A thank you to life, the universe and everything…and good-bye

It is no secret that a woman in want of a job must be patient, persistent, and full of self confidence.  I have definitely been a woman in want of a job, though barring the successful completion of a criminal background check, I’ll be starting a shiny new job in a few weeks. (NB: All new jobs are shiny until proven guilty.)

Am I any of those things a woman in want of a job is supposed to be? Yes. Kind of. Shut up.

Does mule headed count as persistent? I’m nothing if not mule headed. Ask anyone.

Patient? I’m very patient about reading a good book or carving a wood block.  I can sand a piece of silver jewelry longer than you would ever think possible. Filling out job applications is what they have to do in the upper circles of Hell, though, and I have NO patience for that. Job applications are on the same level of Hell as ironing, if my recollection of Dante’s Inferno is accurate. Suicides, ironing and job applications.

Self-confident? Most of the time, when work isn’t doing their best to convince me I’m of no value, I’m very self confident about my intelligence and ability to learn new things. The last year has been a challenge to my inner smart girl. Let’s call me self-confident-ish.

If I’m not entirely full of self confidence at the moment, I am very full of other things. Mint tea. Sarcasm. Popsicles. Chicken soup. Fantastic family members and friends. I know all of the best people in the world. In spite of what has been one of the worst years of my adult life, I find myself feeling full of gratitude.

One of the odd things I’m grateful for is that my soon to be former employer ended my tenure  in such a drawn out, sad way. Every time they could have made my exit a more positive experience, they didn’t.  No one did anything horrible, and nothing was personal, but it does feel that way when you’re on my side of a reduction in force.

My manager has been fantastically supportive throughout, but often the company itself has been a role model of how not to handle eliminating a work team.  Why am I grateful for that? Because it has resulted in me being genuinely glad to be leaving. I don’t even mean that ironically. The lack of support has resulted in my fully embracing the concept of moving into a new situation instead of being bitter about what I am leaving behind.

In the end, it has made me focus on what I really want instead of just maintaining the status quo. Not being treated like a valued employee has made me see that my professional happiness lies elsewhere.

Does that mean I am not grateful for the years of learning and growth I had while I was there? Not at all.  Quite the opposite! The company has allowed me to grow professionally in a way few others would have. I progressed from a secretarial to a leadership role during the years I worked there. I learned both technical and application-based IT roles. Until the last couple of years, it has been a wonderful place to work, and it is still a worthy company now! I am extremely grateful to have had the opportunity to spend 28 years there.

The company has also enabled me to make an amount of money over the years that has allowed me the freedom to consider personally rewarding jobs that don’t pay as well. Jobs where I feel like I can serve the community as well as  the people I work with. Jobs where I feel like I am giving back.

I’m also very grateful for the dozens of terrific people I have met there over the years, many of whom are now part of my family of friends. You know who you are, and you know how much I love you.

My long time friends and family are also due for some gratitude. They have listened to me cry and complain and tell them that I don’t know how to do anything useful for the past year. They’ve tried to reassure me that I am still smart, capable and employable. They’ve stood by me through an abusive coworker, the longest lay-off process ever, and my sometimes overwhelmed emotions when I looked for and didn’t find continued employment in the company I thought of as the place I would eventually retire from. They reassured me that I was NOT an unemployable dumbass who would die alone in a gutter, kept me (mostly) laughing at my own histrionics, and generally kept me as sane as it was possible to be during a really awful year. Even after I told some of them I was going to have to sell my house and move in with them during my unemployment and let them buy me beer.  Seriously. I know the best people. You have no idea.

Most of all, I have to say I am grateful for how much this very difficult period of transition has opened me up to new possibilities. Personally, romantically and professionally. Change comes through difficult times, or there’s not much motivation to change. My former employer has allowed that to become possible. Could they have done things better? Yes, but so could I.   As it turns out, I’m very grateful they didn’t do better, because it has lead me to a place I am very happy to be. Personally and romantically happier than I have been in years, and professionally open to new challenges.

It looks like I’ll be starting a new job in a couple of weeks with a local non-profit organization working with the LGBTQ+ community. I’m also a finalist for another non-profit that works with homeless youth. It’s a boost to my previously mentioned self-confidence, for sure.  Both positions are a bit of a change of direction, still healthcare, but working in a clinical rather than IT setting. I’m excited about it, excited about the group of very committed professionals I’ll be working with. It will be scary, but fun. It will be good for me, and I’m grateful for the opportunities that have come my way. Hopefully it will be just as good for the people I work with and the community at large.

