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.