My “School”-Assigned Identity

 On becoming “school’s” entitled and unemployable Jewish-American Princess…

In August, 2006, “school” extended its “free” five-week experiment to me. I accepted. After five weeks, I had the big talk with Robert: did I want to continue? He thought I was doing “very well”. I was happy! Yes, I wanted to continue! “Tuition”, he then informed me, would be $350 a month. My temp job paid me $15/hour. Despite this, in my “school” stupor, I said I would find a way to pay for it. He looked pleased. Good! he responded.

Needless to say, my on-going struggles with money and employment came screaming to the surface shortly there after. Conveniently, “school’s” version of cult identity theft begins with pin pointing a “chief weakness”. I wore my area of weakness like Nathanial Hawthorne’s Hester Pryne wore her scarlet letter and “school’s” guidance and tutelege revolved around the big U (unemployable) evolving me, over time into the oh, so flattering entitled and unemployable Jewish-American princess character.

During my tenure I scrambled through a number of frantic “school”-sponsored job searches. My initial efforts led to better paying jobs — ah, SUCCESS! Through them I verified for myself this: without “school” I would still be temping at pitiful hourly rates; with “school”, I was earning a grown up salary, for the very first time, making it possible to pay “school” $350 a month.

But as I dutifully followed the “any job will do” protocol and dismissed my natural proclivities as “pictures of myself”, I increasingly found myself in positions that I hated. The longer “school” instructed me, the more I believed that my desire for meaningful and creative work was selfish and to be dismissed, even impossible; after all “school” policy was long as you are working. Of course, this ideology led to predictable failure. And, of course, the failure was always my fault and not due to “school’s” skewering of my sense of self.

In 2010, the height of The Great Recession, I was laid off. All my subsequent “school”-sponsored job search efforts proved fruitless, verifying the “school” mantra known intimately by all  “school” doobies: I must not be trying hard enough. When a coffee shop hired me, I took the job — desperate to fulfill “school’s” requirement of “any job”. I had “made an aim” to get one, after all! And “school” repeatedly reminded its charges, YOUR AIM IS YOUR GOD. Part of that aim was to apply for everything and anything (I did secretly draw the line at McDonald’s).

It was soon painfully clear that customer service at a foodie joint was not my best choice. And in reality I already knew this about myself having had — more than once — failed as a waitress in the past. But my “school” stupor told me that my previous waitress-ing failures were due to living a “school-less” existence. With its “help” I could become a barista extraordinaire.

If “school’s” experiment policy was a legitimate practice of garnering self-knowledge, I might have tried this job in that spirit; and upon realizing that “aim setting” and “school-sponsored help” weren’t going to change my basic spacey nature, I would have said, “I’m sorry! I made a mistake. Thank you for the opportunity, but I’d best be on my way.”

“School” would have welcomed the wake up call; it would have supported my insight and subsequent action. It would have congratulated me for seeing my pattern of setting myself up for employment failure. The institution would have validated the insight I gleaned about the wear and tear on my emotional well-being. It would have asked me why I sabotaged myself this way; why I couldn’t simply honor my basic nature.

But that process requires slowing down, looking inward, taking quiet time and space for one’s self to reflect on a pattern of behavior.  As a destructive cult, “school” had to reflect back, encourage and fortify my inner self-saboteur; after all, an unemployable princess needs “help” and “school” is “the source” of all “real help”! An entitled JAP needs to learn how to pay for her arising (at $350 a month); taking time and space is not part of “school” protocol. Allowing emotional awareness  is — in fact — dangerous to a cult and its unstated aim of mo’ “students”, mo’ money.

I realized my mental health was unraveling. After three shifts, I committed the worst of “school” sins and quit, discarding “any job” and “NOT MAKING my 5-week aim”.  Horrors. At “aim report” time, I confessed to all that I had thrown away my $9/hour coffee shop job because I sucked at it. The “higher being” lording over “class” that night looked incredulous: “Who are you to walk away from a job?“, she admonished me. She then went on to tell me who I was with this rhetorical question: “You are a bit of a princess, aren’t you?” (at another heart-warming moment, this “teacher” had once said to me, “Maybe you’ll never be able to hold down a job.”)

A princess in her right mind would have flipped the “teacher” an entitled middle finger and floated out the door, leaving the “classroom” forever. In my “school” stupor, I accepted the humiliation and my cult-assigned identity as “help”; the “teacher” was revealing my weakness, “shedding light on it”, enabling me to “fight against pictures of myself” and evolve into a “real woman”; thus illustrating typical dysfunctional, twisted and ironic cult thinking. Within the hallowed halls, hurt becomes “help”. She then admonished my “aim partner”, a fellow “classmate” who was suppose to support me through the aim-making process. I felt responsible for, and guilty about, the verbal beating inflicted on my “classmate”.

Now that I’m three years free from “school” ideology, this scene looks ridiculous: I had made an adult decision based on living in this body/psyche for 40 plus years. That decision triggered the beginning of the end of my “school” days. “School” spun it as “entitled” and tried to solidify my one-dimensional cult identity, or caricature with it. Thankfully, I didn’t swallowed the whole pill. My inner rebels boiled up and soon after departed the ranks of the “evolving”; even so it still took my husband’s confrontation sounding alarms that my marriage was dangerously close to unraveling.

Today the irony smacks me in the face: I had been unemployable because I’d bought “school’s” dismissal of my natural proclivities and strengths. The more I bought into my “school” identity, the more depressed I became. The worse I felt about myself, the harder it was to convince an employer to hire me.  Ironically, my employment woes ended after I left the evolving ranks and re-joined the caterpillars.

“School” protocol is exactly the same as any other cult; as one of its “students” my true identity, my strengths, or person-hood, became irrelevant, inconsequential, to be dismissed along with my feelings, experiences and perceptions. I was evolving into another “school” cog who took “any job” (as long as you are working), married “any man” (because “any man will do if you are working on yourself”), paid my tuition and followed instruction (especially if the instruction involved “making new friends” … cough).

Thanks to “school” I learned the following lesson: never let an external source override your internal voice and moral compass. When you trust your inner guide, you truly do begin to know thyself.

One thought on “My “School”-Assigned Identity

  1. Hello I Must be Going says:

    Fascinating website(s) from former Fellowship of Friends “students”. Robert Burton, who started FOF, was a onetime student of Alex Horn. Burton did end up with a much bigger network and probably a lot more money.
    Read some of this though. It all sounds VERY FAMILIAR.
    It’s nice to know we were not the only ones…

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