Treadmills

I typically enjoy the “Coffee with Jesus” comics. I ran across this one today on a friend’s page and it resonated with me–although it was a different sort of resonate than the first time I saw this a couple of years ago.

Finding meaning in what you’re doing is hard. Really hard. Let’s face it: most of us work jobs where we are a mere cog in a machine we can’t even fathom. Many of us are part of a system that we hate in general, but because the system exists, so does our job. How much more self-hating can you get?!

Sometimes, though, a new attitude doesn’t come naturally. Sometimes you need a new treadmill.

I am still working as a cog in an enormous machine–a machine that, in part, I despise. If the IRS tax code weren’t so darn complicated, most of us would not have jobs in accounting (yes, there are still jobs aside from tax, and accountants have been around long before taxes became so complex–my job is actually not tax, but I can promise our firm would not employ so many or have such long hours if taxes were a simple 5% of your income or the like). And here I am. I make changes to numbers, omit or add commas, move text so slightly you might not notice if you weren’t me, and white out smudges and marks on pages before photocopying and binding. It is in so many ways a boring, unimportant job. And yet my co-workers consider my job one of the most important. Why? Because I’m the person who makes their hard work become reality. If I weren’t there, those numbers they computed would just sit in the Excel documents on their computers, doing no good for anyone. Having a job like this–which is insanely stressful some days (like today), I might add–has really helped improve my attitude toward being a cog. What I was doing before had more feasible results, in some ways–I paid bills and received money. It seems like that should feel more important. It didn’t. Seeing the product in my hands helps me feel like this treadmill I’m running isn’t so aimless.

I was reflecting today what a major change my new office is as well. I didn’t know just how deeply affected I’d been by jobs I’d worked in the past–especially at the public defenders’ office. I catch myself flinching whenever someone approaches me, and my heart races every time I get an e-mail or IM. The supervisor at the law office had a perspective that in order to be in charge of others, you have to routinely yell at them. She and the director both felt that taking the blame for something (or admitting any fault) was a severe short-coming. I apologised once for something that really wasn’t my fault, but that I had missed before handing it off, and was reprimanded severely for my lapse in judgment. I found myself quickly wanting to place blame squarely on another’s shoulders instead of taking any part in it because of that reaction. And the supervisor rarely spoke to me unless I was “in trouble.” Usually the mistake was her own, but since she couldn’t possibly admit that, I was next in the chain to take the hit. I often received angry, passive-aggressive e-mails from co-workers. There was so much anger just flying everywhere.

After four years of dealing with that environment, which at the end started just feeling “normal,” I see now what’s happened to me. I feel constantly guilty because even if I don’t feel like I did something wrong, I probably did. I am convinced everyone is mad at me. I stare at an e-mail with two sentences for an eternity before sending it, hoping that my simple request (“Please sign off on the RCS.”) won’t be taken the wrong way. When I get an e-mail, I tremble that someone misunderstood my intentions in my message.

I wonder if I’ll ever feel comfortable again. I wonder if this feeling will forever be ingrained in me. It’s purely exhausting.

The work environment has helped my attitude so much, and has helped this treadmill be a little less pointless. I see why people like working here.

It also gives me the question: why do so many people feel like they need to rule with an iron fist? Why can’t lesser-ranking staff be shown respect? Why can’t a supervisor or boss gain others’ esteem by being a good person to emulate–and not simply bow their heads in fear?

Maybe we’d all be able to find our treadmills a little easier to endure.

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