Fear is a habit; so is self-pity, defeat, anxiety, despair, hopelessness and resignation. You can eliminate all of these negative habits with two simple resolves: I can! and I will!” ~Author Unknown
Silicon Valley: 2012
During the past fifteen years of my adulthood, I have courted fear and all the other negatives in this quote by Unknown Author. Instead of lessening with my age and experience, the fear part had grown worse, especially in recent years. Not even the Silicon Valley has been immune to the stinky global economy and lasting recession. You’d think that living and working in a famous high-tech environment, where it’s crazy all the time, would mean I was finally able to cope with any amount of stress, but waking up to wonder if I still had a job has made it even worse.
“So, what else is new?” you’re thinking. “The whole country—the entire world—has been in the same sinking boat!”
True. But I’m a working mother and mothers worry more than single gals. And what you’re likely to call a sheetrock shack in your part of the world has always been priced like a mansion in this California paradise. It still takes lots of cold, hard cash (spell that high-paying job) just to keep afloat, and with three sons growing as fast as rabbits, it has taken more than a McDonald’s wage to keep them well fed and clothed, even in Old Navy duds. It has taken two jobs, two wages, two working parents.
Through endless stress and a series of bosses, I have been single-minded about not losing my job. Especially over such triteness as being too stubborn to change my skills/capabilities, or for being too proud to swallow my annoyance over having to take action on whatever ridiculousness was thrown my way in order to satisfy the demands of my employers. If it took eating a humble pie to remain employed, then I ate more than my share. Whenever I wanted to rebel and blow off steam (and I did on too many occasions to enumerate), I’d remember my kids. You can’t squeeze a size five foot into a size two sneaker. I wanted to get my boys whatever they needed, but also a few things they “wanted” to keep them happy and cooperative. And that took moola, which meant I needed to remain employed. Besides, our very high-tech world extends into the so-called toy market for even the under-ten consumers and each chip-filled gadget is pricy. You can understand, then, why I was awakened to fearful thoughts every morning, even during the prosperous years. When the economy went into a steep decline in 2008 (again!), I didn’t want to watch as foreclosure signs were erected in our neighbors’ front yards.
That meant I had to put up with a lot of crap from a lot of overly stressed staff to keep my job. Especially when pink slips were being handed out like candy.
When I started my “career” as an administrative assistant, I was as green a blue-collar worker as they come. In case you don’t remember the difference between this euphemism and a white-collar worker, I’ll remind you. I’ve been a member of the working class that performs manual labor for an hourly wage. Those in white-collar positions (like all my bosses) are salaried. In the Silicon Valley, that usually means they get stock options in the company (the better it does, the more money they make!) and annual bonuses for the same reason. They are quick to remind those in my working class that without their brains and hard work (meaning at least 12-plus hours daily, not including weekends or nights, because they take their work home with them and it’s always on their minds), we wouldn’t have a job. Heck, there wouldn’t be a company! I’ve never been able to argue with that kind of logic. No companies, no jobs. No jobs, no taxpayers. No taxpayers, no money for the government to spend. Unless they borrow trillions from China, that is.
When I talk about how fearful I‘ve been about losing my job over the years, I can’t leave out the advice of my dad. He often quoted some legendary author and playwright who wrote detective novels under an assumed name, but ended up writing The Greatest Story Ever Told, which was later made into a famous movie (which my mother watched every Easter season). This guy—Fulton Oursler I think—said something like, “Many of us crucify ourselves between two thieves—regret for the past and fear for the future.”
Dad nailed that on the head (or hands, if you want to be literal!). The quote pretty much describes me during most of my fifteen-year career. I’ve had a bushel full of regrets and my never-ending fear of what tomorrow might bring has had a profound effect on my ability to function at my peak capability. Although I worked on this weakness continuously, Confidence has not been my middle name.
Now, as I cruise through the streets on my way to work, I see dozens of signs indicating companies that have gone under and my fears are hovering in the back of my mind. Our national debt is in the mega trillions and California is drowning under a reported nineteen billion dollar debt. That’s billion, with a capital B! Along with New Jersey, New York and Illinois, we have the highest taxes in the nation. We have a high state income tax, too. We pay more than other states for gas to fuel our cars, which we need because we’re a sprawling state that doesn’t have intercity transportation. This, because of the environmental lobbyists who have far too much power. Building after vacant building sports for lease signs. Some say bank owned, short sale, for sale—price reduced, or sometimes just a piece of paper tacked up on the door. Probably an eviction notice.
Plenty of small companies have laid off most of their work force, too. The last time I checked, the unemployment rate was in double digits and continuing to rise. I read in yesterday’s paper that several major companies want to relocate. In other words, the Golden State is not immune to the declining economy. It’s not even the Silver State anymore. More like the Copper State. In fact, as of the end of 2010, the state Employment Development Department (EDD) had paid out a record-breaking $22.9 billion in unemployment benefits to an unprecedented 1.7 million jobless Californians. That averages to about $90 million each business day. Good grief! With a current unemployment rate of 12.5 percent nationally—a rate that has lingered at levels not experienced since the early 1940s—jobless Californians are turning to EDD in record numbers. There’s a staggering 22,269,290 unemployed workers in our country and in state comparisons, California processed the most claims of the 50 states. Who knows what the future holds. Can you more fully understand now why fear has such a stranglehold on me?
Remember that quote I cited about fear and all the other negatives that have defined my life to date? No? Well, here it is again: Fear is a habit; so is self-pity, defeat, anxiety, despair, hopelessness and resignation. You can eliminate all of these negative habits with two simple resolves: I can! and I will!”
Fear hasn’t been the only beast haunting my character. I have habitually indulged in all of them, despite shouting “I can!” and “I will!” at my image in the mirror on a daily basis.
My husband, Nate, has never understood my pessimism. “You exaggerate, Maite Burns. You’re a gorgeous, talented, smart woman who can compete with the best of them. So what if you don’t have as much formal education as others in your company. Neither did Bill Gates and that didn’t hold him back from achieving his goals. He just put his innate talents to work. Feed yourself positive messages instead of all that garbage about being a hopeless imbecile. The kids and I are darn lucky to have you in our lives.”
Nathan has always said the right things at the right time, and I honestly think he believes them, bless his heart. But then he has always seen a totally different person at home. There, I’m in my element. I was born to be a stay-at-home mom and a housewife extraordinaire, not a nine-to-five, clock-punching, blue-collar admin in a high-energy, highly competitive business environment. In California, however, not working has never been one of a woman’s choices. Not if she wanted any of the finer things in life. And I did . . . and do.
My personal struggle to succeed in the goals that would produce those finer things hasn’t been easy. But if I’ve learned one thing to share with my sisterhood, it’s this: he who laughs, lasts. No, that isn’t a Maite Burns original. It’s one of the memorable maxims of a gal named Mary Pettibone Poole, who wrote a book filled with them way back in 1938.
I couldn’t have achieved half my career goals without the inspiration quotes of several famous working women to keep me going. Now, I hope my sharing them will inspire you to never give up. I’m just one admin who had an unrealistic ambition. Fifteen years and five bosses later, I feel fulfilled.