This week is a three-day work week; Thursday and Friday are the first two days of the Chinese New Year, and they are public holidays over here. With the long weekend coming up, I'm not in the mood to work.
This afternoon, in a moment of jovial openness, I started behaving a little playfully around a colleague – someone a few years younger than me. She suddenly just told me: "Stop it." It was unkind and dismissive. I was caught off guard.
I ended up brooding on this incident the whole day, and I can really brood when I set my mind to it. I wondered what have I done to warrant this strong reaction from this colleague (let's call her Killjoy); I wasn't disturbing her. Maybe she really disliked me, and my sudden unexpected behaviour triggered a deep-seated repugnance from within. Certainly, I would agree that people who don't know me well are used to a more sombre persona – but over the years I have learned to lighten up a little. I find it easier to laugh and smile at work these days. I am genuinely happier at work than I used to be.
But Killjoy's reaction this afternoon led to me one conclusion: sometimes it doesn't matter how much we have changed – if the other party is not prepared to modify their perception of you – the way they respond to you will be the same. If someone is determined to think of you as drunk, it doesn’t matter if you have not had a drink for 30 years – they are still going to treat you like a drunk. You just have to live with that, because otherwise you are going to get yourself caught up trying to defend yourself over and over. What a waste of energy.
What makes me angry with Killjoy right now, is that she has no idea who I am inside. She sees me at work almost everyday, so she assumes, like a lot of people do, that she has a good idea of what I am. She doesn't. I laugh often at work, and she has commented once too many times that: "It's so not you." It IS me. It just doesn't fit your stereotype of me.
I wonder what is truly bothering this young colleague, that she can't accept that someone can be serious and strict when she has to be, and still laugh spontaneously. There is a rigidity to her perception that is bothering me right now, because she is impinging on my right to laughter and spontaneity. It's like she's pushing me back on the chair everytime I get up to dance.
But I can't actually do anything about her issues – she'll have to sort out her issues herself. I only have governance over how I respond to someone who seems determined to be a killjoy.
I apologise if this is not a post of staggering wisdom or insight. Right now I am resentful and angry inside, because there are a few choice words I would like to throw back at Killjoy – but since I still have to work closely with her, it would be a bad idea.
Or maybe I'm just angry at myself, that I never allow many people to really get to know me. And the occasional moments when I allow myself to just be myself, I get told off by people like Killjoy. And that hurts, a little.
Then I wonder why am I still so bothered by these petty thoughts? Why is it the insecurities and fears of our childhood never seem to go away? I set up these protective armour around myself all my life, afraid of the rejection that will follow when someone finds out who I am inside. I pretend to be stronger and harder than I am. I have kept many things in my life secret to my friends - not because these things are important, but because I need that sense of security that comes from being able to control what people know about me.
And for what purpose?
As you can see: I am in a brooding mood tonight.