I’ll have a chance to feel like a useful part of something again.

Ultimately, the thing that I’ve never quite managed to overlook is that in spite of a really ugly year at work, I am quite privileged in many ways. I have a good mind, enhanced with years of education, technical training and reading. I have friends and family who would be behind me 1000% in case of disaster. I have savings, a retirement plan, and a severance package that will allow me to choose my professional path without too much concern about money.

I have the luxury of choice, and a grateful heart.

Thanks for getting me through the last year.

 

 

An Autumn tale

It was a lovely Fall afternoon, and what better time for a walk? It was Halloween, it had rained the night before, and the fallen leaves had left stains behind on the sidewalks which were revealed now that the leaves had dried and blown away in the sun. Of all the things about her favorite season, Fall, leaf stained sidewalks were her most favorite. Leaf stains, like ghosts of leaves. They stayed on the sidewalk sometimes for weeks. Nature’s own form of printmaking. She had one leaf ghost in her garage which had been there for years.

 

Wait, though. Did that one just move? No. It had to be a trick of light. A shadow. 

 

She laughed at her own overactive imagination, but couldn’t help walking around the leaf ghost that had moved. It was shaped like a leaf man. Her eyes rolled at herself.

 

A leaf man.

Don’t be silly.

 

She stepped over it a little higher than she really needed to, and when she felt something touch the bottom of her boot, she almost fell trying to jump away in mid step. She ran a few steps. Stifled a scream. Stopped.

 

Oh, come ON. Don’t be an idiot. A stain on the sidewalk can’t touch you!

 

She turned. Stood at the crack on the sidewalk and looked down at the leaf shape.That was not a stain on the sidewalk.That was not one of her leaf ghosts. That was definitely. Definitely what?  Alive? Leaf ghosts are not real. They’re just stains left behind by dead leaves.

 

Maybe so. Maybe it was just a stain, but the stain on the sidewalk was looking at her. There was a shadow of a smile. A literal shadow of a smile. On the face of a leaf ghost on the sidewalk.

 

Leaves don’t have faces. Stop being ridiculous. You’re imagining things.

 

Still, she could plainly see that the leaf was tilting his head at her and smiling. She tried very hard not to scream. To act like there was nothing amiss.

 

The leaf ghost beckoned to her to come closer. She shook her head. No. Why would she go closer? She didn’t want to be closer.

 

Stop being crazy! It’s a stain on the sidewalk. There is nothing to be afraid of!

 

She took a step closer to prove to herself that she wasn’t going crazy.  She leaned down. The leaf ghost reached out to her, touched her foot. She tried to move back. Couldn’t. Her foot wouldn’t move. Her foot was rooted to the sidewalk. Rooted. Sinking into it. Breathing too quickly, she bent down to untie her shoe to free it from the sidewalk. The leaf ghost grabbed her fingers, and they too were rooted. She was being pulled in.

 

The sidewalk became pliable and stretched around her like plastic wrap. Concrete cling wrap, she thought. Her last thought.

 

She looked up and saw people walking above her on the sidewalk. She pressed her hands against the concrete.

 

“Look,” they said, “a leaf ghost! It almost looks like it’s moving. Don’t you love Fall?”

 

Looking at the want ads

Any major dude with half a heart surely will tell you my friend
Any minor world that breaks apart falls together again
When the demon is at your door
In the morning it won’t be there no more
Any major dude will tell you
–Steely Dan

Right now it feels like I’ve been watching the slow motion disintegration of everything I’ve ever worked for in my professional life. Am I over-dramatizing? Normally I would say yes to that, but in this case I really don’t think I am. Well, maybe a little, but this is one of those times where I am willing to cut myself some slack about it. Besides, being dramatic is one of my charms. I’m a Dramatic Winter, I’m told.

Seriously. Someone told me that once. I think it was a color thing.

Anyway.

On Friday, my job will officially end. The nearly year long process of “reorganization” at work will be over for me.

For people who have changed jobs on a regular basis, maybe that isn’t scary. Me? I’ve worked for the same company since 1990. Yes. God was still in his teens at the time.

