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Hi Tim

Advice column by Tim White, PhD, LPC, NCC.

Temper-Temper, Temp

Office rivalry

Tim White, PhD, LPC, NCC offers advice on family planning and parenting, LGBT issues, disability issues, education and work issues, relationships, ethics and "unusual" social issues. Send questions to Tim for future columns through his website.

Hi Tim,

I’m a 24 year-old woman and paralegal, laid off last year and took a temp job in January for a firm that recently lost a long-term employee. Another temp lady and I are in the running for this permanent position with great benefits, perks and lots of career potential. She and I started off friendly enough, but then she started making sarcastic remarks to me in front of others, joking about my performance and alluding to the fact that she would certainly win the fight for this position. Now, she has begun showing up a half-hour earlier than we usually do so she can grab a few minutes with one of the partners. She flirts so hard with any male in authority it is uncomfortable to watch. When we work together on a project she takes more credit than she deserves, and she has begun making sarcastic comments to me as she passes my desk, all related to her impending victory over me. I called her out on it once and she spat back at me that we could “take it outside” whenever I’m ready. I’m not even sure she was joking. Over the past week, the jokes have become declarations that she is going to beat me up.

Even though I’m very laid back and easy-going, I’m ready to confront her and tell her to back off. Would that make her worse? I don’t want to involve HR and be labelled a complainer.

- Tempered Temp

Hi Tempered,

As documented among the eloquent prose collection of Ron Burgundy, “Boy, that escalated quickly!” Your coworker went from light-hearted office banter to bitter rivalry to Ronda Rousey in only a few sentences! You are completely justified in wanting to exclude HR while competing for this coveted position, but threatening assault crosses a professional and personal line, and merits at least a notification to the department head.

However strong her game may seem to you now, in the office, it sounds a bit desperate from way out here in objective cyberspace. If flirting and plagiarism are primary among her skillset, she may not have the momentum to land the job. A quick word with her- in front of witnesses- will allow you to request that the jokes stop, as you do not find physical threats to be funny. Also, be mindful of laying claim to your work immediately should you have the misfortune of working together again. Otherwise, let her unpleasantness and lack of character speak the loudest, while you keep your head down and your eyes on the prize. Her antics will probably be her undoing. However, if her behavior is the kind that is rewarded in this particular firm, you may be better off pursuing a career elsewhere.

Hi C

Hi Tim,

I’m a woman, 20, and struggling sophomore in college. After the hell of my spring semester, my brain is completely fried and I’m glad to be working, but I made two Cs during that semester. I worked so hard! Granted, science and math aren’t my strong areas and those are where I took the hits, but I feel like such a failure! My GPA is now 2.9 and I’m ashamed to talk about my grades with my parents, my best friend, or anyone else. I thought C was average? Why do I feel like such a crappy loser?

- Hi C

Hi C,

Oh… I see what you made me do there; a sign of above-average cleverness in my humble opinion. Consumerism is poisoning education, and there is no better marker for that than grade inflation. This trend hurts everyone over time, and makes a college degree worth less and less. Of course I cannot reflect on your level of effort. Some students have an inflated sense of entitlement guiding their delusion that simply trying at all is enough; it most certainly is not. However, others give their best, most sincere efforts and still receive disappointing grades. My own ego took a violent assault from mathematics, the one subject I could not master, which severely undermined my confidence and unlike most other subjects, my grades were only average. They improved in statistics; a much better fit for me.

Do not let the subjects you struggle with prevent you from shining in your best areas. Utilize those office hours and meet with your professor for advice. Arrange for tutoring when you can; either formally or by teaming up with a classmate who excels in that class and seems to achieve with little effort. Aim for an A but do be proud of an occasional hard-earned C. You can and will improve your GPA by using your strengths to offset weaknesses, but chronic anxiety and stress can continue to affect your physical and mental health long after graduation.

Weary Wife and Mother

Hi Tim,

I’m a mother of two, 34 years old here. I have a 14 year-old honor student son who excels in sports, and then a 12 year old son who self-identifies as “gender fluid.” He wants to wear dresses and nail polish on his fingers and toes, but also play soccer and fish. He is moody all the time because his brother and I are struggling with his choice. We are just simple country people. If he were just wanting to be a girl, okay or gay, okay. But what the hell is gender fluid? He says he thinks boys or girls are cute, has no preference for anything in particular, but wants to express himself with no thought to the stares and the ridicule we have to endure. He is too young to make choices like this and his father is a roughneck in the oil fields; I am all alone here for weeks sometimes, how am I supposed to break this to his father? He is not “out” to him yet and plays it straight when Dad is home. His Dad will not understand, but he is not judgmental, either. If my son can hide it, how is this real? I don’t want to traumatize him but I need help understanding.

- Weary Wife and Mother

Hi Weary,

We have imposed such rigid gender roles upon children with near zero tolerance for any variations that phenomena like genderfluidity curiously seem to give us pause.  Flip that for a moment; what the hell are gender roles? Why are we so sensitive about the color pink, dresses, trucks and dolls, and who gets to play with them? We already know from research that dressing a certain way or playing with certain toys has no effect on sexual orientation or anything else, so why do we keep imposing this mandated identification on innocent children? They already know what they are inside and they will be attracted to whichever or both genders. Fashion and developmental play, and even gender nonconformity, are harmless yet we continue to cling to these silly social conventions that elevate them to “issues.” Our children express themselves and grow and sometimes they change or never change. Genderfluidity is nothing new. Miles Robbins, son of actors Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins, penned a very thoughtful article on our outdated interest in gender roles. If you are seeking support, check out the non-profit Gender Spectrum for educational articles and join a support group. Many of your questions can be answered there, and relieve some of your anxiety.

In reference to the more important issue I have said in the past, comparisons are for prices, not people. Comparing yourself to others, or others to others, is time wasted and will never provide resolution. You actually opened your letter with a comparison of your two children, and this has me much more concerned than your kid’s gender identification. Depending on the level of distress in your family, and Dad’s reaction when he does finally hear the news, you might want to seek brief family counseling. Please do not forget that both of your children have different gifts and different challenges. Make sure that whatever step you take next, it is toward bringing your family together.

Editor’s Note: The opinions offered in this blog are the author's alone. Tim White, and any experts he may consult and/or quote in responses to letters, will never provide medical or psychological advice, diagnoses, treatment, or counseling of any kind. General advice, opinions, and suggestions may be offered with no obligation on the part of readers to accept or act upon the content published within this column. Anyone in immediate crisis and/or mental/physical distress should call 911 or related resources of assistance.

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