These past 30-months have been among the most challenging of my life. I've documented some of the obstacles here, but decided to take a hiatus from writing about my personal struggles after so many commented that I am unable to adapt, or see the good in a situation. When someone left me a link to a forum where the topic was me and there were several people (20 or more?) weighing in with their own personal opinions that I created my own drama ... I decided that perhaps I shouldn't share the details of my life in this forum. People were definitely starting to think that I didn't have both oars in the water, and maybe my cheese had slid off my cracker. Obviously, I was not conveying appropriately the situation I had found myself in, when I accepted this relocation. Rest assured, I didn't go crazy ... I just wasn't documenting the full extent of what was happening - only the symptoms of it.
But today, I'm taking a break from our preparations for Frankenstorm to write about the Frankenstorm that has been happening in my world. Why? Because maybe it will courageously inspire others to do what's right in their hearts.
It all started when I was sitting on the edge of the bathtub in San Diego circa May 2010, bathing our small children, trying to decide whether or not to accept the transfer to Virginia and I was suppressing a panic attack that would persist in varying intensities for the next two and a half years. My sister Eileen called me and I had the phone cradled against my shoulder - shampooing precious little heads - as my sister was talking with me about the advantages and disadvantages of moving. Charlie and I needed (or rather, wanted) a bigger house and this was a free ticket to move closer to family. But, she also told me that having been a career woman and then mother, who opted to resign her career, she could never go back to working in an office when she had children at home. She said she'd be filled with resentment and is that something I was prepared to manage?
I had my doubts about my own ability to do this. I'd be moving smack dab from my office in our dining room to an office in the headquarters of a huge corporation, at the time, the wealthiest in the world. While I was gone, my husband would be home with our children everyday. But in the grand scheme, this was an opportunity for me and our family. And depending upon your belief system, taking the job and moving was the financially responsible thing for me to do.
There was no question: I had a fantastic situation in San Diego. I had an incredibly flexible schedule and a magnificently awesome boss. I worked as a Project Manager and I had teams of consultants working for me and I'd delegate work to them. More than once I had to pinch myself because how lucky am I to have such incredible job satisfaction with such an incredible company?
Although I'm with the same company, things have been very different for me, from a career and personal perspective, since we've moved to Virginia.
On the one hand, it's been an exciting experience because I'm the global contracts advisor putting forth agreements that I once worked so hard to obtain when I worked as a consultant on the other side of the table and my employer was my #1 client. On the other hand, I work in an office every day and typically log more than 60 hours away from home, every week. I'm granted little to no flexibility to work from home, unless I request to work from home several days in advance. My current boss micro-manages my every move and has made it clear that working from home is frowned upon; his expectation is that I'm in the office every day. In my current role, I don't have teams of people that I can delegate work to ... I'm the lead for a project that is one of the two largest initiatives for our organization and the responsibility to get this project finalized rests squarely on my shoulders. This job has taken a heavy toll on me.
Oh, and by the way ... unlike my magnificently awesome boss in California, my current boss is very difficult. He's arrogant and patronizing and my less than favorable opinions of him are not mine alone. Several others have confided in me that they don't know how I continue to work with him and former reports have told me that he was the worst manager they'd ever had and they loathed him. (Loathed.) Every night on my drive home from the office, I call Charlie and relay the days most asinine events and tell him that I have to quit... please, when can I quit?
This is the manager that told me it was his expectation that he'd be an executive with the company and anything less would be a personal failure. As such, he'll do whatever it takes to climb the ladder.
This is the manager that insisted I come in to the office last year when I was sick and 12 hours later, I was in an ambulance on my way to the hospital with acute pneumonia.
This is the manager that told me it would have "career limiting repercussions" if I missed two hours of a three-day meeting to attend my children's kindergarten play.
This is the manager who will will say, "A good manager doesn't miss their deadlines" before hopping on a plane to Europe and deferring all of his overdue responsibilities to his subordinates.
This is the manager that thrives on publicly providing "coaching opportunities" to his staff, but couldn't find his own way out of a paper bag.
There have been multiple complaints to human resources and senior management - but it's been of no consequence. As far as the corporation is concerned, even though he lacks people skills and is demotivating to his staff, he is doing his job and I cannot be reassigned until I finish this initiative which won't be complete until the first quarter of 2013.
Oh, so this is what it feels like to be stuck?
Last week, I was in several meetings with no less than 12 people, and in each one I was the only woman. In my industry, I'm often reminded, it's a man's world. As I caught myself looking around at the room full of well suited and cuff linked men, I pondered how many of them were thinking about potential Halloween costumes for their children, or trying to remember that they'd need to have a clean jelly jar available for their son's preschool class the next morning? As a working mother, I just cannot turn off my responsibilities at home like so many of my male co-workers seem able to do. Sure, we could have a nanny - but we brought these children in to the world because we, alone, want to raise them. And the older my children become, the more difficult it becomes because there is always something to think about and so my mothering responsibilities are in near constant competition with my employer's 60+ hours per week needs for my time. What makes it all the more difficult is when you work for someone that you simply don't like nor respect. Granted, I've always enjoyed my job and while I do still enjoy the work that I'm currently doing, I don't appreciate that I'm working for this manager - someone who does not value me nor my contributions - and yet, gets the credit for the huge effort I'm putting forth as a result of time I've sacrificed with my family. My children. Despite the fact that I was out of work last year for three months, I came back and have continued to push a global initiative across the finish line, on time, with virtually no support from him.
