The Beauty of a Time Limited Engagement

In days of yore, whenever I started a job, I felt tremendous pressure to dazzle and impress. It was my goal to ensure that my boss felt glad they hired me because I was so grateful to have been given a chance. Well, times have changed. Call me old or cynical or worn out or simply a lot more self-evaluating, but the me who is me now, sees things quite differently. I’m there to do a job—I’ll do it to the best of my ability, but these days I have a more “get in, get out, get on my way” attitude.


For me, working as a temp, being given work assignments that many a monkey could manage, brings with it a certain freedom. While it’s true that I sometimes miss the thrill of being part of the hurried, self-important masses hustling along L Street, this excitement has been replaced with a steady confidence and realization that most of those whooshing past are no more fulfilled sitting in their cubicles than I am in mine. They don’t have it any better. They may have more money and job security, but they’re subject to the exact same sort of office bullshit that I suffered all those years ago.


What I enjoy best about a temp job is that nobody is looking to me for anything extra. They don’t expect I bring any particular talents to the table, there is no silent disapproval when I get up to go to lunch, I pass by their cubicles unnoticed. They have absolutely no inkling of my prodigious capabilities—and I like it that way. I don’t have to shoulder the burden of their expectations.


When I was a senior in high school, I landed a job working as a counter girl at a high end delicatessen near the Washington Cathedral–this was back in the eighties when things like tarragon chicken salad were cutting edge. I worked after school and all day Saturdays. By the end of the year, the owners had me paying the kitchen staff, which says a lot about how much they trusted me. Not only was I proud of myself for procuring this job and earning my own money, I learned some valuable lessons about how people treat you when you’re on the other side of the counter.


The customers of this store, Fete Accomplie, were mostly people who lived in the neighborhood or the parents of children attending nearby schools. My coworker was a gay, aging opera singer named Jim who told me he had moved to DC from Indiana to follow his lover (who was married)—quite a lot of information for a seventeen year old innocent in those days. Jim used to mortify me by singing opera in the kitchen while we had customers. Whenever a handsome man entered the store and then departed, Jim would chase him down the sidewalk with a free loaf of bread, proclaiming, “I’m gonna make that man my husband!” He eventually got canned for drinking too much of the cooking wine.


What or who are you chasing down the street, desperate to entice?


As colorful as my time with Jim was, what really struck with me was how differently I was treated when identified as the counter girl. There were none of the polite inquiries or small talk. Instead, what I got was a lot of abrupt orders and dismissive head turns. Today, I’d know what this was about, but back then it took me by surprise. Jerks are jerks in many situations, and if it’s their goal to diminish another, then that’s how they’re going to behave. But if I hadn’t experienced this, I would never have realized that not all people take this attitude. In fact, I discovered that most people are actually perfectly decent—if perfunctory—when interacting with “staff.”


What does any of this have to do with working as a temp? You ask an excellent question.


I no longer feel I have to prove myself. I no longer feel that I have been bestowed this enormous gift to walk the halls of their offices, sorting their journals alphabetically. As a re-booter, I no longer take it personally when they look right through me. It doesn’t matter to me anymore. I’m not looking to them for validation.


This sort of freedom is priceless.


What about you? Are you still seeking the approval of others? How self-evaluating are you?


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One Response to “The Beauty of a Time Limited Engagement”

  1. grasshopper Says:

    absolutely BRILLIANT

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