One day my boss came into my office and said, “I hope you consider my proposal. I want you to share an office with XX.”
I was working in a department of 12 people. I was a fairly new hire, but there were a few people who were newer than me. Everyone in our department had their own office. A few weeks prior to her visit, my boss made a comment during a staff meeting about a shortage of office space. I thought it would be a nice gesture to volunteer myself in such a situation, but in reality, my office was more than just my work space. It represented, to me, status and worth. She won’t choose me, I thought, considering my seniority, level of education, and job title. Yet, that was not what I heard that day my boss came into my office.
I felt a surge of heat from head to toe when my boss told me I would, in fact, be sharing an office. “Why me?” I tried to hide from my boss an array of emotions exploding inside and said I would think about it (as if I had a choice). I felt sad and small like an unloved child. And I felt furious.
That evening, many thoughts were going through my mind. “You have a Ph.D. You are not the last one who got hired. Why you? Squeaky wheel gets the oil. This is what happens when you are quiet and nice about everything. Who knows what she will ask of me next?” I felt it was unfair that I was the one who got asked. At the same time, I was upset at myself as if I caused it simply because of how I was: shy, quiet, and compliant. All night, I thought about what I could possibly say to change her mind.
The next morning, sitting across from my boss, I asked, perspiring so profusely that my normally dry skin looked rather dewy, “I am curious to know why you picked me.” She calmly gave me reasons one after another, but I followed each argument with a rebuttal in the most non-aggressive manner possible. Then she said, “Okay. Who else do you think I can ask here?” Her response left me feeling rather puzzled because it sounded, to me, more like a plea than a rational decision that I would expect from a boss. At that moment, she was no longer a person with power but a person with a problem to solve. And I was part of that solution. As much as I was still upset at the unfairness of it all, I imagined myself in her shoes and looked at the situation a bit differently from my wild imaginations the night before. I said that I was willing to share an office—but with a temp. She said, “We haven’t started interviewing people yet. We don’t know who you will get. At least you know XX.” I said that I would take a chance. I thought it would be easier to set the boundary clear from the start with someone new. Though I didn’t get what I wanted, it was an important day to remember. I may be quiet, but I spoke up. That day, I saw a tiny shadow of my courage. I felt triumph.
I embraced the change wholeheartedly. With a help of an administrative assistant, I set up and decorated the office to be comfortable and cozy. We spent so much time at work that I cared for myself and my soon-to-be-officemate. Funnily enough, some colleagues stopped by during the office reconfiguration to express their condolences as if I got demoted or something precious was taken away from me. I smiled quietly inside because I knew exactly where they were coming from. I was there too, but only briefly.
Two months later, I welcomed my officemate in our newly decorated office. When we worked hard, our office was quiet like a library. When we took a break, our office became a hub, where other colleagues visited for chats and laughter. My officemate knew many things I didn’t. We taught each other, exchanged ideas, and made connections. We talked about our hopes and dreams. Nine months later, I landed a new job I wanted. I might have probably been still in my old job if I hadn’t shared an office with her.
Looking back, I know I gained much by sharing and opening myself to what came my way. I also realized that my office didn’t define my worth and that nothing I thought I had owned was truly mine.
Sometimes the gift of confidence and of new experiences comes to us wrapped in a strange package.
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