Written by John Serpico
Photo: © robeo123
If you asked me ten years ago if I was going to be a company woman, I’m not sure I’d have given you a straight answer. I’d mumble out a “maybe” or “I hear it’s a lot of work.” If I was feeling virtuous perhaps I’d cobble together something like “I might just want to stay here in the States and try to make a difference.” The fact is I didn’t think I had it. Whatever the it was that got prospective employees into Kor Allied, I didn’t have it.
I’d watch the video of new hires boarding the shuttle in their crisp blue uniforms. They smiled and waved at their families and their families smiled and waved back. I’d study the faces. Every single one of those hires had that it behind their eyes. They were going where they needed to go to do what they were meant to do. My issue was confidence. Well, my biggest issue was confidence. There was also the issue of my height. And my far-sightedness. And that I had enough trouble learning two languages let alone six. The voice in my head was savage and precise on those matters. It knew where to put the scalpel that would hurt the most. The voice reminded me of the doubts that I tried to suppress year after year, as the application deadline would come and go.
I knew my feet would always stay on the ground, right where they were meant to. The voice knew there wasn’t such a thing as destiny, but if there was mine was to stay at home. The voice knew that the only pain greater than “what if” would be the pain of walking all 1.58 meters of me into Recruitment only to be shown the door after a cursory once-over. They wouldn’t even laugh me out. They wouldn’t pity me. They would just dismiss me like I was mail with someone else’s name on it. They’d forget me the second they looked away. My voice knew that, and my voice kept me where I was, in my small town in my dusty country, for a long while.
I applied the day before my twenty-fourth birthday – my last day of eligibility before I would’ve aged out for good. There wasn’t anything profound that happened in the weeks or months leading up. I didn’t get in a screaming fight with a boss, or my parents. I didn’t stare out over the dunes and decide to seize my destiny. I think the voice just so happened to be quiet that day. I don’t remember much from the recruitment process, though I haven’t ever actively sat down and tried to remember. There were interviews and nervous handshakes and hours in front of terminals. But it’s as if that whole time is blacked out on the map, replaced with a sign that summarized what happened in as few words as required.
What shocked me is how Kor becomes your everything as quickly as it does. Yes, you’re a long, long way from home. Yes, everyone else there is company. So I expected to be absorbed quickly. But there wasn’t even a grace period. All the doubt vanished after I got on the shuttle. The door closed and I stopped thinking about anything else. That voice became quiet and never spoke up again. It didn’t even say goodbye. That space that it left open was immediately occupied by pride. And joy. And, more than anything, an insatiable desire to work. Even when you’re off the clock, you want to do something. You want to solve things even when there were no things to solve. It was as if every single person at the company is doing you a favor, and you desperately want to return that favor.
My first meeting with management wasn’t at all what I expected. She was quiet and gracious, and I did almost all of the talking. She chuckled at a joke I made about the sky and nodded approvingly when I shared some insight about the reactor. The meeting couldn’t have been more than ten minutes, but when it ended with a handshake and an earnest thank you, I felt like I was waking up from full night of restful sleep. My second meeting with management, and my third and fourth and tenth and twentieth were just as wonderful. Words like “asset” and “thoughtful” and “significant” were handed to me like beautifully wrapped gifts, and I collected them and held them close to me. Others from my hiring class speculated that I had really caught management’s eye, and they offered that reflection without a hint of jealousy. That made me glad. I don’t know how everything would’ve worked out if I felt like I was stealing food from someone else’s plate.
There’s no interview process when you get promoted. It’s a meeting like any other, only you see four from management instead of just one or two. There’s ice water in glasses and amiable conversation. If I recall correctly, I don’t think anyone even asked me about work. I spoke about my quarters, and that I was taking up painting because someone in management told me that I needed to spend an hour a day doing something creative. Their laughter is how I could tell them apart, and so I was most confident in those moments right after I said something funny.
The day after my promotion, a new appointment appeared in my schedule. It was someone else from management, now a peer, and she asked me if I was happy with my height and my vision. I said that I had no reason to complain, and she replied how happy she was that we were working together. I didn’t say anything else and neither did she, but the next morning I scheduled the procedures.
Confidence is a tricky thing. I’m no different now than I was ten years ago. Not deep down, anyway. Learning languages will never be second nature and I still think about home when I wake up each day. The only thing that has changed is that I’m a company woman. And I look the part.
John Serpico is a Boston-based writer and comedian. He’s a proud member of Magic: The Gathering: The Show, a not proud member of Terrible People, and a vagabond advice columnist at Sense and Serpability.