In recent years, I’ve gotten in, and written about, several different kerfuffles in my professional life. Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about those kerfuffles. About what I can learn about myself for having gotten in them, and, about what I can learn from my reactions to and feelings about them.
First, a few notes about my professional world: although I’m an accomplished, successful, adult, I changed careers a little more than a decade ago, and, in my new field, I enjoy none of the gravitas, respect, prominence, or even concern to which I had become accustomed – and which I had earned – in my previous (completely unrelated) field.
Second, participants in my current field, as a whole (or at least as something close to a whole), have something between contempt and disgust for my previous field. Or at least for participants in that field, and the values they imagine characterize those participants, that field. And, important to note, folks in my new field often don’t see, or actively deny, those feelings.
This fact pattern looms large in my kerfuffles: each features some combination of my being perceived as too big for my britches, or having distasteful values they associate with my previous field, or both.
Add to that, my new field is culturally, stylistically, almost diametrically opposed to my previous field. I went from a world in which appearance mattered a lot. Sure, physical appearance. But also intellectual, social appearance. Visibility mattered. It helped. It was praiseworthy, sought after, coveted, admired. In my new field? Strangely (or maybe not), we prize invisibility. There’s an almost schizophrenic relationship to visible success: there is precisely one realm in which people see visibility as even remotely desirable, and even there, people tend to see it as a double edged sword, as if to succeed, to be visible, may well demonstrate competence or achievement, but it does so at the cost of demonstrating, simultaneously, narcissism, grandiosity, hubris.
Now. I don’t particularly subscribe to these cultural norms. I understand them – their history, their meaning, their purpose. But I don’t subscribe. I remain very much the person I was in my previous life – dressing differently, speaking differently, and generally conducting myself differently. In ways that many of my newfound peers find at best strange, and at worst, genuinely distasteful. And I refuse to, or simply cannot, change. Or even try to change.
This, too, features in my kerfuffles: a sort of inchoate, unarticulated, disavowed, but omnipresent distaste not just for my actions, but for my essence.
So there’s that – a relatively straightforward explanation for the fact of my kerfuffles: my new world is responding to me like a body to a transplant. I’m foreign. Alien. Different. And by sheer virtue of my difference, I threaten people. And institutions. I find it interesting that, in general, my kerfuffles have concentrated themselves not among either the rank and file of my new world or its most revered members, but rather, among those in (volunteer) positions of almost masochistic leadership of institutions. (As in many fields, leadership of institutions has little to do with either accomplishment or respect, but rather, serves as evidence mostly, if not only, of willingness to lead.)
Those who have objected to me, who have (at least in my perception) persecuted me, are the very people who’ve signed up to defend the institutions themselves (as distinct from the work done by the institutions).
I recognize all this is oblique, vague. But I’ll offer an analogy: the NFL commissioner has very different interests than the players or the coaches or the managers. He’s defending the league, the sport. This is why a talented player like Colin Kaepernick was rejected: it didn’t matter that he was (is?) a talented player. He threatened the status quo.
I’m no Colin Kaepernick. I’m white, for one. And the order I threaten isn’t anything as grand – or evil – as white supremacy. I don’t pretend to anything so noble as righteousness. I’m just different.
Organisms reject foreign bodies, and I’m foreign.
So that, I think, goes a long way to explaining why I keep finding myself in these situations.
Next up, the far more interesting question of my powerful, unfamiliar feelings about them.