“You Are Withdrawn, Dull, Shy, and Sullen,” and Other Fun Things I Learned at a Motivational Seminar

August 1, 2008 at 12:54 pm 6 comments

If you’re anything like me and you toil away (or have ever toiled away) inside the beige confines of an office environment, you’ve no doubt been forced (or “strongly encouraged”) to attend some sort of corporate motivational seminar, an experience akin to, say, getting a staple stuck inside your eyelid, or being forced to drive cross-country with Elizabeth Hasselbeck.

Oh my God, when will this bitch shut up?

You can imagine my delight when I had to spend three mornings last week in just such a situation – sitting in a freezing cold conference room with an instructor who COULD NOT CONTROL THE VOLUME OF HER VOICE, listening to my email inbox straining under the weight of received messages to the tune of “Where are you?!??!” and “This needs to be completed in 2 minutes or we will replace you with a toilet-trained primate who never accidentally burns his popcorn in the microwave.”

Probably has a better attitude anyway.

Now, because I inherited my mother’s constant need to be a people-pleaser, making me live in absolute horror of being rude to someone’s face…

(Being rude behind someone’s back? Entirely acceptable, of course.)

…I mustered every bit of cheerfulness I could manage at 9am on Monday morning when I walked into the conference room. Quite a task, considering the tables were covered in candy, there were brightly colored decorations at each seat, and “Sweet Home Alabama” was blaring from a small portable stereo.

Sigh.

The speaker was a very, very nice lady who was honestly very good at what she did (and she also had a Canadian accent, which always tickles me), but I’ve just always felt such a disconnect in seminars like these. I know it’s probably just a bit of lingering pride and immaturity (a bit? HA.), but I always get uncomfortable in classes like these, because I feel like allowing myself to buy into all of these tips on “How to Be An Extraordinary Assistant” is surrendering myself to the idea that yes, I am an assistant, and yes, what I am in the workplace is what defines me, and yes, please excuse me while I mosey on over to this woodchipper for a sec.

Let me be very clear: I do not think there is anything wrong with being an assistant – and I know how challenging and thankless it can be – and I am very grateful for this job and the other assistant positions I’ve held over the years. Also, my mother, who is also an assistant, holds a very high position in an International Admin Assistants’ group, and it’s something that’s very important to her that I respect a great deal.

It’s just…I never saw myself as being an assistant. As I feel I mention whine about in almost every post, I had great aspirations to be an actor. And although I still get lots of acting work, I cannot afford to be without a regular, 9-5 job. So, I’m an administrative assistant. When people ask me what I do, that’s what I tell them. And…that rankles. Not as much as it used to, of course, because I realize that my “real job” makes it possible for Brad & I to own a house/take vacations/do things for family & friends/subsist on foodstuffs other than Maruchan noodles, but defining myself as an assistant, when I have never once felt that’s who I really am, and when I feel so much passion for something entirely different?

“I had to let me out or I…WOULD…DIE.”

I’m sure that a more mature person would have gotten over this whole issue already, but I’m actually not sure I want to get over it. I feel like if I accept that what I do at work is who I am, then it makes me feel like I’ve given up on myself in some way…and I’m sure it’s all part of a larger issue of me not wanting to swallow my pride, and me desperately clinging to the belief that I’M SPECIAL, DAMMIT!, but exploring that seems like a tall order to fill on a Friday, so let’s just say “Fuck it,” and move on, shall we?

Now, despite my “issues” (of which there are many, and I believe, dear reader, that you are starting to feel very sorry for Brad right about now), I get along pretty well at work, because I slide my mind into “I am not myself, I am Work Turkey” mode, and I have to say that works quite well for me. I show up, I do what I have to do, and I go home, where I can flip the switch back to “Jive Turkey,” and proceed to be myself again. It’s kind of like being around my parents. Around them, I have to be the version of myself that does not swear, has no political opinions, and plays nice in order to keep the peace. In other words, I have to be 9 years old.

Never breaks her mother’s heart by dropping the F-bomb.

The downside to playing the Two-Sides game, of course, is that people don’t get to know who you really are, and treat you according to the person you present to them. Most of my coworkers (and this holds true in every job I’ve ever had) have very little idea of what I’m really like, because I share so little of myself in the workplace. So when I’m plopped into these motivational seminars with my coworkers and I’m forced to explore HOW I FEEL and WHAT MAKES ME TICK and HOW DO YOU DEFINE YOUR PERSONALITY, it makes me feel 1) weird, and 2) like a liar, because when I say I consider myself to be a social person, I get looks similar to those I would receive if I’d just defecated on the danish tray.

