Education & Your Personal Economy

I Hate My Job but, Please, Don’t Fire Me:
Conquering the ambivalent workplace

by Michael V. Cossette

1. Barbara
2. Ambivalence
3. Is it Safe?
4. Moral Authority
5. Your Job is not an Asset
6. L’artes Liberales
7. Scattered Syllables
8. Life as a Laboratory
9. The Softening of Power

1. Barbara

I first met Barbara during the summer of 1991. She was assigned to me as a summer intern while I was working as a Synthetic Organic Chemist at a Research facility in Princeton, New Jersey. Newly singled from a husband who used to beat her and freshly therapized she exuded a sensuality that would make flowers blossom when she walked by. As she gained full-time work status and became a valuable part of the organization, I slowly watched the pathological perkiness drain out of her. In spite of her considerable introspective skill, she seemed at a loss to explain what was happening to her.

We talked occasionally about her past and I began to notice that her daily demeanor more closely resembled the agitation that she always felt whenever the subject of her husband would come up. On one of her particularly challenging days I approached her with this query: “Is the way you feel right this moment any different from the way you used to feel after your husband beat you?” Her jaw dropped, mouth opened, and her eyes grew to a size that could barely be containable in her round, pinchable face. Barbara was in an abusive relationship all over again. Only this time the chauvinistic brute was the patriarchal workplace.

At the time it occurred to me that that there was little difference between being cold-cocked by your roommate and being slowly worn down by an oppressive corporate culture. It wasn’t until my own addiction was conquered and that I understood the role that the ambivalent mind plays in surrendering our ability to choose. We normally think of the addict as being driven by an uncontrollable urge to use drugs that never abates. That is only half of the equation. An addict is driven by an equally powerful desire to quit that competes with equal ferocity.

2. Ambivalence

You work at a job that slowly drains the life out of you. Occasionally you get the idea of leaving and feel a tremendous surge of energy as you imagine yourself free. But just as you are beginning to enjoy the possibility of walking away, you become fearful that it might actually happen—that you might be fired. That fear keeps you motivated for a time as you begin to think that things really aren’t so bad after all. Eventually you feel the life draining out of you again and the cycle of indecision begins anew. Your career becomes the grindingly monotonously repetition of the same psychological ping-pong over and over again.
This is ambivalence, and if you do not understand it you will stay stuck where you are for the rest of your life. “I Hate My Job…but Please Don’t Fire Me” shows us that when the part of us that wants to quit and the part of us that wants to continue compete with equal ferocity, we surrender our ability to choose. We see this in its most extreme form with addicts, and the author brings 35 years of experience with recovering addicts to bear on his time in the most abusive relationship of his life—25 years as a Research Scientist in Corporate America.

I love my wife but I don’t want to be married to her…

I love alcohol even though its killing me…

Few know more about the painful elusiveness of choice than someone in a full-blown addiction, and nowhere can you see indecisiveness reach such tragicomic proportions. One moment you watch an alcoholic pouring booze down the sink in a sincere attempt at sobriety, only to find him at the liquor store a few hours later. Then, the morning after. Convinced that he will never drink again, the whole world immediately opens up to him. Looking back to only yesterday he is astonished that anything could have taken hold of his life in such a manner. But later that same day he will be in the liquor store again, almost absent-mindedly forgetting the resolve that had been such a part of him just a few hours earlier. And this cycle can go on indefinitely. Ask an aging alcoholic whether he has ever tried to quit and the answer may surprise you: “Every day of my life.” Nowhere in human experience does the Sisyphean task of reliving personal history come more clearly into focus.

3. Is it Safe?

Hierarchy of needs…

Of unusual interest are the disturbing developments the author witnessed as a Safety Investigator: most employees will risk physical injury—theirs and others—simply to avoid injury to their Self-Image. It is here where “I Hate My Job…but Please Don’t Fire Me provides a template for a larger worldview.” It appears that the ambivalence is not in the workplace, it is in the mind divided between what it is and what it thinks itself to be.

4. Your Job is not an Asset

Come to work every day prepared to be fired…

Hypothesis: The Surrendering of Choice

1. The Insatiability of Desire brings you to the moment of compromised choice.
2. The Fragmentation of Factual Memory keeps you from recognizing what has happened.
3. The Ambivalence of Psychological Momentum prevents you from doing anything about it even if you do recognize what has happened.

a. The transmutation of emotions: tapping into the wellspring of creative energy: anger is the union of clarity and emptiness.
b. Scattered syllables…permanent record: recognizing fragmentation
c. Pulling the plug on the self-image.

Moral Psychology

Moral authority vs. formal authority

“There is a gap between knowing what to do and being able to do it.”

—So started a 1996 television commercial for a weight control product that was designed, of course, to “fill that gap.” With stunning simplicity this brilliant marketing campaign captured a fundamental truth that plagues all pathways of personal transformation: knowledge is not enough. During the second half of the 20th century the mantra “All we need is more education” became our standard solution for any social problem, whether it was the explicit behavior of a drunk driver or the entrenched beliefs of a racist. Unfortunately, the advent of the Information Age has done little to slow the momentum of human weakness that perpetually finds ways to express itself: people still drink and drive and racists still keep their message alive. Our disappointment is aggravated when we watch technical knowledge fuel the inexorable advance of science: the Human Genome Project and Hubble telescope gave us revolutionary glimpses into the unseen, both the very near and the very far. But when we naively assume that just coming into contact with psychological knowledge will be transforming, we become frustrated when we cannot enforce the same level of change in our behavior and beliefs that we can in our environment.

Knowing that you must change, knowing what to change, and even knowing how to change does not mean that you will make an effort to change. Even making an effort is not enough, because there still remains a gap between knowing what to do and being able to do it.

Here are a few notes on an idea for a book that has been on the back-burner for some time now. Twenty-five years subjecting myself to Corporate America’s intrinsic abusiveness and an in-depth reading of “The Addictive Organization” by Anne Wilson Schaef  still has me looking for a clean way to hook this into the Cogniventive worldview, although I am reasonably certain that the best avenue would be Process RoadMap #3: “Creating Your Own Process.”

Anyone interested in partnering with me on this project can reach me at:

Michael V. Cossette

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