Are you a young professional or pretending to be one? Do you have trouble with acknowledging your shortcomings and choose instead to deny their existence for your own self-preservation? Let me be the first to say: Thank Jesus, I’m not alone.
What’s up slackers of the world! Fellow procrastinator and terrible relations-keeper here to spin a tale of bad behaviors and the justifications that make up for their overall shittyness. Think of this as a lighthearted way to damn my own shortcomings in adulthood so that I may laugh at them here and then grow the hell up.
If you relate to my sentiments, then this is the listicle for you. Curious listeners gather for this round of advice-giving; it is sure to be a sweet and relatable sermon.
Never was I one to excel with relationships involving authority. Call it nerves or anxiety or whatever but the real grit of the matter lies in my inability to not take things personally. In these made up dramas I am cast as the inflictor or inflicted of impropriety. My head starts to spin wild scenarios out of thin air; ones that involve me being derided for things that, when really studied closely, garner no such reaction at all. I see hurricanes when all I should really expect is a slap on the wrist.
Example: in college I had the opportunity to work in a microbiology lab for a professor and her doctoral students. What started out as a golden chance to prove my worth in this field ended in a metaphorical heap of flaming garbage. The devolution of something so good into something so rotten is one I will now attempt to dissect.
Unfortunately this one example is not unique. I do this shit all of the time, nearly without fail. My ideal form of self-improvement would be to override this weird impulse to fail epically and actually, successfully, maintain a good standing in whatever field I’m in. Fingers crossed this year is my year!
Until then, allow me to lay it all out there. Future self, this one is for you.
Here it is: my secret formula to burning bridges and ruining professional relationships in four easy steps.
1 Refuse to Address Your Own Problems
I know my flaws pretty well now that I am old and wise enough to practice introspection. For instance, I know I like to cut corners with things if the option to do so exists. I am a sucker for the easy way out and hate having to do work that fails to entertain me. Unlike the noble few that can suck up their pride and do the hard stuff, I would far rather cut to the finish line and get caught for cheating.
Flaws are intrinsic to humanity; everyone has them. The key is knowing oneself enough to identify these flaws and work to overcome them. For as long as I remember, I refused this noble practice, opting instead for intense denial. Though this strategy is one I employed from day one to around now, its success rate in the professional realm still hovers at zero.
Ignoring my preference for being a lazy asshole rarely provided results.At least not in the way I wanted it to. However, refusing to address this issue made the whole lighting the flame thing a cakewalk.
Special step: once caught, deny vehemently until the idea of possessing such negative traits seems taboo. Then, continue to make these same mistakes over and over again.
With my lab job, this was my downfall. I was terribly disorganized and making up measurements as I went along. A common knowledge of lab science advises very much against this practice as it sort of nullifies all the work done. Turns out estimation in this way makes faulty results. Half-assing meant redoing the same experiment over and over again to no avail. I was forced to march into my professor’s office empty-handed time and again. She was always gracious about the lack of progress. In fact, she was never negative or condescending in any way.
Enter major flaw number three: misinterpreting other people’s involvement.
So I may slightly feel like the world revolves around me. I could also say that I think people think about me far more than they actually do. Even so far as saying that every person I work with has a personal vendetta with me and all of the hijinks I am capable of.
Am I annoying? No. Is this mindset annoying? Absolutely.
2 Fail to Separate Professional Relationships from Personal Ones
Call it an inflated sense of self worth or irrational paranoia; either diagnosis fits the symptoms. Every relationship I forge, regardless of context, is seen as entirely personal. This may seem like a pleasant way of approaching communications with other humans and it typically is. Professionally, however, yeah, not so much. Personal means that the impact of actions from either party carry different connotations.
For me, this looked like authority figures that resented me because I would go days without catching them up to speed with things. Of course, the idea that these PROFESSIONALS that had so much more on their plates beyond dealing with my minuscule problems did not seem to cross my mind nor alleviate the projected stress I began to harbor over the idea. Thus I would continue to avoid interacting with them as to not stir the pot of perceived resentment any further.
