Wednesday, October 14, 2015

(Better) Realized: Thoughts on working hard and being liked.


Life lately has looked something like this: work, eat, sleep, repeat. (Family time is sprinkled in where I can get it.) Last Sunday I transitioned to 12-hour shifts, and for those of you who've done it, you get it. On the days you work you do little else. Mom guilt, wife guilt, and When will I get all of this done?! moments of panic appear to be the norm. The bonus is that I get four days off a week, and though not sequential, I still expect to get my poop in a group and start GRE prep + professional shadowing + entrance exam writing, like, right now. Because second to the overwhelming respect I have for caregivers is the desire not to be one for the rest of my life. Don't get me wrong: I love the people and pinch myself every time I get to watch a procedure or assist with wound care. The nurses, knowing I aspire to something more, patiently answer my numerous questions with kindness and generosity. I hear all day how well I'm doing, how perfect I am for the job, and although flattering and affirmational, I see that there are very few people who are meant for the job and stick around long-term. The ones that are amazing with the patients and proactive and internally motivated always seem to be thinking What's next?.

I'm proud of my work ethic. Of my ability to think outside the box and do without being asked. I can think and act simultaneously, a quality I have worked to develop. But this has caused friction with my coworkers, because who wants to be told all day everyday how great the other person is when you share the same job title. I've seen a lot of human nature lately. Working in critical care puts you face-to-face with fear, pain, sorrow and hope. What's more, it has exposed me to the jealousy, guilt, resentment, and self-doubt of others. You see, we all know those people: the ones who do what you want to do so effortlessly. The thin, beautiful cousin who seems to have everything. The classmate who doesn't study but aces the test you struggled to pass. The coworker who has a nicer house and car than you and can still afford to take a tropical vacation every year. The person who has already tackled your aspirations and are on to the next thing.

I have spent a lot of time putting myself in my coworkers' shoes lately, and had an empathetic epiphany last night: I'm that person for some of my peers. In my motivation to be more, I have inadvertently exposed their shortcomings. All those years spent doing the bare minimum, creating an environment of low expectation, are over now that I've set the bar higher. I didn't mean to rock the boat, but doing what comes naturally to me seems to have done just that. The good things about me, my hard work for instance, has made me popular with the doctors and nurses, but unpopular among some of my peers. And that kind of sucks. Because I'm not a person that doesn't care what people think of me. I don't view my situation as temporary, though it is, because I'm trying to learn and earn my stripes and one can't properly do that with one foot out the door. And so I'm left to mend fences I didn't break, and practice diplomacy when sometimes it pains me to do so. (Let's not even delve into the nastiness that is talking behind one's back.) You see, I'm not the statuesque coworker or the rich coworker or any of the superficial causes of envy and resentment. What I am is the coworker who digs in and does what's necessary to learn the ropes, gain the experience, and earn the references I need for graduate school. I need the respect and admiration of my supervisors, for them to see my value within the department, but I also want my peers to like me.

How did we get to a place in our culture where a woman's hard work is perceived as backstabbing and her confidence as bitchiness? Why can't we use each other as motivation as opposed to viewing each other as competition? The purpose of my work ethic is not to shine a light on the weaknesses of others, despite its innate ability to make lapses in productivity more apparent. My desire to go above and beyond the standard job description isn't a slight and should not be perceived as one. So why am I spending part of my workday pointing out my coworker's strengths, not out of genuine admiration, but to soothe bruised egos (and therefore keep the peace)? Everyone has something to offer, an invaluable quality unique to them, so why is the uglier side of human nature so darn easy to trigger? Personal aspiration doesn't make me any less human, but it does seem to shroud my more human qualities; my kindness, humor, flexibility, and an eagerness to help all get obscured by their desire to, at best, make us equals (though we already are) and, at worst, put me in a place of inferiority.

Occasionally I am reminded that we never really leave high school, and this is one such instance.

This last Saturday brought about another birthday. I'm a year older and a year wiser. (I hope.) I don't put a lot of pressure on birthdays, but it is certainly a time for evaluation and reflection: Am I where I want to be? Am I doing what I want to be doing? Am I doing what I should be doing? Am I a year closer to achieving my goals? Am I living a life I can be proud of, doing the things that bring about happiness, and showing the people I love enough affection and gratitude? This year, perhaps for the first time, I can answer yes to every one of those questions. Though never without a healthy dose of second-guessing, I know I'm on the right path. At the end of the day, that's what I hang my hat on.

Still, as much as I'd like to think I'm above people-pleasing, I'm not. But I've learned some valuable lessons along the way: there are some people you just can't please; being true to yourself is more important than being liked (by everyone); and if your hard work ruffles feathers, you must be doing something right.

Oh, and I have a voice. Use it to hold people accountable. Use it to build bridges. Use it to stand up for yourself.

Just use it.