I debated a lot about what to write in this post, or whether to write it at all. But I came to the conclusion that the message was too important not to share. @ImSpeaking13’s tweet, above, really cut to the heart of it for me: settling for a shit sandwich simply isn’t worth it. This is where “the grass isn’t always greener” chorus begins, and there’s some truth to that. It’s also true that making major life changes for a lot of folks, particularly now during a global pandemic, isn’t an easy proposition. But the greater truth, I think, is that if you never look for something better, you’re certainly never going to find it.
In my previous post, I left you with a teaser about how we’d moved on to San Antonio where things at work went down the crapper during the next 11 months before I finally pulled the plug and left.
Before I get into this sob story, here are some things to keep in mind. When I started this new position, I had about 28 years with my employer. I’d performed a variety of work roles, including managing teams and branches of up to about 30 or so people. While I’ll be the last to say I was perfect in any way, I’d accomplished a lot over those years and accumulated a great deal of experience and expertise in my focal areas, and had the achievement awards (and promotions) to show for it. I like working hard and being challenged, partly because I absolutely despise being bored, but also because I loved my work and generally enjoyed the heck out of it. I was also coming off of an assignment where the organization I was leading pulled off a huge success, so I was on a bit of a professional high at that point and was really looking forward to kicking some butt in this new job.
So, you can imagine my reaction when I came to my new position in San Antonio and found that I had literally nothing to do. Nothing. Zip. Nada. And there were a few other people there from our organization who had been there longer, and who also had nothing to do. I found out from my new boss not long after I arrived that she’d been frantically hiring people to make a recruiting quota set by our Big Boss, and that she’d succeeded! Go, team. The fact that she hadn’t parceled out any work to us and had no plan or intention to do so (she was an utter control freak) didn’t seem to register.
Okay, then. I reached out to her and some of the other folks in senior positions (we were a remote enclave from the main organization located elsewhere in the country), asking for mission, for work, and giving ideas for things my team (I’d been brought in as the new chief) could work on. The responses fell into three general categories:
- Patronizing pats on the head (sort of “Oh, don’t worry, we’ll figure something out eventually and let you know”);
- Being told, even if nicely, to go pound sand; or
- Being completely ignored (literally no response).
Now, if I’d been the sort of person who had been looking for the perfect position to just sit and fuck off while collecting a generous pay check, this would have been Nirvana. But that’s not me. I want to get shit done, I want to help move the ball down the field for whatever project or program I’m working on. But I had nothing to work on, and by the very nature of the work and workplace, you can’t just go off in left field and do whatever your want. So, I had nothing to do, and as I mentioned earlier, neither did the other folks who were with me in San Antonio.
This may not sound like a big deal to some; there are certainly far more toxic environments to work in. But being left for months with zero to do, especially after having had an otherwise full and, dare I say, pretty darn exciting career, is absolutely caustic to your self-esteem and self-confidence. It’s sort of like the frog in the pot paradigm: you’re dying as the heat is turned up, just very slowly.
At that point, I absolutely hated going into work every day, hated every minute I had to spend there twiddling my thumbs, felt my perishable technical skills slipping away, and felt completely and utterly devalued. I got to the point where I pulled out some of my earlier evaluations and notes I’d written at various points in my career on things I’d done, just to reassure myself that I wasn’t a completely useless piece of shit.
In September, one of the other folks on my team landed a really cool job with another employer and made good her escape. In October, I was finally able to help grease the skids for two other folks to go take rotations in other offices, which they should have started the better part of a year earlier. So they were safely out of the Twilight Zone for a good 18 months, or as long as I could keep them in other offices where they could actually do something useful.
Finally, in December, after continuing to whine and complain in an effort to get something to do, I was at last given some actual work. HUZZAH! It wasn’t what I had been told I’d be doing in this job (the vacancy ad was essentially a lie, with more lies piled on during the interview, to get people to fill empty positions), but at that point I would’ve been happy to count the bristles on a toothbrush.
However, the wheels soon enough came off the wagon. The details are immaterial, I suppose, but some things happened involving one of the team leads in the mother ship whom I was trying to support, and five-plus months of frustration came boiling out in mid-January (2021). Actually, that’s a lot more melodramatic than the actual event: I sent an email to this clown and a handful of other folks saying 1) I didn’t agree with their assessment on some things I’d been given to work on, and why; and 2) I had nearly three decades of experience doing this sort of thing and wasn’t going to be treated like a fucking noob, in so many words.
Now, before you say, “You should never send an email in anger” (which I agree with), I confess that I sent it after thinking about it for a full day. I wasn’t angry when I sent it; I was disillusioned and disgusted. I had been marginalized and ignored by my parent office for months, and I was just sick of it.
