The lens

It can be tempting, once you have been diagnosed with some kind of mental disorder, to try and view every issue you have come across in your life through that lens.  It’s a bit like when you read the horoscope and think “wow, that’s so accurate!”.

But I think, in my case, that some of the clashes I have experienced in life have had more to do with a difference in mentality than anything to do with my condition.

When I worked at a law firm as a paralegal, I absolutely hated it.  My boss and I just could not see eye to eye.  I feel like I could write a whole book about what annoyed me, but in the interests of brevity, I will concentrate on the following major issues:

1) My boss would turn me away when I informed him that I had completed the tasks that he had set for me, but then complain that I wasn’t doing enough work.

2) My boss would complain about me missing my billing target, but then lumber me with even more non-billable work.

3) My boss would pressure me into working beyond my contracted hours and taking it home with me, insisting that this was absolutely necessary if I wanted to make it as a lawyer “worth his salt”.  This even extended to doing extra reading in my own time.  I wondered what the point of having contracted hours was if this were the case.

4) My boss would ask me to do X, I would then do X, then he would complain that I had not also done Y and Z that he never actually asked me to do.  This was the one that really drove me mad, and I got seriously tired of being dragged down to the meeting room for a bollocking over it.

An example of what I mean is this situation: one Thursday afternoon, my boss asked me to research a point of law for a conference he was due to have with a client the following Tuesday.  So I came in Friday morning, ready to go.  However, my colleague needed urgent help getting a bundle together to send to court.  So I decided to put back what I was doing as my colleague’s task was far more urgent, which seemed perfectly sensible to me, and continue with my boss’ task on Monday.

When Monday morning came along, my boss was very tetchy about the fact that I hadn’t completed his task – despite the fact that he hadn’t actually set a deadline and I still had plenty of time to finish it.  When I eventually gave him what I had done, he was annoyed that I hadn’t planned the entire conference agenda (a task that, he claimed would have given me 15-20 hours of billable work), even though he hadn’t actually asked me to do that.  I just couldn’t understand it.  I helped my colleague because his project was more urgent.  If my boss had explained to me that he needed the task to be completed by a certain time, or that he wanted all of this extra stuff, then I would have said to my colleague “sorry, but I can’t help, I have to get this done”, but he didn’t, so naturally I assumed it was all OK and my boss had the rest of it all in hand.

I maintain that my stance on this whole thing was perfectly logical.  In my mind, either I am working set hours for a set salary, or I am not.  When I was self-employed, I worked as long as was necessary to get things done, and I had no regard for “normal” working hours because I was paid to complete tasks that took as long as they took.  If my contracted hours would not give me enough time to meet my billing target, then the entire contract was conceptually flawed.  If learning my craft on the job was insufficient and I had to do extra reading in my spare time, then my boss should have hired someone with more experience.  Why bother with contracted hours if we’re not going to abide by them?

However, my stance was also very naive.  A commercial reality of law firms is that you eat what you kill, and to a large extent it’s down to you to generate your own billing, whether it’s by bringing more clients in or by actively fighting your colleagues (and even your superiors) for a bigger slice of whatever billable work is already available.  In this way, you have to be business-minded and competitive, no matter how junior your position, and you can’t afford to dig your heels in on matters of principle like your working hours.  This is particularly true of small firms, such as the one I worked at, as your superiors will be far too busy with their own work to train or supervise you.  So if you really want to succeed, you need to think of your boss as a client rather than an employer.

So my issues had little to do with my mental condition and more to do with the fact that I just couldn’t reconcile the terms of my employment contract with what was, in fact, expected of me.

Similarly, I think a lot of the problems I have had with trying to get a serious girlfriend have revolved around my own peculiar mindset – which is one of preoccupation with getting a serious girlfriend.  Most people are happy enough being single and merely think of dating as a light-hearted dabbling exercise.  They enjoy dating for a bit of fun in and of itself and don’t overly worry about whether it actually leads anywhere, whereas I really crave the full girlfriend experience, and dating that goes nowhere just feels like a waste of time.  Their light-hearted attitude towards it is such that they don’t mind experimenting by dating someone they’re not 100% sure about, or when they’re not 100% sure that they are ready to date at all, and I just can’t relate to that.  I take it a lot more seriously, so it wouldn’t occur to me to “experiment” with someone in this way – I either fancy someone or I don’t, my mind is made up from the get-go, and I won’t change my mind unless a serious character flaw rears its head.  So when I hear that they are “too busy”, or that they are “not ready” for a relationship (only to go out with someone else five minutes later), I assume it was all a calculated lie, whereas it makes more sense when you look at it through the lens of this “experimental” attitude.  Whereas it seems to me like they have randomly changed their minds for no reason, or come up with a silly excuse, the reality is that their minds were never 100% made up to begin with.  I think this clash of attitudes towards dating is the wider issue I have to deal with, as opposed to quibbling about gender roles or how to become a pickup artist.

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