illustrated by Adriana Guarderas

I’m 30 and Still in High School

People watching has always been a favorite hobby of mine. Not in the 1980s Police classic “Every Breath You Take” kind of creepy, though, but more along the lines of National Geographic-esque cultural anthropology. People are incredibly complex creatures…unpredictable, too. The way they talk, walk, interact with others, the facial expressions or sounds they make, and the way they express their emotions in varying situations all fascinate me. Luckily, my workplace provides me an excellent environment where I can conduct my people studies. My coworkers are walking and talking fountains of amusement. They have helped me realize that although I’ve grown up and haven’t been in high school in over a decade, it still feels like I am. Except now I get paid every two weeks to show up.

There’s the sci-fi nerds who try to wow me with their vast knowledge about the Star Trek and Star Wars franchises. I seriously work with a guy who has seen EVERY SINGLE EPISODE of Star Trek – the original series plus all the spin offs – and carries a phaser “just in case.”  I guess just in case we get invaded by the Borg or the Cardassians sneak past the receptionist and take over the office?  Who knows, man, who knows. Not to be left out of the mix are the Star Wars fanatics. I’ve encountered folks who can quote lines from any of the episodes (including the prequals…bleh) on the spot or have tried to work in quotes during every day conversations. They have sworn that Star Wars taught them more about life than…life. Ironically enough, these sci-fi nerds aren’t the IT guys.

Then, there are the sports junkies – the runners training for one marathon or another, hoping that their participation will generate enough monetary contributions to cure diseases or fund a cause; the ballers who only talk about playing with their balls with others or by themselves (baseball, football, basketball, etc.), and the fans. They watch games during work hours on their monitors or on their smartphone screens, they wear team jerseys with pride with their favorite players’ name sewn on the back, and high five each other as they relive moments from SportsCenter of great athleticism on the field or court. These high fives are usually followed by spirited sayings of “That was awesome!” “Did you see that?!” “That call was bullshit!”, or my personal favorite, “I could totally school (insert famous athlete’s name here).” All they need now are lettermen jackets with the company’s name on the back.

And just like in any other typical high school, there are the “mean girls;” or, as I like to call them now, “Alpha women with fancy job titles.” They’re the women at the top of the company food chain with the nice offices and personal assistants. Of course they still want to blend in with the rest of the work populace by wearing designer jeans NOT on casual Friday. They dish out backhanded compliments via email or annual subordinate reviews like candy on Halloween while wearing masks of sincerity and off-putting lipstick. And, they have flexible work hours.  Pfft…only underlings come into work at 9am and leave at 6pm….like me. On the surface, it’s simple to say that they have shattered the glass ceiling in the workplace, that they are now toe to toe with the guys (and some even above), and are now one of them. They have made it! These Alpha women give seminars, talks and host luncheons where they can now give advice to women beneath them over low-calorie cocktails and gluten free finger foods on how they, too, can climb the corporate ladder. Why do they do this you may ask? Because these Alpha women have made it. But have they? Eh, maybe. Maybe not.

Although these Alpha women may seem to have it all, they are probably still that 15 year old insecure girl inside, quietly seeking validation from others. Deep down they just want folks to like them. So, they work extra hours after the staff has gone for the day, come in on the weekends and some holidays to have that edge over their competition, and more often than not, they’re glued to their smartphones more than they are to their significant others (if they even have one). They try to be buddies with their underlings by hanging out with them at company sponsored events (of course), and speak their “lingo” to get on their level or be equals. Sadly, these interactions just end up being awkward for all involved. Don’t get me wrong, I admire these Alpha women for their dedication in building their careers. But at the same time, I feel bad. They have a huge chip on their shoulder…trying to constantly prove themselves so others around them can see that they’ve earned their fancy title. I bet, though, that when they go home at night, they’ll crack open a bottle of wine and try to gulp down their insecurities. As an underling looking up, I get to see right through their facade. I get to see them breaking, trying to keep their shit together. I’m privy to their human side, especially when they’re scolding me for something or another. To me, they’re still that teenage girl crying in the high school bathroom after a rough day, or eating alone in the cafeteria because the other kids think they’re weird. Except now, that 15 year old awkward girl is wearing a nice suit, has a snazzy job title, and can fire your ass for calling her insecure.

Yup, still high school. Sort of.

 

 

Illustration by Adriana Guarderas

 

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