You know that feeling where you really dislike someone, so everything they do – annoying or not – feels annoying to you? Or that person you really think is stupid, so with everything they do, you see it through that lens of anticipated stupidity?
It’s easy to create caricatures of people and then treat them accordingly. And so often when we do that – if we have enough influence over their lives and enough time passes – people eventually evolve or devolve into the caricatures we’ve created.
Have you ever heard the story of the Eight Cow Wife? It’s a poignant story about a woman who was deemed unattractive and undesirable until a man who loved her paid an extravagant dowry for her: eight cows – an unthinkable amount in their society. Knowing that she was so highly valued, the way she thought about herself began to change. She carried herself differently, behaved differently and eventually became externally as beautiful and lovely as she was perceived by the one who loved her. She was transformed from the inside out by the one who loved her; the way she saw herself changed because of the way he saw her.
When I was a child, my parents gave me a lot of responsibility, believing that I would rise to the occasion. Being entrusted with responsibility developed me into a responsible young woman. My parents’ actions communicating their belief in my capacity and dependability made me believe I was such a woman, and it inspired me to behave accordingly.
But the opposite also holds true. Regardless of the perception – positive or negative – over time, it tends to become the reality.
I have been at the same job for 18 months. There is not much responsibility in my job. Basically when a software package or other IT service line is going “end of life”, I either issue a termination notice, negotiate an extension/upgrade or negotiate a migration to another solution. Every time this needs to be done, my job is simple: I get approvals from Finance, approvals from our Technical team, get approvals from the Board, and send all of those – plus the renegotiated agreement – to a guy named Kevin who processes the agreement for signatures and execution.
Not only do I have essentially no responsibility, but also my job requires no independent thought or creative thinking. Still further, my boss constantly beats me down and repeatedly communicates her belief in my utter incompetence. Just this morning on a team call, Kevin told our boss that he was still waiting on a Finance approval from me – that I was the bottleneck keeping one of our service updates from getting approved. I immediately jumped in, “No, Kevin, I sent you Finance approval on August 9th and then again on the 15th when you said you couldn’t find the first email. Check your inbox.”
Instead of hearing that Kevin was in the wrong, our boss automatically assumed I was the one at fault. After all, I am the completely incompetent one who is incapable of adding any value to the team (a paraphrasing of her words at my midyear review). She verbally lunged at me, “Aurora, Kevin is not the one who provides Finance approval. You are supposed to get approval from the Finance team and then send it to Kevin to process.”
“Yes, I know.” That is the job I have been doing – my only real responsibility – for the past 18 months. I was absolutely infuriated by her condescension. How could she think I didn’t know that?
“I got approval from both Sharon and Bob – ” (our finance focal points) ” – and sent those to Kevin twice already.”
“Oh,” was her response. No apology. No condescension or disapproval toward Kevin. All she said was, “Kevin, please process.” And then we moved on to the next topic.
I am trying so hard not to become the caricature my boss has created of me, but it’s hard to stay intrinsically motivated. I find myself coming in late, leaving early, and no longer even bothering to try to excel at my work. The status quo has become enough for me because: why bother? I will never change her view of me.
I’ve never been a status quo girl. I have always been a high achiever – Straight A student, President of my Girl Scout Troop and Captain of my Soccer Team. In college I was repeatedly on the Dean’s List in engineering and, on the side, got my EMT certification just for fun. Post college I took my songwriting to the next level by releasing an original album on iTunes. These days, I keep a full schedule teaching Sunday School, arranging music for my a Capella group, babysitting foster kids and volunteering at a weekend farmers’ market that fights human trafficking.
I want to keep my passion alive. I want to keep striving to be impactful, make a difference, and be a self-motivated achiever. I have packed a lot of living into my twenty-nine years, and I like that I have been historically ambitious. I don’t want that to stop just because I feel trapped in an unfulfilling, demotivating job where my boss does not believe me capable of adding any value. But it gets harder every day not to succumb to becoming the caricature she has created of me. Why bother? Nothing seems to be changing, no matter how much I pray or how hard I try.