I’m taking advice from a squirrel on TikTok.

No, seriously. It’s 11am, and I’ve looked at enough emails, and here is a squirrel giving me advice – and I’m listening.

It just told me that perfectionism and trying to please everyone is not the way forward. Seeing as I just received a competitive, blame-shifting email – assigning me a task that they have failed to do, while framing it as something I’d be good at – the squirrel is handing out some fairly useful ideas.

In a world where everyone is avoiding blame… You can see it as a meme based on the Star Wars intro. Yet, some things still need to get done. This leaves you with limited options. Imagine a workplace where mediocrity and inaction are increasingly rewarded while the tedious job of managing problems is seen as lowly. It could be because it makes it hard to hand out awards and kudos to the favorites. No, that can’t be it, because the favorites are named and not-shamed at every weekly meeting. The wonderful job they are doing, their endless sacrifices…well, never mind. Isn’t there a mug that says, “this meeting could have been an email”? I suppose that makes us mugs for thinking there must be a point to these meetings, other than to sing the praises of a select few. There is also a neat corollary to this – create a problem that isn’t a problem and then claim to have solved it  – with an announcement. Thank 50 people for their work in what you are now claiming credit for. It’s a neat trick.

So what can you do? Either watch and do nothing, or try to do something and then get blamed. Perhaps it’s just burnout. A year and a half of trying to keep everything running – rewarded with – nothing. So you carry on, even if the end result will be the same – be pushed or jump. The trick is to not care, to move on, to see something more than the endless parade of tasks.

It’s particularly hard when even people who have been allies are so obviously stressed themselves that they can no longer see clearly either.

The pressure to produce, to conform appears to be just as strong as it ever was, even after over a year and a half of the pandemic. And now, there is the extra pressure to pretend everything is fine. Spend! Go out! Be visible! Go to work!

When is the pressure too much? There’s a question.

The other day, I went into a meeting with two other people. Important people. With power to make, break, and change things. All sorts of things. Before the meeting got underway, I was asked, “are you a mask-type person?” That’s an odd question, I thought. “Yes,” I answered. “Definitely. I always wear a mask in public.” “Oh,” was the response, as the person sat down across from me, without her mask. The man on my left, who had been wearing his mask as he walked to the office through the halls, promptly took his mask off. She outranked him.

One of those moments where you think to yourself, what do I do? Do I ask the head of the organization to follow the rules that are in place? Do I leave? Or do I do nothing, thinking of my paycheck, and my health insurance, and my bills? Dear reader, I did nothing. But I continued to wear my mask, during the entire two hour meeting, in a closed room, no social distancing.

Yet I was thinking about their actions. And I continued to think about the implications of what they had done. It was in the back of my mind, as I wrote emails, solved problems, locked my door. Then I imagined what I should have done, as I walked to the ferry, as I did grocery shopping, as I looked out the window during dinner. You don’t expect a company to care about you, or maybe you do, but you don’t anticipate that it will actively try to cause you harm.

Is there always a line waiting to be crossed?

There is an underpass near me, which goes under (of course) the railway lines. There is also a man who lives there, on and off, on a piece of cardboard. The other day he was walking back and forth, shouting at the tracks above. He looked crazy, so I jaywalked to the other side of the street. The tone of his voice sounded pretty angry. You can’t really blame him. There’s a lot to be angry at.  And a few weeks ago, I walked on the same side as him, and he threw something in my direction. I didn’t look around. New York City – you don’t look around. You’re not supposed to look.

Today, he wasn’t there, so I walked down that side of the street. There were words and lines drawn near to the strip of cardboard where he had been sleeping. Some of them you could read easily while walking slowly past. The words were animal names, sectioned off with the chalk lines. Caribou. Seals. Maybe the marks delineated their territory, and made his room safe within the lines. He could still see them though, and knew what they were as they went past. Caribou. Seals.

As wild a place as any.