Thursday, October 7, 2010

SOS

Lately, I feel like I am drowning at work. Or maybe suffocating is a better word. It has been three months since I moved off the Daughter's account and the EVP suggested that I might be happier in another position. Specifically, one that does not report to my Boss. Since then, I have been trying to find a place within the Company where I might fit.

One of my ideas was to put my writing skills to good use by helping with proposals. So I volunteered to work on a big RFP project. The Sales Director told me that it would be a great opportunity to demonstrate how I could add value to the process. And then she could talk to her boss and see if he would consider creating a new position for me. For the first time, I felt like there might be hope.

The entire proposal process was a disaster. It was completely disorganized, which left the team desperately clinging to anyone with a hint of leadership ability. For example, I noticed that the staffing chart didn't seem to match up with the pricing plan so I made a spreadsheet to help show the differences. Suddenly my document became the source of truth and everyone started calling me into meetings because I was the "expert" on staffing.

One of the days, I got called into a 30-minute staffing meeting that started at 8:30 AM. We were on the phone until 11:30 AM. I tried to help as best as I could, but they needed much more help than I could give them. In the end, the Sales Director re-wrote most of the proposal over the weekend, spent all day Sunday putting it into binders and drove for five hours on Monday to hand-deliver it because we ran out of time to ship it.

The worst part is that as soon as I started working on the proposal, my Boss was promoted to a new role. Her main responsibility is to design solutions that will help the Company win more contracts. So instead of escaping from my Boss by working on this proposal, I was thrown into a situation where I had even more contact with her.

After the project was over, I realized that if I took a full time job writing proposals I would end up working side by side with my Boss on a regular basis. Unfortunately my realization came a few days too late. I had already received a meeting request from the VP of Sales to talk about my future within the Company. Since I was the one who had pushed to get a meeting with him, I couldn't turn it down. So I walked into his office yesterday morning and hoped for the best.

The meeting was an even bigger disaster than the proposal. I used to be so poised and confident, especially in a job interview. But for some reason I went into this meeting and literally fell apart. He started by telling me that he had heard from my Boss and the EVP that I was not happy with my current job and I was looking to make a move. Somehow this immediately put me on the defensive. I felt like I was a problem employee and this guy was doing everyone a big favor by finding somewhere to put me.

When he asked me about coming to work for him, I explained that a few weeks ago I was very interested. Then I told him that one of the main reasons I was looking to make a move was because my Boss and I have very different styles and we have agreed it would be better if we don't work together anymore. So it would probably not make sense for me to come over now that my Boss will be working so closely with his team.

The rest of the conversation felt like a chess game where all I had left on the board was my King and maybe a Rook and a few Pawns to protect him. The VP of Sales kept chasing me around the board and backing me into a corner to gather information on my Boss. In the end, he got me to reveal that I had filed a complaint about her to the EVP and I needed to move because I could not stand to be around her anymore. Checkmate.

I walked out of his office feeling completely violated. As I rode down the elevator, I started to feel the tears welling up in my eyes. Even though I knew that I probably did not want that job anyway, I was just so embarrassed and upset that I let him get to me. I wanted to sink down under my desk and disappear.

On the way home that night I decided to stop at the Secretary of State's office to pick up a new license plate. Mine had been damaged when the Idiot Driver rear ended us a few weeks ago and the body shop said they would install a new one for me after my car was repaired. The State offices have late hours on Wednesday night, until 7:00. I thought it might make me feel better to get something checked off my 'to do' list.

I walked into the Secretary of State branch, which is an old storefront in a strip mall that includes a Dollar General and a check cashing place. The lobby was fairly crowded but I went up and grabbed a number. I had #25. I looked up at the board to see that they were currently serving #92. I tossed my number in the trash and walked out. After the day I had at work, I knew there was no way I could handle waiting through 33 transactions just to get my license plate.

The next morning on my way to work I drove by again. It was just after 9:00 AM and the Secretary of State branch had just opened so I figured maybe I could get in before the crowd. I walked in the door and the lobby was already filled with people. They were serving #97. Either they went through 105 transactions since 5:30 PM the night before or all of those people slept there overnight while waiting for their turn. Either way, I was out of there.

