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Outside in the Office

Socially, I don’t fit in at work.

Outside of work, I’m a rock star. I’m funny, I dance around, I have on cute clothes and shoes. Off the clock, you can’t not like me. I can get the party started and turn on the charm and work the room like nobody’s business.

At work, I feel like an outsider.

Most interactions outside of discussing something pertaining to work, feel uncomfortable, forced and fake.

Believe it or not, it’s not even because I’m one of about 6 people of color in the entire place and one of just 3 black women.

It’s age and the fact I’m childless and single.

Even though I’ve just cracked 30, most of the folks working here are 40 and older, and have children. Some have children my age. Their lifestyles are completely different from mine. And I don’t like telling people at work about my personal life (They don’t really care unless you are getting married or pregnant hence the reason for this latest party. Another baby shower. When I first got engaged I was the belle of the ball. “Show us the ring…again!” “Tell us about the plans!” “Here’s a great book!”), and I start to really check out when people start talking about weather-proofing windows or the latest child car seats or how its hell to refinance a mortgage right now or how you have to tell your stupid husband exactly what to do all the time, because he doesn’t have the good sense to do it right the first time.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the “stupid husband” stories. I sit there and think, he’s not stupid, or slow. If you talk to him the way you talk to me about him, he’s ignoring you and (because you are too tired, and looking haggard and complaining all the damn time) he’s probably giving it real good to his assistant or the hot colleague who keeps regular appointments for Brazilian waxes and doesn’t have Play Doh ground into her last good cardigan.

I think I get along well with most people in all sorts of situations, but I just always feel so awkward when a social situation comes up involving work folks, or someone throws a party and invites the whole office and it’s not a mandatory event.

A lot of those getting-ahead-in-the-workplace books would advise that you show up to these functions so people can get another side of you, and you don’t want to get to the point where no one invites you to anything at all.

But for me, I just can’t do it. It makes me feel like a big phony and honestly I’ve caught co-workers slip up with racial faux pas that just made me feel uncomfortable, because they were feeling waay tooo comfortable at these functions.

“That singer Seal, he’s really black.”

Seal is really black. So is Wesley Snipes–black people say it all the time, but hearing a white person say it, and with no real context–it threw me. I’m considered light-skinned and I was totally offended and shocked. I shot the offender a “no you didn’t” glance and she literally shut her open mouth and reached for more food to put on her plate.

True story.

So to avoid that nonsense, I only go to the scheduled basically mandatory social functions after our major meetings when our off site, out-of-state colleagues come to town. Which makes sense because we only see these folks a few times a year, but we work with them everyday. During those functions, I follow the rules of those professional books and I mingle and I force and fight my way through with a smile. Not participating in those types of events, in my opinion are professionally damaging.

I think it’s the culture of the company I work at. A lot of folks have been here for 10, 20 even 30 years. They literally have grown up together professionally, so they do have a very clear, long-standing personal bond they’ve built with one another.

Which makes sense.

At one of my jobs, we were all new reporters, and transplants from a completely different region than where we were working. When we weren’t working like dogs, we went out for drinks together, had barbeques, went on road trips and because we were so far from home, often spent holidays together. We were all close in age and in economic and relationship status and mostly without kids. So we were peers, and we all loved bitching about our editors. That was the common bond regardless of race or religion! I’m still good friends with some of these folks, other jobs and years later.

I’ve learned to stay in my lane at work when it comes to the social hour. I did put money in the card and signed it. My best wishes have been sent.

As for the party later, I politely decline.

Handling these kinds of situations require the sensitivity and agility of a tightrope walker which leads me to today’s inspired jam.

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3 thoughts on “Outside in the Office

  1. Pingback: Love From A Distance: The Girlfriends Edition « 29tolife

  2. suestopford on said:

    I really feel for you. There is nothing worse than feeling like an outsider at work. It has happened to me in the past and it just makes your job something of a drudge and a place you would rather not be. I find it particularly hard in all-women environments which is ironic since I am a teacher and love my work – but an all women workplace can be catty, bitchy and just plain hard to tolerate particularly the bitchy catty part.
    The insensitive racial comments must be really difficult too – plain fact is, some people just don’t think before they open their mouths. It is hard to be perceived one way at work but in your authentic way outside work. We spend more time at work than we do at home…..
    I recently moved to a smallish town after earthquakes wrecked my beloved city of Christchurch, New Zealand last year. I was warned that this town was very small-minded, conservative, cliquey etc. Oddly I don’t mind this as I am not really here to make a massive group of new friends. I have a great house, am studying and keep busy with various things and just love being on my own. I have met people but the people of this town don’t really accept you unless you were born here…….yawn!! Christchurch is only 3 hours away and all my besties live there and my daughter is only an hour away so I can get to see them all quite easily.
    I hear your lonliness and your fear that you aren’t good at close-proximity friendships – Ithink you are, you just aren’t really open to them right now. All part of your journey.
    I love your blog…..

    • Thank you so much for your comments. I didn’t see it that way! It is hard to balance your work personality if you don’t really identify with a lot of people there and they don’t identify with you. It’s easy to say, “I’m here to work and not make friends.” But a pleasant work environment where you have at least one person you can be yourself with makes a world of difference. I have one person who is what I’d call a mentor of womanhood. She’s older than me, but we get along so well and I share a lot of ideas and thoughts with her. If it wasn’t for her, I’d feel like a complete hermit! I’m so sorry to hear about the earthquakes, but I am glad to hear you are alright and have been able to start over.

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