I've been with the company for more than 11 years and in the first 9 years, I always 'ranked' in the top brackets for performance, so it would appear that if you work hard and had a good spouse by your side, you could do it all: Marriage. Family. Career. However, since I've worked with this manager, although my efforts and accomplishments have far surpassed anything I've ever done before - my ranking has slipped. Last year, I was in the middle of the pack so I worked even harder, and this year - he put me at the bottom. Ranking impacts promotions, salaries and reputation. Now, I know it sounds like sour grapes, but I've really tried to be objective and no matter how you dice it, this ranking was a slap in the face. In my opinion, he is sabotaging my career. Consider, he stated publicly a month earlier, that none of his staff have put in as much time as I have over the past year - which was required since I was interfacing with people on the opposite side of the world and phone calls from home at 9 PM (following a full day in the office) were commonplace.
And yet ....?
People involved on this project have told me that it appeared I was getting the "rough end of the pineapple" in this assignment, so when he delivered my annual review to me a week ago Friday, I just nodded and smiled. Of course he put me at the bottom. He knows that I don't like him. He knows that I've reported him to senior management and human resources. He knows that I don't mince words and I speak my mind honestly. He knows that unlike a few co-workers that will clamor to kiss his posterior region, I think he's upwardly focused and weak. This was his opportunity to exert his control and show me who's boss.
So, I frankly told him my opinion of his severely lacking leadership and then I stood up and walked out of his office without hearing the rest of my "review." I went directly back to my cubicle, packed up everything, and gave my verbal resignation to his boss. Why am I doing this when I could be home with my little ones?! Maybe I'm leaving in a lurch and maybe it makes me foolish, but I've got a tremendous amount of faith in my ability to find another job and would rather work in an environment where I'm respected. Also, I've got a tremendous amount of faith in Charlie's ability to sustain our family through his not-so-little anymore business. And if neither of those things pan out, what the heck. We'll sell our house - live in an apartment - clip coupons and survive off our savings. I don't play the political game very well and because I'm not easily intimidated, I don't tolerate abuse.
I never have, I never will.
Some would say I'm self righteous.
I consider it confidence and bravery and yes ... there is a difference.
When I walked in to the senior manager's office (for the third time in four months to express concern about my supervisor), there was a black storm in the distance rolling straight towards our building. We both looked at it and he said, "Would you look at what's brewing out there!" I replied, "It's a metaphor for this situation..." An hour later, after I'd fully expressed to him my two-years of pent up frustration and now, immediate desire to leave the company because there has been absolutely no reprieve despite our prior discussions, the storm had dissipated and a vibrant rainbow appeared, arching directly before his window. I smiled and said, "See? After every big storm, there's a rainbow. All is good."
Over the next week, I was contacted by scores of people who told me don't do it. Don't walk away. Don't let this difficult manager be the last one standing, he'll be falling from glory soon enough with all the clinks in his armor he has sustained from the various complaints against him (by me and others). Also, they've reminded me, don't forget the golden carrot that is out there: If I retire from my company at 55 years of age, there is a substantial pension that works out to 80% of my salary for something like 20 years and there are medical and dental benefits for me and my spouse and then there's that herd of unicorns they throw in for good measure.
But to do this for another 14 years ... could I even survive?
After two years, I now understand why there aren't many women, especially mothers with small children, in this environment. I've done a lot of inward reflection and have concluded that if things don't change drastically, I'd be selling my soul for money. With the input of co-workers whom I truly respect (including my former magnificently awesome boss), a week after I gave my resignation, I have retracted it. They've convinced me things will improve with time. So, I've requested a leave of absence to allow for some mental and physical recharge and recalibration. Once I return, I've requested to work part-time so I can spend more time with my family and on myself. I've also requested an immediate reassignment to a new manager within the first quarter. Until then, I'll be thinking of a few things....
What's in my heart?
What do I really want to do with my life?
What legacy do I want to leave behind?
Time goes so fast, I don't want to waste a minute of it on the wrong path.
There is a chance my life's purpose could be fulfilled if I remain with this company - but certainly not in this current situation. And if I were to remain as an employee, in less than two years, we will be moving to Houston, Texas. The formal announcement came out earlier this year that our Virginia campus will be relocated, so now it's just a matter of time. At this moment, I'm not entirely sure what the future holds for our family and there are a lot of questions we need to consider, but I'm filled with a sense of peace and confidence that I haven't had for a long, long time. Interestingly enough, I'm not all afraid and the panic has left my heart. If this career doesn't work out for me, something else will come up.
And if it doesn't - we'll still be OK.
I don't know how, but we will.
As it turns out, when I'm pushed to the brink, I'm empowered. From past experience, I know that every challenge I've ever faced in my life has been rewarded with a prize greater than I could have possibly imagined. There really is a spectacular rainbow at the end of every life storm, but only when you're true to yourself.