A New Chapter (Part 5)

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Today was my last day at the company where I’ve worked my entire career.

I thought I’d at least feel a little bit sad, sentimental or sappy, but… nope. None of that. I tried to be intentional about making mental pictures as I walked through the office hallways for the last time, but I am completely and utterly relieved, at peace and basically just excited for a new life chapter!

I haven’t been telling many of my coworkers where I’m headed next, mostly because of either their anticipated judgement or the actual judgement I have faced from the few people I’ve told. When they find out I’m planning on eventually going to teaching, most of my corporate colleagues think I’m either incompetent (“she couldn’t cut it in the business world”) or think I was unwise to resign without another job lined up (“girl, what were you thinking?!”). Those who know I’m going into teaching are generally incredulous at the huge pay cut I’ll be taking, but – to quote Zac Brown Band – “there’s no dollar sign on a peace of mind.”

After I sent out my farewell note to everyone, I got a flooding of emails back, most of which asked me what I’m doing next. After an eight-year career in procurement, I was amazed at the number of people who erroneously guessed that I’m going into a field related to art or music. For a woman who has spent her career working in oil & gas surrounded by engineers and business professionals, I evidently have quite a reputation for being “artsy”!

“I know you will be very successful on your new career. Are you sharing what the new career is? Church? Singing? Photography?”

“I hope you are pursuing something in art as I know how talented you are in that area and how much you love it!”

“I always admired your capacity and ability to manipulate data and pull out tremendous insights, apart from your arty talents of coarse!”

“You are one of the most talented writers I know.”

“I knew after listening to you sing in the acapella group that you’d start your own band someday. Are you headed off to China? Or headed back to school on in an art program?”

“Enjoy your path and keep in touch.  Let me know when you have a gig at a local club.”

“My friend is opening up a new craft beer bar…  Let me know if you are for hire.”

Last week, I met up with my friend and coworker Farah for one last lunch. She said everyone’s been asking her about me, namely to ask what I’ll be doing next and then to comment, “I’m surprised it took her this long. She’s always been so miserable here.”

It really hurt my feelings to hear that I was apparently so visibly miserable. I thought I did an okay job at least just shrugging and rolling my eyes at the corporate bureaucracy like everyone else. And I was hurt that people said it felt like it took me forever to find another job. I was looking for another job for years, and – in the moment Farah shared this with me – it made me feel like a perceived failure that I couldn’t land another job for so long. But I had to remind myself of God’s faithfulness and purpose in keeping me at this other company for so many years of searching for something else.

Fortunately, Farah stood up for me in those conversations, telling my would-be insulters, “You’re miserable here. We’re all miserable here. All the things Aurora has said and felt are all the things you complain about all the time. At least she’s doing something about it!   You say you’re surprised at how long it took her to leave, but you’re still here and just as miserable as she was!”

It was nice to hear Farah’s defense of me, and it was really nice to hear from all the people who felt inspired by me and told me so. Multiple people told me privately that they think what I’m doing is brave and courageous. They told me it was inspiring to see someone walk away from the golden handcuffs of our outrageous salaries, easy jobs and comfortable lifestyle to do something they’re actually passionate about.

A young employee who already has a side hustle told me in confidence, “You’re actually making me rethink staying here.” One of my first friends ever at this company – the girl who showed me around Brussels during my first week of training – said privately, “I’m so jealous of you.” And my sweet mentee, who I meet for coffee once a week, admitted quietly, “I wish I were that brave.” You can be, I told her. And maybe you will be, I said with a smile.

A few years ago, our company constructed some new buildings on a central campus in town. I was in charge of facilitating the office move for our department, and in the final stages of the migration, my friend Valerie and I went over the to the new campus to prayer walk. I know this agnostic-run, European company would have had a fit if they knew we were walking through the brand new buildings and praying over them, but Val and I – mavericks that we are – decided to be bold in praying for God to be glorified in those buildings and our workplace. At a company as international as this, you don’t have to go to the nations; the nations are brought to you.

And so in my last moments in that new building, I again looked out over the campus and prayed one more time that God’s name would be glorified there; that many diverse nations would be brought in to work here, and that every people, tribe, tongue and nation on this campus would come to know Him intimately and personally.

And then I turned from the window, rode the elevator down, and walked out of that building forever. My work here is complete.

Authentically Aurora

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Exit Interview (Part 4)

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I just found out on Friday that, back in January, my boss blocked me from getting a $2,000 performance bonus that another manager had nominated me for. She really is the worst.

