So, I introduced this blog saying it would be about nothing exciting. So far, I think I've managed that bit.
But what about the "driving, working, living and breathing" part of my life in the desert? Where do I start? Do I talk a bit about everything, a lot about one thing, endlessly about nothing? Do I use this page as a confessional, as a motivational blank canvas, as a sounding board, as a vehicle for learning, as a Xanadu (1) within which to capture the fantastic, the ridiculous, the almost fictitious life space I currently occupy?
I'm still not sure. I'm going to wing it. I guess I'll just write, and see where it takes me. I'm not sure there will be a flow. Bear with me. Or not. There is plenty to bore you silly in this big wide world; I see no reason why I should hold exclusive rights to that privilege.
I guess it makes sense to start with what occupies my almost constant waking moment: my job. My job, my job, my job, my job .... it's the little squirrel that is furiously and endlessly running on the exercise wheel that has settled in my brain. Around, and around, and around, and around. In a very, very, very bad way ....
Writing about my job in a bad way is almost like desecrating ancient holy ground. I was brought up with an insanely strong work ethic engrained in me. Not in a bad way. My father's most lasting and cherished words to me will forever be: "If you find a job you love, you'll never work another day in your life."
I saw his love and his passion for his work from the earliest moment I can remember. I can still see him coming home from work every day, steel toed boots on his feet, foreman's hard hat still on his head, always smiling when he came through the door, always calling out "allllllooooo" in his booming French voice. I heard him talk shop a lot, I heard him engage in heated debates involving the job, but I never heard him gripe. He always told me he felt privileged to get up healthy enough every morning to get up and go to work.
I've been told that when he was a younger man, he worked as a logger, a millwright, a steel worker, a carpenter, a miner, a fisherman ... When I was nine, he built a company from the ground up. When I was twelve, he watched it come crashing down around him. When I was thirteen, he successfully rebuilt it. When I was about 30, and he was about 70, he sold it. With regret. There is another set of words I remember resounding in my ears at that time: "My girl, there was never a better time in my life than when I had a mortgage, bills to pay, and a reason to get up and go to the site every morning."
When you grow up in a house where an entire family shares that sense of pride and meaning in what they do, no matter what they do, you naturally engage in the same behavior. You discover what a privilege it is to have a job, to grow in that job, to contribute to society through that job. You begin to discover yourself through your work, through your career. You begin to understand that working is empowering, enriching, validating, even enlightening ... And because of this, you want to be better at it.
My first job was picking strawberries ... one month of picking, sopping wet in a rainy field, with rats sporadically dashing through the strawberry rows, and a bunch of teens desperately seeking that perfectly rotten berry to shoot at a picker two rows down. Every basket picked earned me 25¢, I believe it worked out to 3$ a crate. The top pickers earned up to 75$ a day. At my peak, I think I earned 50$ a day. In fairness, I was thirteen, and I was often waylaid chucking rotten strawberries at my neighbors. I dreamt of strawberries for month. I missed out on the last two days of the picking season because my uncle died and we had to go away to the funeral. I was devastated. For my uncle's passing, obviously, but also because I was missing out on the end-of-year bonfire and bonus. The farmer and his wife graciously still gave me my bonus, but I always felt I'd somehow missed out on that bonfire. Already then, I was discovering that hard toil made the merits all the merrier. I think I earned about 1,000$ that summer. But more than that, I learned that my hands and determination could introduce me to new friends, could be pushed further than I thought possible, could earn me nice clothes and movie nights, could give me freedom (out of the house, away from parents!!!!), and so much more. I have never looked at a strawberry since without wondering whose hands have picked it.
After that, I babysat regularly through my teens, I cleaned houses, I supervised a summer restoration project for a seaside camp operated by a local charitable organization. I was a Spanish tutor, French tutor, night college Spanish instructor, worked selling men's clothing. I volunteered for music festivals, local fairs, sports events. I worked in an amusement park in Toronto one summer. I taught piano. Another summer, I developed, distributed and analyzed a survey for a local woman's organization. After university, I worked as a translator, a consultant, a volunteer manager. I worked in communications, information management, planning, privacy enforcement, branding. I kept on progressing, personally and professionally. I earned my Master's degree while pregnant and working full time.
I loved every single experience in some way or another. I learned through every experience in one way or another. I grew through every experience in one way or another. It seemed that I would never work a day in my life, because every job I had, I loved.
When we moved to the ME, I didn't come for a job. I followed my husband. Whom I loved. With our daughter. Whom I loved. We agreed that once he was established in his job, I would start looking for a new career challenge. I'd been home with our daughter for the last year, so I was quite happy to be a stay-at-home mom, pampered princess, expat wife, even Stepford wife if you like.
