I’m often asked if the things that happened to Jana Lanning in my recent novel, Anywhere But Here, actually happened to me. For those of you that haven’t read this novel, Jana Lanning, the protagonist, is denied admission to graduate school, finds out her boyfriend is cheating on her, helps her best friend get married and move out of town, and has to settle for a job that she’s overqualified for – and all of this happens within two weeks of getting her undergraduate degree. Then to make things worse, the office where she works starts a merger with another firm and Jana finds herself on the wrong end of office politics that are the final straw in her battle with depression. The thing people seem the most interested in are the office politics. People want to know if the happenings at Dixon Financial are reflective of my job before it was transferred to a new agency a couple of years ago.
In response to that I’d say not entirely, but I can’t deny that some things that happened to me early in my career are reflected in people and events that take place in the book. I know that’s cryptic, but bear in mind two things: The people and events are fictionalized and that was accomplished through a mixture of my personal experiences, experiences I’ve seen and heard of from other people, and instances I’ve read about in books, magazines, news and other media. It came from a vast pool and I’ll admit that I had experience with being on the wrong end of office politics – heck, how could you write about it even from a fictionalized perspective unless you lived it in some way – but it’s also a universal issue that anybody working in an office environment is going to be on one end or the other of. And sorry folks, but there are probably going to be times when you find yourself on the wrong side, at least from the perspective of the majority.
My purpose in both writing Anywhere But Here and this entry isn’t to bash my former workplace. These things happened a decade ago, and I must admit that I said and did things that weren’t wise and didn’t lead to the best resolution in the situations I faced. I certainly learned from those experiences and in retrospect, I’m glad I learned those lessons early in life or I certainlywouldn’t be where I am now. The purpose is to share lessons learned, because this is something that I believe everybody in the workforce faces at some time. It makes you feel isolated and lonely when it happens, but the truth is that you aren’t alone. Lots of people face it but few talk about it because frankly, it’s embarrassing.
I used to think that people playing office politics were selfish jerks that like to hurt people, but experience has shown me that it actually grows from a root of fear. People that play with power are insecure and doubt their own ability, so they create an elaborate game of turning people and things to their advantage. I’ve found that there are 2 good ways to identify a person that is likely to use power to their advantage:
1.They cling tightly to cliques that are made up of people that are higher on the chain of command than they are; and
2.They don’t associate with anybody on the chain of command below them unless it’s absolutely necessary - and those people better give them what they want immediately or it’s insubordination.
It’s the people in category #2 that usually find themselves on the losing end of office politics because any wrong word or deed will be met with fierce retaliation. I won’t say that I never see office politics anymore, but I have found that I find myself in these situations a lot less since I’ve been reclassified to a mid-level position. I’d like to think this is because I’ve proven that my knowledge and abilities are valuable, but it’s more likely that I learned valuable lessons on how to deal with these types from previous experience – and people know it.
So what’s the secret to dealing when you’re the victim of office politics? If you’re right, stand by that. Don’t ever cave in and take the quick and easy way out because that’s a temporary end. If they’d turn on you once, they’ll turn on you again. Caving in only shows that you can be taken advantage of, and they will milk that dry, plus the consequences of doing wrong will follow you a lot longer than standing up for what’s right. They might not like you, but they’ll respect you and at least know not to let you catch them with their hand in the cookie jar again. If you aren’t right, correct yourself immediately and stick to your guns in walking down the right road. And whichever situation you’re in, it’s imperative that you have patience. Truth will show itself in time and it will be end game then. It might take months or even years for things to come around, but they will and you’ll be better off for it. The reward will come in patient endurance, and it will be something that nobody can deny. Sure, there are people that are so stubborn that they’ll refuse to change their mind no matter what happens, but don’t worry about them. Leave them in their ignorance and move on because it’s highly probably that they’ll be gone in time themselves.
I believe Jana Lanning in Anywhere But Here is a good personification of office politics gone wrong, because she’s the one in the weakest position. She didn’t do anything wrong and in fact suffered for doing right, but recent personal losses kept her from taking a stand in the right way and the right timing. The people that create these situations are masters at turning things against you even if you didn’t do anything wrong, and it’s exhausting to constantly defend your own character. Unfortunately, she found this out too late and suffered the consequences of crossing the wrong people simply by being who she was and not deferring to people doing things wrong. She was right and had proof of it, but she didn’t know how to present that truth in a combative work environment. That happens sometimes, and it’s awful. I think the worst offence in the world is to have to suffer for other peoples’ mistakes, and office politics are the ultimate example of that.
