Authority has always perplexed me, in most senses of the word. I mean, who died and made you king? What gives Officer O’Riley the right to search that hooded individual? What gives Mrs. Smith the right to tell a kid they have no writing ability? What the hell possessed management to give you control of a swivel chair, let alone a whole department?
Setting aside that there’s more than one answer, right or wrong, to each of those questions, let’s ‘be real‘. In the most everyday sense, it is so common to see large organisations raise and promote people to plug gaps in their structures, be it a work place, educational facility, social group or otherwise, to satisfy a need for progress (which I understand wholeheartedly as a necessity). However, this generates human complications in such a way that progress is truly halted when one or several individuals reach a plateau they are ill-qualified to station (known as ‘The Peter Principle’, 1969). Anyone who has worked in basic office, administration, retail or other positions potentially divided from senior management will certainly have experienced this at one point or another. Whilst very easy to determine from an outside perspective, a mature emotional and logical self-assessment is required to judge whether you have climbed to such a level. In my own experience, having worked in a number of the aforementioned roles, I have come across people who have been elevated past their ‘usefulness’ more times than I care to quantify. From such an outside perspective, is it so wrong to ask, ‘I am capable, but could I perform better in your shoes?‘
It’s easy to say yes, and justify your response by basically berating the individual who is apparently failing in their station and by identifying a different method of operation. It’s also just as easy to say no, and reason with yourself that there is a reason you have not been considered for the role yourself or have been passed over completely. Realistically, anyone can probably do the role in question 7 in 10 times in ordinary, low-mid salary jobs with a little guidance – it’s just really easy to forget that when someone spends everyday making it look and sound like a lot of work. For this reason alone, don’t lose much sleep over someone else’s incompetence if you can help it. Just do your time (set your own sentence), sing the right notes to the right people…. or just ‘fuck it’ and do what I like to do: find the easiest way to get through each day and make the positive results look effortless (which, of course, they are when you know how to make work work).
I’ve found in my transition from the working field back into education I have been naive in my expectations in several respects. One of which lies in authoritative power. To be clear, this is the secondary definition of ‘authority’: rather than the power or right to give orders and enforce obedience, I am referring to the administrative control over a subject. I have had the responsibility of ‘Programme Representative’ for first year English thrust upon me by the university. It’s hardly a chore, mainly consisting on collecting feedback and being a reference point between students and faculty, but it does seem to have given some of my peers the impression that I can answer their questions about writing and text analysis, proof-read their work and offer feedback and corrections. I would be lying if I said that I am not perfectly capable of doing these tasks, but when it came to having an original short story put in front of me I asked myself this: ‘What makes me, in any sense, qualified to judge a peer’s writing style and creative work? I’m no teacher. I’m just a student myself.‘
Nonetheless, I did end up going through the document, picking up any grammatical errors, highlighting any inconsistencies or questionable sentences or phrases, writing feedback notes in support of the markings. It felt like being a teacher grading a paper (thankfully I did not have to give any kind of grade or result!). The person in question was quite receptive to what I had to say, and I felt less like I was posing in a role I had no right to have – despite having been asked to do it. Moreover, it made me consider whether a career in education could be something I might be able to perform well in. So there’s that….
What I have learned in the first two months in university are there are very slight transitions between high school and university and adult/working life. I’ve seen it in the negative light in that cliques form like they do in high school when you pool a group of 18-21 year olds who don’t know each other and the ignorance of maintaining a shared living environment; and I’ve seen it in the positive or realistic perspective in that some principles such as authority, time management and budget control are in motion. I knew that was to be expected, but to the degree in which a job in an office and life on university campus are alike took me by surprise. Obviously there is variation in how much each individual adapts to their environment in either role (and I’ve certainly tolerated my fair share of kids fresh out of school or college in the workplace), but an illusion has been shattered in the sense of the boundary between the two being such great hurdles. I suppose that the reception of this revelation depends on how well one can adapt, but I feel the sentiment is a fairly relatable one to most.
So to conclude, don’t worry if you don’t know how to change your own bed sheets, cook for yourself, or appropriately clean your bathroom because the world has plenty of room for you even if you never learn. There’s a good chance that you might even end up having subordinates or lackeys that remove those short-comings as issues in adult life. However, I promise no happy endings when those able people supporting you reach their expiration dates and progress beyond you elsewhere. Authority must be generated in oneself and over one’s own actions, ability and work in order to be properly sustained. I believe I’m in the right place to be learning this now, and feel that I am unquestionably qualified to make this observation and to serve the free advice (you’re welcome).
Listening To: Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness – The Smashing Pumpkins
Image Source: Google Images, Giphy
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