The other day at work, I got really angry. REALLY angry. I was bullied, a target of others’ egos– and it resulted in my feeling weak. During the conversation, I held my own and then some, and eavesdroppers later congratulated me on my assertiveness and strength. But inside, after the altercation, I was rattled.
Every job contains its own politics and its own drama. My choosing not to partake in either led to this argument. At one point, I actually said, “You can play whatever games you’d like on your side of the building, but I won’t play them on mine. If you’d like to play, I’m sure there’s a playground nearby.” After twenty minutes, I got off the phone angry and disparaged, and looked at my wall that bears the quote from Marcus Aurelius: “How much more grievous are the consequences of anger, than the causes of it?
I find that whenever I speak strongly, it takes so much strength and will out of me. It’s like the moment I say something meaningful out loud, its worth and power leave my body and disintegrate into the air in which it is spoken… and when I finish the conversation, I am brittle. I need spinach afterwards to regain my strength.
I am often reminded “if you have a job doing what you love, you’ll never work another day in your life.” It sounds so easy. Thankfully, I’m able to say that I don’t dislike my job. I know my way around it, inside and out, so that I rule my roost with tact and assertiveness. But I lack a compass to show me the direction that lies ahead. And I’m feeling amazingly stuck. I do recognize everyday how lucky I am to have a job, and how fortunate I am to consider all these important choices with a paycheck that pays my rent. But I’ve read that “how you spend your days is how you spend your life,” and I can tell you I want to spend my life and my days differently.
I usually stay away from talking about my therapy sessions in this forum, but hey, I’ve had a glass of wine and a Benadryl, to ensure I sleep more than four hours tonight. I’m on my way to becoming Ellen Burstyn from“Requiem for a Dream.” But I digress.
My therapy sessions have focused more recently on my family, which I’m sure they’re thrilled to read. Maybe I should have saved this for after Christmas. Ah well. I realized, from my point of view, that each of my four siblings fit a role. I won’t get into my definition of the “Individual Roles According to Eileen,” because I don’t want phone calls after this. But I’ll tell you the role with which I defined myself – I was the one that got A’s, went to a good school, went BACK to school, and was supposed to make something of herself. However, over the years, my decisions have veered me off a path of fortune. I’m no longer the smart, successful one with promise in my family Instead, I make the least amount of money of all of us, and am stuck at my job that doesn’t appreciate my degree and my skills, with zero room for growth. And so I sit, on my Ikea couch, eating lime Tostitos for dinner, wondering what role is up for grabs.
My therapist asked me tonight if I thought I was successful. I scoffed at him, “Of course not!” He asked why I got angry. I said I didn’t get angry, because I never get angry at the questions he asked me that were obvious. And this was an obvious question. I don’t see myself as successful. Ask anyone on the street how they define success – and the responses will be…a great career…. a good salary…a happy family awaiting you at home….a loving partner….
By these definitions I’m not successful. I said to my therapist that I’m triumphant in being on my own for ten years, paying my own way, putting myself through school, and having no debt. But no, not victorious. With everything else that defines success, I just close my eyes and hope to God I’ll get there.
For a project in my last semester of school, I asked someone close to me to define success. She is a 63 year-old woman, who bore four wonderful children and lived a life of complexity…and she preempted by saying that she would answer this question much differently than if had asked her a few decades ago. But still she said, “I would say that success is reflected in the compassion that you showed, the love you gave, the comfort you offered – to your loved ones, to friends, to strangers….If at the end of my life I can say that I offered these up more often than I withheld them and made life easier for others more often than I burdened them, then I would feel that would be a measure of my success.”
I hope that one day soon I can define success in this way. Right now, it’s so hard to do so with all of the extraneous details that pull us towards other definitions. But if I can offer compassion, love and comfort to others (and myself) a little bit more everyday, than maybe I can find my new role within my family and my own place in this world.