I think this is why eople tell me that they find Jana Lanning so likeable. She’s a good person that doesn’t deserve the hard knocks that come her way from people taking advantage of her shy nature, youth, and inexperience. She makes the same mistakes that all of us made in our early adulthood and we understand her confusion at why life is kicking her around. Reality is a hard teacher, and it’s the only one that can do the job once school leaves off. Remember the movie “St. Elmo’s Fire” from the 80’s? That strange, new world opening up is the exact thing that Jana faces, and we understand exactly where she’s coming from. She, like the rest of us, has to learn to find those gems of opportunity in the rubble of defeat to rebuild a new life from shattered dreams. In some ways, we may even relate to her right where we’re at, because life is always teaching us lessons.
So no, I didn’t start out in life exactly like Jana did. I actually did marry my college sweetheart, but I never made it to graduate school because I found other things that I believed were worth more in my life than higher education. I never struggled with depression, but I knew (and still know) many who do battle that demon, and I hope Jana’s struggle helps people with depression understand that this is a battle they can win if they stay in the fight. But yes, I did go through an office merger in my early years in the workforce, and I found myself prey to the power plays, albeit in much different circumstances. All I can say is that wisdom comes from experience, and I gained plenty in those few years.
And lest you think it’s impossible for poor Jana to face so much at one time, I call your bluff. Too much smashing my life to bits was the catalyst for my next novel, Splinter – but that’s one for a future blog entry. I’ll address it closer to the release date in mid 2013. Until then, enjoy Anywhere But Here and my other books - information on them and links to buy are on the other tabs of this website. I hope you find entertainment and inspiration in them.
That’s all today.
That's a good question, because villians are usually very good at hiding themselves. Indeed, people have become very proficient at hiding their flaws and blaming their mistakes on others through a variety of what psychologists call "defense mechanisms." They started in the Garden of Eden when Adam said "this woman you gave me made me do it" and it's been downhill ever since that first shifting of blame. The problem is, there are only a limited number of ways to make this work and while you can mix it up, it all boils down to a few basic things.
First is shifting the blame, as we saw above. People refuse responsibility for their actions and claim "it's not my fault! It's somebody elses fault!" I've heard this is a common reason why, as the joke goes, there are no guilty people in jail. All victims of unfortunate circumstances caused by others - or so their lawyers claim. That's a drastic example, of course, as it doesn't take a criminal that winds out being interviewed on Dateline to use this one. I've heard countless variations from "so and so said they'd take care of it and I trusted them!" to "oh, they're trying to help. I'm sure there's a reason they took my ten thousand dollars and disappeared. They must be looking so hard and too busy to keep in touch!" to "well, I trusted YOU to make the decision and you made a bad one!" Sadly, I have known some people that live their entire lives in a state of refusing responsibility and shifting blame. They don't want to deal with the consequences of their actions and decisions, so they do nothing unless someone else tells them to. It's "oh, I had such a great idea!" if it succeeds and (more likely) "woe is me, I never get a break" if it doesn't or worse, if they get taken advantage of. Which happens often because predators can sniff out emotionally weak people that don't want to take control of their lives and usually prey on that until they suck them dry. It's really a very dangerous defense mechanism.
Another one is projection. This is when you project what you think/feel/do on someone else because you don't want to admit that you or somebody close to you does it. I'm often prey to this one. Probably because if people try to shift the blame to me I'll outright say "it's not my fault if you made an active decision not to think for yourself." (Folks, I have done this.) This is usually a sneaky one because they aren't confrontational about it - they want to be sly because they don't want to tip you off. For example, one time I found out that someone I knew hadn't told me about something big that happened in their life. When I asked why she didn't tell me, she said "oh, I didn't want people to gossip." I replied "do you think I'm a gossip?" She set her face and said "I don't want people talking. Everybody doesn't need to know everything." I knew right away what happened. She hadn't been ready for her "secret" to be told and had only told a couple of people she had been friends with for a long time. The fact that I found out meant one of them had been gossiping, and she didn't want to admit it, so she tried to shift the blame to me. And let me tell you, she didn't speak to me for about two months when I pointed out that one of her confidants were the ones that spilled it to me. She just didn't want to believe a good friend would betray her trust, so she tried to pretend like it was someone else (anyone else!) by accusing the people that found out second hand of being gossips (I found out later that she'd had the same reaction to several other people). The trick may have protected her from feeling betrayed, but it didn't do much to win her more friends or influence people in a positive way.
