Wednesday, November 10, 2010

"This place sucks the life out of you..."

I was at the water cooler today chatting with a colleague about my upcoming trip (I work for a state agency). He said, “Are you taking a leave of absence?” I said no, and he said “Good, just get the hell out of here.” I was surprised by his response. I had thought this person was a very dedicated employee passionate about the field we are in and his job. He also said “This place sucks the life out of you.” I can’t shake it. If a person who I thought really liked his job here feels this way, how many other people feel this way? How many other people are trudging through like him to support their families even though this is absolutely not where they want to be?

I feel like I am getting away with something. That I am escaping. That I was able to not fall into some sort of pit that is extremely difficult to get out of.

Why can working in bureaucratic offices be so grueling, numbing, uninspiring? When I was studying to get my PhD in Public Health (which I ended up not finishing) I was designing a dissertation to try and understand the effects our work environment has on our health: emotional, physical, mental. This includes the office space, restrictions of hours/schedules, endless rules, lighting, color, interactions with others, culture. This focus was largely inspired by my years at state agencies before entering the doctoral program. I felt like many of the people around me were so incredibly unhappy, unhealthy and just counting down the hours to retirement. Going through the motions each day. Looking forward only to meals or snacks that were strewn about the office. Uninterested in developing and growing professionally/personally…I still feel that way. Many people in state service I have worked with have told me I don’t belong here. That this is not a good place for my spirit. Who’s spirit is it good for?

This trip is opening a door to conversations with others that just may have never been opened. That colleague would never have said what he said if I was staying. There are little performances we engage in with each other to try and make getting through each day just a little bit easier. How do you balance wanting to be genuine with underlying social rules for social comfort? I don’t like pretending. And I feel like I have been pretending for a while. I want to say what I really think and feel, and stop trying to contort myself into social and professional structures that make no sense to me. Saying these things aloud on this blog makes me feel like I am working on that. I’m trying.

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