I decided to take a chance and stop by another Secretary of State branch on my way to work. This one was in Belleville which is a small town just a few miles off of the highway. I walked in and picked my number. I was #45 and they were serving #30. I had come this far so I decided I might as well stay. Plus I was in no hurry to get to work.

There was a grocery store next door so I walked over there to see if I could get a magazine to read while I waited. The cashier explained that they did not sell any magazines, but there were some free reading materials in the foyer. All they had were some Real Estate guides and something called Natural Awakenings which was about green living. I picked up a copy and went back over to wait for them to call my number.

As I absent mindedly flipped through the pages, I came across an interview with Jim Hightower, noted columnist and Populist. One quote in particular caught my attention. It said: I try to inform people that they're not alone, despite the power of the establishment trying to teach them that the corporate way is the only way. It takes people willing to stand up to the establishment and say 'No.'

The article went on to ask him about how people can work individually or collectively to change the world. He encouraged everyone to assess your own values and figure out what matters to you. Then if you see something that strikes you as particularly unfair or not right, you should take action. That could involve setting up something on your own or looking for like-minded people who are already taking action.

I walked out of that Secretary of State's office feeling inspired. Maybe I am not alone in thinking that the Company is a bad place. Just because it is a giant global corporation that is publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange doesn't mean that its vision of the world is any more valid than mine. Plus, this particular Secretary of State's office had a "fast lane" for people with simple requests like drivers license renewals or replacement license plates, which restored my faith in State government.

By the time I got in to the office, I had just a few minutes to prepare for a meeting with a candidate who was applying for a job on my team. After my experience with the VP of Sales yesterday, I knew I needed to snap out of it long enough to give this girl a positive impression of myself and the Company.

Overall, the interview went really well. I managed to coherently explain the types of work we do and why she might find it interesting. Just when I thought I was in the clear, she brought up the dreaded question. "What challenges are there within this team?" she asked.

I thought about it for a moment before answering. What problems are there, besides the fact that I have a crazy boss, there are not enough resources to deliver what we have sold and the Company is only concerned about the bottom line. "The main challenge is that we are growing so fast that sometimes we do not have very effective processes in place," I explained, hoping my facial expressions were not revealing too much. "We are working on it, but I know that it can be frustrating at times for our staff."

She looked at me and nodded her head. "I have heard that about the Federal team," she replied. "But I also asked around about you and everyone says that you are a really good buffer for your staff."

I was temporarily speechless at her comment. The fact that there was even one person at the Company who had something nice to say about me was absolutely astounding. "Thanks, that is really good to hear." I beamed at her. "I try my best to make sure our team is happy and functional, even when things might be a little hectic all around us."

After she left, I went back and looked at her resume. This girl earned a Bachelors in Political Science in 1998 and then she went on to obtain a Masters in Public Administration with a focus on Healthcare Administration in 2003. She had almost the exact same degrees as I did, only she was ten years behind me in her career.

Once again I find myself in the position of reluctant role model. This girl reminded me that everything I do at the Company leaves an impression on my staff, just like my Boss has left an impression on me. But while they are looking to me for direction, I am completely lost at sea. If only I could be the person that this girl thinks I am.

For months, I have been talking about making changes in my life. During this perpetual transformation, I seem to have lost my identity. The person I used to be is gone, but I have not yet discovered who I want to be. I am living in limbo.

I have come too far to turn back now, so I guess my only option is to keep moving ahead. Maybe I need to lose myself completely in order to find myself again.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The interview with the girl seems like the happy ending, even though it might be hard to see it that way. Once you reach a certain point, you do become a role model (either by design or by default). It seems like poetic justice that within the impersonal, dog-eat-dog corporate culture you have been able to stand out as a buffer for those who might be even more vulnerable than yourself. You ARE the person she thinks you are ... the hard part is that no one there will be that person for you. In my obsevation, that is one of the occupational hazards of being a marginally successful, mid-career professional woman!!!