What came next was no shock to me: I got a verbal paddling from the new boss who took over in November, I think it was (“Meet the new boss, same as the old boss” – The Who). I’m not one to walk away without at least trying to make things right, regardless of who might have been in the wrong, so I did the only thing I could to make amends by apologizing to those I’d offended with my email. However, like my earlier suggestions and entreaties, that, too, was ignored. I found out later from a coworker at the mother ship that at that point I’d been totally blackballed.
I wasn’t at all surprised. One of the things my new boss told me during some of the exchanges we’d had during this period was that I was “a valued employee.” For anyone who’s current on their corporate buzzword bingo, “valued employee,” especially when used by an incompetent supervisor (which, in my humble opinion, was the case with both bosses while I was in this position), means you’re considered a total shitbird.
From that point on, the only work I was given could mostly have been done by a semi-conscious high school intern, and I’m really not exaggerating. When management complained that there was so much reporting to do and we didn’t have enough people to release, I volunteered to help: I’d been editing since the late 80s and started releasing somewhere around 1993; just in the previous three years in my other assignments I’d hit the “go” button for over 1,500 reports.
At that point, I started looking for options to curtail my assignment there and try to get a position in another office. But here’s where the Big Irony started: I was told explicitly that I wouldn’t be released from my organization early (I had a full two years to go at this point) because I was occupying a “priority” position, even thought I effectively had nothing to do. I would have happily paid any moving costs out of my own pocket, but that didn’t matter. I was stuck.
Time ground onward, just like I was grinding my teeth, and at least one stupid thing or another happened every week, and sometimes every day. If you’ve ever heard “Synchronicity” by The Police, there’s a line that goes, “And every single meeting with his so called superior Is a humiliating kick in the crotch” – well, that was pretty much my reality, although it wasn’t generally my supervisor. It was just dumb, stupid, idiotic crap that was really bringing me down.
Finally, some stupid crap came up during the first week of April that was the final straw. I don’t even remember now what it was; I just remember thinking, “Enough is enough,” and I decided to resign. Again, keep in mind how low someone has to be to consider resigning only two years short of their full 30 years for retirement. The good news, however, was that I found out that I could get a postponed annuity and all associated benefits for my 28+ years when I turn 60, which is only five months after I would have been able to retire with 30 years. So even I couldn’t get a job that paid anything close to what I’d been making, I knew we could manage to squeak by for a couple years until that kicked in and we had some more options.
Then came the rest of the Big Irony that I’d mentioned earlier: when I told my boss that I was going to resign, he basically said, “Well, sorry to see you go – good luck.” Now, remember when I told you that they wouldn’t let me change to another office because I was in a “priority” position? Sure, they would have had to swindle some other poor schmuck into taking the job, but at least they could have kept my experience and expertise within the larger enterprise. But now that I was going to resign, it was no big deal, even though they would still have to fill my position?
Again, I wasn’t surprised. I’ve seen this phenomenon all too many times over the years, and at that point I didn’t care. I just wanted out. At 58 years old, I was damned if I was going to spend two of my remaining years sticking a pen in my eye for eight hours a day, five days a week, on top of the time I’d already wasted there.
As things turned out, just before I was planning to punch out, I landed an absolutely amazing job that I’m going to be starting in a few weeks. But even had that not happened, leaving my old employer was absolutely the right decision.
Just as a brief side note, I wanted to touch on some of the advice I got from family and friends while my wife and I were wrestling with the decision to leave my job (she was all in favor, FYI). Most of them were like, “stick it out, two years isn’t so long.” A number of them then proceeded to tell me what turned out to be utterly heart-wrenching stories of what they’d endured toward the end of their careers, in some cases putting up with a bloody horror show for years before they finally retired or walked away. Seriously, some of their experiences were just so awful that they brought tears to my eyes.
Look, I’m not into giving up easily or just tossing in the towel. But I’ve spent most of my adult life as an analyst (some folks have even thought I was a pretty good one), and my Spidey Sense was screaming “SCREW THIS!” There’s also a difference between bulling through difficult times to reach a specific goal that’s important to you. But my modest annuity wasn’t worth another two years of servitude in a place I hated and that hated me.
I also realize that not everyone can just up and leave like we did: we were lucky enough to have savings set aside that gave us some breathing room, we didn’t have young kids to worry about, etc. But my point stands: even if you can only make tiny changes at a time, do what you can to move yourself toward a happier place, where you can find your peace. You’re worth it. Remember: you have value. You matter. Your happiness matters. And don’t let anyone ever tell you it doesn’t.