09 March 2013

What's the Greatest Moment of Your Life?

The sun shining through smoke from a wildland grassfire. Photo by keagiles.
I recently saw this question, "What was the greatest moment of your life?," on a blog post as I was flipping through my Google Reader list. I can't tell you which blog it was or what the author meant by the question — that is, the context. But the question stayed with me enough that I wrote it down and posted it on my desk.

Since then, I've been going over the question in my mind. What IS the greatest moment of my life?

Thankfully, the first answer I come to is when I met my husband. I knew on our first date, when I looked into his blue eyes, that he was someone special, someone with whom I wanted a serious relationship. Amazing that it happened that way, but it did. It hasn't always been smooth sailing, but what relationship doesn't go through problems? And we're the stronger because of it. So another great moment in my life was marrying this man and sharing in an adventurous honeymoon cruise up the Inside Passage from Vancouver to Alaska.

This is good, right? To have such a ready, and wonderful, answer. But I'm disappointed in myself. My answer is so, well, normal, expected, stereotypical. Not that it makes it any less true, of course.

So I'm trying to dig a little deeper. What else could be considered "greatest moments" in my life? The answer: some of the worst moments of my life. Irreconcilable differences, I call them. And here's one example:

My last job, which I left more than 12 years ago, was intense and rewarding. For the first five years, I loved it. I was really, really good at it. I even got an award for employee of the month, which at that place was an almost impossible accomplishment. Then I applied for and received a promotion and transfer to a different department (just a desk-width away from where I had been working). My hours changed (from swing shift to 9 to 5; I always preferred swing shift), my relationship with my coworkers changed, and, of course, my responsibilities and job duties changed. Now I can look back and see that I wasn't cut out for the new job, even though I was still very good at it and learned a lot. Problems with workplace politics and interpersonal conflicts increased, as if my desk were across a divide and on another plane of existence. For the next four and a half years, I struggled on the job, and finally, the day happened. The day that changed everything. I made a decision to complain about someone's sexual commentary casually delivered in front of me and several personnel from my old department. Folks turned on me. Before I even knew I had made an official complaint of sexual harassment (because I had not [I thought I was talking friend to friend]), I was being blamed for doing so. Former friends made up stories about me. Things went south. I was so upset that I started a no-win argument with my boss, a coworker, and our superior. A no-win argument of asking for a transfer to a different department and being told "at this point, I couldn't recommend you to anyone." I could see nothing else to do, no way forward, so I left. Packed up my desk and walked out the door.

That was a horrible day. But it's also one of the top five greatest moments of my life — because I left. I left the most intense workplace you can imagine — with such highs and lows that we were all like family. You don't betray your family. You don't mess with the unspoken rules. You stick together. You don't single yourself out and let people get the better of you emotionally — you don't make it easy for them to turn on you.

Now I have a good job, doing what I was meant to do: I'm an editor. I wouldn't have gotten this job ten years ago, and the community college teaching job 12 years ago, if I hadn't walked out that dark day. I'm not serving my fellow human beings in the same way I had then, but I am serving myself much better. I am who I was meant to be: more joyful, wiser, stronger, saner.

The worst thing that happens on my job now is a bitter intellectual argument that gets people's feathers ruffled. It's hard to bear at the time, mostly because I simply do not understand why people get so angry.  Life is so much deeper than an academic argument, so much wider than the gulf between two philosophies. Workplace politics will always baffle me (and sometimes make me cry). But the job, applying my skills to the task at hand, helping to make what other people do just a little better and better known, makes me happy, and what I do makes others happy too — fulfilling a need and playing out a part in what for some people is the greatest focus of their lives, the means to perhaps the greatest moments of their lives.