Twice a year, I need to complete a self appraisal for my employers. Punctuality has never been my forte so my appraisal form is currently blank, despite it being due last Friday. I’m telling myself, this blog post is a warm up. I need to get myself back in the writing zone since my brain has been turned to mush from watching three entire seasons of Pretty Little Liars in the space of a fortnight.
Self appraising involves writing a substantial document about all the things I’ve achieved, the value I’ve added to the firm, where my areas for improvement lie (ie tactfully tell them I’m a bit shit at some stuff and I know it), and what my objectives are moving forward. I have to split my comments by skill type: technical, team, managerial (of self and others) and business/client understanding. Where does “I’m a widow and I’m fucking brilliant for surviving this!” go? That has genuinely been my biggest achievement.
Working in a straight, white, male dominated environment, you can imagine there’s a lot of ambition, aggression and bravado. I love it and I thrive on it. A female colleague of mine gave me sound advice once that I shouldn’t hold back with what I write in my self appraisal. Go to town, boast like crazy, sing my own praises because that’s what men will instinctively do. As widow bestie says of pushing ourselves, “Ain’t no-one else gonna!” . Today also happens to be International Women’s Day so I figure that if my manager challenges me on how ridiculously ballsy I’ve been on the form, I’ll tell him I watched Sheryl Sandberg’s TED talk and was feeling very inspired by all the features in the Sunday papers, perhaps resulting in an acute inflation of my sense of self for an afternoon.
The thing is, I do think I’m amazing. I think every young widow and widower is amazing. We are fucking epic. Do you know how hard it is for our community to have the world as we knew it totally implode, to have our hearts aching (often unconsciously) inside our chest every minute of the day, yet still keep moving forward and functioning? It’s bloody exhausting. And I’m going to damn well self-congratulate for getting to this point in my life because I got through horror. I experienced trauma in the true sense of the word and although I have support from friends, it’s me who got me here, who survived. Just me. So I’ll say it to myself – well done me. Wids, I encourage you to say the same to yourself on a daily basis. Our success rate for getting through difficult days is 100%.
A fellow British wid once used a clever running metaphor for explaining being a widow with a career. All employees are challenged to run a 10k. Some employees keep in shape and are naturally athletic so can finish it with no problems, although they’ll be a bit sweaty. Others are a rusty and could do with some gym sessions, but they can push themselves and do a 10k, albeit with difficulty. Then there are the fatties who really shouldn’t be participating and goodness knows how they’ve been selected to do the 10k in the first place.
But then there’s me as a widow. When I did my first 10k (this is metaphorical – I have never and will never run unnecessarily), I was fighting fit, naturally gifted with immense focus and had nothing in my way. I was right up at the front. Then, all of a sudden, I was widowed and my legs were injured. Nowadays, while everyone else, trots, or huffs and puffs along the pavement, I’m the one doing a tough mudder 10k having had zero training, dragging myself through yucky ditches and climbing over impossibly high walls. Despite the hindrance, I’m expected to do it in a comparable amount of time to everyone else running the normal 10k. Is that fair? No, it’s not.
So the question is, do I want special allowances made for me at work? Do I play the widow card? In the early days, most definitely, I needed it. My brain was utter mush and even getting out of bed was an achievement. My employers were super generous, giving me three months off. I then did a phased return, building up my hours very gradually. I heartily recommend taking this approach if your employers can make allowances. It took seven months after my return for me to get back to working full time and for the widow brain to subside enough for me to be able to focus without the image of my wife hanging frequently intruding into my thoughts. My manager had a steep learning curve working with a bereaved employee (and one suffering from PTSD at that) yet he remembered my strengths, my successful track record, and accommodated me far more than a lot of employers would. I am very lucky.
So maybe I shouldn’t push my luck. This will be my second self appraisal I’ve written since I returned to work. It’s not like the last one said “I’m a widow so please give me a good rating and a sympathy pay rise because my costs have doubled” but it certainly hinted at it. I don’t want to be pitied, I don’t want to be viewed as weak, I don’t want to be defined by my widowhood, but I do want my strength and utter epic-ness for working through this shit to be recognised.
What do you think?