A third way villians shift blame is dissociation. In a nutshell, this refers to what we commonly call "busybodies" and "troublemakers." These are people that are addicted to drama and work behind the scenes to stir up trouble and then disappear when it all blows up, playing the meek, weak person saying "oh my, all I want is peace!" That is an act, because people given to dissociation are usually dangerous. Remember that Satan is another one that only wants peace - as long as it's his kind, and these people fall in that same category. They will stop at nothing to get what they want and see other people as nothing but tools to torque the world to their will. Their purposes for stirring up trouble are varied - perhaps so they can come in and "save the day" so they can be hailed as a hero, or perhaps to turn people against one another to keep them out to keep lies from being exposed, or maybe because they just have a habit of making bad decisions and they lie and try to turn people against one another to hide their mistakes. Folks, if you haven't crossed paths with one of these then you're destined to someday because it's one we ALL struggle with at one time or another. The reason is because people prone to dissociation are no respecters of persons - remember, people are tools to them - so they will try to prey on anybody.
These types are extremely frustrating because they can wiggle out of situations and disappear from blame with the skill of a mage. There are only two ways to deal with these types: Avoidance, or catching them red handed. You literally have to stay the hell out of their way or catch them in the middle of a trap of their own making. Let me tell you, I have managed to do this once or twice (in 36 years, which tells you how difficult it is) and it's never pretty. When you catch them you win, but it's at a price because these take casualties. Like the devil, they aren't going down alone and they will take everybody they can get a claw in down with then. The problem is that there are some people you can't avoid or cut from your life, so if you have the misfortune of finding a dissociative type in your inner circle then catching them is the only solution. The good news is that deception doesn't last forever and truth does eventually show itself, so they will be exposed eventually and you better be alert and ready to act at just the right moment. The bad news, as I said, is that it's gonna hurt like hell because they'll make sure it does. But it's a price worth paying.
These are just a a few of the defense mechanisms that people use to shift blame, and one that we usually see in villians both in the real world and in fiction. In fact, knowing this can make reading very interesting, because you can look for these mechanisms at work in the books or stories you're reading and use it as a way to discern who the real bad guy is. And it works in real life too, of course.
In my next entry I'll discuss your own dark side. Because folks, we all have one whether we want to admit it or not. And knowing it can be interesting.
That's all for today. Take care and have a good week.
There was an incident today that I feel needs to be addressed once and for all. It's time to clear the air. So here we go.
I had a House committee meeting today on regulations for one of my programs. As some of you know, my job moved from one department to another on July 1, 2010. Moving two registration programs is a massive effort - so massive that we've spent the past year and a half trying to get things settled. We have our last bit of work in the legislature in hopes of wrapping up this transition for once and for all and getting settled in a nice, peaceful routine.
I was sent to this meeting in order to observe and note what items the committee discussed so we could prepare for anything that needs to be addressed as it continues through the legislative process. Unfortunately, the plan I was sent to execute was disrupted when a former associate of our program (who is also a former colleague that worked closely with this program before my time here) showed up. Even though he is no longer on payroll or associated with the program or my department in any way, he felt it necessary to use his clout to intervene when the committee was discussing my program's item. The intervention resulted in the natural progression of the conversation to derail into areas that caused the committee members so much confusion that they referred it back to the subcommittee in hopes of getting the questions cleared up. Translation: we took a step back today, which means a delay, which means that my department and the representatives for my program are not happy.
I'm not either, and this mess forces me to attend to an unexpected situation. There are, obviously, some issues with my former colleagues and associates that need to be addressed. And so I have decided to use this blog entry to address them in an open letter to clear the air and set the record straight, for once and for all.
Dear Former Colleagues and Associates:
I understand that transition is tough. Lord knows, I've been through my share. I went to hell and back between my job move and my in-laws moving to town at the same time in the spring/summer of 2010. By the grace of God and the support of some great, stable people in my life (meaning my husband and immediate family), I was able to not only survive two concurrent life changes, but to thrive as well. I openly admit that my old life is dead. There's nothing of it left behind. I actually came to it recently in what I call a "Frodo Baggins Revelation." Just as Frodo realized that his adventure changed him too much to return to his old life, I also realize that I'm not the person I was. You see me out and about and you recognize my physical appearance, but if you talked for me even for a few minutes, you'd realize this isn't the Sherri you knew 18 months ago. Great change has that effect on a person. In fact, I'd say that if it didn't then there's probably something wrong because it should. While the fundamental basics of who you are remain stable, a major life transition (or two) SHOULD shift your paradiam so much that it changes how you see the world and apply those fundamentals to your life. I've moved on and learned so much more than I ever thought possible in a relatively short period of time. It's shocking, but I also see that it was necessary. I needed to change. I needed to grow up more. I needed to lose my fear and to live more boldly than I was in the past so I can fulfill my life purpose now and into the future.