I soon grew bored with coffee mornings. After about six months I started looking for a "career". I started off doing a pro bono contract to get myself back into the management lingo and to ease myself back into the market after two years respite. I figured if I didn't produce the goods, at least it would cost no one financially. But once I was back, I was back. My three-month stint earned me big kudos, and a job offer. A wonderful job offer with potential for progression, if not within this company, at least with future employers. I was back!!!!!
And thus began my introduction to working in the ME. # 1: A job offer is just an offer. #2: A contract is just provisional until signed. #3: A signed contract is just provisional until the candidate has undergone medical and state security clearance. And most importantly, #4: A signed contract cleared on the medical and security fronts is still only provisional if the potential employer decides it is so.
So after four months of paperwork, I found myself exactly where I'd begun. Jobless. No explanation, no worries, no rush, I looked elsewhere. I got called in for an interview with another organization. I had no relevant experience: HR procedure development, review and implementation specialist. They still wanted me. But I would have to dress more appropriately. Apparently the inch of skin showing under my neckline would be deemed offensive by some. This coming from the male Canadian who sat across from me and interviewed me in my black pant suit which covered every inch of visible skin except that one below my neckline and my face. I decided I would be happier as a Stepford wife.
I applied to a number of jobs, to no avail. At one point, months before, I had gotten a call from a gentleman who spoke a bunch of British gobbledeegook and promised me endless opportunities within his organization. I never heard back.
I went out for dinner one night with my hubby and friends. While there, I met a senior member of the Gobbledeegooker's team. He asked me to send him my resume. I e-mailed it to him the next day. A day later, he called me, asked me if I'd forego a few formalities and meet him in the industrial city to visit the worksite. I agreed. He arranged for a gate pass, and I went and visited the most rancid, run down, hectic workplace I've ever been in. And I loved it.
The staff all greeted me by name amongst the chaos, proudly explaining their roles, their challenges. I struggled (and would for months to come) to retain the panoply of foreign names being thrust at me as introductions were made. Some of the names consisted of 20 letters, 19 of which were consonants. This was often followed by "bin" "bin" "bin" (2), e.g. Nurhadin bin Anantha bin Thami bin Mohammed bin Khaled bin Ahmed. Staff from the Philippines, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Jordan, Iraq, Iran, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Malaysia, Indonesia. A true melting pot. And ME! The only white, blond FEMALE in a worksite of about 200 employees. In an industrial city of about 190,000 male laborers! And so began another amazing working adventure!
For about two and a half year I worked in that chaos. Day in, day out, it was truly a labor of love. Don't get me wrong, the salary was nothing to sneeze at, but the conditions were horrid. For over a year I shared a 10 foot by 10 foot office space in a port-a-cabin with two other senior staff. I oversaw an expansion project which saw the worksite's space nearly double. But I also saw our workforce nearly double. And our clientele quadruple. Chaos, chaos, chaos, chaos! But I LOVED it! Every single, horrid, frustrating moment. Because we were making a difference, we were working, we went home every night knowing we had made a difference in someone's life, no matter how small. And as a team, we bonded. We saw horrific incidents, struggled through flooded offices, power failures, electrical shorts, leaky roofs, communication problems, lives lost, severed limbs, mass casualties, safety breaches, staff shortages, .... And yet we had fun. We laughed, we cried, we debated endlessly. We were a team.
A year into my stint, I was offered a job in communications with a very prestigious organization. My qualifications didn't quite fit the job description, so the potential employer re-wrote it for me. It was a JD tailored to fit my dream job! It was signed off by the relevant Sheik, and I had all the relevant paperwork in front of me, when rumors of a massive brain drain from the organization made their way to me. Apparently working for that very elite organization wasn't all it was cut out to be. I didn't sign. I was happy where I was. I didn't have my dream job, but I was happy. That was worth more than all the eliteness in the world.
Then, about two and a half years ago, the British Gobbledeegooker called me. He told me I'd done such a wonderful job that he was bringing me into the head office in the city. All good; no more extra hours, no more chaos, no more commuting two hours a day, no more horrid working conditions. No, I would be overseeing a move to a fully refurbished establishment. I would have my own HUGE office. I would be recognized at the corporate level for my valiant efforts. What was not to love?
I refused. I am no fool. I knew what he was bringing me into. A thankless, meaningless, dull, frustrating, debilitating job.
