September 11, 2009

The Replacements

One of the things that we all have in common is an identity.  Without an identity, you're invisible to the world.  Most of us have our real identity.  Some of us have an assumed identity.  Others have their identity stolen and more than a few of us encounter an identity crisis.  Our identity is with us from the moment we are conceived and lasts long after we leave this earth.  Just look on any grave marker.  There's someones name, their identity.  Even if the marker says "Unknown", they still have an identity, you just don't know who they are.  Our identities are cast in steel during our school and work years, and we hope they are good, and just and right.

But sometimes, our identities are put in the shadow of someone else's.  And it takes time and effort to stand out.

My wife took a new teaching job in her district this year in a different building.  The person who had previously had the class suffered a severe stroke during the summer and was unable to return to start the year.  What Jan wasn't told about the position, was that everyone in the administration was working under the assumption that this teacher would be returning ... eventually.  The family of the previous teacher is being extremely close to the vest about her condition, leading one to believe that Mrs. "X" had a stroke of the "Dick Clark" variety.  But no one can make a move, and as a consequence, Jan is being treated as a substitute teacher.  Mrs. X's name is on Jan's classroom door, on Jan's mailbox and the other teachers, as well as her own students refer to her as Mrs. X's substitute. 

This frustrates Jan, but she knows she will have to be patient, and let the passage of time allow her to solidify her own identity in the new setting.

A similar thing happened to me when I took a new job as a QA supervisor at a manufacturing plant.  Pete, my predecessor decided he didn't want to be in QA anymore and moved into production at the same facility.  He trained me for a few weeks and then I struck out on my own.

Except I wasn't doing things the same way Pete did.  And I meant for this to be, because frankly, I thought the way Pete did things were fucked up and wrong.  More manufacturing than QA oriented, which at the time, was not a good thing.  No one, especially Pete, liked the way I was operating, because it made it more difficult for them to ship shit product out the door ... and they tried more ways than one.  And Pete never missed an opportunity to tell me and everyone else that what I was doing was very wrong ... very un-Pete.

One day, the plant manager came to me and said he was going to build me a new office, away from the production people, so I could have more room for my testing instruments and paper storage.  This was good news to me, for about 10 minutes, when it dawned on me that they were just moving me away from the action.  A classic maneuver to weaken my identity.  But as it turned out, I didn't like my new office very much, and ended up hanging out in the manufacturing offices most of the time, where I could keep my ear to the ground.

Less than a year later, I was promoted to the head of the QA department of the division and moved far away. Much to everyone's relief.  However, I did get to pick my successor, and was able to leave a little bit of myself behind.

And it didn't hurt that Pete died soon after I left.

1 comment:

  1. I hope Jan gets her own identity soon. I can only imagine how frustrating it must be for her.