I spent my 2 hour commute home yesterday obsessing over an email I had sent to a co-worker right before I left the office. It had been a hectic day, and I was a little stressed and noticed something had been sent to a customer that shouldn’t have been, so I shot out an email asking about it and then packed my shit and hit the road. And then commenced a rather unhealthy obsession over whether or not I had come across as a total bitch.
Which, in reflection 24 hours later, is completely ridiculous because A) I had done nothing wrong in the situation in question with the customer and B) The email itself wasn’t rude. Concise? Sure. To the point? Yes. A little cold? Maybe. But since when is that grounds to lose one’s shit for an entire evening??
Part of me wants to say it’s the struggle of being an assertive, vocal woman in sales who is constantly trying to find the balance between having a voice and wanting to be liked, but that would an unfair, completely oversimplified generalization. Plus in this case, I don’t think it had anything to do with being a woman, but more to do with the fact that I’ve been struggling with anxiety pretty heavily recently, and this was just something I happened to fixate on.
And in case you’re all wondering, the issue was resolved this morning – there was no fall-out. The entire office didn’t start whispering about me, and I wasn’t forced to bear a scarlet “B” to repent for my crimes.
But, it did get me thinking. Well, more accurately it got me talking, and I forced Gil to entertain the fact that people might think I’m a complete monster at work and hate me with the fire of a thousand burning suns. OK, he didn’t really entertain that idea, but he did challenge me to consider what kind of vibe I might be putting out there, and to make changes if that’s something that is important to me.
On a side note, can I just say, it’s INFURIATING sometimes to have a partner who is so calm and rational and logical and exists so solidly in reality. I live on emotions and rainbows and panic attacks and FEELINGS. So. Many. Feelings.
Regardless, his rational response to my wildly irrational meltdown got me thinking about how people perceive me at work, and whether it’s something that really matters to me.
On some level, of course it matters. It matters to all of us who have chosen to enter the professional workforce. We enter into an unspoken agreement to be generally palatable to the rest of the people we interact with and to shower on a fairly regular basis. Beyond that, there is really no obligation to be liked or make friends with those you work with, although countless studies will tell you that a big part of job satisfaction has to do with having friendships at work.
And I work at a tech company in the Silicon Valley – a place where culture reigns supreme. There’s been countless resources and energy directed towards creating a workplace where people are encouraged to be very social, from lawn game Olympics to regular happy hours and karaoke nights, to company trips.
I think that’s fantastic, and I feel incredibly lucky to work for a company like that. I have realized however, that I’m a bit of an odd man out, as my general feeling when I go to work is that I’m there to make money, not friends.
Some of it has to do with the fact that I work in sales, and I make a good chunk of my salary on commission – which is to say, if I don’t close deals, I don’t get paid. So for me, work has always been more of a hustle, and less focused on the social aspect of it. Sales is not exactly a team sport.
And sales can be brutal, man. I’ve worked in other organizations where they purposely pitted sales people against each other, and we were encouraged to screw each other over. I’ve had managers spread lies to my coworkers about things I never said. Somewhere along the way in my sales career, I was taught that relationships at work were a liability. So I tend to be a bit more reserved and cautious about forming those friendships now.
But it’s also about the fact that I’m in a different place in my life than most of my coworkers (I feel so old just typing that). I’m in my early thirties now, and many of my coworkers are just a year or two out of college. My current company has created this kind of fabulous extension of the same kind of social interactions from college that allow people to blur the lines of their social and professional lives until they don’t really exist anymore. They WANT to go to the bars with the people they spend so much time with, to cut loose and talk about things they can’t share in the confines of the office. They WANT to catch up on Monday mornings about all the crazy shenanigans they got into over the weekend. Hell, they want to live with each other and commute to work together. I get it. I think when I was in my early twenties I would have wanted all that too.
But here’s the thing. I don’t want that now. I want to come home and take my pants off. I want to come home after work and hang out with my boyfriend. I want to have dinner with my friends and meet their their new baby. I want to come home and ice my ankle because I am an old busted down lady now who has permanent arthritis due to an injury.
Is there anything wrong with this? Nope, not at all. Is it actually pretty common in most professional situations? Probably. Am I acutely aware of how I am perceived, in such a culture-focused Silicon Valley tech company? You betcha. I struggle with it.
And I don’t think I’m alone. Especially here in the Valley, your assimilation into the culture is a huge part of your success at work and something you are formally evaluated on in many cases.
And last night, Gil very logically, objectively, and INFURIATINGLY, forced me to look at things a little closer and strive to find a better balance. The last thing I want is to be like the cliche girl on “The Biggest Bachelorette Survivor Housewives of Whatever” defiantly shouting at the camera, “I didn’t come here to make friends, bitches!!”