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Monday, September 18, 2017

The day was hectic, but no more hectic than other days like this. It was the end of reporting / meetings / accounts season and I was stretched out, performing a variety of roles.

I knew I wasn't getting a lunch break today. This often happened once every few months or so. As a kind of consolation prize, the boss gets lunch.

The thing is, my boss and I are the only ones in the office. My boss knows from countless previous experiences that I hate, not dislike, but hate the food from across the street. The thought of it makes me gag and the last few times my boss ordered from there, I could barely eat any of it and felt sick afterwards. My boss knew this well and had promised not to order from that gunge hole again.

Let's get one thing clear. I'm not a fussy eater. In fact, people complain about how skinny I am and how I can eat pretty much anything. And I pretty much do eat anything, within reason. But the food from this particular place is truly, truly hideous. Disgusting. Barely edible.

So my boss says, "Hey, I know you hate the food from that place but I'm going to order from there anyway."

I was stunned unto silence, mulling the words over in my head. "I know you hate the food...but I'm going to order from there anyway."

My boss also knows that not twenty-five paces from this hell hole is the best, freshest, most awesome food in the suburb. Same price, but edible. My boss also knows that I love that place more than any other restaurant in the street.

The strange thing was, my boss just kept staring at me, almost challenging me, as if I was obliged to change my mind about how gross the food was and how I felt about it. I wasn't sure how to respond. There was nothing I could have said that I hadn't already said countless times before.

So I'm starving. I couldn't leave and I had no other option. I open the container and there it is: a huge mound of bloated, overcooked brown rice, some gross pieces of Fried Chicken and a slimy, wilted splat of salad in the corner.

I look at the Fried Chicken and the chicken looks at me.

It all became clear in that moment, as if the truth had been there the whole time.

I am that piece of chicken, and that piece of chicken is me.

That's what my boss thinks of me.

That's what my boss thinks I'm worth.

"I know you hate the food...but I'm going to order from there anyway."

It's a metaphor. It reaches out, permeating my salary reviews, highlighting the fact that my boss still gets my name wrong enough to be insulting, even though I'm the only other person there, even though I've stopped trying to correct every instance because there's no point.

It's the reason I'm forced to squeeze in a full week's work into a few days on a salary that my boss knows is not sustainable for my well-being. It's the reason why my awesome achievements (and they truly are awesome) are downplayed or downright ignored.

It's the reason I do much of my boss's work, at a fraction of the pay.

I am that fried chicken, and that fried chicken is me.

I wondered where my self-respect had gone. Perhaps it was nestled in that rice, waiting to be liberated.

And that was it. My watershed moment.

I don't want to be that goddamned chicken.

So I ate it, grimacing at every bite because I wanted to remember that moment. I wanted to sear into my memory the last time I let anyone make me feel devalued like this.

That was the moment I decided to leave. The moment I vowed to create something better where my value depends on my ideas and my performance, not some overseer's opinion. The moment I decided that I'm worth more than this, and to accept anything less would be to give in to that notion that what I want means nothing.

It was the moment I decided that no matter what happens, from this day forward, I will never be that piece of fried chicken again.