As a bulimic in college, the cafeteria was my focal point. At first, it was where I gained fifteen pounds. Not that anyone saw those pounds on me. In college I had the body of a model. Not that anyone saw that, either, because I wore an A-line skirt down to my ankles and an extra-large sweatshirt. Every day. A guy once asked me if I was an Orthodox Jew because I was so covered up all the time. I thought he was an idiot. That’s how big an idiot I was.
I taught myself to throw up without a mentor. I just read about it, somewhere, when there was no Internet and definitely no one talked to me because (see above) I looked like a nut job. It got to the point where I was eating for hours and hours every day, because you can do that if you are going to throw it all up.
And then I realized that if I was going to be in the cafeteria so often then I should get a job there. So I took a job in the dishwashing room. There were five people, working at a conveyor belt of dirty food. We talked the whole time. Well, they did. I found I had nothing to contribute until we got to baseball. In high school I won fantasy baseball league by becoming an expert on base stealers and relievers because everyone ignored those stats in the draft. I was conversant on Rickey Henderson and Steve Bedrosian. I picked Vince Coleman up from the minors.
The problem was that my only topic for talking was one where I displayed way too much knowledge. People don’t want to chat about stolen bases by obscure rookies when they are washing dishes. People wanted to talk about dating. Or whatever people are doing in college that was dating. And I had nothing to say on that topic, not for lack of interest, but for lack of knowledge.
So I jumped at the chance to move to the kosher dish room for washing. The best part of the kosher dish room was that only two people wash dishes there. When the other girl saw me, she quit. And I got my best friend the job. We spent two years washing dishes together three nights a week. I loved the job. We talked the whole time. We made a system where we’d let everything pile up and then blast through it in a half hour. Which means we got paid to eat dinner and talk. And I realized that the most important thing I learned in college is that you’ll love your job if you have a friend.
I’m going to give you some links for that: Tom Rath got famous at Gallup for doing studies like the one that shows that people who have two good friends at work like their job. I loved that research when I first read it, but now I wonder: are all his co-workers the ones doing the research for the books that made him famous? Because they are not famous and I can’t help thinking that his co-workers loathe him for his success and he is still happy at work but only because he’s so rich and famous.
But there are other people who presumably make very little money, like Cynthia Kong, who spends her days filling my inbox with research from her PR firm about about the workplace, and she sent an infographic the other day that said that co-workers are most grateful for their co-workers. I think it’s true, you need friends at work. Here’s how I know.
After college I was still throwing up. A lot. It is not uncommon for rich, white, professional women to be throwing up at work. Just statistically speaking. Because 10% of college women are bulimic and then college women go to the office, then 10% of office women are throwing up. And most bulimics are rich, white women. And most women can’t stop throwing up completely—it’s like alcoholism. Which means it’s maybe more than 10% of the rich white women in your office who are throwing up.
You can’t tell a bulimic has a problem. You can tell an anorexic has a problem. And you can see that a fat person has a problem. But bulimics usually look fine. It’s just that they have no friends.
It’s a lot of work to throw up during the work day because you have to sneak out and get all the food, and then you have to wait a little bit to throw it up, and then you have to redo all your makeup. Even if you have a routine that makes things fast – like you really need a bathroom that is close to the food source, generally empty, and very well lit — it’ll still take at least an hour.
So if you’re going to throw up for an hour a day you have to have no friends. Friends will notice and then you’d have to face the fact that you are living the life of a drug addict and something has to change. I know because I had no friends. I worked for the first five years of my career having no friends at work. Or having only sort of friends, because I had to hide so often. I was pretending so much.
Most of you are not throwing up. But many of you are hiding. At some point you need to realize that you are the only person who can make your job good. By being honest with yourself about who you are and what you need. And then taking the responsibility to get it. Friends come as the result of this type of behavior.
And the truth is that in order to get to a place where you have friends at work, sometimes you have to take a chance and change to another dish room.