Heads up, this post has been quite tricky to write. I have such mixed feelings on this topic, and I have really struggled to write clear ideas on it. It’s a bit of a mess, but it’s the best I could do, after lots of drafting and redrafting.
Not long ago, I wrote about my default reaction in taking any situation personally. Recently, some light bulbs begin to flicker in my head, and I realised a few things. This was a new culture, and like most things, I took time to adjust. People around you are behaving and making decisions based on their cultural and societal norms, which can make you feel, more than anything else, like you’re on another planet. An outsider.
As the outsider, you sometimes need to accept, submerge your head, and swim along with them. This is obviously far, far easier said than done because the natural reaction is often to baulk. Stare open-mouthed. The shock of feeling your way around a new culture often is just that, a shock to your system. Eventually, however, minute changes start happening internally. You share stories with friends who have experienced a range of similar situations; you become slightly more desensitised to it; once you lift your head up, you observe that others are treated in a similar manner around you. And eventually, you just accept that things are the way they are.
One of my bosses recently asked if this experience was what I expected. I admitted to her that the first few months had been worse than I had let on (and believe me, I had let on) and that I had been terrified of her for quite some time. She was genuinely astonished that I had perceived her that way, and made it clear that nothing was ever personal. She said that sure, she became frustrated at times, but she also understood that I needed time to adjust. All this really took me aback. Mostly because she was just so genuinely surprised that I had been scared of her.
I’m not trying to excuse her behaviour, because you certainly don’t scream at someone when you are teaching them. I’m also a big believer in the idea that we should all be held accountable for our actions. None of this, “I’m sorry that you felt that way. That’s not what I meant, and if you take it that way then it’s your fault” bullshit. I’ve had that one thrown at me a few times, and it made me feel sick while simultaneously seeing red each time. Own your actions and how they affect others.
The difference here is that she wasn’t pointing the finger back at me and saying, “sorry you felt that way”. Rather, it was more, “Sweet Jesus, my intention wasn’t to scare you, it was to teach you”. And there it was, a French person admitting that it wasn’t personal, but it was just a societal norm. And it was something that I just had to accept, whether I liked it or not.
I know it’s a very thin line of difference, but for some reason that I can’t quite explain, while it frustrated me, it reassured me more than anything else.
I’ve come to no longer be scared of my workplace (MOST of the time). The other surprising and wonderful outcome has been that I have come to love some of the people I work with. The very same people that caused me to feel those sharp bursts of anxiety and fear. I’ve become close to some of the girls at work, and have formed warm relationships where we laugh and banter our way through the day. I look forward to my working days, to the friendly teasing, to the silly jokes and to the intimate discussions. In short, I’ve become a part of the team.
My first reaction is often to take things personally, that just is what it is. However, while I won’t forget how the first few months were, I’m more than grateful, and elated even, for how it has turned out. Perhaps it’s best to just not overthink this one. Or rather, in this situation, take it quite so personally. Suffice to say it’s been a strange twist, but I’ll take it.