Friday, August 20, 2010

A Line in the Sand

We all make hundreds of simple decisions every day. Especially at work. If you are like me, you probably click through e-mails and appointment requests at lightning speed. Accept. Decline. Forward. Delete. File. But every once in awhile we are faced with a seemingly insignificant decision that actually speaks volumes about who we are as a person. I had one of those experiences last Thursday.

It was about 4:45 PM and I was just cleaning out my in-box before leaving for a brief, but much needed vacation. I was planning to take Friday off to celebrate my birthday and then hop in the car on Saturday morning for a long weekend getaway with the Boy. I would return on Monday night just in time to celebrate my sister's 40th birthday on Tuesday. I was really looking forward to it.

Much to my dismay, an urgent meeting notice popped up in my in-box for Friday at 10:30 AM. It was sent by the secretary of one of the Vice Presidents who I had been talking to about job opportunities. The message said that the VP was out of the office on vacation and it looked like I might be out too, but could I "step away" for a few minutes to talk to her on Friday morning.

At first, I was irritated by the whole situation. Why would anyone send an appointment for a time when both people are out of the office? Surely, the secretary must know that Microsoft Office has a color coding system for our calendars. The Light Blue hash lines are for "Tentative." The Blue solid fill means "I am in the office but I am busy at that time." And the Purple solid fill means "I am out of the office and not available." Or at least that is what it means to me. Maybe we need to have Microsoft add one more color that means "No, I am REALLY out of the office. Don't bother me."

I sat and thought about it for a moment. After all, this woman was potentially calling to talk to me about a job. Maybe I should just take the call. Even though it is my birthday, it would only be for 30 minutes and then I could go about my day. But that stressed me out. What if I wanted to sleep in? What if I decided to go to breakfast with my sister? I couldn't stand the idea of being tied down on my day off - even just for 30 minutes.

In the end, I politely declined the meeting and explained that Friday was a vacation day and it happened to be my birthday so I would not be able to take any calls. I offered for the VP to call me on my cell phone while I was driving home from work that evening, or I could meet with her when I got back to the office the following Wednesday. As I drove home that night, I felt really good about my decision. It was a line in the sand to let the Company know that there were limits on what I would do to earn my paycheck.

The VP ended up calling me on my cell phone later that evening. Of course, by the time she reached me I was no longer in my car. In fact, I was at the salon getting a pedicure. Hopefully she assumed the bubbling water was just road noise or maybe a rain storm. We spoke briefly about an upcoming RFP and she encouraged me to read through it and see if there might be a spot for me. After we finished our conversation I was ready for the weekend to begin.

I had a great birthday celebration on Friday and then the Boy and I headed out for our vacation. Usually I am very organized when it comes to road trips. I print out lists of interesting bars, restaurants and other activities. Then I make sure to bring a copy of my reservation and a detailed map with instructions to find the hotel.

For some reason, on this trip I decided to see what would happen if I just relaxed and went with the flow. I brought one little map with the vicinity of the hotel and a fold-out map of the entire state. That was about it. As we were driving around lost for the third time that weekend, I explained to the Boy that when I used to take road trips with my Mr. Big I was so prepared. We were like a well-oiled machine. This time, the Boy and I were a complete mess. He just smiled and said "You're on a new ship, baby."

He was right about that. With the Boy, I didn't really care about being organized or following the maps. The more we got lost and turned around, the more we laughed and kept on going. And the funniest part was that the Boy has a built-in GPS in his car and half the time we forgot to even look at it. On Sunday, we ended up walking on a beach just off the coast of Lake Michigan. There was no line drawn in the sand that day, but we did leave some footprints.

On Wednesday morning, I walked back into the office and was immediately assaulted by e-mails, meetings and phone calls. I felt like I had worked 12 hours within the confines of my 8-hour work day. As I was getting on the elevator, another woman came rushing through the glass doors. She looked relieved that I held the door for her and began lamenting about how she had been there since 7:00 AM and now it was after 6:00 PM.

These types of conversations are not a rare occurrence. The Company is the only place I have ever worked at where total strangers will talk to each other in the elevator about how many hours they work. I would say I have a conversation like that at least once a week.

Today I met with another woman to get some more information about that RFP. We actually had our meeting at 4:00 PM on Friday afternoon and from the looks of it she was going to be working most of the weekend as well. People at the Company seem to think that working over the weekend or taking calls on your vacation is some sort of badge of honor. Or maybe it makes them feel important. I don't ever want to be so important that the Company cannot live without me for a few days, or even a few weeks.

Anyway, this woman was explaining to me that the Sales Director is supposed to be in charge of the RFP but he is going on vacation so she has to cover for him. Everyone on the team is upset because this guy will be gone for just over two weeks on an Alaskan cruise for his 40th wedding anniversary and his wife will not let him bring his Blackberry. Allegedly, his wife told him that if he worked during this vacation, there wouldn't be a 41st year of marriage. I guess she drew her line in the sand too.

I have another meeting with the Vice President next week to follow up on our conversation and decide if there might be a role for me on this new project. Maybe I should be worried that she has gotten the wrong impression about me because I declined our first meeting.

But if she walked away from that encounter with the idea that I value my personal life and I'm not going to work during my vacation, then I guess she has exactly the right impression of me.


Anonymous said...

Sounds like a lovely time with the boy - - what a sharp contrast to your work life. Why are we do defined by our work life? We would be so much happier if it did not have such a strong role in how we define ourselves. . .

Were 50's housewives any happier. . . or were they defined by their role as wife?

AG said...

Absolutely! I have been struggling especially this past year to not let work define me, but it is hard when you spend so much of your time there. I would still rather be in this position than a 50's housewife. At least we have more choices and are not dependent on our husbands to make all of the decisions for us!!