The Underachieving Life: Seems I Haven’t Changed Much Since My First Crappy Job

dogwashThis week I’ve been thinking long and hard about my working life, excluding fiction. And I’ll be honest, I’m kind of an underachiever. I’ve never excelled in any job I’ve worked. I mean, I do fine when I give half a rat’s ass (which is the most rat’s ass I’ll ever give), but I’m not a model citizen of the corporate world, or any world in which I have a boss.

As an example, let’s consider my current day job as a technical writer. Not five minutes ago (and I AM writing this blog post from my day job office and perhaps someone from said day job will see this post and I’ll get my ass fired … hmm … guess I’ll keep writing) … Where was I? Oh yeah, five–now six–minutes ago a colleague appeared in my office doorway to ask if I was going to the weekly engineering meeting at 9:00 a.m. tomorrow morning. I’m new to that particular team. Apparently, last week they asked where I was because, eh hem, I’d missed the meeting two weeks in a row. I had taken the two Fridays off work (for, eh-hem, fiction stuff).

Yeah, yeah, I know I’m expected to send out one of those mass emails to let folks know when I’m “OOF” (“out of office” for those of you lucky enough not to know what that acronym means). Because I’m expected to do this, I don’t.

As soon as I feel pressure to conform, to tow the line, to play politics, to whatever, I start in on tiny passive-aggressive bids for personal freedom. Like, leaving the office at whatever-the-hell-time-I-please to take walks or run errands.

On my last performance review, my boss noted that one reviewer mentioned that being a team player wasn’t one of my strengths and that I seem to be about what’s convenient for me. My boss, bless her heart, assumed that this person had misinterpreted my behavior because I’m an introvert.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by this state of affairs. It’s not like I’ve changed since my first job as a dog washer. I don’t remember the sweet old dog’s name, but he was a small, black, shaggy pooch owned by the Rosenbaums. Even back then I couldn’t tow the line. How hard is it to wash, dry, and brush a sweet dog in the manner a strange, leftover hippie lady wanted?

I didn’t mind the washing, but I hated blow-drying the dog’s hair (and let’s not talk about cutting off the poop danglers–I somehow got Mrs. Rosenbaum to do that every week). Mrs. Rosenbaum had this thing about using the blow dryer. But I thought it was mean to subject the dog–not to mention myself–to all that noise. After awhile, I began towel drying only. The sweet dog loved that, and I had fun too. So, I guess it was all about me, and I guess I didn’t care whether I was one with Team Rosenbaum. Apparently, I wasn’t motivated enough by money to do it her way either.

Many weeks after I started doing it my way, Mrs. Rosenbaum caught me out. She didn’t say much, and she even seem impressed that you CAN dry a dog as well with a towel as you can with a blow dryer. But I don’t recall grooming her dog for much longer after that.

I went straight into babysitting, and I didn’t do much better there. I’d put the kids to bed as early as humanly possible so I’d have that much more time to raid the refrigerator and watch bad-for-me rerun movies like “Looking for Mr. Goodbar” and “Rosemary’s Baby.” Did I wonder how annoyed the parents were when the kids woke up at 5:00 a.m.? Nah.

As an aside, next week I’m going to my high school reunion. I’ve been chatting with my fourth-grade crush. At one point, he wrote, “You’re too funny, Lisa. You haven’t changed a bit.” I get that one every once in awhile, the “you’re funny” thing which isn’t funny-ha-ha. It’s some other kind of funny (maybe weird-funny or quirky-funny) that always gets me wondering what the hidden message about me, always me, is.

I don’t mean to get philosophical on you-allz, but in our cores are we pretty much the same as we always were?

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Lisa Alber is the author of KILMOON, A COUNTY CLARE MYSTERY (March 2014). Ever distractible, you may find her staring out windows, dog walking, fooling around online, or drinking red wine with her friends. Ireland, books, animals, photography, and blogging at Lisa Alber's Words at Play round out her distractions. Visit her at www.lisaalber.com.