What surprises me is to find that obviously, you are having some problems letting go. To intervene in the affairs of a program that you gave up 18 months ago, knowingly and willingly, is stark evidence that seems to say you still haven't severed your own ties to the past. Honestly, it was the last thing I expected. You played it so cool during and after my move that frankly, I thought you were relieved to be rid of the programs and to move on without them and me. Yet today I (and the full House committee) saw evidence that you are still following our progress and seem to feel some sense of obligation to "look after" us. I can assure you that this isn't necessary. Really it isn't appropriate and I won't lie - there are some folks on my end of this that are furious about what they deem as an unwelcome intervention. Their ways aren't your ways, and the fact that they didn't send an entorage to this meeting didn't speak of negligence - it was strategy for future planning. And you blew up that strategy because you inserted yourself into business that really isn't even yours to look in on because you believe in "making things happen" instead of letting them progress.
Don't get me wrong - I'm not here to cast blame. I understand that it can be hard to let go when something has been your responsibility for a long time. These programs are as old as I am, so it's natural to feel some attachment to something that was under your wing for over 35 years. I also understand that I was very young when you hired me to handle these programs. I was a 23 year old recent college graduate and newleywed in 1999 when you hired me - but that was 13 years ago. I grew up, folks. I don't know if you realized it, but in the years I spent there I did grow, I did learn, and I did outgrow many things. I won't deny that I still have much to learn, and I can be my own kind of fool from time to time. But please, grant me the grace to be the igit I am, not the igit you assume I am because you know the 23 year old me but not the 36 year old me. And believe it or not, there's a great difference between those two people. The girl I was is gone. I'm a new creation now. You may or may not like it. I don't know, and it doesn't matter because I'm gone so it's pointless to ponder.
Likewise, the programs have grown. As I said, the department where we are has a very different way of doing things, but different isn't bad or wrong. In fact, it's been very good for them and they've come a long way in a little time themselves. They're evolving by leaps and bounds but once again, by God's grace we're making it. We're working with great people that work in a very efficient team and have dedicated themselves to learning these programs inside and out. We have daily support. And frankly, it's refreshing for me and for the Board members to be in a place where everybody knows what we do and understand the issues we face, day in and day out. I have met so many good people. I moved to a smaller agency and learned that the world was so much bigger than I ever realized. It's a paradox I know, but an interesting one that I find delight in.
You said when the legislation was drafted to move me that it wasn't personal, it was just business. That's ok. Now please, maintain your professional demeanor. Today was awkward. Let's not do that again. If you wonder how I'm doing or how the programs are doing, please do it right. You know where to find us. Swallow your pride and call or e-mail. Please, let go of the past and entrust us and yourselves to the present. Believe, as we do, that everything happens for a reason. This move went through because the Lord willed it to go through. For whatever reason, He deemed this the time and place for our program to pass from one place to another and change isn't bad. It just provides the tools for moving forward. We do appreciate all that you did for us in the past, but we aren't your responsibility anymore. It's been 18 months and it's time for all of us to move on.
So please, let go. It's not personal OR business anymore. It's just reality. And I know from cold, hard experience that's something that always catches up with you. So make life easy - accept it sooner before it kicks your butt later.
I wish you well in your future endeavors. If we meet again I sincerely hope it will be under better, more friendly circumstances. What I said when I moved still stands: I wish you no ill will as our paths diverged - just respect for what was and the grace to allow us to grow in our respective directions.
No actually, we can't. But that's a common sentiment this time of year, so now is the perfect time for a lesson in reality. There are three reasons why we can't "just get along," at the holidays or any time.
Reason #1 is personality conflicts. Each and every one of us is a unique creation with a personality that's a complex mix of genetics, environmental influences, and collective experience. Modern science still doesn't have a clue as to how these factors mix to make us who we are, and it doesn't look like they will any time soon. What we do know, though, is that certain personality types just don't play well together, and there's not much you can do about it. We naturally clash with our polar opposites, and there's no way to you can see eye to eye with somebody who thinks and sees the world from a viewpoint that's so drastically different from our own that we can't fathom it. So if your spouse is the emotional polar opposite of one of your parents or siblings, expect frayed nerves. People can't see eye to eye on what they don't understand, and the best you can hope for is an agreement to disagree. Demanding harmony is like lighting a stick of dynamite and being surprised when it blows up.
