When a different agency took over the organization that I once loved working for, my co-workers and I suddenly found ourselves jolted into a much more corporate environment. All the luxuries we had been accustomed to got stripped away for a more bureaucratic and micromanaging environment. We tried rebelling in all sorts of ways. I, personally, created a wallpaper for my computer that said “The beatings will continue until morale improves.” Upper management hardly blinked and, if anything, we were just being aggressively passive-aggressive.
Really, we just needed to say “adios” and find employment elsewhere. I had started going on job interview after job interview, and, unfortunately each time, I found myself as the runner up. Always a brides maid, and never a bride. Always a Susan Lucci, and never a Daytime Emmy Award winning actress. Although second place should feel encouraging, it started to become totally frustrating.
Then one day, my friend, Seth, called me up. He was the head therapist over at an agency that worked with the well being of gay men. They had a position open - one that would have an emphasis with HIV.
“You’re the perfect guy for the job,” he said. “You’re smart. You already have a social work background. You’re so well known in the HIV community. And you're edgy as fuck. I think you could really help shake things up around here.”
I had become a bit of a poster boy in my city after writing a column on poz life in the local gay rag. I also regularly mentored newly diagnosed guys on a volunteer basis. Being able to get paid to do this indeed sounded like a dream job. Plus I do like shaking things up… or down… or even to the left.
At the interview, I sat with Seth, and three of his co-workers, around an over sized table. There was the brunette guy who wrapped himself in an afghan and drank his herbal tea. Then came the blond guy who apparently made the afghans for everyone in the office. And finally there was the muscle guy who barely had anything to say. Who wouldn’t want to be part of a team like this? The interview went well and they were eager to have me on board.
For the second round, I had to prepare a scenario in which I would do an outreach in the community. We had to role play it with a list of questions they already prepared. For some reason, they all decided that Muscles had to go first and this slightly enraged him. As far as my history with role playing, it was by far the most awkward - especially since it was being video recorded for their upper management. But it think this all went well again. At least Seth seemed pleased.
One night, before the third interview, I was talking about the position out of pure enthusiasm with someone at a party. An acquaintance overheard and butted in.
“Oh God, do NOT go work for Don,” he said so boisterously that everyone turned and looked.
“Uh, who is Don?” I asked.
“He oversees the whole program and he is one of biggest, narcissistic, sociopathic assholes I have ever worked with!”
Before I could ask him to elaborate, he stomped off. But it didn’t make sense. Back at the office, those guys seemed happy at their job. I liked them - even grumpy Muscles. They didn’t at all act like they worked for a horrible, narcissistic asshole. Knowing that this acquaintance had a touch for the drama, I didn’t take his words too much to heart and went on shoving my mouth full of hummus.
For the third and final interview, this was where I would meet with the now legendarily evil Don and the rest of their upper management. It was down to me and one other guy. To give myself an advantage, I created a portfolio of my writings and my work in the HIV community.
Looking at it, I suddenly became very impressed with my all that I had achieved in my work so far.
Dressed to the nines in my best business suit (which was probably a seven at best), I presented the portfolio to Don and some other folks whose roles I didn't entirely understand. Aside from the gold rings on his fingers and gold chains that popped out from his dress shirt (making him look like a Soprano), he seemed like a lovely man. They all acted incredibly impressed by work and were eager to make their decision by that afternoon.
When Seth called five hours later, I confidently picked up the phone ready to accept their offer.
“I’m sorry, Scott,” he said. “They ended up going with the other guy.”
I was stunned. My heart instantly broke. This was supposed to be MY dream job. MINE!
“What?” I said. “But why? I thought you said this job was as good as mine.”
“It was. You were even more qualified than this other guy. But they went with him because he is bilingual and he asked for less money.”
“BUT YOU TOLD ME TO ASK FOR THAT AMOUNT OF MONEY!” I shouted in the phone with a similar sense of drama as that acquaintance at the party.
Seth actually was kind enough to come over to my house and console me in person. He was frustrated. He talked about how they all made a huge mistake. He didn’t even know how we was going to deal with them on their upcoming business trip to San Francisco for a training.
Seth was trying to rub ointment on my wounds however he didn’t realize that he just accidentally shoved in some salt instead. I had always wanted to work in a job where I could occasionally travel for it. Something just always seemed so romantic about that - especially when you got to go to major cities. Now I couldn’t stop imagining them all jetting off with this new guy in their awesome jobs while I was the loser stuck back home in the job he hated.
