current events

It is What it Is: The Psychology of Being Worked to Death

The last few days, well, the last few weeks I have been mumbling to myself “this too shall pass.” The Urban Dictionary definition  “A phrase that seems to simply state the obvious but actually implies helplessness.” Sometimes your workload can be so excruciatingly heavy that you cannot see past the Sisyphean rock that keeps rolling over you as you try to push it up the hill. It is a clear sign that it has come to that point when your vision is growing fuzzy, your heart is palpitating, your hair has achieved new levels of rattiness that could be featured on Dateline, and your toddler son (who’s preferred state is a high degree of dirtiness) has to insist that you to go take a bath. Apparently and thankfully, this is not a set of circumstances unique to me. In the United States, while wages stagnate and jobs are lost, productivity levels are at all-time highs. That is, we’re not getting more money for our efforts and people around us are dropping into unemployment like flies, but meanwhile, those of us who didn’t happen to get voted off the island are working ourselves to death. Or perhaps, more succinctly put, we are being worked to death and are begging for more.  One of the most irritating and trite phases favored by management wonks (usually newly minted MBA consultants who despite a complete lack of experience in the working world beyond an internship or two, yet somehow have figured out the essence of human organization) who work for some prestigious management consulting firm is “You need to learn to do more with less”.  I strongly suspect Genghis Khan was told this by some bureaucrat, and responded by saying, “No, I really would rather do more with more”, proceeding to conquer all of Asia and resulting in his own school of management theory exemplified by his statement, “The greatest happiness is to scatter your enemy, to drive him before you, to see his cities reduced to ashes, to see those who love him shrouded in tears, and to gather into your bosom his wives and daughters.”  Unfortunately, most of us do not have a horde at our disposal, although I am certainly now accepting volunteers.

At what point do we uncross our eyes, comb our hair and indulge in a nice hot shower where your mind can just be free to wander rather than writing down random work ideas on the steamed up shower curtain right next to where your repeatedly traced, “All work and no play makes Jackie a dull girl…”?  Well, for me, my dear friend and potential horde member, that time is not going to arrive anytime soon. Therefore, I must remind myself that this too shall pass.  Incidentally, the origins of the phrase “this too shall pass” is believed to have been a story told by Medieval Sufi poets, about a King who demanded his assembled wise men make him a ring that would make him happier when he was sad, and prevent irrational exuberance when he was too happy.  The fable says they created a ring on which was etched the phrase, “this too shall pass”, which did the trick.  So nothing lasts forever, and the current nightmare will pass. But when? When? When? When?  Sorry, a moment of literary freak out.   Even as I write this, my hands are cramping and my thoughts are racing.  Must. get. Ideas. Onto. Paper.  Preferably before my brain turns to mush and carpal tunnel syndrome ensues. Believe it or not, I am actually at a “potty” break at the moment (yes, I have a toddler, so I have now been hardwired to refer to all bathroom functions as “potty”).  This consists of a blissful few minutes where I am not required to talk to anyone. Where I can just brainstorm with myself and vent to you before its back to business.

Because he is a clearly a cruel, desert God, the unfathomably heavy workload which many of us face is frequently and irrationally paired with business travel.  When one already has far too much to do and has to hit the road on business travel with a large group of colleagues, inevitably nerves will fray and eyes will roll.  If you are lucky you will summon enough self-control to suppress the urge to call an idiot an idiot, or strangle somebody.  However, you can’t always catch yourself (well, generally I find it easier to avoid the strangulation, evidenced by the fact that I am currently allowed to mix in civilized society on my own recognizance rather than serving a long prison term).  And then you either have to make nice, laugh it off or just own it and move forward. It is at moments like these where boys turn into men (or if you prefer the Genghis Khan metaphor, where Mongolians become Mongols)—these are the times when employees show their true mettle.  What is even more frustrating is that we all need copious amounts of parcha mojitos (we are in Puerto Rico) to relax and unwind, but then can’t work it off because every single machine (and I mean every single machine) in the exercise room is out of order. Seriously?  And don’t even tell me about yoga. I’m not doing that. Don’t have the will power and refuse to get into touch with my Buddha nature.  My chakras are nicely aligned, thank you very much. I do suffer from restless leg syndrome.  Either that or I’m desperately trying to kick someone’s posterior into gear in my sleep. Do all “Type A” personalities suffer a similar affliction and can we form a support group?  You would think that at least I would have stable WiFi service in a hotel catering almost exclusively to business travelers, so that if nothing else, I could continue to work myself to death. But such mythical efficiency is a mere pipe dream. It took them two hours to “fix” my WiFi service.  I mean come on.  WiFi is either up or it is not.  Reboot a router.  Kick a server.  Pray to the pagan computer gods – an under-rated form of technical support. Unfortunately that’s two hours in which I could have burned up the keyboard and crippled my fingers faster.

