People often ask me whether I like my job, or how it’s going. If I’m being polite, I say that my co-workers are nice, and it’s going well. It’s helping me to save money to pay for top surgery (on Friday!) and move back to Chicago. It’s steady, and I’m grateful to have a job in this economy. If I’m being more honest, it sounds something like this: it’s distressing, and it’s frustrating. Dealing with angry people makes me wither a little inside. I hate being called “ma’am.” I feel like I’m not contributing to the world. I almost feel like I’m someone else.
I am terrible with confrontation. I don’t deal well with people yelling at me, or calling me incompetent or stupid, or wanting me to do things that aren’t possible (all of which have happened). I have half a dozen photos surrounding me at my cubicle (that’s right), just to calm me down after bad calls. It makes my heart ache when people tell me about the hardships they’re experiencing, especially when I can’t do anything to help them. Even days later, certain stories still stick in my mind, and I can’t help but feel awful for the people. That might be a Pisces thing; it might just be a me thing.
I have taken roughly 1,600 calls since I started my job. Perhaps 320 of them have been people calling me “ma’am” or something similar (or, inexplicably, Diane). Every time, it makes my heart sink. With every repeated “ma’am” (and with some people, that’s every sentence), I fade a little bit more.
The job wears at me. That I’m working for corporate America, capitalism, “the Man”; the business casual drag; the requirement to be constantly cheerful and professional; the people who blame me for their problems; the knowledge that I’ll be doing this for likely the next year; simply talking on the phone (I’ve never been really comfortable on the phone, even with people I know and like).
It’s not all bad, of course. As I’ve said, I can’t complain too much — I’ve got a stable job that pays decently. It doesn’t require manual labor (not that there’s anything wrong with that, I just don’t care for it); I’m not outside and dealing with the weather; I’m not standing all day; the work isn’t dangerous; the people with whom I work are generally nice. They’re typically rather friendly, actually.
Additionally, of those thousand and a half calls, I occasionally get people who say something nice. One told me that I’m “definitely in the right job” because I was so helpful and not condescending (I thought that was sweet, though rather ironic, given that I don’t think it’s really a great fit for me). Another told me that I have “such a great voice for the phone.” Someone actually said, “Your voice is wonderful. You’re a blessing to the company,” which was both slightly awkward and made me blush so badly that I could feel my face getting warm.
I also like it when I can help people. It really troubles me when people take their frustration out on me. On the other hand, on the occasions that people are pleased with what I’ve told, taught, or done for them, it makes me feel happy to know that I’ve made someone’s day a little better. A small silver lining, perhaps, but it exists.
Overall, the job is a lot better than it could be. Absolutely. At the same time, it is exhausting — in terms of my patience, my voice, my sense of self, my politics. It’s definitely something to take one day at a time because thinking about doing this for the next year (or almost-year) seems nearly too much to handle.