More and more I am discovering that I don’t want to be in charge. I much prefer and excel when I am working in a position of support. This is baffling in the face of our culture. In this culture, you’re supposed to want to be in charge–that’s the position of greatest power and honor. If you’re in a position of support, it’s assumed that you are simply treating it as a stepping stone on the way to something better, or perhaps life just prevented you from getting what you really wanted. Being in a position of support is seen as something frustrating and irksome; it’s considered sympathetic to feel sorry for those who are “stuck” in positions of support.
So if you say that you actually want to be in a position of support, you leave people dreadfully confused in your wake. What, you want to be a loser? You seemed like such a hard worker; I expected more of you. You want to fall short? You want want to be stuck on lower level?
Well, I have my moments of confusion, too. Like when one of the PTA’s asks me if she can put her charts on the Aide Stations desk out in the hall. Of course she can! Well, when the other aide is there, she doesn’t dare put her charts on the desk. I feel momentarily shocked, though I shouldn’t be. After all, the aide has taped signs to her stapler that no one should touch it, and to her binder, and a good deal of paper work. Mine–no touch. It’s clear that to her, being an aide just means you are queen of a very, very small kingdom—but queen nonetheless. Does anyone understand what it is to be an aide, a help, a support?
If I am an aide, that means that everything I am doing is supposed to make it easier for you to do what you need to do. I am supposed to take whatever I can, so you can concentrate. What I do is supposed to help you, not get in your way or put my agendas ahead of yours.
This is scorned. You’re supposed to take what you can get; look out for your interests. But I prefer it. I find it satisfying.
I admit that my current job of a Rehab Aide can get tedious. But that’s because I’ve mastered it, not because I get tired of helping. I’ve explored the boundaries and limitation of the job. For a while it was challenging to try to get everything done, to keep track of the timers, and figure out how to stay busy in those awkward two minutes and 19 seconds before I need to take the stim machine off of someone. Sometimes it still gets a little hairy when 4 people ask me to do something at once, but its just a few busy moments, and then it passes. Everything has quickly become routine, and I feel ready to progress.
It was therefore assumed I would be progressing to a Physical Therapist. I am “young”, people find me competent and hard working, and it’s the “best” position in this line of work. But I don’t want it. I would rather be a Physical Therapist Assistant. There are many reasons why, but I am discovering more and more how much of that is because I don’t want be in the position of command; I want to be in the position of support.
I don’t want to be the one who says “This is what is wrong with this patient, and this is how we’re going to treat them.” I don’t want to be the one who gets caught in the rock and hard place between the patient who is working hard and is progressing, albeit slowly, and the insurance (which is paying for what I do) says they patient must dropped because of lack of progress.
This isn’t about PT; it’s about me. People may say I do a good job of running things and making things get done, but I mostly do get things done under guidelines. If it is clear that such-and-such needs to get done, I will see to it that it gets done. But I hate deciding what needs to get done. I don’t really like telling people what to do. If someone else makes them come help, I certainly know how to put them to work, but I dread dragging people over to help. If you say “Today we are doing this, and also that,” I will gladly do everything in my power to get those things done. But if I have to decide, I will lay awake obsessing over it, trying to decide if we really should do this, and is this more important than that, and maybe it’s not the right time, and I probably don’t know what I’m talking about anyway.
I suppose some people could be surprised by this, because I hate indecisiveness. If a whole bunch of people, including me, are standing around being indecisive, I will be decisive. But not because I want to; just because I have an innate sense that just because you don’t want to do something doesn’t give you an excuse to not do what needs to be done. I would really rather if someone else made the decision. But if no one is making a decision, and decision needs to be made, I’ll grit my teeth and do it.
People might think that since I always have an opinion on the matter, I would want to be in charge. But being in charge means that everyone wants to tell you their opinion, and I just can’t stand under the pressure of that. Of course I would like it if the person in charge listened to my concerns and thoughts and took them all into consideration. But there is a big difference between yelling advice from the back seat and actually being in the front lines.
I realize that there is a time and place for everything. I realize that some times I will need to take to the front lines, whether I want to or not, because it needs to be done. But why set yourself up for failure? Why pursue the position to command, if you dread commanding? Because, says the culture, if you don’t, you’re a loser. The people who are second in command are the people who weren’t good enough to be first. Refusing to pursue the first place is giving up early, refusing to try or to rise to the occasion, being an underachiever, being lazy by not working for the place you ought to be. It is settling for less. It’s a shame.
