Chapter 1

Beginning and End


Stagnant and suffering decision paralysis, after four years I decided my job was like one of those emotionally damaging relationships where the sex is excellent – or in my case the money, which I thought was good – and where, although I knew it was a bad relationship, I kept going back to it against my own better judgement.

Stuck on a loop, staring at my computer screen, ignoring phone calls and sending letters to landowners resulting in more angry phone calls, I wondered if my staying was a masochistic tendency or a symptom of low intelligence. Atrophy in motion, I pictured my white brain matter dripping out my nostrils onto my keyboard like dandruff or a disease eating me from the inside out.

Propping up my unstimulating work life were action-packed weekends, yearly winter holidays overseas, and New Zealand summer holidays.

But four weeks’ holiday a year wasn’t sustaining me.

I had dug this hole.

The more I scratched at the edges, the deeper and wider the hole became and the harder it became to get out. Looking up and seeing the circle of light that was my exit getting smaller and further away, my digging grew more desperate and the light dimmer. I blamed my predicament on myself, everyone else, and everything. Cornered like a rat in a hole, my behaviour fluctuated between paralysing fear and hostility.

To some, my negativity and moaning became constant and unnoticed like the background hum of a refrigerator, or an ugly person’s face to which one grows accustomed. To others, my oppressive presence could be likened to draconian council rules enforced on a landowner, or the latest annoying HR evaluation tool imposed on staff to measure employee and workplace satisfaction. My negativity had reached a crescendo.

One day, when I was alone at my desk in the hallway, with Joseph, Wendy and Linda away, my manager sat beside me in my cubicle to address the complaints.

Approaching me gently like one would a traumatised child with learning difficulties, and feeling sympathy for the life struggles ahead for that traumatised child, my manager said in her soft Irish accent, “There have been complaints about your negativity.”

I welled up with tears.

I had not cried at a workplace since the fish factory.

“I’m just so bored,” I said, a sigh discharged from deep within my being. It carried great hopelessness and agony, and my internal muscles ached with weakness.
I stared at my computer screen. The pest plant software visible on screen showed a land parcel where I had indicated a woolly nightshade infestation, then the screen blurred behind my tears and I turned to my manager. I had no words. I was without strength.

“What exactly is upsetting you?” she asked. “Is it someone in particular? Is everything fine at home?”

I looked at her, disheartened, still unable to speak.

“You just seem,” she said and paused to think, “so upset.”

I said it wasn’t one person at work but the boring work itself and maybe if my home life was terrible like work, then work would not seem so awful.

“I’m just so bored,” I repeated, summarising the situation. “Boredom gives me too much time to think about how bored I am and then I get bored of thinking the same boring thoughts.”

Desperate, I looked to her, hoping she could solve my problems. One giant voluminous tear lifted from my right eye and tumbled down my cheek, the tear so large it descended at speed dropping onto my knee, marking my black work pants. To me, it was obvious someone incredibly bored and unstimulated should be driven to tears.

I don’t know if my reaction was a surprise to my manager, but the tsunami-like flow of pent-up emotion and frustration was a surprise to me. I was used to thinking my way out of problems.

“How long has it been this way?” she asked, speaking to me like I was recently bereaved.

I thought for ten seconds, too afraid to speak in case my silent tears turned into blubbering. I had been at the council four-and-a-half years and had felt bored since the first week.

“Three-and-a-half years,” I said, being generous, realising I had felt this way from my first week but the feeling was now multiplied by two-hundred-thousand million.

Sitting there crying, I thought about how I was wasting my life.

“I don’t know what to do,” I said calmly, in opposition to distraught emotion manifesting as tears rolling down my face.

“I have no idea where to go or what to do for work.”

I was reaching out for help but she had little to say. Her unvoiced solution was I leave and become some other workplace’s problem.

I wished the council would embark on one of its regular restructures or performance manage me off the premises.

Too upset to continue working, she suggested I go outside for air.

Walking around the block, mentally cornered, I was in a state. Unable to pinpoint why I couldn’t leave and embarrassed and disappointed in myself for staying, further resentment came from being drawn into basing my self-respect on my job. I wanted my personal life to define me.

I thought how Ellie and I had twice left New Zealand but how this time I could not get out. Halstead felt like a painful lesson in facing uncomfortable personal truths.

Although I knew what needed to change – that I had no useful qualifications, no people skills, that I was feeling sorry for myself, and my pessimistic attitude pervaded every thought – I felt incapable of lifting myself above the low.

And the tears kept coming.

Walking around the block crying, I passed the park where Weirdo Bingo crazies hung out for social drinks, before I returned to self-scorning thoughts: I was a greedy westerner who should be grateful to have any kind of job, my health and a loving relationship. I shouldn’t ask for more. I was a product of my generation: self-centred and entitled.

My self-deriding thoughts told me accepting my situation was an excuse for failure.

I could hear my mother saying “a job is just a job,” and realised her lifetime of imposed thinking was probably her way of achieving what all parents try to do for their kids: prepare them for the world. But a world of her experiences. Surely someone else could be blamed for my predicament, because I was trying my hardest.

My thoughts shifted from wanting my job to be more than just a job, to trying to accept my job was just a job.

Frustrated from being at the council for four-and-a-half years with no reason to be there, my thoughts returned to the beginning: I felt mentally cornered with only myself to blame.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top