Author’s Note: I am actually out of #NottheDarling posts so if you’re interested in submitting to this series (which is not usually about Corporate America but is usually about querying) please read more about it here.
As writers, sometimes we have to channel our pain into weird places, and mine found this vehicle this time. I guess there might also be a reason I write fairytale retellings about women with job issues… I hope no one minds me grabbing the title for a brief moment. I won’t do it again, I Promise.
Trigger/Content Warnings: Job rejection, feelings of mediocrity, discussion of RSD, minor body horror.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this piece are my own and not those of my current or past employers.
Mediocrity: The Millennial Manifest Destiny
By: Aimee Davis
Mediocre: me-di-o-cre – adjective – of only moderate quality; not very good.
I don’t usually talk about my IRL day job On Main™ for the same reason a lot of people don’t talk about querying On Main. The general wisdom is it makes you look bad to the very people you’re trying to court, be that employers or agents. Never mind that in America you have Section 7 rights*.
*For those who don’t know, Section 7 rights are those guaranteed to you by the National Labor Relations Act (whether you’re in a union or not) to engage in “concerted activity” which is activity with two or more employees to improve hours, pay, working conditions, or other aspects of your job. Section 7 rights extend to an employee’s posts on social media in certain instances. (This is not legal advice, I am not a lawyer).
But in this the age of technology where everyone decides whether to take a gamble on you based on your profile, it’s not worth the risk. Employers can swipe right or left on someone with the flick of a button. I know, I’m in HR. And legal. And compliance. Yet pain has called, and I am a writer, so here I am. And I suppose this is less a critique of my employer and more a critique of myself. Or perhaps the system in which we exist. A system not made for me.
I know labor law, and employee benefits law, and employment law. I can recite sections of ERISA and the Tax Code, of HIPAA and Title VII. My acronym vocabulary is strong. I can redesign benefit plans as simple as single employer and as complicated as Taft-Hartley. Hell, I know what a Taft-Harley Plan is. When I’m done designing them, I can explain them back in meaningful ways to employees of every level to help them make decisions that will improve their lives within the system I built. I’ve been in board rooms and at union negotiating tables. In judge’s chambers and on manufacturing floors. I’ve interviewed prisoners and CEOs. I’ve stared down men running Fortune 500 companies and told them to pay up. I’ve argued with teams of lawyers from multi-billion dollar health insurance companies and walked away with contracts more favorable for my company. I’ve soothed crying administrative assistants and disciplined executives. I’ve coached C-Suites and junior paralegals. I’ve moved up and down the chain of command, working with empathy and honesty. Transparency and ethics. Using the law as my principles, my business acumen as my guide, I’ve fought for employees and companies at every stage of my career. Every company I’ve interacted with has walked away safer, stronger, with some kind of better result for themselves and their employees. Because I toe the hardest line: employee and management.
Yet for myself there’s nothing more. I can’t get any further than where I am. For me, there is no advocate and never has been. Besides myself, I suppose. But I am a poor advocate for myself. I’m told it’s a “trauma thing.” Or maybe I simply don’t deserve the things I think I do. Maybe I aim too high.
For years, I’ve struggled against every machine, racking up rejections like tallies on the wall of life’s life sentence. In dating, swipe left on relationship after relationship. Not pretty enough. Not skinny enough. Not charming enough. Not sexy enough. Not funny enough. Not athletic enough. Not outgoing enough. Not adventurous enough. Doesn’t drink. Doesn’t backpack. Doesn’t go to the gym 4 times a week. Doesn’t want to have kids. Too weird. Too quiet. Too shy. Too blunt. Too strange. Too nerdy. Too opinionated. In querying, swipe left on failed book after failed book. Weak protagonists. Not active enough. Not interesting enough. Not different enough. Too different. Not enough oomf. Not enough voice. Too wordy. Too prosey. Not enough motivation. Too dark. Hell, even trying to find a house was an app where you swipe left or right and everything is not enough. Not enough budget. Not enough time. Not enough cash.
Not sure why I expected my professional life to be any different. Not enough education. Not enough experience. Too assertive. Too aggressive. Too blunt. Too honest. Too pushy. Too involved. Not trendy enough. Too much generalized experienced, not enough niche. Not the right certification. No masters degree. No law degree. The wrong kind of undergraduate education. The wrong kind of experience.
Not enough, not enough, not enough. Too much, too much, too much.
Corporate America. Where if you dream it you can be it. Except if you’re anything other than a straight, white, cis, able-bodied dude with a great education and a great background who knows another guy just like him to get in the back door.
For the rest of us? Corporate America. Where you’re doomed to throw yourself against the walls of being too much or wanting too much while being eight forms of not enough until you accept your own destiny. Mediocrity. The manifest destiny of Millennials everywhere.
Or maybe it’s not Millennials. Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’m Icarus flying too close to the sun with my wax wings, thinking I’m worth more than I am. Maybe I should listen to all the people who have come before me telling me to sit down and shut up and take notes. Literally, in most cases. Take notes. I’m good at it. Write reports. I’m good at it. Push paper. I’m good at it. Your decisions? Your thoughts? Your strategies? Your redesigns? Restructures? Planning? Assertiveness? Leadership? You can have that back. High priced secretary, sit. Good girl.
Girl. The times I’ve heard that. It burns under my skin like a thousand ants on the march. I want to rip my flesh open and bleed onto the pavement. Red. My blood is red like yours. I can do what you can do. But that would be emotional. And I’d be punished for being an emotional girl in the workplace. I can’t cry out of frustration. I can’t show weakness. But they can yell and scream and slam their fists and stomp their feet and make decisions on the dime out of emotion and call it gut. They can call it anything they want. Passion. Anger. Rage. Hunger. Ambition. Vision. It’s all fantastic.
In a man.
When I want? It’s manipulative. Condescending. Shady. Sneaky. Demanding. Reaching too far. Overstepping.
I’ve worked sixty, seventy, eighty hour weeks for so many years I don’t know what the free time of a forty hour week would look like. I see politicians rallying for a 32 hour week and I laugh. Part time work for the same pay. Adorable. I haven’t been on a vacation in seven? eight? nine? years. That time I went to Germany to chase a boy after another one broke my heart. I think I was in my mid twenties. I’m 35 now. I never had kids because I was always trying to get ahead, in publishing, in my career, in something. I never got married because I wanted to be something more than some man’s wife.
So I fought with teeth and claws and every bit of intelligence I was gifted. I completed every task assigned to me, learned everything asked. I took on the jobs no one else wanted, and asked for more. “A lawyer without a law degree.” They joked. Instincts. Acumen. Ambition. Drive. Desire. Intelligence. Things in a man that would have gotten me to the top by now. Things in me that fester and rot until I can barely stand to live in my own skin.
Or maybe it’s not because I’m a woman. Maybe it’s because I’m me. Because I’m neurodiverse. Because I say the wrong thing at the wrong time never mind how careful I always try to be. Because I don’t pander or play politics. Because I don’t actually have ulterior motives, despite what might be said. I lay them all right out on the table. For others? I want to help. To motivate. To encourage. To push to their full potential. To teach. To train. For companies? To fix. To make better. To keep safe. To scale. To grow. To make more money. To employ more people. To be bigger. Faster. For myself? I want to matter. To be seen and heard. To have a voice. A seat at the table. I want to climb the ladder all the way to the top. To be more than what I am.
That’s cute. Please take notes. I’m busy.
So here I am. Bleeding my red blood onto the carpet, while ants crawl from beneath my skin. Curled in a ball. Weeping where they can’t see. Always weeping.
I will never be more than mediocre. And I don’t know how to accept it.