This is a story about how I learnt to stop wasting my time on, well there’s really no other word for it, losers. I wish it was a happier story, but unfortunately, it’s not all sunshine and roses because it involves me feeling like I’d somehow betrayed my own good sense.
It started when a work acquaintance asked me to join him for lunch. We weren’t really friends. We had at some point sat on the same floor at work. I imagine we met at the printer or tea room. I like to fill awkward silence with awkward chatter. I meet a lot of people that way.
We’d had a coffee recently, which was ok. Just ok. We didn’t really have any great similarities or anything in common, and I certainly didn’t feel the need for a repeat catch up so soon, but I was doing as many young workers in this society are raised to do – being polite. And, quite frankly, I just didn’t have an excuse…so I agreed.
We met up and headed out for lunch. As soon as we did, I got this feeling like I’d rather be somewhere else – anywhere else. Why did I agree to this again? I mean, it was a pretty benign activity – work acquaintances heading to grab a bite during the lunch-hour rush. So why did I suddenly feel an urgent craving for the solitude of my desk?
Having gone over the usual niceties at our last catch up, we didn’t have that much ground to cover, which really highlighted the issue. I realised that this wasn’t a catch up about a mutual discussion, sharing of ideas or supporting a fellow colleague – as one may hope for at a lunchtime catch up.
This was an opportunity for me to hear about how great this guy is, played back to me in his own words. Are you kidding me!? It was an opportunity for me to unwillingly become the recipient of inane and misplaced advice about how I should ‘navigate my career’. It was an opportunity for one of us (not me) to inflate their ego. And I hated that I was playing a part in it.
Let me be clear. It is not in my nature to play this game. I’m not interested in disingenuous expressions of anything, least of all one’s own inflated sense of self. I was wrongly assumed to be this doe-eyed young up-start looking for someone to guide me through this big, bad, scary world.
Well you know what, the world can be scary. Business is tough. Being a young woman in a big corporate can be taxing. But I don’t recall asking for that large helping of condescension you just flung my way. In fact, I didn’t ask for any of this half-baked advice. I’ll pick my own mentors, thank you very much. I’ll seek out people who I respect. Whose ideas I value. Whose values I want to emulate.
The even sadder thing was that when I tried to engage in a genuine exchange about a recent win at work, I was met with disinterest at best. Despite what I felt as a great achievement on my part, he continued his attempt to spout wisdom, falling well short, and instead rambling on uninterestingly about what he ‘knew’, what I ‘needed’ to do and what would be ‘best’ for me. Because you know me so well, random colleague *rolls eyes*.
I finished lunch with a bad taste in my mouth, and the sushi wasn’t to blame. I left wishing I’d never left the quiet reliability of my desk. At least there I wouldn’t be subject to this weird brand of humiliation. This repellent form of subtle yet pervasive sexism. Of course, there’s so much worse than where this came from. I know that one awkward lunch should hardly ruin my week. But even one lunch where I’m made to feel small and insignificant is too many for me. For any of us.
Whether this was just this guy’s style, if it had something to do with me being a young female, or if anyone with ears would have done the job, I felt disappointed in myself for not trusting my instincts. I say all the time how important it is to listen to yourself, yet I didn’t practice what I preach. I’m generally pretty good at reading people so next time I’m going to remember that, and back myself. Next time, I’ll politely decline and continue on with my terrible habit of eating lunch alone over my keyboard. At least I know the company will be great 😉
Have you ever been made to feel small by someone at work? Have you misread a situation or ignored your gut-instinct only to end up in an awkward or uncomfortable situation?