My manager has such a controlling personality that she never gave me anything meaningful to do, so – with all my spare time – I offered to do side projects for other managers. When I performed well, they nominated me for a recognition award, but apparently my boss told the talent forum I was having performance issues in my day job and shouldn’t be rewarded for “supposedly” performing on side projects. I am so glad that TOMORROW IS MY LAST DAY!!!

On Friday I got an automated email from HR asking me to respond to a 3-minute online exit interview. When I started at this company eight years ago, HR did face-to-face exit interviews to understand why people were leaving and how they could better the organization to prevent future exodus. It’s no surprise to me that we have devolved to a 3-minute online exit interview that only took me literally 20 seconds: First name, last name, employee number – and then select from a drop-down box the reason you are leaving. How sad. How pathetic. Eight years’ worth of a career summed up in a single drop-down box.

If I had the chance to do a real face-to-face interview with Human Resources, this is what I would have said:

“First of all, I am sharing this information with you because I want [company] to be a better company. I want y’all to succeed (in no small part because I am a shareholder). And I see gaps in the way you bring people in, the way you train them, and the way you treat them. Nothing I am about to share is out of bitterness or spite; it is an honest account of my eight year career here at [company].

“When I first hired in, [company] hired me into a virtual team. My first boss ever was based in Amsterdam, and my line manager changed four times over those first fourteen months. Still further, my first four managers here at [company] were all based in Europe. I had a virtual team, a virtual manager – no real support. And I was a 22-year-old fresh out of college. I was ready to leave by month three.

“My parents advised me to stay at my first job for at least two years, and my pension wasn’t fully vested until year three, so I stuck it out. But in that first job, I – being a Type A perfectionist, self-starter and high achiever – frantically tried to figure out what I was supposed to be doing with no direction from a boss who was having a personal breakdown across the pond in Europe.

“When I finally got moved to another role fourteen long months later, I was given to a first-time line manager who (blessedly was State-side but) had me doing data entry. For twelve months, I surfed the web, did data entry, asked other managers for real work, did data entry, got put on one token project, and did more data entry. Eventually I went to my line manager and told her that it was not benefiting [company] to pay me six figures to type data into a contract management system, and it was not benefiting me to have my brain rot away as I slowly went insane. She graciously (and meekly, as was her way) agreed with me, and we went together to HR, who placed me in my third role two months later.

“My third role with [company], about 2.5 years into my career, was the first time I had any real responsibility. I was finally given contracts to negotiate, bid packages to manage, and purchase orders to process. For the first time, I understood what Procurement meant, and I’d worn the title of Procurement Analyst for over two years. That was a good, meaty role with a smart, caring boss, and I learned a ton! But the moment I finally realized what Procurement was, I also realized that I had no desire to work in Procurement.

“After that, I had a couple of roles in Functional Excellence and Operational Excellence where I absolutely thrived. I had a boss who gave me free reign over big data, and once I automated all of the weekly, monthly and quarterly reports my predecessor had done manually, I had four days a week where I just got to play in the data and develop my own personal presentations for senior leadership on opportunities for improvement, prioritized by overall impact on the company. I had a boss who trusted me, respected me, and gave me the white space to think creatively. She also made sure I had a platform to senior leadership by which to voice my thoughts and analysis. Those were the best two years of my career, and my bonuses and performance scores reflected the fact that I was finally in an area I loved under a boss who knew how to lead me and champion me.

“Then we had an organizational restructuring, and I found myself shuffled around with everyone else. I ended up in Global Functions managing IT contracts – rather, one 10-year, 4 billion dollar contract. Actually, my boss managed the contract as the Procurement Lead. I was just her grunt to do her menial tasks. Except that she was so controlling that she didn’t even trust me to do her menial tasks. In two years, I never heard a single positive comment from her about my work. There was never a ‘good job on this’ or even a simple ‘thank you’ for getting something done on time – and I always got my work done on time. It would be inexcusable if I didn’t, because I was only 20% utilized. I spent the other 80% of my time asking other managers (who trusted me) for more work. Or building my network, going out for long lunches and coffee dates. Or shopping online or writing my blog.

“One year into the role, I made a few complaints; raised my hand to say that this reporting line was intolerable; that my relationship with my boss was toxic and could not last more than another year. Nothing happened, so I started to actively look externally. I started working on my teaching certification at work, studying for state certification exams and taking online courses. I didn’t have any other work to do, and I am not one to let grass grow under my feet. I will always find something productive to do, and it was [company]’s loss that they were unable to make better use of my time and talents.

