Friday, July 7, 2017

Shunned at Work

Let’s play Jeopardy. I will offer you the answer, and you can supply the question. To remain within our bailiwick I will offer up Ask Polly’s advice and you can try to guess the letter writer’s problem.

Here are Polly’s comments:

What’s crazy about overachievers who take big risks but who are also neurotic is that we expect ourselves to FIND A SOLUTION using our minds instead of allowing our feelings to tell us what should come next. Slowing down to feel your feelings doesn’t mean not exercising, which you know manages to keep you afloat moodwise…. It just means not lambasting yourself every second for all of your so-called mistakes, and instead making some room for yourself to feel where you are without judging it badly.

How you feel right now isn’t your fault. It’s natural to feel the way you feel. Let yourself be where you are.

Don’t you find it striking that Polly offers the same lame advice no matter what the problem is. And that she is recommending mindlessness as a solution.

As for the problem here’s what a woman who calls herself Another Neurotic Middle-Aged Woman says. Polly imagines that ANMAW is blaming herself and is beating herself up. This is not true. She has found herself in a difficult, impossible situation, one that is largely not her fault:

I am 40, single, living in a city (Miami) where I have no friends or family. I moved here two years ago for what appeared to be a great job opportunity. But the reality hasn’t been so hot.

Most of my co-workers are from Latin America, and prefer to speak Spanish among themselves — naturally! I do not blame them for this at all. But for me, it means there are all kinds of conversations going on that I can’t understand, much less participate in. For instance, HR organized an event outside of work at which everyone spoke Spanish. I stood off by myself, clutching my drink, until it felt like I’d been there long enough and could escape. This is one specific case, but the language barrier means I feel isolated and alienated at work on an almost daily basis….

And the job has not turned into the opportunity I had hoped for. My budget was canceled shortly after I started. Late last year, a project I was working on went really, really badly. I’ve been in this field for five years, and never had such a disaster happen. This is the first and only project I’ve actually been given that has been a total flop. Why would anyone at this company promote me? And the career potential is why I left behind friends and a stable job for Miami….

So I am 40, single, friendless, effectively making much less money, and failing at the job I moved here for. I’m struggling to keep a positive attitude — I am snarky and judgmental, and catch myself criticizing others in a harsh way for stupid things (like what they are wearing). This is all internal, of course, since I don’t have anyone to talk to. I have to fight a general attitude of “What the fuck is the point?” about work. The frustration builds up so much some days that not even a good sweat session at the gym (surrounded by people talking in Spanish) releases it completely.

How do I release the frustration? How do I accept that I made a huge mistake moving to Miami, and just need to fix it now by moving and/or finding a new job? How do I force myself to study Spanish seriously? How do I just let go, accept the lessons gained from all of these mistakes, and move on to the next step?

How do you do it? Simple. You resign. You leave Miami. You look for a new job. You call up the recruiter and tell him or her that the company you are now working for is being mismanaged. You find out whether you have any legal recourse.

Fair enough, ANMAW has done what needed to be done. She threw herself into her work. She did whatever she could to adapt. She gave it her best. Had she not done so, she would not have been able to assert that the problem lay with other people, with the management of the company’s Miami office.

ANMAW is not blaming herself. Her colleagues were shunning her and she was trying to adapt. Why is this happening? I have no idea. I am appalled, as are you, by the fact that no one at the new company has reached out to her, has attempted to integrate her into the group. Something appalling is going on in that office. We do not know what or why.

I have never lived in Miami, but I am surprised to hear that some companies and large parts of the city are uniquely Spanish speaking. Is it a colony, an outpost of South America in Florida? How did it happen that Americans are punished for speaking English?

Polly wants the woman to forgive herself. Why? In truth, she should have found out more about the company and its culture before accepting the job. She trusted the recruiter. This is not irrational. In many cases it’s normal behavior.

But, it is equally true that people within the company should have reached out to her once she arrived. If it canceled her budget, then clearly something was wrong. We do not know what her job was and we do not know what happened when ANMAW failed.

But, we do have the impression that she has been hung out to dry, perhaps for reasons that had nothing to do with her. She was apparently seen as an outsider, an interloper, someone whose presence was not wanted. Or else, perhaps she was hired by someone who lost out in a power struggle. Why did this happen? I have no idea. You don’t either. Without knowing what happened, we are at something of a loss to explain why it was happening.

The woman asked Polly to show her the way out. Polly responded by telling her to feel her feelings. She should have been told to evaluate the situation and to take some action. She has worked hard enough to know that the fault does not lie with her… except for the project that apparently went down in flames. That one seems clearly to be on her account.

As for the impossible social situation, Polly offers some sound advice: namely, that the woman stop trying so hard, that she pull back, be less present and available.

Polly wrote:

Savor your time in Miami now. Slack off at work a little, if you have to. Take your time looking into new jobs and new places. Be truly, completely good to yourself, which includes consistently quieting the voice that says you’re a loser and a failure, and replacing it with a new voice: “You are so brave. Look at how much you’re learning, every day.”

I know that’s the hardest thing to do. But that’s where your happiness lies. Not in a place or in a job, but in that good feeling inside your heart that says, “I am doing my best. I took a big risk and I floundered but I’m still trying so hard, and that’s a beautiful thing, maybe even more beautiful than sailing across some imaginary finish line.” There is promise in this false start. Forgive yourself and be here. Forgive yourself and breathe this in. You’ll never be right here, feeling this way, again. Forgive yourself and savor this.

Obviously, the psychoblather about the good feelings in her heart is off the point. Rather than get in touch with her feelings, the woman should see the situation as a game. She should say to herself that she should start making some moves and stop being a victim.

She should not just look for a new job—though that seems obvious—but should be less present at work, less present at work functions. On that score Polly is right.

It’s not about whether ANMAW thinks of herself as a loser or a failure. It’s about managing the situation and showing her colleagues that they are treating her in the most appalling manner. It’s her move. It’s time to step back from the situation and acting as though she is not going to be anyone’s whipping girl anymore.


trigger warning said...

I advise her to Lean In.


Worked for Megyn Kelly, right?

James said...

Well things didn't work out and she blew on at work, so it happens. We are human not divine and things don't always work out. This is probably just another way of saying the same thing you Stuart, but for her it isn't the past that's important with it's failure it's the future and what you do from then on.
Latinos can be very insular (or as I've heard it better, very in-lawed), nothing you can do about that. She needs to learn that performance at work doesn't define you as a person. You walk on that job and everyday give them the best of yourself physically and mentally for whatever hours and if it don't work go do something else.

Anonymous said...

Another thing she could have done is learn a little Spanish. No es tan dificil aprender espanol. Get in a basic course and then ask your co workers for help learning their language. This might have broken down some barriers. Hispanics speak Spanish in a mile a minute cadence, and they are loud too. Hearing this can be very disconcerting to a non speaker, especially when they laugh, cause you think they're laughing at you.

Maybe the Spanish women think the American woman is arrogant for refusing to learn their language. To them, the phrase, "Speak English" carries a tinge of racism

Llama me Lennie

Anonymous said...

I'd love to know what language has to do with race. Racism is becoming a bucket for everything. Stop traffic! Someone is being racist against me! Maybe it's not about race. Maybe it's you.