Like I would ever do such a thing. I love you, my pretties!

And then there was the eye-opening personality evaluation we did on Day Three. I’m sure you’ve done them before: You complete a questionnaire, score your answers, add them up, plot them on a chart and VOILA! Please allow this 30-page booklet to define your personality, because you clearly have no clue, you mindless goddamn office drone. Now here’s a free stress ball and some candy!

I was a little confused when I went to complete my survey. How should I answer it? Should I answer according to who I am at work, or who I really am? Ultimately, I decided that – because this was a work seminar – I would answer as Work Turkey. And it turns out that Work Turkey? Is one miserable, boring-ass motherfucker.

The personality evaluation determined that I was an “F,” a worker who is exacting, thorough, factual, meticulous, and has high-standards. “Someone who comes to work to work,” as the speaker put it – and I have to say that was spot on, since that’s precisely what I do. However, on the negative side, “F” personalities are withdrawn, dull, sullen, shy, passive, and antisocial. A little hard to hear, especially since my co-workers all nodded their heads in agreement, at which point the ol’ self esteem SOARED, let me tell you. One of my coworkers, who was categorized as a happy-go-lucky, energetic “S,” made a joke about how my biggest fear, as an “F,” would be if she asked me to join her for happy hour after work.

…aaaaaand I’m back in the junior high cafeteria.

So, I was feeling pretty irritated, because while the test got some things right about me (I don’t like it when people make stupid, careless mistakes! Is that so wrong?!), I felt like it sucked every last hope of my coworkers seeing me as my true self right out of the room (I LOVE happy hour! Just ask the Maker’s Mark company!). Of course, that’s probably mostly my fault for acting like fucking Karma Chameleon over here, switching identities every day between my house and my cubicle and then back again.

I feel ya.

The whole thing reminded me of how I railed against being a Capricorn the first 30 years of my life (I was born on the cusp! THE CUSP!) because I thought Capricorns sounded totally boring and lame. But then one day I read the list of Capricorn traits: practical, ambitious, disciplined, patient, careful, humorous. Hm. OK. Also: pessimistic and fatalistic. Check and check. And you know what? I AM OK WITH THAT. Because I do think that’s who I am. But this work thing? Sullen? Antisocial? Dull? Friends, I was a theatre major. I have been nearly naked onstage. Two years ago, I was in a show called “Chicks with Dicks.” I may not be a barrel of monkeys 24/7, but I think I deserve a little fucking credit.

Is also an “F.”

Of course, the best part of the whole seminar was when someone (coincidentally, also an “F”) asked the speaker: “So, what if you feel like one of these personalities at work, and another in your personal life?”

And the speaker replied,”Studies have shown that people who act one way at work and another way in their personal life are deeply unhappy.”

IS NICE!

I’m now a week removed from the seminar, and I have to admit I learned some helpful things, including how to deal with difficult people, which I “may” have had an “experience” with this week, when “someone” was acting like an “entitled dipshit,” and I am glad to report that I handled it calmly and assertively (I KNOW!), even if it did leave me with a tendency to use multiple quotation marks in a misguided attempt at humor.

And I think the curse of the “F” is actually a mixed blessing. Now that people are confirmed in their beliefs that I’m a boring tight-ass, they will continue to leave me alone and let me putter along in the blissful solitude of my cubicle, which, in an office situation, is sometimes the very best thing of all.

Yeeeeeeeeeeah…

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Entry filed under: Taste my Backhand.

Week in the Knees I Wanna Be a Part of It

6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. kristin  |  August 1, 2008 at 1:08 pm

    I did do the cubicle thing for three years to put A. through law school. But we never had a seminar like this, because the company never expected us (meaning the Quality Assurance Department) to stay very long. And, considering the shitty pay and treatment of the proofreaders, they were right. I bolted as soon as I could.

    I’m also a Capricorn, and pretty much embody all of the traits you listed (I’m humorous, right? RIGHT?). BUT, I’m actually more social in the office than at home. I talked to everyone, was nice to everyone, joked with everyone. Basically, I sucked up to everyone so they wouldn’t be so mad at me when I had to point out their mistakes, which was my whole job. People pleaser? Who, me?

    But I never, ever wanted to socialize outside of the office. With a couple of exceptions, I saw those people enough. I spent more time with them than with my husband, so after work you can keep your 6 dollar margaritas and stale pretzels, I’m going home.

