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The Outsider – All Over Again?

My dear pal HollyGL has inspired this ‘re-post’. However it has been slightly re-written with some added new bonus material in light of my friend Anna’s comment on this post. Anna & HollyGL have managed to identify what is really bothering me. I think I know now why have been psychologically mind fucking myself the last few days with respects to the whole office department switching issue that I am dealing with. I am also reposting this as a reminder to myself. It’s nice to reread just How Far I Have Come. But, I still need to take a look at a few things I need / can work on that will enable me to get through this next chapter in my ‘career’.

5 years ago, at the age of 27, I made the decision to undergo a complete change.

I went from ‘bartending’ (amongst other things) and working nights in a smoke filled strip club, to working days in a smoke free state of the art insurance office. This was not an easy adjustment to say the least.

I went from being comfortable (wearing shorts, wife beaters, socks and sneakers – or less) to feeling terribly uncomfortable (wearing suites and dresses). I went from slinging suds and full of confidence cracking jokes to perfect strangers, to someone who was shy, timid, nervous and fearful.

This decision was not as smooth or simple as I had hoped. In fact, if I had the foresight to know the level of anxiety such a transition could produce, I would have reconsidered the entire idea all together. I never anticipated what an outsider I would feel like from the minute I set foot in an office.

I find it amazing how much society, and we ourselves, identify who we are by what we do for a living. I was a bartender. I was NOT an office professional. I mean the only job interview & job I ever had in my whole life was to bend down in front of a bar manager to pick up a napkin off the floor, so he could decide if my buttocks was ‘acceptable’ to serve his patrons.

Crossing over from one identity to another drowned me in a pool of uncertainty. In order to avoid any further internal panic attacks, I carefully placed myself on the outside of a pre-existing inner office water cooler clique, which was unlike any other atmosphere I had experienced.

The first big adjustment to working in an office was waking up in the morning. When I was bartending, I used to sleep all day. All damn day. I stayed up all night, I mean; the party didn’t start until after the bar closed some nights. Waking up at 6:30am, rather than going to bed at 6:30am, was unbearable.

Since my body has a different internal clock than the rest of the standard work force, the first clue that I was an outsider surfaced when I showed up at the office still blinking my blood shot eyeballs while everyone else in the office looked refreshed, alert, perky and alive.

Another hint I didn’t exactly “fit-in” the office environment, was the simple task of what to wear? And ‘how to?’ wear professional clothing. I walked around the office stuffed in fabrics that forced me to move robotically, while others seemed to glide effortlessly throughout the day. Suites, skirts and slacks were not exactly part of my bar wardrobe. Putting on these new clothes, made me feel like I was playing dressing up in someone else’s attire, and trying to live someone else’s life.

The next big shocker was the drive into work. Driving, for me, was a traumatic endeavor during the morning bustle. It’s hard to envision rush hour traffic, when you are so used to driving home at 3:00 am. At 3:00am, the only other cars on the road are drunks, truckers or cops. Driving on the NJ Turnpike first thing in the morning was a horrifying experience. I had no idea how many people were up and driving on the road at that ungodly hour. The pressure of lane changes, and the assholes that only drove 65mph in the left lane, filled me with anxiety before I even made it into the office. I would show up on raw nerves.

Once I did make it into the office, I was faced with another treacherous task I did not know how to handle.

When you work in a bar there are no dead-lines or computers, there are no faxes, or files. There are only shot glasses and beer mugs or directions to the bathroom. You can only imagine the overwhelming terror I felt, when I was asked to send my first fax.

Talk about feeling like an outsider, I was humiliated. I didn’t know what to do or how to do it. I didn’t know which way the paper faced; did the paper go up or down? Did the paper go in a tray, or did I have to lift the lid of the machine? I didn’t know if I had to dial a (1) before the fax number? I certainly did not want to ask anyone, because then they would know I didn’t belong here.

I stood over that fax machine for a good ten minuets sweating and contemplating, when a nice lady came by and saw the trepidation on my face. She gently took the paper from my hands and quietly showed me what to do with out making a big deal. I was puzzled by the fact that she didn’t laugh out loud or start to protest to the other employees that I didn’t belong there. I was sure she would have announced to everyone there was a fraud in the building.

When it came to typing, not only had I never typed a professional letter, I had never typed anything. Ever. Overwhelmed with so many keys, letters, numbers and F1-12 choices, I could only type with my index finger on my right hand. I had to search for every single letter on the keyboard. I would scream inside my head, after becoming totally frustrated, “I KNOW THERE IS A FREEKING X ON THIS KEYBOARD SOMEWHERE AROUND HERE!!” It took me practically took me an hour to type a single sentence and even with spell check the words were still incorrect.

Typing, as difficult as that was on its own, also involves grammar. This was yet another obstacle, yet another skill, that separated me from the other employees. Grammar was more like speaking in the Chinese language to me. Colon? What the hell is a colon? When do you use a colon? Why do you use a colon? Isn’t that a body part? I wouldn’t dare ask anyone other than my father (who also works in my office) for fear of making a complete ass out of myself.

During the first six months of my office employment, after being shipped to yet another department within the company my father trained me hands on. He did not accomplish a single thing for himself in the office. His whole job was reduced to answering all of my questions or making up his own questions which he would quiz me on all day. I even went with my father out to visit his clients.

I took home insurance policies to read and study. I also went out and bought a computer. The office manager gave me a disk to use at home to learn how to type. The fact that I had a computer afforded me the opportunity to send home all of the different insurance carrier’s websites to study as well.

