A lot of years ago, maybe seven or eight, I bought a card with a sheep on it. The caption above the sheep read, “and to add to my misery, no one here thinks I’m funny.” It’s the kind of card you send to a good friend when they’ve left you. When you find yourself standing amidst a group of strangers who don’t understand you. Or worse, they misunderstand you. They don’t laugh at your jokes. They don’t even pity laugh. They just look at you.
I didn’t buy the card for anyone in particular. I just bought it to have. I have a rather large collection of cards that I’ve bought over the years. I pick up cards to keep, to read, to have, and to send. I think cards are one of the top ten loveliest things on the planet. Truly. The sheep card, however, has never made it into the rotation. Year after year I see it as I flip through my card drawer and never once have I thought it was the right card to send to anyone. I think that’s because the card wasn’t meant for anyone. It was meant for me.
There have been lots of times when people haven’t thought I was very funny. Many of those times were made worse by the fact that I really did think I was funny. Sometimes I’m not trying to be funny. People sometimes laugh at me for no good reason. The hubs laughs at the way I grocery shop, or the way I like to walk home from work. He thinks it’s peculiar that I sit in the bathtub for long periods of time or create “adventures.” Clients laugh at the way I dress, or the stories I tell. People even laugh at the way my house is decorated. Those things are meaningless.
But when you are trying to be funny and you realize that the entire room is staring at you like a mad person, those are the times it’s painful. You can’t go anywhere or do anything. You just have to sit there while all those eyes look expectantly upon you, wondering if you’re going to redeem yourself or wallow in humiliation. I choose the latter. Wallow. I keep my eyes downcast and I wallow. It’s the only way to regain composure.
The root of the pain is pretty simple: you misjudged your audience. They don’t get you.
Last week, I gave up my job. I didn’t really quit my job, nor did I get fired. I just gave it up. I felt like I was holding onto it so tightly and I couldn’t bear to imagine what my life would be without it. It didn’t define me, but it had been so much a part of my life and my success for the last four years that to imagine my existence without it was impossible. I didn’t even know I was going to give it up. I actually had no idea. But something started happening, something I was ignoring. People didn’t think I was funny anymore.
Don’t get me wrong, there were moments when people though I was funny. How could you not? But those moments were fewer and more far between. I started hearing words like “negative” bandied about in reference to me and my personality.
For a long time I thought that being serious– taking things more seriously– was what you were supposed to do as you grew up. Your career is a competition. There are others out there who will beat you to your dream and you better be ready to crush them with your intellect, smash them with your clever ways. If you didn’t look smart, you looked stupid. If you weren’t at the front, you were at the back.
Believe it or not, there was a time when I was known for being easy going. I’ve never been one to roll over when it came to something I believed in, but my methods were cheerful, my disposition that of someone who wants to learn from others and embrace new ideas. I don’t know what happened to that girl, but my guess is that she died a painful death a few years back. I killed her. Probably in the bathtub.
There’s no doubt that my natural inclination is that of a defensive player. Give me something to protect and I will do so fiercely. I was always shit at shooting baskets, but keeping some other beastly chick from doing it was never a problem. But the truth is that I longed, always, to be an offensive player. And I’ve worked really hard to be an offensive player. It doesn’t mean I can’t be aggressive, but it does mean I need to remember that I’m on a team and that what’s best for me isn’t always best for everyone else. I don’t want to continue with this sports metaphor because it’s making me uncomfortable, but you understand what I’m saying, right? Sometimes you realize you’ve become a fierce asshole when you meant to be a rockstar collaborator.
Now, do not misunderstand me. My job did not make me a fierce asshole, I made me a fierce asshole. My job gave me every opportunity in the world, but my priorities got fucked up and I started focusing more on the me and less on the we. I took the weight of success–collective success– onto my own shoulders and frankly became a touch Machiavellian. It’s no wonder people didn’t think I was funny. I was foaming at the mouth.
And so it happened. I was gripping my job so tightly that I had no choice. I needed to let go. I needed to let the one thing I couldn’t control float away. In a funny way, I needed to throw myself into an unknown place– one of fear and doubt– to really understand who I was and what I wanted. Nothing will do that quite like become unexpectedly unemployed.
And now I’m going to rebuild it. I’m going to take the incredible people, places, lessons, and triumphs of the last four years and I’m going to apply them to finding a new future. I’m going to find a place where people do think I’m funny and I’m going to keep it that way. I think.
Here’s to optimism.