Friday, April 29, 2011

Further Adventures in Buddhist FAIL

It is time to talk about the real world and real-time application of skills that we think we might've learned well...and discovering that we have not.

First off, yours truly grabbed a job! I know! After 12 months and only 3.5 weeks of playing The Game, I managed to snag a job as a call center monkey! It makes money, we'll be able to afford things again and save money for once, and it gets me off unemployment.
However, I would be lying if I didn't say I hated the idea of going back to a job as a phone monkey. I know we should be grateful and whatnot, but I was already on serious burnout when I was laid off from my last job and this one will be twice the stress of that. I need a surefire plan to get me out of this place and in to my new chosen profession as a programmer.

This aside, however, you needed to know that to understand why I was in training with 3 other strangers.

So yeah, I was in training with 3 other strangers.
It is my most recent understanding that the best policy is to shut up and listen, and this has served me VERY well each time it has been instituted. You learn about people, and if you aren't thinking about what you're going to say or a similar story then you start to get that deeper hearing that sneaks in and tells you what they're not saying, what the odd inflection means, and most of all, when words seem put together oddly that don't really say what they were trying to say. You start to understand what's going on.
I really do like two of the people that I'm with, and so far just about everybody has been really nice to chat with. I think it'll be a good group of people to work with, even if I don't plan to stay there forever (or possibly even more than a year)
But, bless his soul, there is this one gentleman...
He is above all things very eager to help. There are many theories on this that have flopped through my head, such as - he's older and wants to prove he is useful and knowledgable, or that he's simply of the opinion that he's been around and knows answers to just about everything. He tells stories, he laughs, but about halfway through the second day there was something about him starting to get on my nerves.
I finally pinpointed it when he kept insisting that our soon-to-be manager was watching us constantly, and that she was out to nab us for the slightest infraction; he was afraid. I think all of us were, as we'd had some half-truths plied on us by the contracting group that had gotten us in the door with them.
At one point he was talking about how he was certain (he is ALWAYS certain, he knows these things in his bones apparently) that we were going to tracked and recorded and yelled at at every turn. Oh, not to worry! I told him, happy to try and assuage the fear I was sensing, I had it in writing that there were no call metrics! He could relax about that.
And he looked at me, and raised his metaphysical thumb, jammed it on that metaphysical button that I had and said "You don't know what you're talking about, they're going to record us, otherwise why would they bother to keep statistics?"
Well, there are a TON of reasons to keep statistics, the least of which is to know how many more people you need to hire in order to lower call times. But I realized it would take too long to explain it, so I said simply that it was a condition of my employment that I be told exaclty what the metrics were, and I was told there were no metrics.
I was then informed that I was lied to, and the button got jammed in further.
At this point I decided I hated this indvidual, who had very little positive to say and did nothing but speak out of his fear. I could see it infecting the others, as well, which was what was really starting to get to me. I had answers. I could calm them down with some of the answers I had. But this man would not let me because it went against his need to live in the middle of his fear.
I came home, spewed my vitriol about this man and how he'd been nothing but negative, taken up the time complaining about his scheduling and voicing his fears, how he'd questioned my competence and wouldn't listen to me... and my husband curled up in a corner and said let's order pizza, it's been a bad day and I can't think.
We had pizza, and I did my best not to spew more vitriol on him. But we ended that day both afraid that this job would be a bad one, because the man (who I came to call Ex-Military) had gotten to me, and had made me realize how many holes there were in the information we were given, how much our stories didn't jive. I went to bed with my stomach roiling, whispering to myself "tomorrow will be better... tomorrow will be better... tomorrow will answer more questions".
I did a breathing exercise on the way to work in the car, trying ot ignore the fact that traffic was going to make me later than the 15 minutes early I desired to be. The GPS conspired against me to take me down a one way street with a turn that didn't let me pull in to work as I desired. I was a wreck when I got in the door... top that off with setting off the door alarm as I walked in to the call center area, and my morning seemed shot. I had to listen to ex-military spout his stuff about how we would all be busted, how everybody was on the ball and seemed worried about not doing well (um... possibly a side affect of wanting to be good at your job? Nope, not here apparently.)