25 thoughts on “The Underachieving Life: Seems I Haven’t Changed Much Since My First Crappy Job

    • Or, it might be charmingly-neurotic-funny. 🙂 I just realized that what hasn’t changed much over time is the filter between my thoughts and my mouth.

    • The high school reunion is going to be soooo interesting–I was such a normal get-good-grades kind of kid. But I wasn’t as normal as I thought?

  1. This is so interesting to me. I think it makes sense to be an underachiever at something you’re not excited about…I think it just means you’re saving up you energy for things that really matter to you (like fiction! No underachieving there!)

    And I’ve gotten the “you haven’t changed a bit” line from high school friends, too, which is always so odd to me because I feel like I have changed, but I guess in some core ways we’re not very aware of, we do stay the same.

    • And I need all the energy I can get! One thing I do know about my core personality — I’ve never been a people pleaser. I’m quite good at saying “no.”

      It’s so weird to hear the “you haven’t changed” thing because, for me at least, I realize afresh that my perception of myself is so skewed. I have no clue how I come across to people because I’m often so critical of myself.

  2. Weird and quirky are things I’ve always aspired to, so congrats! If someone told me I hadn’t changed a bit I’d collapse into a puddle of tears. I have changed, dammit, in some important ways. In others, I’m still the oddball loner with the huge cast of imaginary friends (they make great protagonists) and a few real ones. PS Does he know he was your “crush”?

    • Oh Christina, my friend, thou havest weird and quirk in spades — in the good way! 🙂

      Does he know? Nah. But I could definitely joke about it with him. We might meet up for a hike sometime over the weekend, in fact, hehe.

  3. I think we all have different ways of approaching things, based on out experiences. For example, Penn Gillette started as a juggler, and he says that he can always tell people who were trained as jugglers because they approach learning new things (even not related to juggling) in the same way. I tend to approach eveything as a pantser, as with writing. When I do training classes at work, I never stay on script, at all, but I cover all the material by the end of the class. 🙂

    “My boss, bless her heart, assumed that this person had misinterpreted my behavior because I’m an introvert.”

    As somebody who has written and delivered a lot of performance reviews, I’d like to propose an alternative explanation. I’m not saying it’s true — of course I have no idea — but it’s pretty common.

    Your boss may know all about your missed meetings and unscheduled breaks, but if she writes that into your review, then _she_ has to deal with it. She has to come up with a plan to rectify the situation, and if that plan doesn’t achieve results, then she may have to start to manage you out. And then she’d have to try to replace you, maybe even with somebody who doesn’t take unscheduled breaks but doesn’t write that well or has other problems. And that’s after the hassle of advertising and interviewing and so on.

    If a person is doing good work, smart managers can wink at the other stuff. To a point. 🙂

    • Hi Anthony! Having never been a manager, your take is so interesting to me. This might actually be true, because I actually am an excellent technical writer (it’s just the rest of it I’m not so good at), plus I don’t cause problems and people like me (I’m easy to work with). I’ve never thought about what managers must weigh — employees’ imperfections against training/rehiring.

      • I worked for one company where part of how the managers (at a higher level than me) were evaluated (which affected whether they got bonuses) was something called a “retention report.” The more staff turnover they had, the lower they were rated. So, it encouraged them to keep their people, but it also encouraged them to evaluate people carefully before hiring them.

  4. AAAHHHhahhahhahhhahhhhaaaaaaa!!!! When LOL just won’t cut it….
    This is too dang perfect, especially the poop danglers part.

    I say more power to ya for blogging on company time. I started writing a novel once while at work. Yes, I’m not longer at that job, but that had more to do with the boss wanting me to scrub stains out of the carpet while I wore a skirt (forget it buddy) than my time-fillers.

    Thank you so much for the laugh!

  5. I didn’t get a chance to read this until now—hilarious. I think we can change a bit, but not entirely. You’re just motivated by things differently than some, and that’s fine. As long as your boss is fine with it.

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