A few years ago, my company had a two-day working seminar that was all around increasing diversity in the company. The workshop was an incredibly intense two days filled with mental and physical activities designed to open people up and get them to really examine their feelings. I had never experienced anything quite like it before, and I remembered at the end of the second day, truly feeling like something had changed in me. A few moments really stand out to me, when I think back on that experience. Having to be lifted over two guys heads, blindfolded, and put through a small hole in a “spider web” configuration. Being in a circle with people in a “lifeboat” situation and having to decide who would live and who would die, and the enormous responsibility I felt when I was chosen as one of the three people who would live. But mostly I remember the very last activity we did. We had to write our greatest fear on a board and then say it out loud in front of the group and smash the board in half with our foot.
I was panicked. The initial fear I wrote, wasn’t quite the truth, and the second wasn’t the whole truth either. Finally when almost everyone else had gone, I wrote my truest greatest fear on the board and when I stood in front of everyone to announce it I froze. Writing it was hard enough, but saying it out loud, even to this group of people I felt incredibly close to was almost impossible. I opened my mouth to speak and nothing would come out. Everyone was clapping and cheering and it was so loud, but despite all that I heard one of the instructors say, very quietly, “You can do this.” So I said “Fear of Rejection” out loud and then I broke the board.
The instructor who spoke to me was a retired SWAT commander and later I asked him about the intensity of these classes versus his previous job, and he seriously said it was different but just as intense. Take a bunch of middle-aged, uptight business managers, throw them into a room and make them talk to each other about real things for two days and you will be surprised what happens. One person came out that he was gay (the first time he had said it out loud in over 20 years with the company). Another talked about the abuse in her past and her struggles with weight loss. Everyone had a story. Everyone had deep-seated fears. And many people finally felt they were in a safe enough place to share them.
I on the other hand couldn’t speak beyond saying the fear out loud. I knew where it came from of course, but I had no idea that this was at the root of so many issues in my life. I could see so many choices that were made because of that fear. So many paths I might have taken if my almost pathological need to not be rejected had not made me what I was. Things didn’t start to change overnight of course. Real change is hard, and rarely occurs like a light switch, at least not for me. But if I look back into my life, I really believe that moment of admitting the truth and breaking the board, was the beginning of my full timing journey. I don’t know if I would have been able to do this if that moment had not happened, because coloring inside the lines of my life was the best chance I had not to be rejected.
I tell you this because something happened today and I need to put it in context of that story. I found out that I will not be getting the $250 bonus from the beet harvest. On the surface of things, this is not a huge deal, and frankly not all that surprising. $250 is not a small amount of money, but it certainly won’t break the bank, and as I wrote about in my post Some Thoughts on Social Media and Work when I made the decision to continue writing my blog through the beet harvest experience I knew there might be consequences. I could have been fired immediately, but instead the agriculturist decided to keep my bonus. I even sort of get it. It was her first year in a tough job and having someone chronicle the experience must have been really tough on her. I tried to be fair, but I can see why she would be pissed. I did call by the way and asked Express Employment if they knew why, but the comment section was blank and since the bonus is totally discretionary, she didn’t need to provide a reason. I won’t even know if I am on the Do Not Rehire list until next August and again I was told they rarely receive reasons why, but it is almost always based on performance.
One thing I do know for sure was this isn’t about performance. I worked hard all the way until the end and did more than my fair share. Still, as I tell my kids, life isn’t always fair, and maybe in this case it was all she could do to register her complaint. It feels petty though, and kind of mean, and since I went to great lengths to be neither petty nor mean in my blog posts I am pretty sure I didn’t deserve it. Still, actions have consequences, and this is my consequence for telling my truth. That’s what the rational adult part of my brain is saying. And if that is the only side of me that was dealing with this, I’d be OK. But that’s not all we are dealing with here. I’m a person who has just been rejected and on a professional level, which is rarely something that happens to me. Well it rarely happened to the old me, and that’s because I spent a ton of time not making waves, or no more waves than I felt I could politically survive. For the first time, ever, I put my job on the line over something I really believed in and I was rejected. And can I just say it really sucks that Lee wasn’t rejected? He got his bonus, which somehow makes the whole thing worse. If we had both gotten rejected I think I could have dealt with it better, but it was just me.
So the question is, how am I going to handle it? I can stop blogging, or start blogging a more sanitized version. I can ignore it and hope it never happened again. I can be mad and cause a fuss. Write letters to the president of the company, call the agriculturist and demand an explanation, go on rants on social media etc. I can refuse to take responsibility and blame it on them, blame it on Lee, blame it on society. But none of those things will come close to dealing with the real issue, which is me. I understand that the only way for me to get over this fear of rejection is to put myself in situations where I am rejected and deal with it. And you have to understand for me this is like an arachnophobic putting their hand in a ajar of spiders. Just thinking about it makes my skin crawl. That’s how much I hate rejection.
But do you know what I hate more? I hate being held hostage by this fear. I hate how it affects my life, my work, and my relationships in a hundred different ways. I hate that I am not braver. And most of all I hate that I believe I will never meet my full potential without letting go of this fear. At 50, I simply refuse to allow that to be my story. So I am accepting what happened as a consequence of the choice I made. If the hard work and dedication I showed during the harvest did not outweigh the possible negative consequences of anything I wrote, I understand. Ultimately it’s business, not personal, and none of us may ever know the lasting impact (if any) to future beet harvests of anything I wrote. Actually just writing that it sounds pretty silly. The beets will be planted and someone will end up harvesting them and if I may have turned a few people off, I am sure many others will be equally intrigued. I can say anyone who reads it will have a better idea than I did of what they are getting into, and that should be a good thing for both the employer and the employees.
All of that aside though, writing helped me get through the experience. It made it somehow worthwhile and got me through some pretty long and miserable days. As I have said before, chronicling these experiences matters to me. Putting it out there takes courage, and every time I open myself up to rejection and instead get a positive response, I win a little victory and take one more step towards conquering the fear. Every time I open myself up and get criticism it does the same thing of course, but that’s not nearly as nice lol. This blog has gone beyond being about any particular job or even about full timing, although that is the catalyst for the change. It’s about discovering who I am as a person and becoming my best self. Sometimes it’s boring, sometimes it’s messy, and sometimes I flat-out get it wrong, but it’s my life. No one gets to censor that but me.
Update: About a week after I posted this I received my bonus in my checking account. I have no idea what prompted the change of heart, but I do know that it wasn’t a clerical error as my one phone call to the temporary company did verify that I was marked to not receive the bonus. Whatever the reason, I do appreciate it.
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