This day went MUCH better, as we got to talk with more people and my sphere of understanding expanded as I'd hoped it would. I opted not to eat lunch with the group as I'd busted my feet up marching around in high heels the day before and I had welts on the balls of my feet from it. Also, I needed a break from Ex-military, as I couldn't take his know-it-all negativity while I was trying to enjoy my food. Instead, I sat in the atrium and had lunch, talked iwth several coworkers who were outside the call center, and was complimented on my Hello Kitty bento box. I got a very good feeling about all of this and began to think that this could be a good place to work long term.
I want it to be known that during this time I tried, I REALLY tried, to generate compassion and loving-kindness for this guy. He was obviously worried, felt he needed to prove something, and was only hearing his fears in what was being said around him. If there was a case for compassion, this man was the poster child.
I couldn't do it. I just couldn't. I wanted to smile and understand and not let it get to me, and perhaps the fact that I have decided there was a way my compassion should manifest itself doomed it to come out the way it would be expressed by me.
At one point I knocked my tea over on to my notebook then snagged it. Ex-military made a big deal about the fact that it had happened, sighing and getting up saying "You're going to need a paper towel, here, I'll go get it..."
And I snapped. I snapped that he was taking his angst and making such a simple accident in to a big thing, within which he was martyring himself in some fashion. I snapped. I looked up at him, informed him he needed to sit down immediately, and then I pulled out tissues. When the rest of the people (including both instructors) voiced surprise I tried to play it off with a smile and a simple mumbling that I didn't want to take a bunch of time away from training. But they knew, they saw, and I imagine it stuck with them.
This was not the right way to handle it, and I was upset at myself for barking in the middle of training like that. It wasn't representative of who I really was, and it certainly didn't do anything to change the dynamic between this gentleman's negativity and my irritation. It didn't even relieve it, and the logical part of my brain immediately calculated using Fuzzy Math that it was an unnecessary expenditure of emotion and energy with pretty much no return.
At this point I was feeling much better and let my husband know, who perked up immediately now that he knew his lovely wife would not be in a living hell (self-inflicted or otherwise) for the purpose of paying the bills. I explained I was still having trouble with the same individual, and that in addition to his usual shenanigans, he had actually stopped our training dead for an entire half hour demanding to get clarification on his part time schedule. More fear, yes, but also a survival-esque self preservation selfishness rang from this act, and I think perhaps in this case I would not be the only one that wanted to exit it. My loving husband hugged me and said it sounded like it sucked, and we talked about how scared he must be, then we moved on to talking about training and interesting things to come.
I tried once more and finally to generate compassion for this individual that drove me nuts to listen to, and something miraculous happened while I was parking my car in the building's garage and heading in on Friday morning. I realized... I had it. I had compassion for the guy. I could hear in his voice and his words why he was doing what he was doing. I had the deeper hearing, and knew perfectly well that everything he said came out of a desire to NOT be afraid, but being unable to escape it. I also knew that there was nothing I could say or do that would change that state. He was the only one who could do that, and I was powerless. I could have this compassion for him... and I did not have to put up with it, either! A favorite phrase of mine is empathize but do not condone... that is to say, understand it, but you don't have to agree with it. It was okay that I wasn't smiley happy peaceful with this guy. I didn't have to be. I just had ot understand, and i had to understand that I had no control, and to just give it up. Let go.
He was the first person I met in the morning, and with this understanding tucked under my arm with my lunch bag, I smiled and watched and listened. I realized how miserable it must be to be that worried constantly. I realized he was probably trying to make conversation, and possibly thought that we would all have an empathic meeting of minds over fears about being disciplined at work. At one point I watched him literally shut his mouth and refuse to talk when our manager's manager came in to the room. He was midway through a story and we were waiting for our instructor to show up. There was no reason at all to be afraid of chatting, as we weren't expected to be doing anything. But he wouldn't talk until she left. I was surprised by this level of fear. And at that time I also realized that he had a fully formed world around him that I could not penetrate - things were a very specific way, a way that he had seen and understood or dreamt horrible things about. And at that point I stopped talking to him unless directly engaged, as I was simply a puppet in this setup and there was no need to really do anything but what he expected. Anything else would simply confuse him, and he would forget it immediately if it didn't fit in.
