playlist; tw: suicide mention briefly
Today, I interviewed for a product manager position. At one point in the interview, they asked me, “What is the place you’ve worked at that you’re most proud of?”
My heart swelled as I talked about MIT, and MIT Admissions, and Petey, and all of the admissions officers and bloggers. All the work that I’ve done and all the work that they’ve let me do.
Simultaneously, my heart sank, as I realized how far I’ve strayed from that this summer.
Work has been hard for me. I’m a loud, outspoken individual. For the most part at MIT, my character has been well received. People listen to what I have to say, they value my opinion, and they work with me to make change.
As I talked with my friends who have graduated, they seemed to all mention a common theme: the workplace is no MIT.
I didn’t quite understand what they meant by this when I first heard them say it. They said “Oh, the people are different…” or “You should really cherish your time at MIT.” And I thought to myself naively, well, of course, yes, I do cherish my time at MIT.
But it wasn’t until I started working did I really understand the gravity of their words: the workplace is no MIT.
This past summer, I found myself struggling to connect with people. I have many friends in my work and I’m grateful to death for them, but I find we’re not quite on the same wavelength. This isn’t meant to be an “Oh non-MIT people just don’t get it” in a snobby way or some intellectual dig. Rather, I think there is a special, intense understanding among MIT people to fully embrace being absolutely, unabashedly themselves.
I’ve met all kinds of people at MIT: people who prefer walking barefoot because they read somewhere that it’s better for you. People who can’t quite meet your eyes as they talk and they stumble over their words because their mind moves faster than their mouth does. People who are the epitome of a party animal, throwing down shot after shot, but still answer quant trading interview questions blacked out.
And from meeting all these people, their personalities have become my everyday, no matter how extravagant or large they are.
Where my personality feels normal or even almost too bland for MIT, my personality in a non-MIT workplace sticks out like a sore thumb. I’m far too opinionated for my own good. I never know when to shut up, and I’m the loudest in the room half the time.
As a result, I’ve felt somewhat isolated this summer. I’ve made friends and they’re absolutely lovely, but there’s still an ache in my chest, a longing to be fully understood and to be home. Though the people around me are people I love and cherish, they don’t understand that I can’t be my full self at work, why I can’t just sit down and be happy with what I have. The work environment I’m in is suffocating.
I feel as if I’m constantly walking on eggshells everyday. I wince internally every time I speak a bit too fast or say something a bit too outlandish. I find no warmth in the people meant to support me in the workplace, even going so far as to say that I feel othered by them. They’ve find my personality too strong, too much for their workplace.
These past couple of weeks have been hell for me. I sat in the office surrounded by people everyday, but I was the loneliest I had ever been. I talked and talked, but still felt as though I wasn’t really being heard.
As the weeks went by, I tried my hardest to stick to my guns and bear the pain. I entered every day determined to be myself, even if it meant sticking out. And so I was. These past weeks I was loud and opinionated and vocal. And I faced many repercussions in the workplace for this. And as I did, I fell deeper into my loneliness. I looked around for someone, anyone, to help me. But help never really came. I always believed that if I found myself in a situation like this, there would be some sort of resolution, that whatever “justice” was needed would be appropriately felt, but I’ve realized now that this is not the case.
As this happened, I ignored the way I felt, the nagging, breaking sensations that tickled the back of my brain. I didn’t want to cry about it because that means that they would have won, breaking my resolve. So I showed up to work every day trying my best to be authentic, but eventually it wore me down.
In one of my first nights in San Francisco, I overheard a woman on the street having a mental breakdown. She sobbed loudly outside my meek and unobtrusive apartment building on California Street. Her wails were haunting. She was very obviously going through some sort of psychosis, as she begged and begged to no one in particular to help her. “I want my mom,” she cried, voice raw with such desperation and genuine fear. I had never heard anything like it, never heard a grown adult so openly weep for their parent.
But funnily enough, twelve weeks later, I found myself in a similar position: lying on the floor of my bathroom, curled into a ball, experiencing my first mental break since my suicidal episode in the fall of my senior year.
I wailed like she did, and though we were probably breaking down over very, very different things, I found it funny that twelve weeks ago I had wondered what things could possibly drive someone to such a state. And now, here I was. As I broke down that night, I also talked to no one in particular, cursing them and crying loudly. “Why?” I asked. “Why does this happen to me?”
And in these moments it was so much more than workplace troubles that plagued me. Instead, it was a culmination of everything I feared. What if the problem really is me, at the end of the day? What if I’ve spent so long convincing myself I am a victim when really I’m the perpetrator? It couldn’t possibly be a coincidence that every time I go somewhere or do something, drama seems to follow? I can’t keep my fucking mouth shut for once in my life, can’t just be normal or content. I always have to make a scene or be bothered by something. I always have to be just a little different. I always have to put up some fight. It’s me, it’s me, it’s me all along.
And I sat there, alone on the bathroom floor, thinking, I do this to myself and I deserve every piece of it.
I don’t quite remember how I pulled myself out of here. The details are a little fuzzy and I think my brain forced myself to forget to relieve some of the trauma. Rather than keeping it all in as high school Cami would have done, I talked to people about it. I told them of what I was afraid of and they assured me it wasn’t me; I really was going through something shitty. I felt relieved. I think there was some part of me that thought what I was going through was normal, that the corporate workplace really is just that bad and I wasn’t strong enough for it. I’m glad to be wrong.
After some particularly emotional calls with the various support structures in my life, I was able to step back and really view everything as a whole. I had embedded too much of myself into my work. I craved their validation, even though I really needed nothing from them at all, and I had let it get to me a bit too much. More than that, though, I’ve gotten a taste of the corporate world and understand now that while my personality may be one of my greatest assets, it’s also going to be the thing that’s going to bite me in the ass. Knowing this now, I’m hoping to learn how to curb it and refine it, make it more palatable for people’s tastes while still staying authentic.
I try not to dwell in regrets, and it’s a lot easier said than done. I find myself drifting into ‘what ifs’ and ‘maybe insteads’, and I’m learning to cope with it. This summer felt like a waste of my energy and my time, but I do walk out of it with some good things: a lot of lessons learned, a better understanding of what I want and what I deserve, a newfound sense of resilience and independence, and some new lifelong friends.
And while I am grateful for the lesson in growth, I am hoping that this fall is something different, peaceful and good, as I spend my last year in the only place that has ever been able to understand me. Here is to senior year.