Thursday, February 24, 2011

Work is Also a Four-Letter Word

I have been looking for a new job.  There is a sense of shame in this for me because this will be my third job since May of 2009 and that feels wrong.  Before May '09 I worked in the same place for almost ten years.

I hate my job.  It is sucking the life and soul and joy from me.
I work with kids.  Mentally retarded kids who are also severely emotionally disturbed.  That's the actual classification for my kiddos... MR/DD and SED.  And I do like my clients.  I work well with them... but kids as a group?  Not my favorite population.  And I work in schools.  So every day I have to go to high school again.

When I was in high school I used to get panic attacks from the crowded hallways.  I actually graduated a year early because I hated school so much.  Almost twenty years later?  Still do.  And the classes themselves are horrifying. I admire teachers so much more than I already did.  The attitude rolls off of these kids in waves and I have witnessed very little learning.  It's depressing.

I get in there, though, and I find a way to work with these kids and like I said, individually I like them.  We're making some pretty good progress and the parents love me.  I love the part of my job that lets me teach parenting skills, and I like getting to turn fun stuff into teachable moments.  Today I played with Play Dough and made pudding and read a story about aliens who love underpants.

It's not all fun, of course.  Tuesday I got attacked (hair pulled, stabbed with a pencil and my glasses were broken) and then a kid threw up at lunch.  Today I had to confront a 17-year old with a history of physical aggression.  But for the flexibility and the benefits I could take all of this and run with it.

The biggest problem is that I am holding on to my job by my fingernails.  Even though I work hard and establish rapport with these "hopeless cases,"  even though I have kept one mom from suing my agency and have helped other families find hope that change is possible.  Even though I have earned two coveted "performance stars" for my dedication and value to the team... when it comes to the numbers that they use to determine the worth of an employee I am failing. 

There are reasons for this.

I had a debilitating medical issue in August and September, surgery in October.  I had a second, unrelated surgery in November which led to an infection that wouldn't heal for almost three months.  Also?  Shingles between Christmas and New Years.  And because I work with little germy landmines I have had a cold pretty much since I started in June.

So I have not really been at the top of my game.

And The Empire is aware of this.  The Empire doesn't care.  I could lose an arm and The Empire would want to know what my plan is for meeting my numbers while I recuperate.

And I'm not alone.  I don't know the actual numbers... I've asked for them but nobody is willing to disclose... but anecdotal evidence shows that at least 75% of the case managers in my department are in the same exact situation.

The Empire's response is that there are then 25% of the case managers who are making it so it can be done.  Also, there are lots of people who need jobs and if I can't do it I should just step aside so someone else can.  Not surprisingly, the turnover rate is high.  As is the incidence of dramatic blow ups and perfectly rational adults with kids and mortgages who storm out of the building screaming "I fucking quit."  In my eight months at The Empire I've actually witnessed that twice, and I'm almost never in the office.

The Empire gives you the choice to resign or be fired... and if you get fired you not only never get the opportunity to work a government job again but they won't pay unemployment.  See?  Evil.

I met with my supervisor on Wednesday.  She is as supportive as she can be, but she doesn't sugarcoat the situation.  I respect that.  My numbers are improving but I need to work harder, more, faster.  At that point I was eight hours into a twelve-hour day.  I left her office, locked my door and cried for about thirty minutes.  It wasn't the first time I cried in my office in the middle of a workday.  Then I took half a Xanax, fixed my face and taught a parenting class.   

Here's what I can't get past: I am really good at what I do and I'm still failing.  I don't think I've ever failed at anything before.  (Well, except marriage, but that's a whole separate series of entries).

Failing is demoralizing, but my real problem is that I am already working my ass off.  I don't know how much more I can do.  And really?  In staff meetings when they announce anniversaries and I hear that someone has worked there for five years I shudder.  If I am still working in this office in five years I will put a gun in my mouth.

So why am I working so hard for something I don't even want?Why don't I just find another job?? 

The answer is even more depressing than the problem.  Unless I want to work with kids there are no jobs.  Not in my field.  Not right now.

And working for The Empire has made me question whether the four years I spent in grad school were a complete waste of time, money and energy.  Maybe I am not suited to this field.  Maybe I have no marketable skills at all and should just work at Starbucks.

Baby steps not to lose my mind:

Get out of bed every day.
Pack a lunch and a snack so I don't stop at McDonalds every day.
Make sure I have an adequate supply of Xanax in my bag.
Keep working my ass off until they call me in and ask me to resign.
Apply for every job I can find in my field that doesn't involve kids and hope like hell I find something before the axe falls or I have an actual breakdown and run from the building screaming "I fucking quit."


  1. Sounds like you are being successful. Just because you don't make the empire's numbers does not mean you are unsuccessful. It sounds like the Empire is unsuccessful especially with 75% of employees have poor numbers.

    Remember numbers never tell the whole picture and numbers are often manipulated to show the what is wanted not what is real.

    I believe in you and think you are awesome!


  2. Oh, if I were there, would we have a good cry together.

    Hang on. To your sanity, if nothing else.