This leaves me nearly speechless for response because it is a mindset that cannot be reasoned with, a mindset that is set fully on itself–not only on itself, but on it’s own glory. It does not even take into honest consideration it’s own strengths and weaknesses and areas of skill. It does not consider what needs to be done, how it all works together, what is important, what is helpful, the cohesive whole. It sees only one thing–where is the most glory?
I will gladly admit that the position of support is not the position of the most glory. It isn’t. But I have been in the position of leading enough to know how great a burden good help can lift. I know enough to know that having someone take care of all the small things that build up to overwhelming can leave you so much more able to deal with the bigger issues. I know that a person in the position of power is powerless without a good crew. I know the peace that can come from knowing you do have competent help, and that all you need to do is tell them what needs to get done and they will take care of it, and you don’t have to breath down their necks to see that it happens.
And I know myself. I know that I like to be able to do well with what’s been given to me, without worrying about the bigger picture. I don’t need to know how everything is going to be done; it’s someone elses problem to worry about that. I just need to do well what is in front of me.
I know that I like to watch people work, and anticipate what can be done to help them do better. I remember doing this at the youngest of ages, when Dad worked. He always lost track of his tools as he worked, and I took to not only keeping track of his tools, but watching what he did so I could anticipate which one he would want. The biggest thrill was handing it too him before he realized he’d lost it.
I suppose this world would call this prefering to support “small minded” and “overly dependant”. I wouldn’t hesitate to call their opinion hogwash. It is true that a good leader–a truly excellent leader–is a wonderful thing. The problems are that there is a very small market for leaders, and when everyone is trying to be a leader it makes a great big hairy nasty awful mess. The other problem is that no one is honest about how things are when you are just a mediocre leader, or a truly awful leader. Both of these things combined means that rather frequently people messing things up for everyone else under the mistaken idea that it’s good for them to try to be the leader.
It would be a far more wonderful world if people were commended for honestly examining themselves and the situation and acting accordingly. If people were praised for trying to do what they excelled at, whatever it was. Instead, people are roundly chastised if they aren’t making an effort to “move up”. And what is the definition of up? Not into an area you are necessarily better at, but simply a position that pays you more, or gives you more honor or power.
The results are very sad. This set-up is what leads to the “pointy-haired boss” becoming the sterotype. It is assumed that the people in power are going to be the ones to incompetently lord over the people who actually know what is going on and what needs to be done. The bosses will be the ones to avoid, because they will most likely be the ones who don’t even understand what is coming out of their mouths, ones who make decisions totally detatched from reality. They run the situation for their own pleasure, not for the advancement of the situtation. The leaders become something to hide from, not something to seek refuge behind. The people try to keep the leaders in the dark in order to keep them from messing up the way things are working, rather than keeping the leaders in the loop so they can get help making things better. This is all too common, but it is a far cry from what a leader should be.
And yet it is still considered ridiculous to take stock of who you are and act accordingly. So simple minded, and so little ambition, if you chose not pursue that which you are not suited. Could I be a PT? Yes, if it was necessary, I do think I could be a PT. Would I enjoy being a PT? I strongly doubt it. It goes against my grain; it would be a struggle the whole way.
You could call this part of my personality; you could call it part of the emotional differences between men and women. I am comofortable with both, because I find no shame in desiring the position of support. It is not a position of weakness, but of different strengths. It requires much skill to do a good job supporting someone else, and I could never be sorry that my strengths lie there instead of in leading.
I will admit that in terms of glory, it is often overlooked. I could point out that there isn’t much glory in doing a very poor job leading, either, but it’s really besides the point. My point is that if it is by thoughts of glory you guide your steps going forward, you will always be stumbling. The culture can have very stupid ideas of what makes a job worth doing, and even stupider ideas of what counts as success. The sooner you can take a clear-eyed look around you, the better off you will be; once you are on your deathbed, it’s far too late to change anything. Beneath all the froth and fuss, who do you know who is truly happy? And beneath all the implications and assumptions people throw you’re way, who are you really?