The final straw came at lunch. I had taken great pains to pack a lunch in one of my beloved bento boxes. I took great pride in today's preparation, as it was particularly cute and entirely pink. Thinking that some might think the Hello Kitty top was a bit childish, I covered it with a napkin, and proceeded to eat.
As this meal was taken with my fellow trainees, they joined me a bit in to it. A few minutes later and Ex-military asked, with a voice obviously full of an upturned nose, what the "purple things" were. Crackers, I advised. Then my other fellow trainee asked about the entire thing, so I happily explained to him about Bento boxes in Japan and how lunches are put together, and how it wasn't ~quite~ complete but it was Friday and I'd decided I wanted an all pink lunch box. My other fellow trainee smiled and nodded and seemed interested in the notion.
The moment I finished, however, since it wasn't familiar to him and because the table didn't seem to agree with him, he promptly began tearing apart the contents, saying that the "brown stuff" looked gross, and that the whole thing didn't make sense, but I was free to do whatever floated my boat.
Thank you, I do, I informed him. Also, the brown stuff was hummus, which I'd made myself, and it was actually a really wonderful lunch and I was enjoying it. I smiled at him. Smiled him down, in fact, and he dropped his head and began to eat, silenced.
I couldn't help it. You can make fun of a few things about me, but for the love of god don't tell me I'm stupid or make fun of something I've created. I will destroy you. It's a serious and major character flaw. And since he had stuck his thumb on the button for mocking something I had created, I chewed him up and spit him out.
While still seething a bit over being told my lunch looked stupid, the last of the trainees sat down, told me it was really cute, and that she really needed to start packing her lunches like that. We got to talking about the logistics of getting stuff together, and about how it was cheapre and healthier. Ex-military just ate quietly and watched the back and forth, his control over- and distribution of negativity in to- the situation completely unseated.
I told myself that it was the final day, that after that I would never have to see him again unless I found myself working the weekend at highly unusual hours. I lit out of there with a singular joy, happy that I would be free of someone so ruled by fear (it wouldn't bother me if I didn't recognize myself in it, yes, this I know...) but there was one parting shot. As we were leaving, Ex-military turned around to us and said that all he had heard from people was about being afraid of being busted. And that was it. The bitch in me could not let this go, because it was my Friday and the last thing I heard was not going to be negative shit from some delusional miserable person.
No, I said, I had not noticed that. And one of the other trainees nodded at me and said that had been their impression as well, that people were pretty mellow. He spoke up to argue again and I cut him down, stating that it was just regular chatter you hear at any workplace. He spoke one last time to argue and at that moment it occurred to me that I didn't have to actually listen to him at that point. So I piped up cheerfully that I hoped everybody had a really awesome weekend, that I was parked upstairs and I would see them all Monday. And then I high-tailed it out of there.
Fail. Fail, fail, fail.
Understanding of something and actual practice are two different things. I let this person get to me, and in retrospect I realized it was because I needed for them to be a certain way, I had an expectation that things would be a certain way and that what he did broke up those expectations. I don't know that I could calmly allow for negative Nancys in my day in the future far more easily, but at least I have a grasp on why this failed so heavily. It went beyond compassion right down to me and my mindset and my personal world view. So in this, perhaps he was delusional but I was certainly operating under my own unbreaking views. I was the one that could bend. I did not. I became miserable as a result. Cause and affect pretty much directly realized right thar.
I don't know if this is something I'll be clever enough to internalize for later, but I really hope I do. It got so bad it affected my sleep, my emotions and my physical health (by the end of the 3rd day the emotionally roiling stomach became a tumultous digestive tract) and no one should have that kind of power over me when I know better. It's moments like these where being utterly skooled liek a n00b becomes my M.O., and all the calmness I thought I had generated, all the things I was utterly sure I had perfected for dealing with the world, completely fall apart. I suppose these are good things to see, and to know that one is that vulnerable and delicate in the hands of others still.
I had a serious fail. It's embarassing. But the only way to deal with it is to acknowledge it, forgive myself, and move on. And perhas sit in loving-kindness meditation and try to send some out, especially to the poor guy who is so afraid that his interactions with the rest of the world are spoken entirely out of his fears right now.

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