I is for Image
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.
The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
T. S. Eliot
I just finished re-reading that wonderful poem again. That line,"there will be time, there will be time/ to prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet," jumped out at me again and again. Don't we all do this in our lives, I think as a means of surviving.
How many times have we poured out our souls here, opening old wounds, sharing anguish and pain, and then gotten up from our computers, straightened ourselves up and gone out into the world, confident or at least seeming that we are "just fine."
It got me to thinking about the face I prepare to go out with when I meet others. Creating that face is an art we develop in order to survive in our professional lives. We are taught early that,
"No one likes a frowny face/ change it to a smile/Make the world a better place/By smiling all the while." That's something I learned that from the cradle, I swear.
People comment that I smile a lot at work. I do, rather than be the spreader of gloom and doom.It has taken some conditioning for me. I am such a transparent person, and everything shows on my face. But I have learned over the years to just hide it, and not share all of my life with my co-workers. For one thing, my personal life is just that, personal. I don't feel comfortable sharing much of it with anyone at work. The good stuff,maybe, but not much of that.
We are supposed to get work done, not share each other's personal problems. But personal things do intrude sometimes. They slide in, and if I listen, I can learn a lot. During one work interview, I was asked at(DCIP) how it was to work in an all male environment. It took some listening until she told me that she had been the subject of inappropriate remarks and attention at her previous job. Another time,a co-worker let slip that his oldest was 11, after celebrating his10th wedding anniversary. That one, I just let slide. The dividing lines are invisible, but just as real as the ones that Les Nessman used to draw on the floor of his cube in WKRP. Does anyone remember that? He didn't have cube walls so he drew them on the ground with tape, and everyone had to honor them.
The image I present is that of someone who is capable, organized, and full of energy, ready to tackle anything given to me at work. This is one I have worked hard to create. For one thing, it's to dispel the idea that I am an older worker. I am a good 15 years older than many of my coworkers in their 40s. I never let on how old I am. Never mention the year I graduated from high school, since many of them were not born yet. I color my grey hair, so that I don't look so old.
Lately, I have lighted my coloring up, so it doesn't look harsh and phony, which has the effect of making me look older. I also walk a lot and try to keep fit. I struggle, but work on getting enough sleep, so I don't look so tired early in the morning. I keep my wardrobe neutral, I hope no frumpy old lady looks, or inappropriate fashion trends that would look stupid on me. I can remember when mini-skirts were all the rage, the first time. I wore them proudly, then, having great legs to show off.
There are so many unwritten rules that govern the workplace. I don't apply for permanent full time positions. There is such underlying ageism there. I don't put the date I graduated from college on my resume. I fudge and save I have more than 15 years experience, rather than the 20+ that I actually do have. One of my best resumes has a summary of my accomplishments on the first page, rather than chronological listing of my experience. Contracting is a safer route to go. Most hiring people don't care how old a contractor is, but HR people see dollar signs of increased insurance with age. The fact that I have not been in a hospital for over 17 years would not cut it with them. But their bias about older workers is out there.
I can mention my grandchildren, generally or that they are all under the age of seven, (except Kayla, but then I never mention her). I just say that my husband died at a very young age (54), but don't mention how long ago that was.I take the stairs when asked, walk the half mile to work each way,walk to meet people for lunch downtown, not mentioning it might be a stress.
My age works to my advantage in subtle ways though. I learned how to identify parts of speech, diagram sentences, good usage, and to write while in high school. So many younger tech writers have no idea how to do these things. They take a course or two in college, and call themselves technical writers, but don't have a clue as to how to go about organizing themselves.
They have never had the experience of standing in front of a bunch of seventh graders and having to keep their attention for an hour. After that, corporate America training is a breeze.
I have picked up a lot of information about page layout and design,business process flows, software development, how to get production work done. These are all things that an employer gets with me. When asked about my rate (which is generally near the top), I focus on the"hidden value" they get as a benefit of my experience. I can interview subject matter experts, and manage complex projects, because I have done that so many years. I don't miss deadlines, and know how to manage my workload. I also don't complain or say that something is not in my job description.
I know that many of my contemporaries are retired, or have never worked. I plan on working until I am 70. A general lack of money has made that a necessity. But my employer will never know how old I am.They will just have to judge me on my output.It's the face that I prepare each morning to meet the world.