The avoidance move does far more harm than good. Colleagues take it differently than intended– said intention being something I cannot even try define– and simply remove the idea of collaboration from their minds entirely. I stopped existing to these people because of my fears over fake confrontation.
Back to my continued example of my lab experience; by the end of the three semesters I spent working there, the final one saw me going into the lab about 15 percent as often as when I originally began. I stopped interacting with the team not because I did not like them, on the contrary I liked them very much, but more so because I thought they were judging my self-afflicted incompetence. I could hear the fake gossip about me like sirens in my head. Only when the sun had set did I find peaceful solace in doing my work.
So, very, dumb. Let us not forget why labs offer their spaces to undergraduate students. The main reason is for the guidance and mentorship given to students as they trial and error their way through student hood. My stubbornness refused this luxury to me, instead opting for a solo nosedive down a wormhole that ultimately ended in me achieving nothing and losing the respect of my superiors.
What a great tradeoff.
3 Perceive Simple Gestures as Confrontation
As this awkward cycle reached a climax, confrontation was the natural follow-up. Of course, the definition of confrontation is only loosely applied to what I received after existing as a phantom in the lab for the last months working there. My advisor asked to meet with me.
This was the most anxiety-inducing news I think I received that semester.
The days leading up to the planned meeting were spent restlessly tossing and turning about as I played every dramatic scenario that could possibly await me. I saw fire in my fever dreams and tried desperately to concoct a strategy for extinguishing it.
All of that mental energy spent devising a way to escape perceived doom was lost. I feel it would have been put to far better use in the actual lab itself but alas! I was still on step 2 of my guide.
Here’s the thing about working relationships: nobody craves conflict in these settings. All employees wish only for smooth operations so that they can focus on the work at hand. Personal relations are kept outside of the office and when a problem arises, like a student who seemingly haunts the lab after hours, it is dealt with swiftly and civilly. No hard feelings. Even a dismissal is not personal.
Unless you are an irrational human being like me.
I saw red flags everywhere. As soon as I caught wind of dissatisfaction with my work I removed myself even more. In my mind I was avoiding the seemingly inevitable shitstorm that awaited me lest I linger. The situation was nowhere near close to this level of blowing up but in my head I was teetering over the edge and about to make the plunge.
All of that projected gossip about me, all of the secret plans to out me and shame my name so that I may never revive my reputation, every misinterpreted look in my direction sent me to the conclusion of my methodology. This is not exclusive to the lab, by the way. I recently managed a feat similar to this in other realms of my professional life. Hence why I am writing this.
I have got to change this stupid habit, dammit!
But not before pulling the ultimate whammy one more time. What is the best way to avoid confrontation, one may ask. Simple, evaporate into nothing and repurpose, baby. Karlie? Sounds familiar… Yeah, I think we had a girl like that in our office once. She seemed kind and hard-working but then she sort of…
Yes, folks. The final key to childlike behavior in the adult realm is to disappear from whatever work force and hope to goodness that they do not ask questions. Fortunately, I am pretty on the money with my hypothesis that people care little to pursue someone that willingly removed their existence from the community. This is how I typically like to end careers. Instead of quitting or resigning or whatever, I merely go off the radar. Works wonders.
Let me get real now. This pattern of behavior was one I subscribed to because I felt like it was preserving my fragile sense of self. I wanted to prevent the impending and natural conflicts that occur when working with others that, when dealt with swiftly, do not have the opportunity to fester. Confrontation was never a strong suit of mine but I think laying out my evasion dance in this way is going to help me ditch this in favor of the easier alternative. So what, confrontation is shitty. It can’t be as bad as this horror show.
This anecdote, this list, is the end of this phase for me. At least I wish for it to be. Habits can be hard to break but maybe mapping them out in this way is a good place to start. To say this pattern that is so ingrained in my life will leave me easily is kidding myself. But I will be damned if I don’t try. Small steps in the right direction.
I don’t want to disappear anymore.