without getting into specifics, I worked for a dozen years for major company. It started as a summer internship, then a part-time position during college, then a full-time thing after I got my degree. I had the unfortunate timing of graduating just before the recession hit. As in, weeks. Since the employment market was terrible, I fell back on my old standby position and dug myself in. I loathed the thought of going back to my former job, but it was the safe, logical choice. I developed more on a professional level, using my experience to transition from an aloof part-timer into a leadership role. I was very good at it. It didn’t pay much, but I was earning enough to recover what I’d spent on my education and save for retirement.

And it drove me nuts.

Aesop once wrote that familiarity breeds contempt. It’s very true, and it goes both ways. I learned a ton about leadership, procedures, and on-site training, but I loathed how dehumanized and empty I felt every single workday. The younger staff respected me for my years of service, insight, and refusal to play office politics, but eventually they took my responsibility and competence for granted. Even though I was still in my late 20s, I was nicknamed the Boss Man. I even mentored some of my higher-ups! I didn’t fit in with this newer generation of corporate worker; what they teach in seminars is what I learned the hard way, through hands-on experience and patience. Good work ethics had been watered down into statistics. I had too much pride to just phone it in for the sake of meeting quotas. You can’t quantify the human connection with a pie chart. I voiced contempt for the new corporate atmosphere several times.

Too many times.

When I got the call at home, I wasn’t entirely surprised. I had an inkling I was going to be replaced; why keep a mouthy old-timer when they could just hire and train someone new for a fraction of the pay? The possibility of transferring to another position was dangled in front of me like a carrot on a stick, and I played along for months. But at some point, someone decided I was more trouble than I was worth. So it ended with little fanfare. A simple, impersonal telephone call from HR stating that I’d been terminated and that the necessary paperwork would be sent to me. Twelve years of service, and that was that. I jotted down the notes, thanked the HR representative for informing me, and hung up the phone. I sat there quietly for about a minute. Some of my family was in the room. I said, quite clearly:

“It’s over. They cut me loose. I can’t go back now. But it’s okay. It’s okay. I’m just trying not to panic. I’m trying…not to panic. I’m trying not to panic. I’m trying not-

Then I started crying. Hard.

I’m not the emotional type at all. I’m the clever one, the one people go to for insight and advice. But in that moment? I was in free-fall. I’d read about panic attacks when I studied psychology. Never thought I’d have one. But within seconds I went from sobbing to gasping for air. My arms went numb, and my head was in agony. My heart felt like it had aged a decade, and the room was spinning. But about all else, it hurt. Regardless of how much I hated my job, a dozen years is a long time. It felt like a chunk of my body had been ripped away. I had put so much of myself and my life into it, and now it was gone. It wasn’t just a place to work, it was a place to go, to meet new people. Now all I had were the memories and skills I had developed. After all those years of service, I’d be nothing more than a footnote, someone quickly forgotten and replaced. It felt like a betrayal, even though I’d practically walked right into it.

Eventually, I stopped crying and focused. I’m great at looking things from a critical, logistical perspective, and this was nothing different. Looking at the calendar, I realized that my health insurance would end in a week and a half. Thanks, HR! I scrambled to get appointments for both my dental and vision care. You think fitting a check-up into your schedule is hard? Try getting an appointment during Thanksgiving week. It’s even harder than you’d expect. With a lot of searching and phone calls, I managed to squeeze in both appointments before the month ended. Now my teeth are all sparkly, and a new pair of nerdy-but-hopefully-attractive glasses will be on my face next week.

I might even post pictures.

After that, it’s more basic stuff. There’s filing for unemployment, and taking care of the arrangements for my 401K. I’m getting the paperwork organized. I’m going to be doing a résumé for the first time, and it’s going to look pretty weird. I don’t think employers expect to see someone holding a single job for a dozen years. There’s health insurance to consider too; now that my safety net has been burned away, I’ve got to find some to tide me over. I’ve heard the phrase, “Everyone has to have health coverage in 2014!” so many times, it’s annoying. It’s like a survival mantra or something. Of course, not everyone’s going to get it; try saying that to the next homeless dude you see. Go on, try. He’d probably laugh in your face. As for me, I already know I need it; I just need to figure out out which one. I’m holding off until January, because paying premiums twice is something I’d rather avoid.

After that? It’s…murky. I don’t know what other job I’d be suited for. Just have to take these uncharted waters one day at a time. I’ve come close to failure and managed to overcome it before. I intend to do so again.