I have one of those funny jobs where being your own person isn’t necessarily a benefit. The people I work with are all very nice and good at what they do, but I get the impression they’re also the type of people who keep Applebee’s in business and kill their nights watching reality TV. They’re boring, but I can’t tell if that’s a result of the work they do each day, or if it’s what enables them to come into work each day and perform. Is ennui the causation or a correlation to a successful office-based career?
Yesterday I went to lunch with a few of these very nice people, to a Subway they frequent because the falafel joint a few shops down was too exotic for their tastes. We got to talking about our co-workers, and at one point they both told me they liked that I had “more personality” than the other people we worked with. Which was very nice. But the truth is my personality is trouble when it comes to the 9-to-5-sit-at-a-desk-and-type sort of lifestyle. I can find creative solutions to problems, but I let basic paperwork sit on my desk for days, even weeks. I can make people laugh, but if I think you’re slow or dull, I will write you off as the sort of boring person who genuinely enjoys chain restaurants and the Real Housewives of New York, Atlanta, Cleveland, and southern Idaho. I skew myself just enough into the positive that I come across as affable and well-intentioned, but I don’t know how possible that would be if I took contracts longer than 6 months.
My dad likes to tell a story about an old friend of his from back when he was a professor. Coincidentally, his name was Joe, too. They worked and taught together, and while Joe was a smart man he wasn’t smart enough to know he wasn’t brilliant. So Joe walked around like he owned the place, denigrating other people’s ideas when he disagreed with them, lauding his own thoughts, and just generally being an asshole. One day Joe is in a men’s room stall and overhears two colleagues washing their hands and talking about what they’re going to do about “the Joe Problem,” and Joe slowly realizes he’s not going to get tenure, which is a death knell in the academic world. Joe ends up bouncing from college to college, gradually becoming more ass-holeish with each failure, until he winds up drunk and jobless, his PhD just a piece of paper on his bedroom wall. Point being that sometimes it’s better to compromise than be your own person. Discretion is the better part of valor, and all that.
Do I have a Joe Problem? Maybe. I’m certainly an asshole. I’m sure I think I’m funnier than I actually am. But I have good personality traits along with the bad, and I suppose that’s what confuses me about “personality” in general. Do I need the bad parts of me to find the good, or are they there to serve as a pressure valve when I get sick of smiling and saying “Yes, sir”? Do we choose who we are, which parts of us are good or bad? Are we shaped that way? What causes me to be me?
There have been times beyond count where I’ve wanted to shut the fuck up but it’s felt like there was a gear twisting inside me, forcing words to spew out before I had time to realize the consequences of what I was saying. The gear’s still there, but it doesn’t have as much torque as before. So maybe a personality is about finding balance, a compromise that allows you to be yourself without distancing people. Maybe, if you put in the effort, who you are is who you want to be.
Then again, maybe I’m just an asshole who hates Applebee’s and thinks wanting is as good as being.
God does Applebee's suck.