A Lesson in Life from One Co-Worker

Article By Dee DeWitt

How do you feel about your job?  Do you love it?  Do you hate it?  Chances are, if you have a job today, you are thankful simply to be employed!


For me, how I feel about my job depends a great deal with the people I work with.  If there is stress, annoyance or dislike in my job, chances are it’s because my co-workers get on my nerves.  If there’s love in the office, it’s because I enjoy my co-workers to the point that it is almost like not having to work.


Often times in our work experience, we come across those whose only task seems to be making our workday miserable.  That’s disheartening considering most of us seem to spend more and more time at work – if we have a job – and far less time at home.  And when we are at home, we seem to either be on the run or trying to slip in a little sleep.


At my office, I had a co-worker named “Sally” who I considered my nemesis.  And I say this with affection.  Really.  I think every office probably has a Sally.  Here is a little story about my Sally and our ever-evolving interactions. 


Working 2nd shift is a lot like dwelling in some limbo between night and day.  2pm to 1am seemed much better on paper than it is in real life.  Nevertheless, it seemed well enough considering that my weekends had been extended to three days and my mornings were free to further for school. 


Taking this job was a promotion of sorts, but there was a catch.  The catch seemed to be the co-workers, not the job itself … although looking back I am sure that the effects of working second shifts did influence many of the workers and managers.  This “catch” entailed a supervisor that had a reputation of being considerably more strict and what I felt was a generally more negative or cynical crew.  Even so, I was bent on this long weekend thing so I jumped at the opportunity (and a small raise with the shift differential didn’t hurt either).


My supervisor proved to be much nicer than expected (at least to me), but the crew was definitely different.  The environment was extremely quiet.  Very little conversation took place.  The only exception was one employee whose cackling could be heard two rooms over. 


Don’t get me wrong … laughter isn’t bad at work … but not when only one person can enjoy the luxury.  Sally was in command and she made sure you knew it.  She would eventually become my tutor in the nuances of my job.  And she would also become a bit of a thorn in my side.


You’re talking too much; it’s making my head hurt!” she would complain.  And not to us taking a personal call or chewing the fat with a friend.  No … this is what she said to a man training a new employee on company processes.  Your voice annoys me; maybe someone else should be training!


Everyone tried to accommodate Sally with her complaints, even though she would laugh at the top of her lungs on the phone with her family (long-distance of course).  It was almost comical if you didn’t have to be involved in it. 


Sally would complain about people not documenting their work, and then in the next breath say she can’t be bothered reading documents all the time.  She would whisper to the boss “I just don’t think Joe is able to grasp this work on his own.  Then she would come to you and say “You’re doing a great job!


I wasn’t special … none of us were really.  We all dealt with it.


Sally would tape check-off sheets to your monitor if you left off your initials even though you did whatever the job was.  She constantly complained to the boss about how she had so much work to do, but then she could be found snoring or playing solitaire while you sweated the work.  Managers of other departments were talked to like peons, and one day Sally actually referred to our new manager as a “knit-whit” in public.


It got to the point where I truly regretted my decision to take the position and longed for a reprieve.  I found that the grass truly isn’t greener on the other side. 


After a while, Sally and I began to battle openly because I am not much for suffering in silence.  She would say, “You didn’t notify me.”  To which I would respond “I emailed you; please look at that email.”  Her rebuttal was “Oh, you should have made the subject line “_____.”  I just delete emails it if I don’t recognize the subject.”  My response … “I don’t know what to tell you.  Louder and louder it would get.  She would yell for me from three rooms away.  I wouldn’t respond … Until one day she stopped speaking to me all together. 


For three weeks I enjoyed an island of calm.  One person openly asked why she wasn’t talking to me.  I honestly didn’t care.


Sally enjoyed this level of freedom with respect to her behavior that management allowed her because she was extremely knowledgeable and I can admit that.  She had been doing this work for almost 30 years, and I had to respect that.  Many people talked behind her back about despising her or questioning how she keeps her job, but I can’t indulge in that either.  Whatever differences we had, I at least gave her the respect of letting her know I was unhappy with her.


One evening she and I were forced to work late together, just the two of us.  I saw this as a chance to clear the air.  I guess I am a glutton for punishment, but I like to know what is on people’s minds.  She told me she thought I had snapped at her, which is why she quit speaking.  She explained about her previous life in Washington State, a divorce, her kids, and how she lost her life savings when the company went bankrupt.  Her explanations of her life here and all the challenges she had faced were actually fascinating. 


And of all the things I learned … the most important was that … Sally wasn’t that bad at all.  I actually enjoyed talking to her and maybe she enjoyed speaking to me. 


The week after Thanksgiving, Sally went home to Washington and brought me back a t-shirt (Yes, I’m easy to please). 


Now don’t get me wrong … Sally still continued to complain about me and then smile in my face.  But I see that this is just her way of dealing with life and I’m okay with it.  Maybe I do wonder if she was trying to get me fired, but she also began talking to me more as a friend.  In the end, I did end up finding another job.  But for a while I was grateful, because no one deserves to dread coming to work every day.


Maybe you won’t make peace with an annoying co-worker or even be able to speak to your “Sally.”  But who knows?  There may be hope yet!  You never know what the future holds.   


“Things cannot always go your way. Learn to accept in silence the minor aggravations, cultivate the gift of taciturnity and consume your own smoke with an extra draught of hard work, so that those about you may not be annoyed with the dust and soot of your complaints.”
-William Osler


“Complaining about something without taking any action to correct it is irresponsible. If a condition deserves criticism, it deserves an honest attempt to change it.”
-John Renesch


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Posted on 24 June, 2009 in Career, Happiness, Inspirational Stories
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