Although I was learning a lot, and challenging myself, there was still a difficult hurdle to make it through the ‘career changing process.’ I was not able to communicate at all, on any level, to anyone.

Just thinking about having to talk to someone intimidated me. When I heard the other women talking, I thought of witty things I could say to say to join the conversation, but instead of talking with them, I doubted my ability to say what I was thinking clearly. I was so uneasy; I thought if I spoke out loud I would trip over the words before they came out of my mouth. Rather than take a chance, I played it safe. I kept my mouth shut, and as a result, I remained isolated.

I never wanted to get up from my desk to walk to the bathroom; I thought everyone was watching me. (That’s probably some ego issue I should one day consider looking at.) I was convinced everyone was talking about me. I was so insecure and struggling with the tough adaptation to this new world.

Of course, the paranoia of every one looking at me, or talking about me, was mostly in my own head. I was feeling so uncomfortable in my own skin; I kept myself an outsider by not being a part of anything office related.

I would go home at night and cry about how hard this was. I thought about how no one liked me. I would try to practice typing, or read about specific insurance coverage’s but I would get so frustrated if I didn’t get it, or understand things right away.

When I felt like giving up, I stayed up all night and thought of ways to call out of work. I even bought a medical dictionary so I could look up good excuses to use. I worried that I had made a terrible mistake. I had to convince myself, if I was ever going to make it in an office; I was making things harder than they had to be. I forced myself to put down my pity-pot and do the best I could no matter what the final outcome.

It was another six months in to the office world, a full year from starting date, when I was acclimated to the traffic, the clothes, the fax and copy machine. I was even using up to three fingers while typing on the keyboard, when I finally got up the courage to go and eat lunch with one of the other women of the office.

Guess what? Lunch wasn’t totally terrible!! In fact, it was fun!!

I went to lunch with a woman because she thought I was funny. For the first time in a year in the office I felt like I could be myself around someone. This first interaction, as trivial as it may seem, was the catalyst in my finding a comfort zone within the confines of the office. Just having that one person to relate to was a sigh of relief, and made waking up in the morning, going into work that much easier. Eventually I was able to say, “Good Morning” to people in the office if they made eye contact with me.

(I am presently waiting and looking, for that same sort of opportunity to arise wherein that defining moment I will begin to feel some level of acceptance within my new department.)

I never thought back then, I have would be gainfully employed at the same company for over five years now.

So, how much have I grown? How far have I come? Well, let’s see.

Today, I am trying my best to include myself, and be a part of the TEAM rather than remain isolated. (Although, that secret inner-water-cooler clique still very much exists.) And even though I am scared or slightly intimidated, I am REALLY making an effort to participate in the conversations that have been going on around me for the last few days. I have been a willing contributor to the chatter even though I think I sound like a moron.

Today, I don’t think everyone hates me, and I don’t think everyone is talking about me anymore.

Today, I am a Most Excellent typist.

 

Today, I can operate all of the office equipment with ease.

Today, I am much more confident in my abilities than I have ever been.

Today, I think I might be smart enough to figure out these new tasks being thrown in my face.

Today, I can write a well thought out, comprehensive letter; chock full of the proper ‘office speak’.

Today, I am even much better in dealing with Traffic. Yet, I have been known to loose my cool from time to time.

But here’s the kicker. 6 years later

After all of my hard work, after all of the changes I have made, and all my growth…being out of the office for over a week, and having been unwillingly moved to a new department upon returning from vacation – I am right back to feeling just like that awkward outsider.

I feel like I am back to Square One. I honestly feel like I am going through some sort of backwards time warp. I feel like I am going in reverse. I feel like I am experiencing some sort of regression?

1. I am back living at home with The Parents (just like I was 6 years ago – but for different reasons this time around).

2. I am back in the very same department in my office that I had been promoted up from.

3. I still feel like a phony in ‘Office Attire’.

4. I am not presently able to bring home or study this New Material. (And quite frankly, I have so many other things that fill up my life, which I genuinely enjoy doing; I really don’t want to spend my evenings swimming in anything related to Insurance.)

5. I still have a tendency to freak out if I don’t “Get It” RIGHT AWAY.

6. I still struggle with grammar.

7. I went from rocking the house in The Marketing Department, where I have been for the last 6 years, to feeling shy, timid, nervous and fearful. All Over Again.

8. This time, I did not choose to make this life altering career change. This Change is an unwilling and ever so unwanted change.

9. And I will NEVER learn how to be a Day Person. I have always been, and will always be, a Night Person.

My mother told me she thinks that I may be repeating these steps in my life because I missed something or some opportunity the first Go Around? 

I am scratching my head right now because I am not sure what is happening in my life, or how I got all the way back HERE? No. It’s not entirely that dramatic (as compared to Monday). But you can get the gist as to why I feel like after 6 years I am still at the starting gate.

I do know that I am not anywhere I imagined my life would be at age 33. Not relationship wise, not health wise, not career wise, not mentally, and certainly not financially.

Most people I know that are my age (and younger) are married, with homes/own property, are well settled into their careers, and complete with families of their own.

Meanwhile, I am feeling like I have failed at my attempts to secure a “normal lifestyle.”

On the other hand, I am happy to say that I am no longer having a Pity Party, or feeling sorry for myself. And in all reality yesterday was a little teeny tiny better-ish.

I realize that if I want to change the direction I fear my life is headed, than I have to get off my ass, and do something about it, rather than sit here and complain about it.

I just don’t know where to go from here?  Or how to change the direction of my life?  Or how to take the steps necessary to stop being a ‘victim of my circumstances’?

I guess in time I will figure the answers to those questions out.

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