I will say this.  Yesterday’s very early morning Delta flight was an auspiciously good (and deceptive) start in that I got my first class upgrade and was served mimosas, without asking, all throughout the flight. It’s a pretty decent way to start off the day. It helps make the cross-eyes seem a by-product of alcohol instead of insurmountable amounts of work and thus a little semblance of control enters one life.  It also helps deal with my fear of flying by imparting the requisite amount of alcohol induced fatalism, because, as the old Mongolian saying goes, “Those who drink, die.  Those who don’t drink, die as well”. That sense is fleeting, in that the second we land, I have to immediately deal with the fact that I will (1) need bug repellant spray, and (2) It’s Sunday and therefore sales of bug repellant are prohibited in Puerto Rico. Don’t even ask for it defies any kind of logic. It is what it is. Yup. That’s my other mantra for the last few weeks. It is, what it is.  This phrase is extremely useful when you can’t really do anything about your situation, when forces beyond your control are conspiring to drive you insane, or while your city is being sacked (carrying on with the Mongol metaphors).

If at a business party, you could try to sound oh so sophisticated and say “Fihi ma fihi” which is Persian for “it is what it is” and is as such a Persian prose work by the 13th century Sufi writer known as Rumi; who was a poet, jurist, theologian, and Sufi mystic.  Back in 2007, he received the great distinction of being the most popular poet in America–I am sure the competition for such a distinction was heavy. The Fihi ma fihi is said to provide a record of seventy-one talks and lectures given by Rumi on various occasions to his disciples and is thus considered sage advice. How can you not then follow such wise words “it is what it is” Some things you cannot control or change and you should free your mind to focus on other endeavors that may bear more fruit.  How else can we be more highly productive but not-working-ourselves-to-death Americans?

Just today I was discussing the merits of the movie “Heathers” (of which there are many) which so happens to feature prominently the song “que sera, sera” (whatever will be, will be).  I may have been tempted in these dark days of extreme workload to say whatever will be, will be. But no, I just cannot let that sort of thinking consume me. See, there are certain things we cannot control and those are what they are.  But to abdicate future control? That is not in my DNA. While things in the present may be beyond one’s control we still have the ability to right the ship in regards to future situations.

So, midway through this post, I decided to go take a hot shower, and because I have clearly angered the water gods in a past life, I can’t seem to get any hot water. How can a hotel have no hot water?  I bet Genghis somehow always had hot water.  A few months back, I stayed at a hotel in Silver Spring, Maryland which has no history related to silver or springs except for a trickle of water called Sligo Creek, that had a ladybug infestation compounded by the fact there was just no water at all. I, unknowingly, went to work out at 6am to beat the crowds of well-suited men who alternate between running on the treadmill and lifting weights.  It was a good hard workout where my t-shirt was appropriately drenched with perspiration (okay, sweat, but I’m trying to be ladylike). I get to my room, go to run the shower and drip, drip, drip. How can hotels function this way?  I mean, isn’t their reason for existing pretty much to be a bed, shower, and bathroom away from home.  More importantly, how can a hotel expect me to function this way? Anyway, fast forward to present day. I have had no hot shower now for two days. My WiFi alternates between barely connected at 1986 modem speeds and entirely disconnected, and I’m now fairly certain there are some people out there trying to sabotage me. Yes, I said it and no I am not paranoid.  Or rather, just because I’m paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get me. What’s a girl to do? I think I will indulge in a piece of my “it is what it is” cake, laugh at the disturbing picture my son drew in school recently (explaining how if he had Abraham Lincoln’s hat, he would, and I quote “Put a little dog in it and feed him bones”) and enjoy a good old mojito because rum is in my veins, or rather, I need to get all that pesky blood out of my rum system. It is what it is.

5 replies »

  1. Good lord, I would have loved to have read this before I posted a picture of Mr. Rogers with his middle fingers up…you definitely have a way of putting things in perspective 🙂 Great post!


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