I’d love to say that, next, I floated on to invent some twelve step program in order to deal with this rejection, but that’s not the case. Instead, I lost sight of all that I had accomplished in my life. I felt like Carrie. Ya know… from that one movie called “Carrie.” This group of cool kids made me feel like I fit in only to then throw a bucket of pigs blood on me. I had been made the fool and I hated them for it.
If I ever saw Tea-Drinker and Afghan-Maker out and about, I’d certainly offer up pleasantries and kind words as if they hadn't totally rejected me. But really in my head, I was thinking about how nice it would be to punch them in the throat. Not too hard. I didn’t want to hurt them. But just enough to make them uncomfortable - maybe make them cough a little bit.
Of course, since I couldn’t do that, I’d do the next best thing in order to cope: talk trash about them in my head. What a bunch of pollyannas! I’d think. Drinking their teas and knitting their blankets! That’s not gonna help the gay community! None of them are even HIV positive! How do they know what it's like? Seth was right! I WAS too edgy for that job! I mean, sure, I drink herbal tea too but I do it in a mug with a skull on it, dammit!
Clearly I was not doing a good job of handling this. It was taking forever to piece back together the self esteem that had been shredded. I’d dealt with rejection fairly well before (see previous essay). But something about this one was way more difficult. I had gotten my hopes up way too high. Plus the other workplace rejections compounded this dismissal even harder. Susan Lucci must have been on some seriously good antidepressants, because, how she didn’t totally lose her shit and drive her car straight through the door at the Emmy headquarters, I will never know.
Six months later, I caught wind that the guy they did hire had put in his two weeks notice. And some time after that, Tea-Drinker apparently quit too. Perhaps legendarily evil Don was as awful as he was made out to be. Even though time had healed some of my wounds by now, I still found a lot of comfort in this.
At the last AIDS Walk, I had stopped to talk to a couple of other acquaintances who had ended up working there as well. Individually, they both told me about their plans to get out. And it finally set in my brain that I should be grateful for not getting this job. I would have, in fact, entirely hated it.
When it comes to rejection for something so promising, we can easily make up all this crazy stuff in our heads as a result of our new found low self esteem. But the reality is… we have no idea what’s happening on the other side of those walls. That dream job could really be a total nightmare. That woman with the perfect marriage could have a husband who can’t stop cheating on her. The guy with the fancy car could be swimming in debt. Rarely is anything as it seems and, ironically, missing out on it can often be our saving grace.
Perhaps this was the key to coping with such rejection: remembering that the reason something looks so amazing is because we want it to be so amazing. I had essentially blinded myself with the hopes of finding a most amazing job. Looking back, the warning signs were there. But I had gone so far deep into that mentality that I could hardly see that the grass wasn’t actually going to be greener on the other side. So, if anything, the person who let me down the most... was myself.
A couple weeks ago, I actually ran into Muscles, from the interviews. I hardly recognized him because we were both wearing towels (I’ll let you do the math on that one).
“I am so thankful you guys didn’t hire me for that job,” I told him.
He laughed. “Really you should be,” He said. “It was awful there.”
It occurred to me that this was the first time I had seen him out of that office and thus, simultaneously, it was also the first time I had seen him smile. He wasn’t a grumpy person. He was a man who hated his place of employment - much like myself in my other job at the time. How did I notice that?
Muscles filled me in on more details about the terrible work environment. The co-workers constantly had their own drama. Their health benefits were awful (apparently each doctor visit had a one hundred dollar copay). And the description of legendary evil Don being a narcissistic sociopath was a surprisingly pretty accurate description.
And with all that, I suddenly felt like a total jerk. I felt awful for thinking all those bad thoughts about Tea-Drinker and Afghan-Maker. It was a stupid defense mechanism to cope with my own feelings of failure. Ridiculing them never got me anywhere anyway. On the contrary, it just made me feel worse. I hate hating people. And as I’ve said before, one simply cannot build themselves up by tearing others down.
I realized that it didn’t matter who was pollyanna and who was edgy. It didn’t matter what kind of mug we used to drink our herbal teas. In the end, guys like Tea-Drinker and Afghan-Maker and me were all one in the same. We just wanted to be in jobs that didn’t totally suck and putting my resentment on them wasn’t the correct route to find my way back to self worth. Susan Lucci would eventually get that Emmy. And if she can wait through 19 nominations to get it, then certainly we can have the grace and patience to find a workplace that we love.
Edited by Glen Trupp
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