On Feeling Worthy
Once, while waiting outside the office building where I worked in New York, I was mistaken for a hooker. Or possibly a drug dealer. I’m not sure which.
All I know is that I was waiting for my husband Kyle – who had rented a car on the other side of town – to come pick me up so that we could head through the tunnel and down the turnpike to visit my parents. And I had been waiting…and waiting…and waiting…and apparently it looked like I was loitering. For a little too long.
(I’m pretty sure my knee-high black leather boots didn’t help my image much either.)
A cop approached me and pointedly asked, “Who are you waiting for?” And he didn’t look as if he believed me when I protested that my husband should be there any minute. Really. I swear.
Was I offended to have been mistaken for a hooker? Or a drug dealer?
Well, yes. I mean, I didn’t work in the greatest area of town, but it had been cleaned up significantly, and I was at least three blocks away from the nearest dirty video store.
While my hooker/drug dealer mistaken identity example is a relatively humorous one, my stint as a collector challenged my self-identity in a different way.
It shames me a bit to admit that I considered myself to be somewhat superior to those people from whom I was attempting to collect delinquent car payments. I may have had to take that job in order to pay our bills after my husband’s shockingly unexpected layoff, but at least I was paying our bills. And we hadn’t ruined our credit, like the people from whom I was collecting.
But one morning, a customer knocked me right down off my high horse. As I examined her profile on my computer screen, I saw that she was a project manager – as I had been back in New York. I seized on that commonality as a means of establishing a rapport with her. And it was all going well until I asked her how she’d like to pay her bill, noting that we had her credit card information on file from previous payments.
She accused me of having information that I shouldn’t have. She said, “You’re obviously doing something very illegal, and I think you had better put your supervisor on the phone.”
I wanted to shout, “Listen, you! You are NOT better than me. I used to do the same work that you do, and my credit score is nearly 200 points higher than yours, AND I used to have a Top Secret security clearance, so where do you get off accusing me of doing anything illegal?”
Instead, I calmly and politely told her that I would do as she had asked. And I thought to myself, why did I care what her perception of me might be? Even if it was inaccurate?
The truth was, I cared because I wasn’t happy with my own perception of myself. I was ashamed to be working at such a job. I didn’t care that it was honest work and that I did the very best job I could at it. I hated that all of my education and experience hadn’t been able to help me score a good job – a WORTHY job. Deep down, despite my bravado, I felt as if I might be a step or two away from being in the same position as the people from whom I was collecting.
My experience in collections was a reminder that the distance separating me from my credit-impaired customers may not have been as great as I’d thought. That perhaps some of those people may have thought they were actually better off than me. That sometimes we are not what we seem to be.
But most of all, that what we know ourselves to be is what truly matters.