I Am The Man

So, it’s been nearly a month since I posted here. I have found myself so busy with work at my “Day Job” that I have scarcely had time to dedicate to more “artistic” pursuits.

I often joke that I “spend my days working for The Man”. I find almost everything about Corporate America somewhat distasteful, with the exception of the paycheck that I receive for doing my time. I will not find my life’s calling in an office setting, but it keeps the lights on and my kids fed.

I don’t really feel like I’m working for “The Man” the way I used to. I recognize that I’m fortunate enough to have choices, and that I have chosen to work where I do. I also recognize that I’m blessed to even be employed, so I’m not complaining about the work. Also, it seems that my resistance to “the powers that be” is fading over time — it’s not as objectionable as it once was. Whether that has to do with my age or my position, I’m not sure.

There are individuals who report to me at my place of employment. I’m not wild about managing people – it’s not fun, it’s not easy, and it’s sometimes not pleasant — but it’s part of the job and so I do it. There’s a part of me that thinks it is silly for a grown person to be subordinate to another grown person, but that’s the nature of work: someone has to be in charge.

I recently had a situation at work where I became privy to electronic conversations that were not meant to be seen by me. The “how” and “why” of it is a long and boring story, so I’ll just say this: if one sends personal e-mail from one’s work e-mail account, one really ought to be smart and delete these messages, for one never knows who is going to read them.

I discovered these e-mails in the aftermath of some personnel drama at work, and I’ll admit that –at first– my ego was a bit stung. To find out that these people, with whom I spend so much time, have less-than-favorable opinions of me was a little hard to accept. While some of them are people who I hardly know, a couple of them I know well – they report directly to me. And the tone and tenor of the e-mails I read was incongruent with how these people interacted with me in the office — at least to my face, anyway.

Eventually the initial sting of the discovery started to fade – after all, what I read wasn’t “fact”, it was just gossip, and I simply heard things I wasn’t meant to hear. But after the shock wore off, what was left was a genuine sense of confusion.

These people that I work with viewed me as “The Man”.

This probably should have occurred to me before, but it honestly never has. I’ve managed people for over twenty years, and this is the first time that it occurred to me that any of them might see me as a symbol of oppression. Maybe it’s because I never looked at these people as “below” me, or as “under” me – I really have always looked at my direct reports as team members, with me being the guy who usually had to deliver the bad news or enforce the unpopular policies (and occasionally being the guy who gets to promote someone or give them a raise).

Really? Me? A symbol of oppression? The Man keeping you down? Are you kidding?

I still shake my head at the thought. I mean, I’ve stopped clinging to my belief that I’m a “Nice Guy” because I’m not. I used to think I was, but really that was just a lie I told myself to justify some sort of inaction or piece of denial I was holding on to. I can be a real asshole sometimes, intentionally or otherwise, and so if I can own that, why is it hard for me to own the fact that I could be seen as an asshole at work?

That’s a question that has answers, but to go down that path will just have me chasing my own tail. I am a man who tries every day to be kind and respectful and honest with people; some days I succeed, and some days I fail. There are no absolutes – I’m not “always” this way or “always” that way. The important thing is that I know who I am, I know what I am, and I keep trying to improve.

So if I’m doing my best (and I’ve come to believe that every person, every day, is doing the best they can on that particular day), then why should I care if someone comes along and thinks that I’m a jerk? It’s not as though their thoughts can harm me (unless I let them).

I’ve learned that what other people think of me is none of my business. I can try to deal in that business, but the cost is my own inner peace. I usually end up on the losing end in those transactions.

Although I’m usually kind, respectful and honest with the people I work with, those people don’t “know” me. They have no idea who I am, where I’ve come from, what I’ve been through, what I value, what I fear, what I love. They have no idea of the man that I really am.

They see the corporate representation of myself that I put forth Monday through Friday. They don’t see me as I am in “real life”. They see a man in Dockers and Clarks and a button-down shirt, not the guy in cargo shorts and flip-flops and a well-worn t-shirt that is my uniform for my off-hours. They see a man who sits in an office at a desk that holds photographs of children. They don’t see the guy who is up all night when those children are sick, who wants to weep when they are hurt, who lies awake sometimes worrying about their future. They see a man who enforces policies that sometimes make no sense. They don’t see the guy who struggles with enforcing rules with which he doesn’t personally agree.

Some people want to have someone to rail against in their work lives. Maybe it helps them feel bigger, more powerful, to build themselves up by tearing someone else down. Maybe it serves them to paint themselves as victims, as being held back by forces beyond their control. Maybe they’re just not happy unless they’re miserable.

I suppose it could be worse – they could be like me. I want everyone to like me. I want everyone to love me. I want everyone to be my friend. I want everyone to want me as their friend. I want adoration. I want fame. I want a following. I want groupies. I want awards. I want songs written about me.  I want to be a legend. I want to be everything to everyone. I want to control the universe.

See where this thinking gets me? If I think that I’d be happy if everyone liked me, I’m just fooling myself — I always want more. Because for me, more is better.

I know me. I know what kind of man I am. And it’s only my judgment of me that really counts. Other people’s judgments of me don’t matter. They are going to see what they want to see. Some see me as a good person, a kind and caring father and friend. Others see me as – well, as something less noble. They see me as “The Man”. And that’s okay.

As far as I’m concerned, they’re right: I am The Man.