I Will Not Lose Myself At This Job

Oh my Athena, this is going to be a long year. My first two weeks at work have been stressful; navigating the clash between my politics and this job has been especially difficult. To be honest, I was feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, and rather freaked out by the end of the first week (well, starting on the first day, even). And then, late Saturday night this past weekend, I discovered something from a friend that centered me a bit and revitalized my belief that I can get through this without losing myself. 

I interned with the company for which I am currently working a couple of summers ago. Even then, I was worried about whether it meant I was “selling out” (it is, after all, corporate America, not anything related to activism, social justice, community organizing, or anything like that). I was deeply concerned that if I had a similar job in the future, I would become complacent and want to blend in — that I would settle for trying to reform the world instead of trying to transform it (or even worse, that I would simply accept the status quo).

Basically, I had a number of reservations as I started the job — and the first day did nothing to alleviate my concerns. There is an enormous amount of information being shoved at us, and none of it is information that I actually want to know. And yet the corporate ways are insidious. I found myself fretting over when the company would start matching my 401(k) contributions (after I’ve worked there for a year) and when I’d become fully vested (meaning that I’d be able to take any employer contributions with me, which would be after working there for three years, and not a penny before then).

Then I realized what I was doing and was immediately appalled. Two months ago, my plans involved moving back to Chicago with whatever I could fit in my rather tiny car, not buying any furniture so as to have more money with which to pay rent, finding a job working retail or in a restaurant, and spending any free time with friends and TJLP. Financially, my goal was just to get by enough to be in Chicago.

And now I’m strategizing on how to best maximize my employer’s contributions to my retirement fund? Granted, saving for retirement is considered responsible (and I don’t want to have to be employed my entire life, especially not if it isn’t involved with something about which I care). And yes, my Chicago plan was not very responsible, nor was it particularly sustainable. What worries me is how easy it was to slide into a mindset that prioritizes in a dramatically different way.

I was a little soothed by how quickly I snapped out of it, but it made me uneasy. I desperately don’t want this job to change me in any essential way. I don’t want it to affect my priorities or goals; I don’t want it to influence my attitude toward money or my decisions regarding how much money I need in order to get by; I refuse to let it change my politics.

By the end of the week, I was feeling exhausted — emotionally, physically, and spiritually. I ended the week by speaking for five hours about my experiences and thoughts about being trans with someone collecting research, and then it was time for the Minnesota Trans Health and Wellness Conference. While it was a rewarding weekend, it was not a restful weekend by any means.

I did, however, receive two things from a friend that have supported me through this week: a book and a message. The book was Tracy Kidder’s Mountains Beyond Mountains, and the message was essentially that my friend knows I won’t let the job change me in any way that really matters. And that has gotten me through the week. Mountains Beyond Mountains is just incredible — I read it every break I had this week at work, finally finishing it today, and I’m still processing it, but it serves as a reminder of my core values (among other things). Knowing my friend believes in me has bolstered my faith in myself, and it’s helping to ground me amidst this sea of new expectations and assumptions.

I acknowledge how fortunate I am to have this job, especially given the state of the economy and, correspondingly, the job market. I also don’t mean this as judgement against any of my co-workers (or any of the other people who work for the company); just because something is wrong for me, it doesn’t necessarily follow that it is wrong for everyone.

At the same time, I will be continually on guard to ensure that my politics don’t get dulled around the edges, that I remember those society wants to ignore, that I don’t forget what I’m working toward. I want to be capable of walking away when that time comes. I will remain true to myself.

3 responses to “I Will Not Lose Myself At This Job

  1. Ryan, I know you and you’re not going to let yourself slip into the “corporate mindset.” I think it’s ok to care about things like when your benefits vest and your employer starts matching 401(k) contributions. These are things that you are entitled to because you work at the company. You have to remember, however, that they are not the reason that you work. Also, I don’t think it’s bad to be fiscally responsible and plan for the future, or at least make a conscious decision about what you’re going to do in that regard.

    Furthermore, I might suggest that you write some sort of statement consolidating who you are, what your politics and goals are, and how this job will help get you there. I know you have a lot of these ideas in this blog, but it might be nice to have it all in one place, published here or not. Then in a couple of months after you’ve been working and some of the transition and administrative issues at work have been dealt with, you can go back and read it and remind yourself of your priorities and why you’re there.

    [Comment to last paragraph: I think that a lot of new law students get so caught up in studying and cases and trying to be legalistic that they forget who they are and why they are at law school. A tip we were given was to go back and read our personal statement to remind us of the person that the school admitted and to help us step back from the crazy pressure cooker that is law school.]

  2. I like Katie’s suggestion, I might do that myself! It is funny how quickly we can start thinking about how nice it would be to have a pile of money. It IS nice to have money. And both of us are fortunate enough to come from families who never have to worry about whether they will be able to make ends meet this month. When I got out of college I didnt apply for a lot of jobs that were available that did not fit my ideals. I worked retail while doing unpaid internships at nonprofit organizations so that, eventually, I could get paid to work at said organizations. But this meant that I was never making much money. I had friends working at the gay strip club making 4-5 times more than me for a lot less work. Look at it this way. You are taking this job because you have a goal. Your goal is a self-transformational one. You want to get top surgery and its not cheap. This job will help you do that on your own terms, you wont be dependent on someone else for assistance which is awesome. And hopefully you will have a few pennies left over to get you back to Chicago so you can pay that first months rent as you look for whatever job can sustain you. It may not be your ideal job, or one that you even like, but the goals for what you will do with the money are your priorities right now. Would you be happy waiting several years to do the surgery? In the meantime, I am sure that you will not forget your politics, your beliefs or your ideals. And you WILL learn valuable skills from this job, which will be useful anywhere, such as dealing with difficult people over the phone, interacting with a wide range of persons, working on being confident in your self presentation regardless of context, and gaining confidence in yourself as someone who can handle any kind of professional environment. If you end up working for a nonprofit that tries to effect policy change, you will be meeting with people in suits representing powerful interests all the time. Its good to know their culture, its good to know the way they operate, and its good to be able to present yourself in a way that will get them to be more willing to listen to you. Take this job as an opportunity to delve deeply into the corporate culture and learn about it. That way when you are dealing with people from that professional office culture in the future, you will know what to expect. And some nonprofits are quite professionalized themselves, either way, this could be an opportunity to learn a lot, even if its not a fun one.

  3. Pingback: 2011: A Year In Blog Posts | Beyond Bryn Mawr

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