I don’t like to walk away from things. My natural inclination is to stick with something (a project, an employer, a social group) until I am absolutely forced to shift away. I am loyal to a fault; once you have my attention, you will find it hard to get rid of me. And I will put up with a lot of crap, take it on as a challenge, not realizing that others may not find repeated evidence of injustices inflicted as challenging as I do. My typical mode is that of self-sacrifice for the benefit of the whole.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about WHY that is. I will stick around long after my presence is appreciated and will only walk away when I feel like I have been given no other choice. When my company redesigned the office, removing all of our semi-private cubicle spaces, replacing them with rows of desks in a light and bright open office, I was 100% prepared to quit. As plans for this renovation were made known, I started voicing my concerns about how it would be impossible for me to continue doing my job (that I actually enjoy) because of the physical environment in the office. Nobody listened to or heard my concerns. This is the event that brought about my autism diagnosis, as apparently the perceived threat of an ADA lawsuit was a little bit more compelling than my earlier repeated statements of my situation.
Yes, this all occurred about 6 months before the onset of the pandemic. And yes, we have now been operating nearly 100% remotely for the last 2.5 years. And yes, the company has decided to move forward from a remote-first perspective, electing to further shrink their physical office footprint in lieu of demanding employees return to the office. This decision was made relatively early in the pandemic era, so good for them. They saw the writing on the wall.
The problem is that all the top-down initiatives designed to “increase engagement” across the company have missed their mark and I believe I know why… they have been focused on giving perks away to individuals, which feels more like a bribe, than to build a relationship that includes investment, growth and a deepening of real connection to purpose. One can take all the free online yoga classes during their unpaid lunch hour, but can’t I just get that shit on YouTube? I mean, why would I even want my employer involved with that? My employer wants to pay for my subscription to a password manager? Great, give me money and I’ll go take care of that on my own. I’ve been using the same one for years and this sort of intrusion by my employer into my personal business is a complete non-starter for me. Even if the company can claim to having our best interests in mind, which I have no reason to believe is true, the actual effect of these company-provided perks is to make your decision about leaving for greener employment pastures JUST a little more difficult.
The fact of the matter is that I should have really quit my job about 12 years ago. I could say I did not because I was young and stupid, or that I didn’t know my worth, but neither of those statements fully captures my situation. I sometimes feel as though my career occurred during the wrong time. Loyalty was rewarded during the time of the careers of my mentors. My father spent his entire career working for the federal government and in exchange, we had an extremely modest upbringing, money for college, strong communities built across his “work family” (both my sister and I took informal internships with my dad’s coworkers and had our horizons expanded while we were still in high school/college), AND an actual “old school” RETIREMENT. How many people might make similar choices and tradeoffs today? I know I would.
And that brings me to another context for this topic. I’ve been playing with my band for about 15 years now. For the most part, I’ve been extraordinarily happy. My attendance is better than many and I truly enjoy playing with and spending time with these people, many of whom have become like a second family to me. And yet events of late have forced me into a situation where I am expected to accept other people’s version of events over the one I know to be true and there is nothing I can do about it. Either I stay, committing to never bringing up an incident that absolutely occurred during our last practice, but it’s apparently remembered very differently by certain parties, or I leave with my dignity intact. If you had told me even 1 month ago that I would be put in this situation, I would not have believed it. In fact, what occurred in the practice was so outrageous that I seriously had to stop myself from responding in the moment and causing the disruption I wanted to. My first inclination was not to step up for myself, but to allow practice to continue without drawing attention to the slight. Perhaps if I had been a little less constrained at the time, I would not be in this position, but here we are.
During practice, one of our board members, the elected leadership group of the band, used an ableist slur to describe me to a newer member who is a friend. I did not bring it up in real time because I was honestly not sure what reaction I could have that wouldn’t absolutely blow up the practice, which had only just started, and more importantly, made my carpool partner feel like she had to leave early and miss out or make me wait for her. So I let it slide, playing through the anger and hurt helped me process and remember that I did nothing to cause the verbal utterance of this other person. She has expressed negative feelings toward me in the past, despite consistently ending our communications with “I still love you, though” and other such disingenuous niceties.
I am sharing all this as a precursor to my next post where I will actually share my first email to the board as a whole, the response from one board member (not CCing the entire group to which I addresses my complaint) and my reply to that email. I will be removing all identifying information to protect everyone, innocent or not. From those messages, you will see that my decision to leave the group is based on the action (or non-action) taken by the board based on my report of harassment, which the band has existing bylaws to address. My request was not difficult to fulfill nor inappropriate and did not even include an admission or statement specifically from the perpetrator, but merely an apology from the board and an official assurance of future vigilance which will apparently not be forthcoming, at least in the near term.
While I do still dearly love my job and my band communities, the time may be upon me to make some big changes.