I have lived in San Diego for quite some time. Being a native, I know the ins and outs, niches, nooks and crannies of this city. Although there will always be trendier digs or new restaurants, I have routines. Call me sentimental or nostalgic but I always dine, shop, and attend the same restaurants, shops, museums, and venues. I consider myself a loyal patron: show me a good time once and I will always come back for more. I enjoy knowing the local grocer’s name and seeing the grumpy manager at my favorite French bistro.
You see, I’m not one to stray far from my roots. It’s no wonder that I get my weekly manicure located across the street from my former elementary school...my old stomping ground. Last week, while returning to my car post self-indulgence via painted toes, I looked out on the school yard that I used to play in. The home of my development, the place that gave me many life lessons - lessons that defined my character, shaped my view on the world, and, of course, taught me just how far I could jump off a swing set and land right on my feet, like Kerri Strug in the ’94 Olympics.
I looked upon runny-nosed little ones screaming, chasing, and laughing and saw the same dynamic and elements of my childhood replaying. I saw a group of boys shoving each other, girls running and playing tag, and of course that special rare and occasional child off by herself drawing in the sand, looking wise beyond her years.
There is a uniformity and consistency about childhood, which, regardless of where you grew up, still rings true. Those playground politics that mitigate the sandbox: “I was here first”, “She started it”, “It’s my turn” that I still hear and feel in my adult hood. I wonder: do we ever really grow up? Are our corporate jobs simply a grown up version of Monopoly but with real money? Reflecting upon my childhood made me realize that corporate politics are very similar to that of the school yards and here is how.
1. Who you sit with at lunch matters—It’s all about location, location, location. The cafeteria was always segregated by archetypes, whether it be grades, gender, or “social status” (however much someone under most roller coaster height requirements could acquire). Cubicles and offices are again separated by genre as well and where do the “big kids” get to sit? At the cool kids table, of course, except now it’s called a corner office with a view and just like that coveted seating arrangement from elementary school, you may enter by invitation only.
2. An apple for the teacher—There is something so precious about children; they want so badly for their superiors, mentors, and teachers to like them that they open their hearts and do anything in their power to find favor in the eyes of those that govern them. We drew our teachers pictures covered with glitter, dirt, and our little germs gleaming as our masterpiece hoping that our teacher would deem it glorious. I think back to Christmas Story, in which Ralphie doesn’t just bring his teacher an apple to win her over but an entire fruit basket. Now what do these actions look like through the eyes of a cynical adult? Brown nosing. We all know that our teachers loved receiving gifts. I mean, we’re human beings, after all, and recognition and reward goes a long way. How often do we become bright eyed and complimentary when our “superiors” walk by? When your CEO, director, or manager passes and even starts a dialogue how often do you feel pressure to offer them compliments, stories, jokes, ANYTHING to get them to like you... cause, hey, a shiny red apple is sooo passé and they can already afford their own fruit basket.
3. Show and Tell is everyone’s favorite homework assignment—it’s often said that people love to talk about themselves because it’s the subject they know best. Well, not in a schizophrenics’ case but in most. Unfortunately, meetings have become a hum drum block of time where we are forced to listen to people talk about their favorite topic, the one in which they have become a certified master...THEMSELVES. Project reports in the team dynamic are the biggest display of “peacocking”. I believe that good work speaks for itself; we shouldn’t be encouraged to ALWAYS speak on its behalf in order to create envy amongst those around us.
4. Word travels fast—Can you think back to your very first crush? I can: Matthew Mazzella, a red-headed freckle-faced six-year-old that I just knew was the love of my young life. I spent my time in class drawing hearts on lined paper with his name in various fonts in my chicken scratch handwriting. I remember the day I finally mustered up the courage to share my adoration with someone, seeking guidance in my six-year-old frustration. I told Krista Glonaven. Out of fear that my secret would come to fruition, I made her extend the highest form of covenant in existence, the pinky promise. That liar. Within five minutes the entire class knew and much to my dismay, that included my prince Matthew Mazzella. According to scientists, nothing is faster than the speed of light. Well, those scientists clearly never worked in an office because gossip is faster. The secret told behind closed doors or behind cubicle walls can unfortunately resurface out into the open.
5. The In-Crowd runs the show—I remember the most popular girl in my elementary school’s scrunchies. I can’t believe that a scrunchy was the highest form of fashion at one point in time. The Fashionista within me is ashamed to admit it but I found them to be the epitome of cool. When I saw my classroom counterpart with a bedazzled denim scrunchy, I knew that, come fire and brimstone, I would own one, too. Of course, she saw it on Saved by the Bell worn by Kelly Kapowski, which then was mass produced and sold, this surge was fueled by millions of coveting little girls with the dire need to see and be seen as fashionable. Our CEO wrote an article and mentioned a book that he enjoyed reading. Within ten minutes, I had received this article re-forwarded from nearly four other managers, urging us to get our hands on that book. In another account, our new executive happened to mention that he enjoyed seaweed. Please tell me why the NEXT day there were ten boxes of the same brand, flavor, and product that he happened to mention he enjoyed the day before. I guess the popular kids do lead the way...
6. Bullies run the playground. I was up late drowning in old Freaks and Geeks episodes; a dynamic show staged in the late 70’s about a group of troubled youths trying to survive high school. This show sadly only had a one season run, but left lasting memories far beyond its short life span. There was a scene in which Sam Weir - a bonafide “geek” - who weighs about as much as an Olsen twin (the skinny one) is subject to torment from the high school bully in a game of Dodge Ball. I don’t know who in their right mind thought of such a heinous game; borderline medieval torture, in which children doped up on sugar, angst, and insecurity have the ability to hurl balls at one another…for sport AND a grade in Physical Education class! Sadly, there is NO escape except the wall in which you can try to find “refuge” on.
Dodge Ball in the corporate world would send any HR representative into a heart attack and while cursing, pushing, and pinching is grounds to get you fired, bullies have become much cleverer in their attempts to deflate your sense of spirit. You know those people that cunningly suggest you take on projects in front of your boss because “You are the best person for the task at hand...of course” or the people that always question your work. These office bullies leave you with the same feeling: there are some people that leave you feeling depleted, frustrated or even sad. They run an office similar to the bullies on the playground. There are two options — run and take cover or stand up to them.
While I enjoyed childhood, I appreciate being an adult and the autonomy that comes along with it. I like being able to eat when I want, play where I want, and kiss boys in front of the bleachers because I have nothing to hide. If only Corporate America was an equal field but it’s just one big sandbox with glass windows and sad kids. Worst of all? There is no nap time or recess.