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The Pizza and the Compass

By August 8, 2017Personal Stories

On a particularly normal morning a few weeks ago, I was preparing to leave for work. I had a small pizza cooking in the oven, one that I planned to eat for lunch – it was not a standard small pizza, more reasonably-sized. When the timer rang, I opened the oven, took the platter out, and placed it on the top of the stove. I then tried to do my usual next step: lifting the pizza from the aluminum foil. To my surprise, on this day, the pizza was very much stuck to the aluminum foil, making for a complicated task – I had to separate the pizza from the foil without comprising the structural integrity of the crust underneath.

Photo by Jeremy Keith

Now, what’s important to know here is that I very rarely put oil on the aluminum foil to ensure it doesn’t stick to whichever pizza I’m cooking. That’s because in 99% of cases, I never have trouble with the pizza sticking to the foil – and if I do, it’s usually stuck at one specific contact point, maybe two. (Something I could very easily resolve.) But this particular pizza was hanging on for dear life – clearly, it had been given a glimpse of its future, and had no interest in being consumed. We’re talking 5 or 6 contact points… it was putting up a fight. Even though I’d cooked hundreds of frozen pizzas in my life, I had never seen a case this bad. Thus began a delicate, complicated operation.

Unfortunately, the pizza didn’t survive. By the end, I had a mangled mess of a pizza, a shattered image of its wonderful, tasty self. While not catastrophic on a cosmic scale, the loss of my pizza served as a bit of foreshadowing for the day that awaited me. See, up until that point, it had been a great morning – I was in a good mood for no particular reason (other than being alive), and was looking forward to going to work. The pizza incident kind of took me by surprise, a random frustration that I didn’t expect. 

And so I went to work, and within an hour or so, a co-worker called me to her desk to show me something on her computer. While I sat next to her watching her screen, she casually mentioned that something had gone well for my ex-girlfriend, in terms of her education, and that she would finally receive a certificate she had long since wanted to receive. My colleague mentioned this because it was related to our employer, and she knew I was aware of the issue from the past, while we were still a couple. Now, while I was glad to hear that this particular thing had gone well for my ex, I don’t think my colleague realized that mentioning my ex-girlfriend was probably not the best thing to do – we hadn’t been in a contact for months, and there were reasons for that.

Photo by Text100 (License)

As an after-thought, a few moments later, my co-worker decided to flat-out ask me if my ex and I were still talking. I responded quite honestly, but bluntly, that I could only see that happening in a matter of years, not anytime soon. I wasn’t happy with how this came out, but I did recognize the complicated nature of the situation, and that my reflex was at least pure in its honesty. I had reasons for having this stance, reasons that I didn’t necessarily want to share at that moment. And yet, there I was, faced with this topic at my place of work.

And that’s the thing. This happened at work. In the past, I was strict when it came to keeping my personal and work lives apart. I only revealed very limited details to carefully selected individuals, and that method worked well. And then, somewhere along the way, I tried to be more open about what was going on in my life. I would say that this likely had a lot to do with the fact that I worked with lots of women, though it’s not strictly a gender thing. In any case, I started sharing more, as my colleagues did, and I must say, there were a few times in the past couple years where doing so made me really uncomfortable. I should have paid more attention to the signs – it was clear that I wasn’t truly comfortable with the change – and I’m a big believer that above all, one’s comfort is the key. My old method rarely made me feel discomfort, and when it did, it was incredibly low impact.

But this particular encounter quickly devolved into jokes from multiple colleagues within earshot, and a further question about my personal life. The jokes were surely said with the goal of lightening the mood, hopefully lessening the discomfort of what had just happened. I could certainly appreciate that, if that was actually the case, but despite the effort, I was still quite simply not comfortable with what had happened. Though brief, I felt that my private life had been invaded, more than I felt comfortable. As bad as the day had become, however, it led me to a very good conclusion – that I should return to my previous policy. Personal life and work are two completely different worlds, and that’s how they should stay – for me, anyway. Perhaps others are comfortable with mixing the two together, but in my own mind, given my own experiences over the past two years, I discovered that by allowing myself to be more open about my private life, I’m opening myself to pointless discomfort, with very little positive return for doing so. If talking about my private life was a hugely positive experience for me, and it enriched my life, then perhaps the negative aspects could be overlooked. But this was not the case. Only one method truly worked, and it involved being more selective in what I said, and who I chose to say it to.

And so despite how horrible of a day it had become, comfort-wise, I had to cherish it for its positive attributes – finally, I experienced enough discomfort to make a change for the better. No longer would I allow my personal life to mix with my professional life. In fact, just the idea of restoring that policy outright relaxed me, made me feel better, and that is how I know that it’s the right decision – the compass I’ve come to trust.