Back when I was in college (the first time) I worked at the Chicago UPS on the night shift. I started working there about 9 months after I departed the cornfields of my small Indiana town, so to say I experience culture shock was like saying that the space shuttle experiences a light massage when it re-enters Earth’s atmosphere.
I worked there for 6 years (yes, I did college on the extended plan) and for many reasons, I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. I learned a lot – how to work hard, how to be assertive, how to swear, how to stop making excuses. They were all great lessons, but one stuck with me above all the others: you always have a choice.
I was working for a dyspeptic manager. I had been working for him for a couple of years when his already hair-trigger temper took a turn for the worse. He went from periodic outbursts to nightly tirades. Where previously it would take some sort of bumble on my part to set him off, now he would attack unprovoked. Much, much later I learned that he had started using cocaine on a regular basis at around the same time his personality changed, but at the time his behavior was just hellish and incomprehensible.
One night he pushed me to the breaking point. He accused me of something dishonest. It was too much. It was completely unfair. I yelled back at him. Then he yelled louder and I yelled even louder, and, well, you get the picture. The argument concluded with his ordering me to his boss’s office for a discussion.
I had to wait for the shift to be over before either of them could take time away to talk to me. The offices were on the second level on a sort of mezzanine with a catwalk surrounding them. I was left to wait on the stairway closest to my manager’s manager’s office. I had a lot of time to think while I was sitting on that stairway.
He had crossed a line with me that night and I had reached a point of resolve. I didn’t want to back down. Principle was at stake. But, I was worried – what would I do if I lost my job? I was paying my way through school. But as I thought through my options, I realized that even if I did lost my job that night, the world wouldn’t end. I would have to change plans and I might have to wait longer to finish college, but I had options.
I realized that sometimes we get stuck because we believe that we don’t have options. We feel trapped because we can’t see another path than the one we have been on. This can lead us to accept the unacceptable and stay trapped in bad situations.
I did stand up for myself that night and I didn’t lose my job. I was able to approach the conversation with something like calm because I had sorted out a plan B.
Remember – you always have choices. You might have to alter your path or your expectations. You might get where you’re going at a different time, or you might wind up somewhere completely different (and quite possibly better). But you don’t have to put up with the unendurable unless you choose to.