    And what you do to make money is NOT who you are. At least, not all of who you are. I think people who identify that strongly with their job are weird. Mostly because I’ve never been one of them, though.

    P.S. I answered your cheese curd question in an e-mail that I hope you got. Yahoo has been a bitch recently, so it’s possible you didn’t. Christ, could I shut up now?

    Reply
  • 2. Husband of Said Turkey  |  August 1, 2008 at 1:10 pm

    Coincidentally, “F” types are also 68% more likely to steal a schoolbus and drive it through a crowd of people at an outdoor company picnic. And I KNOW you have fantasies about that, Turkey. Remember how we sat around last night sipping schnapps and fantasizing about how I would distract the driver with my Vaudevillian plate-spinning while you swiped his keys?

    Reply
  • 3. The Constant C  |  August 1, 2008 at 1:57 pm

    I am also a Capricorn, as is my husband. I love Capricorns. Because we. don’t. like. any. one. else. (maybe that isn’t entirely true… but only maybe.)

    I just a work week of team spirit building. It involved volleyball. And big pads of white paper with pens of different colors. But no quizzes, thank god.

    I am also one person at work at another at home. But you know what? The F-bomb travels with me. This has made my life better.

    I’m a “writer” (like, artist) at home and a “writer” (like, drone) at work… which makes it even harder to justify the assertion that I’m not boring. (Really! I’m not!)

    And (who can’t shut up now, Kristin?) this unrelated nugget from wikipedia’s entry on cuteness:

    “Stephen Jay Gould remarked on this phenomenon in an article for the journal Natural History, in which he pointed out that over time Mickey Mouse had been drawn more and more to resemble an infant—with bigger head, bigger eyes, and so forth. Gould suggested that this change in Mickey’s image was intended to increase his popularity by making him appear cuter.”

    Maybe it isn’t so much that the diaper looks like Mickey’s Pants, as that Mickey’s pants look like the diaper? Whoa.

    Reply
  • 4. shelli  |  August 1, 2008 at 2:22 pm

    dude! I totally took that seminar, too – I think that we may have had the exact same one.

    OY VEY with a Shmear!

    Seriously.

    I was SO not jammin on the groove, but you know, I took it to keep my job. I’m at a new job now, a happier one, and I prefer to call myself “the Administrator” instead of “the Admin”

    You know, because titles make one feel important.

    I felt, however, when I was at that lame ass seminar, back at my old job (N koff Y koff U koff), that um, I was the only person there who just didn’t need the seminar – I felt like it was geared for idiots, and that we were all being condescended and patronized to. I asked legitimate questions, like: “if you only have x amount of hours in the day, and your boss insists there are y amount of hours, how do you handle that?” And they’d look at me with blank stares, or that “blink blink” “blink blink” look that indicates that my question was not on their script of questions.

    Ugh.

    Reply
  • 5. jiveturkey  |  August 1, 2008 at 2:41 pm

    Capricorns in the house! I knew there had to be a reason you were all so witty and lovely.

    kristin: Checking email now…

    ConstantC: That is perhaps the most profound thing I’ve heard all day.

    Shelli: I had a boss who insisted – INSISTED – on calling me his “secretary.” However, he was a fantastic boss and treated me with an assload of respect. Weird. And thank you for saying “Shmear,” one of my favorite words ever.

    And Brad: SSSHH!!

    Reply
  • 6. Sara  |  August 1, 2008 at 4:35 pm

    I’m (I think) one of Kristin’s exceptions. And with a couple of exceptions (and even then), I couldn’t care less about seeing any of these people outside of work. And I couldn’t care less what they think of me (very little). Actually, what they think of us (very little) is that all we do is read books and talk about books and correct everyone’s grammar and spelling. And yes, we notice crap like that. But guess what? I don’t want to have an hour discussion about commas and hyphens outside of work. And I never read and will never read many great works of lit-tra-ture. I don’t care. I am much nicer at work than I am outside of work. If people at work only knew how much I bitched about them behind their backs…

    Oh, and I’m a Taurus. Which I just looked up. And apparently, among other traits, I have a good sense of humor (duh), easygoing, and honest. Oh, and I’m also self-conscious, stubborn, opinionated, resentful, and I get stuck in ruts (duh). It’s like you took the “Sara” entry and renamed it “Taurus,” Wikipedia!

    I’m done rambling now.

    Reply

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