“I wanted to be utilized. I wanted to add value. I wanted my work to matter; wanted my life here to matter. But I repeatedly found myself under bosses or in work stations where I wasn’t challenged; wasn’t heard; wasn’t valued. And that is the real reason I’m leaving. People say, ‘People don’t leave companies; they leave bosses.’ And it’s true that this latest boss was the worst I’ve ever had (and I’ve had 14 just at [company]). But more than leaving because of her, I am leaving because the [company] system is broken. I look at the managers ahead of me – middle management, senior management – and they are not people I want to work for. They are not people I respect, and I do not want to become them. I don’t like the direction I see this company going, and I don’t like the way leadership has been permitted to treat its people.

“You hire the best and the brightest out of college because you can. You have that brand name recognition. And you say that you want them to come in and make things better. You say you want a fresh perspective and creative thinking and innovative problem solving. But you don’t. Not really. You want lukewarm, mediocre college students who are not passionate about anything to come in and fit neatly as a cog on a wheel of the machine that you are driving into the ground. I know that’s what you subconsciously (or perhaps unintentionally) want because that is what you have done to each of the brilliant minds you’ve hired.

“Look around you. No one here likes their job. No one here laughs or smiles or has any semblance of joy. This place has no future. Unless – unless! – you take to heart words of the surely countless people like me who are telling you things you don’t want to hear. And we are saying these things because it is ultimately for your good. Things need to change if you ever want this company to be top quartile, and it all starts with how you treat people.”

Too bad they’ll never hear what I had to say. Ironically, they don’t have a proper system in place to hear that their people are not heard. It’s so beautifully and tragically poetic.

Authentically Aurora

Resigned & Ecstatic (Part 1)

Victorious Business Woman

My first act as a 30-year-old was to quit my job.

That makes it sound like a knee-jerk reaction to hitting a life milestone, but giving my two weeks’ notice to the company where I’ve spent the past eight years was a long time in coming. Very nearly eight years in coming.

My boss and I have had a strained relationship, to put it mildly. One of my colleagues commented recently, “In the two years we’ve worked for her, I don’t think I’ve ever heard her say a single kind or encouraging word to you.” Reflecting back over my time on this team, I was surprised to realize that was true. I have never been praised or even thanked for anything I have done in two years; every comment is laced with criticism and negativity.

Despite that, I decided to make a concerted effort to be gracious and respectful during my resignation. My boss was on vacation the entire week of Spring Break, so I could have easily resigned while she was out, sending her a curt email or just leaving a signed resignation letter on her desk. But I waited until she was back in the office on Monday, and I asked her if she had time to grab a conference room to discuss my career.

Once alone with my boss, I stated simply that I had decided to resign from the company. “I’m giving my two weeks’ notice effective immediately, with my last day in the office being April 3rd.” Although I didn’t have to do so, I went on, “I really hope you find a great replacement for me – someone who is passionate about this work and brings subject matter expertise to the role. And I wish you all the best in the future.”

I was proud of myself for the upright way I handled an exchange where I could have been mean and bitter or scornful and gloating. I rose above the situation, and I counted that as a victory, especially considering the number of times I fantasized about storming out of the office and telling her off.

When I finished speaking, instead of thanking me for my service, or asking if there was anything she could do to keep me, or to ask what I’m doing next, or to ask how she could have been a better boss, or even to simply wish me well in the future, all she said – in her typical abrasive manner – was, “Two weeks isn’t enough time to transition someone. I won’t even have the job posting up by the time you leave. This isn’t enough time. You are really inconveniencing me by leaving the company with only two weeks’ notice.”

How dare she. Two weeks is standard – and I didn’t legally even have to give that much notice! All she could focus on was how I was inconveniencing her by leaving the company. For an instant, I was filled with anger; then – just as quickly – the anger dissipated into amusement. How typical. How expected. What a confirmation that I am, in fact, making the right choice!

When I spoke with my dad about it later, he echoed what I myself had thought. “Aurora, if she had responded in any other way – saying she was sorry to see you go or thanking you for your service – you might have felt torn or even second-guessed your decision. But she has given you the blessing of knowing that, without a doubt, you made the right decision.”

I certainly did. I already feel the weight lifting from my shoulders. Thirty is off to a great start!

Authentically Aurora

Hope Deferred

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Sometimes it feels like God is really mean.