Over the years, I’ve had five radically different jobs, so it’s not like I’m totally adverse to changing things up, but it has been while accumulating vacation and other benefits from the same company. A company I thought I loved and have always assumed I would retire from.

Why have I spent so long at one company? Lots of reasons. My Dad told me I’d never be able to hold down a job, so I did.  The vacation time is fantastic after 28 years. I’ve got an actual pension. I love the company, or did until recently. I liked the workplace culture, or did until now. They were willing to let me learn new things as often as I wanted to take them on, so every 5 years or so I got to have a totally different job and learn a whole new set of skills.

It has been a huge blow to my ego, and I’m not even going to try to pretend that it hasn’t. It is very hard to pretend that all is well when all really isn’t.

Am I being reorg-ed out of the company because I am terrible at my job? No. I have never had a less than fantastic review in my 28 years with the company. I’ve worked my way from being a secretary in the hospital to being the lead of a team in the IT department. I don’t suck at my job. Quite the contrary–my boss loves me.

Is it age discrimination? I’d love to blame it on that, but I don’t think it’s age discrimination or wanting to get rid of a high salary. There are multiple VPs in our department who would be far more likely to be targeted as far as salaries are concerned.

Surely, I keep being told, my experience is so valuable to the company that another team in the department will be thrilled to hire me!  I’m smart, I learn faster than almost anyone, I’ve got a demonstrated track record of taking on new jobs and doing well in them. And yet…I’ve applied for three other jobs in the department and have not been hired for any of them.

In the spirit of full disclosure, in one case it was mostly my own fault that I didn’t get the job. My interview was horrific, and I lack the cheerleader-like personality required for the position although most everything in my background would indicate I’m an excellent candidate.

In the other two cases? It’s more complicated, but I think it really came down to my not communicating well enough why I was a better candidate. In one case, I think they just liked someone else better. The manager chose me, but his team preferred someone else.

All of the people on my team have moved into other positions, which is wonderful. Seriously wonderful. Really. The only thing that gives me pause is that they are all less experienced than I am, so why am I the one with this pesky future unemployment issue? Why have I been an unappealing candidate in my own department on teams which I have the skills to work in?

When I’m not totally fixated on how much I must suck,  I like to think that I can be objective about myself, and I’ve given it a lot of thought.

I think that it’s at least partly a failure to schmooze.

Didn’t I know I was supposed to schmooze? All the cool kids are into networking and relationship building! Why didn’t I schmooze like I was supposed to? Why did I think I could do it all myself?

Well, I’m an introvert for one thing. Talking to people is hard for me. Not that I am unfriendly or hard to be around, but chatting is not my default setting, particularly if I don’t have a need to clarify information in order to get my work done. I’m at work to work. Instead of schmoozing, I’m doing my job.

Do I enjoy chatting with coworkers on occasion? Absolutely. Do I seek them out when something is unclear? Yes. But just talking to people for the sake of building a relationship? I admit that I let that fall to the side. In retrospect, that was clearly an error.

Why is that? Am I a moron who is unaware of the fundamental importance of networking? No. I am a moron who willfully set it aside.

In a past work team, there was one person I worked with who did nothing but schmooze. Nicest person in the world. Fantastic story teller. Wonderful family. He essentially did no useful work though.  Those of us who were more prone to working ended up picking up a lot of slack.  That led to an overcorrection on my part. I freely admit that I place more value on doing good work than on being an amiable raconteur. The amiable raconteur from my previous team is still employed.  That should have been a clue to my department’s values.

I felt like my work should be enough, and I was wrong. I needed to be good at my job and also talk to people enough that they realize that my work is good. Share success stories and failures. Share ideas. Make myself visible.

Or maybe I am less smart and talented than I always thought I was. Maybe I am hugely deluded about my own intelligence. Maybe I should re-read the 28 years of written evidence that many other people would confirm  that I am smart, talented and great to work with…

So now what?

First, I need to get over feeling like a dumbass. It’s hard to be out interviewing when you feel like a dumbass. In an interview you have to be self-confident. Maybe that will come, but at the moment I feel a bit like I haven’t got a single marketable skill.

Maybe I’ll have to finally figure out what I want to be when I grow up, too.