La Vie des Autres

 La Vie des Autres is a German film by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck. I think I saw it at a theater in Paris when the movie was released, back in those days when I traveled back and forth between my home country and the City of Lights. I do not recall a lot of the details of the movie, except that it was good — meaning, it conveyed the story in such a way that I could relate to.

As I have grown older and life has worked its way through me, sending me the good and the bad as it usually does with all of us poor souls, I think I have become more grounded in the way I see others (or at least I’d like to think I have). The world is tough, no news there. It is hard — and exhausting — to invest oneself as is really demanded just to make progress in life. Prejudice always takes the upper hand, I am convinced, even though people can be uncommonly good at hiding what they really think from you. One of my fantasy thoughts at the office has been: “what if my supervisor one day asked me…what do you really think about me, this company, your role?”. It would be an interesting question that, I must confess, I may not have the courage to respond in all fairness. Interestingly, were the question asked, courage would be evenly distributed between the parties. Sure there is risk being taken by the person asking the question, but the person responding it probably takes a larger risk if they don’t give a suitable answer.

When I was younger I had the ideal that telling the truth and being upfront was indeed one of the most important assets in a human being. I was taught as much. However, this world has increasingly turned less sympathetic towards truth and openness: in fact, you fare better the less you tell, for better or worse. People don’t want to hear the truth, they don’t want to hear they are naked. They are too tired to do anything about the criticism they receive. Oh, and by the way, people don’t care about other people’s feelings either, even though at times many times donating money to charity rubs off some of the guilt. In my experience, many people are simply more interested in seemingly listening to you, but not enough to trigger a follow-up on their part. Change is hard, as hard as life.

Maybe it is my fault that, in pretty much every job I’ve had, I’ve never really felt a protagonist in the wider scheme of things. I have always felt I was rather more of a presence looking in. A large chunk of it is purely my fault for obsessing over trying to get my numbers and assumptions so right that time goes by and I never get to speak. Like this morning in the global call where only the key people are likely to be given enough minutes to speak. The young and the loud always trump the old and the quiet.

This apparent invisibility of mine strikes me as odd. After all I’m in somebody’s payroll and I guess I must do a fairly good job given that I’ve been in business for decades. Still, many of my supervisors could do little more than acknowledging my presence and providing feedback once in a blue moon…usually while trying to defend a lower rating in a performance review so the bonus pool would be unequally distributed. Priority goes to people who — many times — are far more talented than I am. However, I have also seen it go to those who are liked, either because they perform a menial service or because they are just cute. Beware appearances…they may end up on your plate one day.

Perhaps a big reason why I can easily feel like a wallpaper flower is that I just don’t ask too many questions and I am not usually there on people’s faces all the time. I can’t do that, it’s not me. So it is when I am truly me that I am most at odds with the world, and thus relegated to being the absent recipient in an email, the odd woman out. We live in the “me-too” era, so there must be something to that about male bosses, but I don’t know that I can give that factor too much weight. Being a foreigner and a woman sounds like two more understandable reasons. Who knows, were it not for diversity clauses I might not even be around! No, I am not a bitch, which is the other way in which most talented women tend to get a break or simply get themselves heard. And no, I am not married to or the mistress of a high management official either…so I guess I am stuck in the waiting room until retirement arrives.

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