So he stopped playing the soft line. This wasn't really a choice. This was a decision. I could come or I could go. End of story. Written in the contract ... "employee may be called to work upon in a different location and/or role than stipulated in the original contractual agreement". I almost quit. Looking back, I wish I would have done it then. Two and a half years later, I am still there, entrapped by the convenient working hours and the almighty buck. I can't walk away, I feel it's not fair to my family. I bring in a substantial amount. My husband drives two hours a day to go to a job that he is bound to by contract and that he bears no great passion for. He does it for the good of our family. In this country, it's not as simple for him as walking away from his job. He is bound by his sponsor. If he quits, it means deportation. That means I forsake my job. That means we forsake our daughter's school. It means we forsake our house. So he doesn't consider it.
In this country, my husband is MY sponsor. So I can quit any time I choose. But is that really fair? More importantly, am I really a quitter? Is it really that bad? Can I really complain? Can I really explain what it is about my boring, rote, frustrating job that infuriates me so much that I am actually contemplating quitting? That infuriates me to the point that I actually find myself thinking that I "HATE" it?
I continue to get "excellent" ratings on my annual performance appraisals. I continue to get a substantial bonus every year. I've been offered an upward promotion which I refused because it meant extra hours and headaches which I really cannot fathom in this work environment.
Every morning, on the drive to work, I rue this job. This job that allows us wonderful trips, that contributes to our daughter's higher education fund, that will help us retire comfortably at a relatively young age. I rue this job that only asks of me 40 hours a week. I rue this job that grants me 9 weeks off a year. I rue this job that lets me get off work early enough every day to pick up my daughter after school. I rue this job.
I won't go into detail as to why I rue this job. There are just too many irrevocably unconvincing reasons for it. In a sense, as I write this, I am hoping to convince myself that I am insane to rue this job. But I know, to the very core of my being, that I am stunted and warped by the uninspired, unplanned, nepotistic, insecure, and life-sapping environment that I drag my sorry self to every day. It's not that I am a woman in a male society; it's not that I'm bringing a Western perspective into a ME workforce; it's not that I'm a planner who is working in a completely disorganized workplace. It's not that I am thrust into unethical situations that compromise my values and make me stand up to forces far larger than me. I've had to face all that before, and overcome far worse challenges.
I think it's mostly that I know that I simply don't make a difference. Not where it counts. I exist in my job purely to exact the will of a select few, a handful of individuals who see me as a vehicle for the fulfillment of their vision. A very few people who believe my organizational skills may help them cement their worth within the organization. I am a glorified personal assistant. The Gobbledeegooker is long gone. He understood his time had come and gone. He walked away as gracefully as he could. His entourage is long gone. They understood that they could not overcome the forces that remained. But I am still there. So what does that make me?
I go to work every day. I chase up the same issues every day. Day in and day out. Two and a half years later, the same issues, day in and day out. I ask a question, it gets asked back to me. I am not a civil engineer, yet engineers ask me whether my facilities have sufficient weight bearing capacity for the equipment I am asking to install. I am not a mechanical engineer, yet I am asked to comment on whether airflow is adequate. I am not a safety inspector, yet I am asked whether the alarm in our facilities rings sufficiently loud to meet civil inspection criteria. I am not an insurance specialist, yet I am asked to determine which categories of customer are eligible to receive our services. I am not an HR specialist, yet I am asked to interpret HR policy. I am meant to be an enforcer, yet every day I am asked to be an interpreter, in fields in which I am not an expert. And so I throw the questions back to the "experts", and they get thrown back to me. Back and forth, back and forth, we do our thankless dance. On those odd days where, out of sheer frustration, I enforce my "interpretation" of policy, e.g. timekeeping, Management questions my "inflexibility", asks me to show more leniency. I have become the very squirrel on the treadmill that occupies my brain. I run, and run, and run, and run. But .... I ....... am ....... going ........ nowhere ...... FASSSSSSSSSSSST!
And so, I am the ultimate Oshry (3) "Middle", living in a diffuse world torn between the people I work for and the people and the work I am responsible for. I am depleted of energy. I see no support unit. Though I am an information sharer, I am challenged daily within an organization that continues to perceive information as power, and thus is unwilling to reciprocate. I am doing the crazy, stilted, disjointed dance of the Middle Manager. And I am not happy. It is a Zombie Dance. I'm doing the Bollywood Rap Country Western Gangham Style. It's not pretty...
(1) Xanadu as in an "opulent prison built for oneself" ...
(2) Bin = "son of"
(3) Oshry, Barry. Seeing Systems, Unlocking the Mysteries of Organizational Life.