The other night I dreamed I was back at work at McDonald’s. I was asking my old manager how to enter grill orders (special orders) since I couldn’t remember how to do it on the computers. In my dream I said to him, “I remember a lot from six years ago, but I forgot that.” The funny thing is that I used to regularly have these dreams during college breaks right before I went back to work there… I guess it was my mind’s way of reviewing or something. I wondered why on earth I was having such a dream NOW of all times, when I’m in the process of leaving my “real” job and going back to school with nothing to indicate a return to the golden arches.
Then yesterday afternoon I mentioned to T that I needed to iron my uniforms. Suddenly I realized that washing and ironing uniforms was something I hadn’t done since I worked at McDonald’s. And as I stood over the ironing board the similarity between the two outfits struck me with alarming clarity… the polo shirt, the mostly-polyester pants, the shoes that were only worn for that one occupation. Eek! At least I can take comfort in knowing that I will likely never have to wear a baseball cap or a weird tie for nursing.
It was a strange revelation, however. In a way I AM returning to some of the things that McDonald’s represented. There are the uniforms for one… but beyond that there was an order and a process to everything. My current job is fairly open-ended. Most things here are on a yearly schedule. There is little to do on a more regular basis, there are no documented procedures. I think back to my former job at this company, and I wonder whether I was more successful there because there were daily, weekly, monthly tasks that needed to be done. There was more routine, more structure. Am I truly someone who can only function within a strict framework?
When I think about other aspects of my follow-the-rules mentality in terms of, say, knitting or cooking, I wonder whether it’s actually a manifestation of my perfectionism. If I try to create my own knitting pattern I know that it’s going to take a few tries to figure out and the end result might not be anything I’d want to admit to creating. However if I follow a pattern I can make something more complex and concentrate on the details, plus I can be reasonably assured that once it’s completed I’ll be happy to hand it off to the recipient since someone else already went through the trial-and-error phase. The cooking analogy is probably more relevant to my work life. If I am trying out a recipe for the first time I want to go through the steps exactly. That way if it tastes like crap I can blame the recipe, not my cooking skills. However the more comfortable I get with something the more likely I am to experiment with substitutions or measurements or to try to create without a recipe.
A funny aside about perfectionism: When I was in elementary school I remember one parent-teacher conference after which my parents related the usual “She says you’re a good student, pleasure to have in class,” followed by “She said that you are a perfectionist.” At that I burst into tears. “Do you know what that word means?” my dad asked. “No,” I admitted. It just sounded bad! I guess I was upset that my perfection was marred by being a perfectionist. SDER. My parents probably had to stifle a laugh at that one.
It’s been interesting that towards the end of my time at this job I’ve been able to finally put a finger on at least part of the reason why I disliked it so much. I never had a true framework to build upon so I spent four years trying to pick my way through with no method to my madness, whereas in my former job I was able to start with the basic, rote tasks and eventually build upon them, make connections, and become a valuable part of the department. Here I was capable of completing tasks, but I never had to do them often enough to know if I did it correctly or to know why we did them or what impact they had. I wasn’t able to become an expert on anything. It was frustrating and left me feeling like a dunce. Realizing this now I see that there are things I could have done to improve my performance and become a stronger member of the department, though I doubt that the ultimate outcome would really have been that much different seeing as I’ve had a lifelong interest in healthcare. It might be valuable information to store away for the future, though.
Wow, all this from a dream about working at McDonald’s. 😉