Reason #2 is unrealistic expectations. Sometimes we expect people to do things they simply can't do - we want them to rise to levels they can't reach yet. Feelers won't become thinkers, fighters won't become diplomats, sci-fi fans won't turn to romantic comedies, and some people won't clean their house no matter what day it is. Can people change? Absolutely. Will they change? That's a personal choice. Should they change? That's an issue best left between them and the Lord, and it's wise to stay out of that territory.We could do ourselves a great favor to accept people for what they are right now - not what we want them to be, or hope they'll become "someday."
Reason #3 is that relationships aee copmlicated and sometimes things happen that create conflict that simply can't be repaired by the magic of the holiday season, It takes a long time to rebuild breeched trust, and that process isn't going to speed up because there's a date in red on the calendar this month. You must accept that we're all human beings and, by nature, are flawed. It's literally impossible for everybody to get along. Sometimes you have to decide which relationships matter the most and focus your attention on nurturing them, even if you must neglect others you'd like to make happy and even if you aren't asked to make the choice. It's not taking sides - it's good, old fashioned, common sense. Everybody in the world isn't going to love you. In fact, I can guarantee that at least 50% of the world will have a problem with you - more, if you insist on trying to make everybody happy. But at least if you're honest people will know exactly where they stand with you, and 100% of people appreciate honesty like that, even if they don't like you.
I know this is tough because we all want our holiday to look like a Norman Rockwell painging, but it would behoove us to remember that our expectation for a perfect holiday is art, and we live in reality. That doesn't change, no matter what time of year it is. You can accept people as they are and be happy with their best, or you can cling to unrealistic expectations and deal with inevitable frustration. Because when you fight reality, you never win. This world has been here far longer than any of us have, and trying to bend it to your will is an exercise in futility. You fare better if you accept reality and do your best with it.
The choice is yours.
Who are you? I think that’s one of the hardest questions we face, and the reason is that the answer is always in motion. Every experience we have, every role that we play, every life lesson that we face, all contribute to who we are. Identity is something that is always in motion because as life changes, we change with it. Our capacity to grow and learn is what makes us able to adapt to the world around us and to evolve, both as a society and as individuals. Unfortunately, this capacity also means that we must constantly reconcile ourselves to the world we live in – and frankly, that can be exhausting.
The good news is that there are some constants in this ever changing world. The situations we face and the roles we play do impact who we are, but the core of our being – our soul – doesn’t change. Each and every one of us was uniquely and wonderfully made to serve purpose in life. Notice that I keep this general for a reason. While we may have one overriding purpose that’s our “main mission” in life, I believe that each season of life has a purpose within that mission. You may be a child, spouse, parent, colleague, and friend. Each of these roles are separate with their own unique purpose, but all of those roles contribute to how you are as a whole human being. If any of you were to walk into my church or workplace, I would expect that you’d be able to say “yes, that’s Sherri the Writer” because you know the core of who I am through my writing and can see it in other roles I serve.
I know this is confusing, and we could ponder on that particular point for a long time. Suffice it to say that for the purposes of this entry, I am addressing that “core self,” which is who you are as a unique human being. It’s
your soul. Believe it or not, there are a lot of people that don’t dig deep enough within themselves to know who they are at this level. Maybe it’s because it’s too exhausting, or confusing, or maybe they found something that frightened them, but for whatever reason many people abandon that search for authenticity and simply conform to what the world wants them to be in each role in life. While this may work on the surface (and is certainly good enough for day to day life), in reality it means that you never really connect with the people around you or the world you live in. After all, how can other people know you if you don’t know yourself? And how are they supposed to trust what they don’t know? So they go through the motions of life as a shell of a person, never fully experiencing life or the joy that we’re supposed to have in being who we are and serving the scared missions set before us. In fact, the sacred is removed, turning it all into drudgery and labor.
Folks, this isn’t the way we’re meant to live. Yes, it can be frightening to delve within ourselves to search for our authenticity. You might find things you don’t expect; things in direct contradiction to what you want to believe about yourself. Or you might find something socially unacceptable or embarrassing. It’s ok. You have the power of the Holy Spirit working within you, and It can show you how these things fit into who you are as the unique creation you are meant to be. It can show you what you have for a reason and what you could stand to fix here or tweak there. None of us are perfect, but the perfection of the Spirit can show you how to use what you’ve got to be who you are and to contribute to your place in the world.
The key to happiness isn’t fame, or wealth, or status. It’s finding contentment with who you are as a unique individual. That’s the only way you can find your purpose. That’s the only way to form genuine relationships with a solid foundation. That’s the only way that happiness will come.
So, how do you find your authentic self? It’s best to start at the beginning – and that is the foundation of it all.
Next Time: Jesus – My Savior, My Friend.