Breaking the rules – Part III (The Empire Strikes Back?)

Those of you who are fellow card-carrying lifelong diehard Star Wars fans might point out that The Empire Strikes Back was actually the second (well, really the fifth!) Star Wars movie in the first trilogy and not the third, and you would be correct.  So why, you ask, would I name the third installment of this particular saga after the second installment of said Star Wars saga?  Answer: the title of this post is appropriate given what has transpired since Part II, and because in the trilogy formula, the second act is usually the darkest and most conflicted, as is this one.

Just days after I wrote Part II, and perhaps even because of the energy behind that post – or in spite of it – I got my first message that my piercing had been noticed and that I was, well, on notice.  After climbing the stairs and reaching the top of the parking structure on my way out that afternoon, I ran into one of my main allies in HR.  She and I had exchanged friendly words in another parking structure the week before, nose jewelry in full view, so I didn’t expect anything different this time.  As we parted, however, she mentioned — almost as an afterthought, and almost apologetically — that she had noticed my nose piercing, that it’s against policy, and if someone complained she would have to bring it to my boss.

I’m not sure what she expected (defensiveness? indignance?) but I politely said I understood, I realized it was against policy, and I thanked her for saying something.  Her stock rose in my personal Market of Integrity.  Finally someone was doing their job.  Finally someone had the guts to speak up!

But … what was this about “if” someone complained?  So I get to break the rules as long as no one complains about it?  I’m OK as long as I get away with it?

Apparently so, because a couple days later — again as almost an afterthought at the end of our regular hour-long weekly meeting — my boss mentioned that she got an “anonymous complaint” about my nose piercing, and that she said she’d address it.  There was no request to remove it, no statement of consequences and no question, so I assumed this “addressing” was the equivalent of saying “I see you.”

The following day in a follow up meeting I made the brave, premeditated move of telling my boss I was planning to leave the organization, citing unhappiness, lack of fit, and a desire to return to doing work that truly expresses my gifts — even perhaps as a contractor for the organization.  I told her I wasn’t giving notice yet, and that I wanted to be honest with her because our relationship is very important to me.  I told her it was hard for me to admit how I was feeling, since I didn’t want to disappoint or abandon her.  I said I intended to not leave my department in disarray.  It felt like a good meeting.  She heard me, said she knows I’m loyal, and just asked me not to leave things in chaos.  That was a hard day of three very honest meetings and lots of boundary setting.  It was epic.

You see, my boss is one of the three things I like about my job.  And I love this woman as a person — she is the one individual I would want to report to in my organization and one of the few I not only admire and respect, but like.

The following week, on Valentines Day, we had our regular weekly one-on-one.  It was a normal meeting, mostly me going over all my projects.   I followed up later that day with an email regarding two things I forgot, and in her reply my boss mentioned she had gotten another inquiry about my piercing and that I needed to remove it as I was not in compliance with policy.

So now we were in the Realm of Direct Communication and Danger of Defiance Zone.  What to do?

A day later I responded that I appreciated her saying something, but that there was a story behind it I wanted to explain.  I said I would not be asking for special treatment or to be allowed an exception to the policy.  I asked — is that OK?  She wrote back that several people were now commenting and questioning her, and that we could talk, but that I had to remove it that day or face disciplinary action.

Whoa.  I realized I had not expected that reaction, nor to face that kind of clear dilemma.  I spent that day, and the next, sort of out-of-body at work, but with facial jewelry intact.  Then the weekend came.

I realized I needed help figuring out what to do.  Do I back down on my commitment?  Sell out? Submit to oppression and injustice?  Defy my beloved boss? Risk burning bridges?  Make a big deal?

I was also angry and suspicious that the hammer had come down on me right after saying I was unhappy and planning to leave.  Could it be possible that my boss was pulling tightly on my reins just because I was trying to break free?

In seeking wise counsel from trusted friends (thank God(dess) for such gifts as friends!) I learned two things.  One, my Beloved Boss is human, and as a human she probably — albeit subconsciously — was sad and upset I was leaving and found it easier to deal with the grief and loss (after all I have been her ally and confidant too) by getting angry with me and exerting her authority.  After all, screaming “FINE!  Go on and go, you %&*$-ing #^*$!” after your loved one as they exit the house with packed bags in hand feels a lot better and more powerful than bursting into tears and facing the silent, ambiguous emptiness left in their wake.

Two, I learned I had been selfish.  I hadn’t fully played out the scenario of her reaction to the piercing in my mind, but I had assumed it would consist of her noticing and asking me about it goodnaturedly, maybe teasingly telling me I was going to have to take it out, me explaining my reasons and her totally getting it, then negotiating some resolution with me or asking me to take it out, citing some really good reason I had never thought of before.  OR!  Maybe she would even join me in my commitment, let it go, and tell the concerned parties to go focus on more important things like ensuring our patients get the safest, quickest, most respectful care imaginable, and keeping stellar employees happy and feeling supported.

What I had missed is that my Beloved Boss likely sees herself as constrained in her role as I do, if not more.  Allowing me to walk around with a tiny jewel on the side of my nose undermines her authority.  It implies that either I enjoy her favoritism, or that she is powerless to get me to follow The Rules.  I had not considered that my actions would put her in an awkward position that hurt her credibility — credibility I respected and had worked hard to protect.

So I went back to the studio and got a clear glass retainer put in, which is actually healing a lot better now than the jewelry was.  I didn’t do it because I backed down from my commitment, or because I am weak.  I didn’t do it out of fear.  I did it out of love — love for my Beloved Boss and what she represents, as well as who she is.  I did it out of respect for how difficult her job must be, and how she will be the one left behind when I leave, continuing the lonely fight to do the right thing.

One of my friends also pointed out that this decision could also be about me letting go of being right.  I had never thought of myself as insisting on being right since I’m the type of person who meets disagreement or conflict with dialogue and a sincere attempt to come to a mutually beneficial solution.  However, I hadn’t considered my righteous commitment to an ideal or principle despite all consequences as having undertones of insisting on being right or superior.

The following week at our meeting my boss and I had a candid conversation.  Indeed, she had been annoyed with me.  I was surprised to hear it’s awkward for her to bring up dress code issues with staff (I assumed this would have been old hat for someone who started out as a front line staff person and supervisor).  I suspect she felt extra hurt it was me — of all people — she had to address this with.  I’m the Teacher’s Pet after all, so my apparent defiance must have really stung.  I realized I have no idea what kind of pressures and challenges to her authority she must face, and how I put that in jeopardy.

She heard my reasons (I gave the main ones), listened to my explanation (no intention to be defiant of her initial “addressing it”) and accepted my apology.  I don’t think she fully understands why I did it — after all, she has spent nearly 30 years in the organization and has grown up in the culture — but I hope she still believes I’m loyal, at least to her.

I suppose this is a part of pushing the envelope and breaking rules — sometimes it doesn’t have an effect on anyone but us.  It can sometimes be as much about our own psychological development and spiritual awakening as anyone else’s.  Through this process, I certainly have learned a lot more about people and this organization — as well as reminders about why it doesn’t work for me.  Most people really don’t think on the level of metaphors and philosophy and ethics and big principles.  It’s really about relationships — and safety.  And that’s not a bad thing.

Ultimately then, I have gone through another trial, grown, and come back to share my new knowledge.  So perhaps a more apt title for this post after all would have been … Return of the Jedi?  🙂

In Lak Ech … paz, amor y sabiduria

Jaxsine

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