… on taking time to smell the offices
September 14, 2016
When I was a younger version of me, still in my teens, I was going to community college and had signed up with a ‘temp agency’ for some summer work because a friend told me that I could make good money and not touch food and probably not deal with the general public.
Mostly I was assigned to companies who needed cheap labor to stuff envelopes for a marketing campaign, or to temporarily recept when the receptionist was away for her (or his, but mostly her) summer vacation.
I got extremely good at recepting.
Anyway, after a while I was offered a real job from one of the companies I was temping at, and I was so excited because I never thought anyone would want to hire me for a full-time job… which is funny, because – if I was not working toward a full-time job – why was I going to community college?
Obviously I had no clue.
Soon it would dawn on me that – though I had been raised in a house – my exposure to the real world, and surviving in it, was gravely limited and this probably explains my identification with Mowgli in The Jungle Book.
Well, I got that secretary job, which put me on a path that took me to places I could not have dreamed of.
Like… to offices.
Initially I had no aspirations for an office. I was working at a real company, in a building with elevators, and I had my own desk. An office was way beyond my dreams. An office was for someone who had a big deal degree and did the stuff people there did and I could never ever do.
I was in possession of exactly zero soothing voices in my head telling me that anything was possible.
There were, however, several utterances that became vociferations and then roars telling me I was living in a fantasy land if I thought I could do what these people did and who the Hell did I think I was?
But as I worked with these people – software engineers, scientists, psychologists, husbands, wives (friends, Romans, countrymen), I realized that they were all… human.
Just like me.
Humans who went to college, who stuck it out and learned stuff that was hard to learn.
Humans who didn’t poo poo each others’ accomplishments. As a matter of fact they seemed to actually cheer each other on (wHierd).
These people believed they could do cool work, on cool stuff, in cool places.
And they were riotously funny, saw my ability to quote Monty Python’s Holy Grail as a surprising asset for their team…
And, yes, did you see that?
I was a part of a team.
Part of something fun, and amazing, and cool, and smart and challenging.
It was like walking into a new dimension.
After a while, I began to dream a little.
Maybe one day I could be someone who had an office.
But the voices said I could never…
Screw the voices.
And a few years later, it happened.
One day, I actually packed up a box and moved right next door to my secretary desk, into my own office with a brass name holder thingie on the wall to the left of the door. And the morning I moved in, our wicked nice head of maintenance named Bob Mahoney smiled at me and pronounced my office “good digs” as he unwrapped, and then slid, my very own plastic name plate into that holder.
I still remember how that day smelled.
I know, ‘Take time to stop and smell the offices’ doesn’t sound as prose-ical as ‘Take time to smell the roses’, but you get it.
And from there, over the years, offices came and went – some teeny and some big, some in corners (most not) – and each time I moved into a new one I gave a silent nod to that younger version of me who whispered ‘screw the voices’ into my brain long ago.
It was never about the actual office, of course. It wasn’t about prestige or a symbol of power or status. My feelings about my office were deeply personal, reminders that a career, a life I was told was beyond me was not. And a broader reminder that the next thing someone told me – or I dared to believe – was impossible, might not be.
And now I have created what might be my favorite office ever.
My desk, literally, pulled from a dirty and dusty ‘give away’ pile in the garage, a bookcase and small writing desk serving other purposes. A rug from Overstock.com to keep my feet off of a chilly floor during Maine winters.
The sounds of Xerox machines have been replaced by the ‘bub, bub, bub‘ of lobster boats outside my window.
Instead of a cracker-jack assistant outside my door (who knows my proclivity for quoting movies and tv shows and survived his or her interview by knowing how to respond), I’ve got visiting ShepHerds, who bring gifts of sniffs and kisses and the occasionally beheaded moose.
It also has excellent proximity to the facilities, and is only one floor up from the executive dining room.
I keep walking by it – my new office – smiling.
I have a real office. One that, for the first time, isn’t special because it was given to me by someone else who judged me, and my work worthy.
This one was given to me, by me, and it too is something that my teenage-self could not dare to dream of.
One day I will have a room of my own in a house by the sea in Maine. In this place I will think and dream surrounded by salt air, the sound of seagulls and boats, and I will have two dogs and a family I love and I will write, and write, and write.
I have been told, many times, that something – an idea, a passion, even love or a functional family – is impossible. That it won’t work, that I can’t do it, shouldn’t try, or – if I do succeed in any of these things (or others), that I’m wrong – it’s not as good as I think it is, that it’s all an illusion that will all come tumbling down. Just watch.
And I’ve listened to too many fellow humans who have been told similar things about their lives and dreams.
But here’s the thing. The nay-sayers and lower expectation-ers operate from a deficit, building walls for reasons of their own, projecting the hows or whens or whos or whys of their own experiences onto the worlds of others.
This is not a new idea, it goes back a long long way.
No, really, a long long long way.
“Because a thing seems difficult for you, do not think it impossible for anyone to accomplish.”
That Marcus Aurelius guy.
Sure, a few issues with succession planning, but that quote?
It’s a good one.
Thanks for readin’.
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