Sunday, March 19, 2006


What they don't tell you in business school....

In the past week, I have attended 2 baby showers, a bridal shower, a going-away party, and 2 birthday parties. In every instance, I either contributed food for a potuluck or purchased a gift (or both). At every event, it was requested that I bring my camera and "take a few snapshots."

It's called being a team player.

I actually know 50% of these people. The other 50% are co-workers I see perhaps once a month--if that often-- in meetings. At more than one of these social events, I've had people say things to me like, "I didn't know you had children!" (There are pictures of my kids and grandkids on my desk, and getting me to talk about my kids isn't hard.)

There is something really odd about all this for me. I'm not a curmudgeon. I don't hate babies or brides or people who are celebrating birthdays, and I'm not cheap or antisocial. I'm actually very social, and most folks would say I'm generous and supportive. But it's the artificial nature of the relationships we form in the workplace that feels "off" to me.

I've spent more than 17 months on this project, working with these people. Two Christmasses, 2 birthdays, 2 New Years Days, 2 Halloweens, 2 St. Patrick's days, 2 Thanksgivings, 2 Valentine's Days, etc. In that time, I've seen one son married, one grandchild adopted, one born, and am preparing for the birth of a third. There is an inner circle of about 15 folks who know those things about me, but the majority have no clue who I am between the hours of 5PM and 8 AM.

It is a delicate balancing act, still, for women in the workplace. In order to be credible, you have to appear strong and in all times. Yet go too far in that direction, and you are branded "cold" and "unapproachable." A guy would be called "remote" or "enigmatic." A woman risks being branded a "bitch." It's even more complicated as a consultant.

So on the surface, I am social, even gregarious at times. My camera and I go to parties, buy gifts, make jokes....At my core, however, I am essentially private. It is a choice that I have had to make. I cannot afford to connect on any deep personal level with most of the people I encounter in the workstream, because this is not my home, my community, my stable base.

There is a reason people burn out as consultants. Particularly single people. It is the isolation.
There is something soul destroying about being constantly in an environment but not really part of it. I suspect it would be different if, like my married counterparts, I was going home on the weekend to a spouse and family... but neither a weekend spent frantically traveling to end up in another empty residence, or one here in Tally in an anonymous apartment has a lot of appeal. Some singles do the bars, but that was never my scene, and Tally's nightlife is geared toward 20-somethings or couples.

It leaves you feeling very fragile and brittle and alone. There are days when I wish I drank. The idea of getting numb sounds good. Which is why I won't do it. Why I can't let myself do it.

I've been battling some personal demons and crises in recent weeks, but the problems are not of a sort I would feel comfortable discussing with the people in my work life. I am perhaps more open here, in this realm of anonymous strangers, than I can afford to be with the people with whom I share 40 hours a week.

I'll get through it. I always do. By myself.

I keep coming back to the poem by Edgar Allen Poe that I first discovered at age 10 or so.

From childhood's hour
I have not been
As others were
I have not seen
As others saw
I could not bring
My passions from a common spring
From the same source I have not taken
My sorrow
I could not awaken
My heart to joy at the same tone
And all I lov'd, I lov'd alone

Then — in my childhood —
in the dawn
Of a most stormy life —
was drawn From ev'ry depth of good and ill
The mystery which binds me still
From the torrent, or the fountain
From the red cliff of the mountain
From the sun that 'round me roll'd
In its autumn tint of gold
From the lightning in the sky
As it pass'd me flying by
From the thunder, and the storm
And the cloud that took the form
(When the rest of Heaven was blue)
Of a demon in my view —

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