Sometimes it feels like God allows me to have false hope, knowing full well that my hope will soon be snuffed out into the darkness of despair. Why does He do that? Despair is never darker than in the wake of hope, and God knows the effect it has on us; the bible itself declares in Proverbs: “Hope deferred makes the heart sick”.

After my frustrating and hurtful performance review this week, I became a flurry of activity. I started asking around internally about any openings in other departments of my company, and I also started asking my broader network about external opportunities. Anything to get myself out of this very toxic, damaging work environment where I feel neither challenged nor supported; neither empowered nor appreciated.  

Within 48 hours, I had three leads – all of them promising:

  1. Internally, I found out about a Senior Reporting & Analytics role that sounds absolutely perfect or both my interests and skill set.
  2. Externally, a friend in Consulting told me that his company is growing and looking to hire people with supply chain backgrounds and industry experience. My degree is in supply chain, and I have seven years’ worth of pertinent experience. It couldn’t be a better fit.
  3. Thirdly – completely out of the blue – a headhunter contacted me through LinkedIn to ask me about my interest in a Senior Market Intelligence position at a well-regarded company in my city. They were specifically looking for someone with experience evaluating electricity markets. Guess what I did from 2009 – 2010? Market analysis for regional electricity markets.

All three of these possible job opportunities not only showed up within two days of my hitting rock bottom, but they also each felt like Godsends – direct answers to prayer. Each one of them had a job description that was very specific to my exact interests and experience – uncanny in their specificity and perfect alignment with my work history.

I allowed myself to feel hopeful about my career for the first time in months. It looked like God was finally moving, after literally years of crying out for me to be released from my work situation. The only question was: which one of the three options did God intend for me to take?

Answer: D – None of the above. 

When I started inquiring about the internal Reporting & Analytics role, I was told my boss had to provide her sign-off and approval. The chances of that happening are minuscule, although I continue to explore this option.

The Supply Chain Consulting role ended up being a no-go; with the continued low oil price, this company is now on a hiring freeze, though they were actively recruiting three months ago.

And the headhunter for the Market Intelligence role ended up contacting me back and saying that, although I have extensive experience in analyzing the Gulf Coast electricity markets, they are really looking for someone with experience in the Northeast markets. Really?! The skill sets are the same; all that is different is the market. They are significantly narrowing their skill pool with such restrictive requirements.

I am trying not to be angry with God. I am trying not to lose perspective on the fact that His ways are higher than mine and that He has a purpose in this. But why did He give me such false hope? Would it have been kinder not to show me these false leads at all? Or am I to be comforted by the fact that God CAN provide, whether or not He WILL?

In times like this, I have to remember to take my thoughts captive; to make them obedient to what I know to be True. God is a Good Father. He loves me and has good plans for me. And “a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice.”

Authentically Aurora

Today is a Day for Chocolate Cake

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Sometimes you have a boss who says that you don’t ask enough questions and are therefore incompetent, resulting in a poor performance rating (no matter that one typically asks questions when one does not understand anything; not vice versa).

Sometimes that same boss, once you start forcing yourself to ask more questions, provides the feedback that you require too much oversight, resulting in a poor performance rating.

On days fraught with such inane and contradictory feedback, one must go home and eat a small piece of dark chocolate.

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Sometimes you have a boss who happens to be a micro-manager incapable of delegating meaningful tasks, and this boss may present you with strong criticism based on your supposed lack of independence or ability to provide meaningful contributions to the team.

Sometimes that boss will refuse to let facts get in the way of her predisposition to dislike you – facts like your track record for never delivering a project behind schedule, and facts like your negotiating millions of dollars’ worth of savings for the company despite your boss’s inability to provide meaningful work.

On days filled with such frustration and injustice, one must stop by Starbucks for a Grande Mocha Frappuccino.

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Sometimes you have a boss who is so disrespectful and maddeningly incompetent at her role as manager that you have to run into the girls’ bathroom to cry at the office, and you’re not sure if it’s out of anger, frustration, sadness or hopelessness.

Sometimes after you’ve already had a long day of work, the bridal boutique where you returned your wedding dress two years earlier when your groom got cold feet right before the wedding – that bridal boutique sends you an email wishing you a happy wedding anniversary and inviting you and your nonexistent husband to be featured in their magazine.

On days like that, one must go home and bake oneself an ENTIRE FREAKING LOAF OF CHOCOLATE CAKE.

To be eaten alone.

On the couch.

In one sitting.

Today is a day for chocolate cake.

Authentically Aurora