Saturday, June 5, 2010

Field Day

The school year is coming to a close, which means there are lots of activities for the kids. My nephew had his school picnic last week, which included a tug of war. I was not there to see it, but apparently it went pretty quick. The boys lined up on each side of the rope and my nephew was in the front of the line. With a few swift pulls, the other team won the tug of war and dragged my nephew into the dirt.

It's hard for a six-year-old to understand the value in this type of contest. And he was understandably upset about the outcome. My nephew is used to excelling in all aspects of his school experience. But now they are beginning to introduce the concept of athletic competition, which is not one of his strengths.

After the tug of war incident at the picnic, we all decided to show up for his Field Day on Friday to give him a little bit of moral support. It's hard to be a creative, sensitive and intelligent child in today's schools. And the stigma can be even worse if you happen to be a boy.

Meanwhile, the Daughter was in town this week to test her database and my experience wasn't that different from what my nephew went through at the tug of war. When the week started off, I was optimistic that my poise and grace would triumph over all obstacles. Unfortunately, the Daughter rode into town on her broomstick and stepped all over my poise and grace within the first two hours. It was no match for her wicked attitude.

I spent the entire week listening to her complain about the process and try to find fault in what our team had accomplished. Fortunately for us, the first major error she found during testing was with the data her team had sent to us. Which may have been a small victory for me, but it only made her more angry and determined to find our mistakes so she would have someone else to blame for her database problems.

On Friday morning, we had our wrap up meeting to talk about the issues we had found and what the next steps would be. Right after the group meeting, the Daughter and I were supposed to meet one on one to go over our strategy. She told me to hold on because she had to make one phone call. I waited around for a few minutes and it became clear that this phone call would take awhile. So I went for a little walk.

Then our Project Manager came rushing up to me in the hallway. She had overheard the Daughter's phone call and apparently she was talking to my Boss. "I just thought you should know so you can be prepared," she explained to me. "I heard the Daughter say 'I agree with you, but we need to convince her of that.' And I am pretty sure that the 'her' they are talking about is you."

Clearly, my Boss and her Daughter have teamed up to teach me a few lessons. I felt so isolated and alone. My client has a direct line to my Boss and was sitting on the phone with her gathering ammunition to fire against me and my team. There is simply no way I can compete with that.

After making me wait for 45 minutes while she made a few more calls, I was summoned back upstairs to meet with the Daughter. It was one of the more awkward moments of my career. She proceeded to give me a two page laundry list of demands and explained to me that she wanted to meet with me each week for 10-15 minutes to status on these items until they were all completed.

The entire time I just nodded my head and wrote things down while thinking that this woman has to be the most self righteous and condescending person I have ever met. After the meeting was over, I said my goodbyes to the rest of her team and I left. I was headed to see my nephew's Field Day and I needed to get away from the office before I said or did something I might regret.

When I arrived at Field Day yesterday afternoon, it was like stepping back in time. While many things in our society have evolved, the school system is clearly not one of them. There were large clusters of children wandering around at each station with one or two frazzled teachers or parent helpers carrying clip boards and trying to coordinate the transition from the shoe toss to the four person relay.

And in the middle of all the chaos stood my sweet nephew wearing his orange baseball cap and clutching his plastic water bottle. Every time there was a break in the action he would turn around and give me a big smile and a wave.

Little did he know that he was taking part in a public display of athletic skills that would determine the pecking order for the next 10 years of school. Overall, the kids were very well behaved. But it was clear that the boys who were the strongest and ran the fastest garnered the most attention and accolades throughout the day.

Many of the same dynamics I witnessed at field day will follow us through the rest of our lives. The the team players, the cheerleaders, the superstars and the bullies. I would like to be able to tell my nephew that it doesn't matter if you win or lose. What matters is that you show up and do your best. And that is what I truly believe. But whether we like it or not, there will always be winners and losers in life.

When I got home from Field Day, I logged into the computer to find an interesting little surprise. The Daughter had written this glowing note about how wonderful her testing experience was. She e-mailed it to my Boss and did not even mention me by name. She congratulated my Boss on putting together such a successful testing event, even though she had absolutely nothing to do with it.

My Boss proceeded to forward that e-mail around to everyone in the Company this morning, like a peacock spreading its feathers and strutting around town with pride. Am I the only person who sees the hypocrisy in what is going on here? This woman has just sent an e-mail from her own Daughter saying how perfect and wonderful she is. And she expects everyone to believe it.

I think the message from our customer would carry more weight if it had any measure of objectivity. I guess I could ask my Mom to write a note about what a great Client Director I am, but I doubt anyone would take that seriously.

When I read that message this morning, I felt completely disheartened. Clearly, I am just a fly caught in this complex web of lies that is being orchestrated by my Boss. Earlier this week, my Boss blamed me for not being happy in my job, despite the fact that it is her Daughter who is making my situation so unbearable.

Now, she has conspired with the Daughter to send this e-mail to give the appearance that everything on the project is just fabulous. So if I complain to anyone about my relationship with the Daughter, they will think that I'm crazy. After all, the Daughter just wrote this wonderful note about my team.

I have been lamenting about my situation with the Project Manager on our team. She is definitely aware of the antics going on with my Boss and her Daughter. "They are just so sneaky," she explained. "And that is a quality I have never had. I always feel like the sneaky people get ahead in the world, while the rest of us who follow the rules are just struggling to survive."

It might be time for me to admit that I am in over my head. These women are shrewd, manipulative and much stronger than me. And they have a lot more at stake. Just like my nephew, I am a good person who is trying to do my best and yet somehow I still end up getting pulled into the dirt.

Last night, I went to my sister's house to bake cookies for my niece's lemonade stand. There is a charity called Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation, which raises money for pediatric cancer research. It all started with a four year old girl named Alex who was diagnosed with cancer. She had a lemonade stand each year to raise money to find a cure.

After she passed away, her parents started a foundation so that other kids could have lemonade stands to support the cause. So far they have raised over $30 million, with $12 million coming from lemonade stands sponsored by other kids just like my niece.

This afternoon I want to visit my niece's lemonade stand. They held it during the big community garage sale weekend, so there were plenty of customers. Watching my niece pouring glasses of lemonade for the greater good was so inspirational. I ended up spending two hours there just helping out and talking to all of the people in the neighborhood.

Working at the lemonade stand today reminded me that none of this stuff at work is important. My Boss and her Daughter are beating me at a game that I don't even want to play.

All of us are blessed with certain talents, whether it is intelligence, creativity, athletic ability or a kind heart. Each of us gets to choose whether we use our powers for good or evil. I made a promise many years ago that I would use my talents to make this world a better place.

This week, I almost let them break my spirit. Thanks to my niece and nephew - and a few glasses of lemonade - I am back on track.


Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Thank you for writing this AG. I can assure you that given the family that you speak about, I do not think your mom would write a note saying that you were a good client director unless she meant it. Your family is honest, not a bunch of liars and cheaters. And, alas, they will probably never be rich! But they are rich with love and they have so much to offer.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for all of your great comments on this post. Sorry I accidentally deleted them!