Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Day I Realized I'm not a Zen Master

My first day back to work in 2010 started off pleasantly enough. I work as an Account Director in an advertising agency, and the entire industry had shut down over the festive season. After a good ten days on leave, I felt pretty relaxed and carefree. I had spent time with friends, travelled, thought about ‘life’ and read a little about philosophy and Buddhism. Now it seemed like things were a lot simpler than I had thought before. I wondered why I had ever felt stressed about the “little things” in the first place, “Boy,” I thought, “that was silly. This year will be much better.” Maybe I was becoming a Zen Master – things would just roll off me now.

It was my client’s first day back on the job too, and she was still in the leisurely pace of things. She sent me the first email of the year wishing me only the best with “compliments of the season.” Unfortunately this was not to last. We corresponded throughout the day about a particular project that had suddenly become “extremely urgent” (as so many things do in the advertising industry), and within a span of four hours she was busy throwing a telephonic tantrum, angrily shouting her frustration and making unreasonable demands in my ear.

Having fallen out of the swing of things in the “work world” during my fabulous leave, my guard was down. As my temple started to throb I wondered where all that happy vacation-vibe had gone to. Is it possible that all that goodwill towards mankind I had acquired while frolicking in the great universe of “what should we do today?” could just disappear – like it had been suddenly flushed down the corporate toilet?

Struggling to retain my carefree mindset, I wondered what it is about going on leave that puts us into such a state of “who we really are,” and why we can’t we stay that person all the time? Why should one part of me live Mon thru Friday during the day shift and the rest of me, the “real” me, live afterhours and on weekends? The truth is, the office is full of forced social interaction that requires you to be on your best behaviour all the time. Think about it – how many times have you been pleasant to someone you really can’t stand, or laughed at the boss’s jokes even though they weren’t really funny? The best corporate successes are masters of disguise and suffer the worst cases of Personality Constipation.

Maybe this explains the split personalities people develop in the workplace – you might have experienced the “email” personality? Usually this is an unlikeable personality that expresses herself with lots of bold words and exclamation points, and contrasts the “in person” personality which is usually much more pleasant and soft spoken. Outside the workplace multiple personalities are considered unnatural and psychological prescriptions applied, but at work – well, it’s pretty normal.

I wondered if everyone in the Corporate World was experiencing a day like mine the effect that might have on the global psyche. Imagine the impact of millions of cranky, frustrated employees all around the world shouting and throwing tantrums all day long. Wouldn’t it be better if we could all just go back to our “real” selves, spend time doing the things that really make us happy, and think about Life some more?

My temple still throbbing, I went home that evening and self-medicated with a glass of wine. I was surprised at how much the whole experience had affected me. I didn’t know the answers to my questions about why the workplace is the way it is, but I had made two realizations. First, the holiday was over – I had been unpleasantly and irrevocably thrust into 2010, and second, I knew without a doubt that I was not a Zen master.

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