I don’t consider myself a particularly jealous person, but the one thing that turns me a bit green with the old envy is people who are passionate about what they do for a living. Aside from the standard, “I want to be a famous actress” and, “I think I would be a fabulous author,” I have never had that one thing that drove all my endeavors, from college to job hunts. It doesn’t even matter what people are passionate about to me; if being the best damn barista at Starbucks is someone’s raison d’etre, I say make that latte like no other while I sit and sulk about my lack of lust for my own work in the corner.
I have been pondering this quite a bit lately as my 9-year anniversary in this office just came and went, but Hattie’s article the other day “Workin’ For The Man” made me take a hard look back at the person I was back then and who I have become, and how I have become this. I started here part-time while I was finishing college. I made the copies, did the court filings, ran errands, and filed obscene amounts of paperwork. I did everything that was asked of me and more, ready to prove myself in this office environment, to show that I was grown up enough to be trusted with the most highly confidential items. When I graduated, I left this office when I got another job doing event planning at a large, international accounting firm, something I thought I would love. I quickly realized that working for such a large corporation was one of the most frustrating things in the world (I needed three people’s approval to buy a box of pens), and it wasn’t the best fit for me. Thankfully, a month after my departure from my old job, they started calling, asking if I would come back and manage the office.
It was challenging, going from being the lowest-level grunt in the place to being the boss. Plus, I was 24 years old, the youngest in the office by a good ten years except for one other person. Thankfully, I had worked hard enough while there before that the transition was pretty painless. I threw myself into my new position, thinking about all the ways I was going to build the staff up to fantastical levels of productivity. I was going to streamline the processes, modernize the technology, and turn this stodgy old law firm into a shiny beacon of progress. I was excited, I was motivated, I was proud. Even though this wasn’t the dream position I had envisioned for myself, it was where I was and I was going to make the very best of it.
And then, slowly but surely, my enthusiasm started to die, little by little. When problems between staff members would arise, I would tell the partners of my awesome resolution tactics that had solved everything; they would respond that it would just be something else soon. I remember being so upset the first time that happened, so hurt that my creativity and communication skills were so easily dismissed. But they were right. Every time I solved one petty problem, another equally petty conflict would arise. I had to eventually realize that some people are unwilling to be happy, some people thrive on drama, and some people always need a whipping boy or girl. My desire to problem solve lessened because at least I was dealing with a devil I knew at the moment, instead of fixing it only to be met with a new one.
The hallmark of an efficient office manager is that nobody knows what it is you do all day because you take care of everything so that they don’t have to concern themselves with it. Unfortunately, the downside of being a good office manager is that nobody knows what it is you do all day, which can lead some to assume you aren’t doing anything. This can be particularly problematic when dealing with attorneys, a profession in which autonomy is highly valued and ingrained into them. If an individual hasn’t asked me for something, they often assume nobody has. What is rarely acknowledged is that I have to solve every single employee’s problem, from the newest office assistant to the most senior partner and each and every person in between. Justifying myself is exhausting and infuriating. Being taken for granted is at the top of my job description. I get it, I do. I don’t have 10 filings, 12 letters and 8 Fed Ex packages to show at the end of my day. I have the fact that the computers are working, the lights are on, people’s paychecks arrive on time and their key cards got them into the building. I have their medical benefits arranged, their 401k plans managed, their frustrations and complaints addressed. All the things that don’t matter to people unless they aren’t working are my row to hoe.
And my soul takes a hit, each and every day. Some days I get here and have little to no recollection of the hour-long drive in. The person I have become here is not somebody I particularly like. I really, truly care for the people on my staff and I will go to bat for them every chance I get, but my hands are tied in so many ways that it makes it an exercise in futility more often than not. It is good sport, though; for example, today I got to say, “I need to make sure none of my people are taking the fall because so-and-so is fucking delusional,” and I admit, I enjoy that. Honestly, though, it is hard to build team spirit when your own is so faded, hard to help people love their jobs when you can barely abide your own.
As far as Hattie’s experience goes, I hope her office mates perk up soon. I know I love having new people start, love to see the nerves and anticipation that they are filled with. I love when a new young female law clerk starts and kicks major ass, love watching her grow and evolve and take this old boy’s club and kick it in the nuts. While we get a few self-entitled brats on occasion, for the most part, our younger employees are defying the nasty, hurtful stereotypes of their generation. These young men and women are ready to be challenged, ready to learn new things and ready to help wherever they are needed. They are a welcome addition to a bunch of old cranks. I can only hope my cynicism and discontent don’t rub off on them, and that if it starts to, they don’t let it.
So, yes, I am jealous of those who are driven by what they do. My husband is one of them (an artist), my baby brother is one of them (an actor), my mom (a mom) is one of them. They all know the baseline thing that is fulfilling to them and have struggled and fought to be able to do it. I see people sacrifice creature comforts to pursue their dreams, and I marvel at their strength. I have concluded, for now, that I will continue to do what I have to in order to afford to do what I enjoy. I have accepted my complacency and should be damn good and thankful I have a good job when so many others, so many qualified and infinitely more gifted others, do not, and please know that I am thankful. Unfortunately, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s enough. Someday, I hope to live my dream of being a personal-shopper/closet organizer who owns a book/clothes/gift shop and is a Christian Louboutin shoe muse who he lavishes with beautifully crafted stilettos all the live-long day. Until then, this will do.