The two-year gap between blog posts is real. I’m starting to get the feeling that everyone’s life consists of long story arcs, and that two years is roughly the right amount of time necessary to reach that particular arc’s resolution.
Shortly after finishing up on the 2018 planting season with the SCA, my sister, who lives across the country in Boise, Idaho offered to let me stay with her family for a year. Being a poor 20-something and living almost a whole country apart, it was incredibly rare to have an opportunity to spend time with my sister and my niece. So naturally, I jumped at the opportunity as soon as I could. While I initially believed this period of my life to be a family fun reprieve before starting graduate school the next Fall or Spring, it turns out that my time in Idaho would contain its own life lessons.
Part of the stipulation of living with my sister was that I would pay her a reasonable amount of rent during my stay. As a result, I found myself in need of finding another job. Luckily my sister swooped in with the assist. She knew a guy who worked for a company that managed security for Micron Technology, a Fortune 500 company that specializes in manufacturing computer hardware such as hard drives, solid-state drives, and RAM. Impressed with my qualifications, he helped set me up with a position as a receptionist for Micron.
Working at Micron Technologies was like being Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz — and pulling back the curtain. Even though I wasn’t performing any work related to tech, it was a really great experience to be able to walk around the facility and look at all the different kinds of work that took place in that space. Something that I wasn’t thinking about in the past, was how all the departments and chains of command interacted with each other. I also didn’t understand how much of a company’s work was performed by outside contractors like my company, Allied Universal. You can also pick up a lot of industry information just from listening to conversations around the building, or even just by letting clients ruminate for a short time at the front desk about the workday.
With that said, one of the most important things I learned during this time was how to navigate office politics. I had always been one to stay quiet and avoid gossip, but something about this environment activated my curiosity. I am an avid fan of Robert Greene, an American author who writes about power, psychology, and social dynamics. As I read his newest book, The Laws of Human Nature, I would use it as a manual to try to analyze the behaviors and motivations of my coworkers. Most coworkers were straightforward, down-to-earth, and hardworking. They were mostly looking to receive a paycheck. They enjoyed telling fun stories and clever jokes to get through the day. Other workers were gossip mills and smooth operators. Some would try, though not so subtly, to kiss up to upper management or frequently reveal some juicy piece of information told to them in secret to the nearest person willing to hear. The people I felt the worst for, were the people who believed they were above the politics. A young receptionist who started around the same time I did, was often talked about negatively. She would talk about how she used her connections to get her position with other workers. She was also difficult to train, often made mistakes, and talked about herself a little too much. She wasn’t a bad person; she just wasn’t aware of how petty the office environment could quickly become.
Seeing her as a model of what not to do, I made a distinct effort to be her opposite: I would be humble, be someone easy to train, be a great listener, never complain, and under NO circumstances talk about how personal connections helped me get my position. By paying attention to the nuances and motivations of my coworkers and bosses, I was able to avoid most of the social pitfalls of that space. I learned that in order to maintain a sustainable relationship with your coworkers and bosses, you need to become a student, carefully studying the nuances of each person you work with and being willing to learn from the culture you find yourself in — even when that culture is something radically different from what you grew up with.
With that said, the biggest difference between living in Boise vs. Chicagoland was my exposure to their western spirit. The people of Idaho are rugged, individualistic, roll up your sleeves sort of people. A word they liked to use was ‘grit’ to describe their attitude towards life and its hardships. Growing up in a space that was largely Democratic and urban, I had always seen my values as ‘more correct’ and cosmopolitan than the backward ways of small-town conservatives. For the first time in my life, however, I was forced to deal with the reality that not all of the values espoused in Trump-era conservatism are completely bad. In fact, it is imperative that you are exposed to a myriad of perspectives and synthesize them in order to become a more full person. There are gems of wisdom in every culture, time, and space if you open yourself up to it.
While it’s correct to recognize that life is often unfair, nasty, and violent, sometimes you do need to have a ‘pull yourself up by the bootstraps’ mentality, especially when life is being unfair, nasty, and violent. Sometimes being able to face difficulty and uncertainty with determination is the correct way to move forward toward a better life for oneself. I don’t think anyone quite embodied this energy as much as my sister and brother-in-law. I learned so much from them about how to be independent and self-reliant. From them, I learned: how to cook, buy a car, sell a car, take care of and train a puppy, organize my bills more effectively, how to raise a teenager, and how to have more of a backbone. Granted, family being family, things weren’t always great. Sometimes we fought and sometimes we disagreed. But at the end of the day, I will always remember my life in two phases: the Me that existed before I lived in Boise, Idaho, and the Me that existed after.