Saturday, May 29, 2010

Being a team player

Am I a team player? I've been asking myself that lately, but I'm not sure what the definition of a team player is. If being a team player means that I keep the commitments I make to the team, that I support my co-workers with the best work I can do, that I meet my deadlines (usually early), that I tell the truth to the team--then I think I can say that I'm a team player. But if being a team player is a form of self-betrayal, then I am not a team player. Or rather my intention is not to betray myself, though the lessons are on-going.

What does betraying myself in order to be a team player mean? Well, I'll go back to my Columbia House days, when I was a vice-president in my thirties--as those days exemplify the grossest forms of self-betrayal. My 90+ year old father was very sick in Florida, and my mother was taking care of him. One day my mother, who never asks anything of me, called to tell me that my father was asking to see me, and if I wanted to see him while he was still alive, I needed to go to Florida right away. But there was a big presentation going on that I was in charge of, to the Chairman, President, CFO, and various other Vice presidents of the organization. What could I do? I can't believe that I actually considered not going to see my father. Whew! I would have regretted it to this day.

Instead I woke up and realized that seeing my father was the priority. There were no lap tap computers in those days, and I didn't even use the computer. I left my director in charge, gave specific tasks that she needed to do, made myself available on the phone, and went to Florida. I won't say much about that trip except that for the first time I experienced my father as being demonstratively loving, and realized that he actually did love me. He never had spent much time with me when I was growing up.

Returning to New York, I went to the office a day before the meeting, only to find that my director had botched things up. I worked all day and night to fix the presentation, and showed up exhausted the next morning to present. The Chairman looked at me and sarcastically said, "It's nice that you could join us." That really brought home the abuse of this specific company, and most corporations. Human Resources is an ugly term but accurate. The human being is another resource to be used up. Needless to say that was the beginning of an increasing disenchantment with the corporate world.

So to my surprise I have found myself working almost four years for a large high tech company in the South Bay. This has only been possible because I feel that I have the freedom to make my choices, and never feel coerced to betray myself in any way. But we make our own chains sometime. Yesterday was my birthday. Being a Friday I already had the day off (I supposedly don't work on Fridays) and decided that I was going to spend the long weekend celebrating. But when asked if I would be willing to go to the office for a presentation that day (which involves driving at least four hours) I agreed to do it in order to be a "team player." I betrayed the commitment that I made to myself, and it turned out the presentation didn't happen. If only I had stayed true, it would have all worked out. Instead I spent most of my birthday stuck in traffic in an unairconditioned car, feeling angry with myself.

As if that wasn't enough, I agreed to do the presentation next Friday when I had decided to take time off to spend with my 82 year-old mother who will be visiting me from Florida. Friday will be her first day here. Stuck in the car yesterday, I asked myself, What the hell am I doing? Will my mother be able to visit me again? What about my commitment to spend time with her? I called my coworker to let her know that I would not be available next Friday and she understood. As I said, we make our own chains. And the self-betrayals as we become more awake (conscious) become more subtle. As Papaji, an Indian enlightened master, said: Vigilance is required to the last breath.

So am I a team player? Not if it means putting the team above my physical and mental health, or above my important relationships.

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