Mistress of my own universe
No I didn’t spend the summer building a delusional sense of my own importance. Far from it. I return to my quiet public sector office without a plan. 7am of a Monday, no mental health mountains to conquer. No excitable squeal at my surviving work excellence, no mastery of the universe in bullet points, totally sans plans. 7.03, tick tock.
In an austere time this feels like a strategic error of career suicide proportions. 7.05 I open up an excel spreadsheet seduced by the prospect of conjuring up a target or two.
A welcome interruption to early morning existentials, a friend phones. A darling of a Russell Group, this paragon of research excellence who ticks all the impact boxes is facing the prospect of redundancy. The penny has dropped that all those charming interventions at meetings and weekends spent giving 110% were totally and relentlessly pointless. Good-girl-turns-bad.
According to Freud, conflict at work can throw you right bang up against your Oedipus Complex. Bear with me.
One of the keys to surviving work is learning to let go of Daddy. For those of us who are good girls its hard to accept that in a recession good workers don’t end up basking in the sunlight of parental approval on the promise that we’ll go running off into the sunset together anytime soon. Some would argue that in fact it reduces your chances of happy ever afters because it ties you into a psychic infancy that leaves no room for a grown up relationship, with work or the people that manage it.
Most of us can go a bit feral when confronted with the loss of a workplace security even if it never actually existed. Fear and loathing of the fragility of life making us desperate to find that magic place where we can all live in one harmonious love bundle. The more we resist reality the more demanding we become. Its no wonder then that we put our faith in the magic solutions of strategic reviews and marital mergers to rock us to sleep. A neoliberal lullaby that we choose to believe despite the evidence.
During a redundancy, we can end up feeling an extraordinary sense of disappointment at the figures we appointed as corporate mummy and daddy. Its true that some gaffers like being the Big Provider demanding loyalty in return for protection. This is not a Marxist rant against corporations because its just as likely, possibly even more likely, to crop up in the public and third sectors where championing social justice can easily fall into the stuff of superheroes and Jesus complex. This is actually a Freudian rant about how we relate to people who put themselves in positions of leadership – whether its a trade union general secretary or the head of sustainability at CocaCola there’s a chance that they might want us to continue wearing psychic nappies. If no-one grows up you get to be Big Daddy forever.
Prone to the teenage sulks as I am, I’m not even suggesting we give up on organisations. We need them. But in order to survive work in a recession we all have to renegotiate our relationship with authority.
Easy to pretend that everything at work is rational, but actually our attitudes to authority are shaped early. At some point most of us find ourselves stuck at work repeating the same old routine of Daddy’s little girl. Problem is when the milk and honey has run out, it leaves us with unrealistic expectations about what a gaffer can do to protect us from life’s realities. Hot tears of disappointment and disillusionment follow.
Those of you who have spent more than 20 seconds in my presence will know that I’m not prone to going soft on leadership failings. I believe that if you’re paid more than the people who work for you then you need to step up to reality. But I also believe that whatever your boss is like, we fail ourselves if we don’t emancipate ourselves from the workplace-as-creche.
Painful as it can be, returning to work is an opportunity to work through our Oedipals. Initially it can leave us with a terrifying realisation that we can’t always blame mummy. Its by finding our way out of the Oedipus Complex that we learn to let go of our loved parentals and become our own gaffers. No higher power. No masterplan. Mistress of my own universe.
And you would expect nothing less from Surviving Work’s first day back at work.
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