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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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

Why Do You Work?

Job Arial view

Which is more important to you: time or money?

 

Why do you work? To be successful, to maintain a certain standard of living, to find your identity and purpose, or for some other reason?

 

I decided in 2nd grade that I was going to be an engineer. My reasons were varied and diverse:

  • My dad was an engineer, and I wanted to be like him.
  • I enjoyed math and science; problem solving was a fun hobby for me. I was always up for a mental challenge.
  • Smart people become engineers, and I wanted to be thought of as smart and successful.
  • I liked objective subjects, where no one could give me a bad grade without being able to justify their actions (like when I got a C on my first history paper because my teacher “just didn’t think it was well written” even though all of my facts were accurate).

Having earned an engineering degree and having worked at a major oil company for seven years now, I have come to find that working in the business world is not all that I imagined.

  • Though my dad was an engineer, he worked at a small company where he rose through the ranks and set the tone for a culture that appreciated creative problem solving and new ideas. This is not the case at a Major. When my dad’s little company got bought out by a giant, he disliked his once enjoyable career as much as I do now. Although my company recruits creative, self-motivated, intelligent individuals, it takes those brilliant minds and sticks them deep within the confines of The Machine, where they are no more than a cog in the wheel, and all individual thought is not only stifled but punished.
  • Problem solving is fun when dealing with a closed set – like an Agatha Christie murder mystery where all of the suspects are snowed in to a log cabin, minimizing unforeseen variables. But the real world is messy, and there are an infinite number of variables that are impossible to control or calculate into a solution. This is significantly less fun than the problem sets I solved for fun as a kid.
  • As I have written about multiple times, simply having an engineering degree – and even being a well spoken and intelligent person – does not mean that people will think you are smart and successful. My boss thinks I’m incompetent just because our working styles don’t align.
  • Although in school, math homework has a right or wrong answer, in Corporate America, workers get graded based on subjective opinions and perceptions, many of which are more a reflection of the manager than the employee being evaluated.

While our parents worked primarily to earn a living, Millennials are generally driven by a need for purpose and identity; to find meaning in their work. I hate to ever be a part of the crowd, but of late, I find myself fitting the generalization. Money is not much of a motivator for me. At this stage of life – having experienced all that I have at the hands of Corporate America – I would rather earn less and be more fulfilled in my work. Which is why I have started working on my Teaching Certification in the hopes of teaching junior high math.

Some fellow Christians will tell me (and have told me) that I should find my identity in Christ and not in my job. That’s true, but that’s no reason to stay at a miserable job. The bible says in Ecclesiastes that “there is nothing better than to enjoy food and drink and to find satisfaction in work” (2:24), and again, that “that there is nothing better for a person than to enjoy their work” (3:22).

Some lower-income friends will tell me (and have told me) that money is not a motivator now because I’ve never had to go without. While that may be true, I imagine there is a lot of character development to be had from learning to restrict spending as a result of voluntarily taking a pay cut.

Some friends will tell me (and have told me) that every job will have its frustrations and disappointments. While I acknowledge that to be true, I also believe that – if every job has its challenges, and every work environment has a couple of “difficult personalities” to deal with – I may as well enjoy the work itself. I’ve spent seven years not enjoying my workload in addition to dealing with difficult people.

There have been countless closed doors over the past seven years of trying to change careers. But I’m prayerfully considering yet another attempt at a new career path, and hopefully God sees fit to swing the right door wide open, whether it’s teaching or something else I have yet to even consider.

I’m hoping it’s teaching though. After all, teachers have the best blogging material.

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

Professional Panties in a Twist

dilbert-buzzword-bingoWorking for a large company has taught me to expect all corporate communication to go something like this: “Blah, blah, blah… [jargon]…. [buzzword]… blah, blah, blah.”

So when I was recently tasked with heading up departmental communication (apparently I have a way with words or something), I decided to take a big risk and completely revamp our corporate communication style.

Our previous monthly email out to internal staff was the typical multi-paragraphed mumbo-jumbo of fluff talk that no one bothers to read:

Corporate Messaging

So this month, I added a bunch of visuals. Not just visuals, but departmental memes. Because I am young. And hip. And hilarious. And awesome.

We have a system called SQS that was recently rolled out and is now mandatory for all staff. Instead of just saying that (because… #snoozefest), I utilized the infamous LOTR meme:

Game of Thrones meme

And for the roll out of our new SharePoint site (internal document sharing site), I called in Willy Wonka:

Willy Wonka meme

I also used both the Morpheus meme and Keep Calm meme for other portions of the staff communication. Of course, I included all of the typical buzzwords and departmental jargon, but my hope was that people might actually laugh, enjoy reading the monthly email or, at worst, be momentarily broken out of their desktop daze and the mesmerism of monotony.

As expected, I took major heat for going off the beaten path and doing something new, unique, fun and different. Heaven forbid we use visuals – or color – or humor! in our internal staff communications! How unprofessional!

Actual comments I got back:

“I like the icons but perhaps too many humorous ones for the first publication… but may be a generational thing.” I like the all black, completely visuals-free snore of a monthly newsletter we usually send out – oh wait. No I don’t. Must be a generational thing.

“I personally don’t understand pic.” I personally don’t understand your failure to appropriately use articles in your sentences. 

“Are we in fifth grade?” No, but some of us believe in embracing our inner child and actually trying to have some semblance of fun at work. Since, you know, we spend a third of our lives here.

Fortunately, a few people appreciated my efforts:

“It actually made me read the note, which is a huge plus.”

“That’s awesome. I’d read any staff communication with ‘Matrix’ and ‘Lord of the Rings’ references!”

“Good note!” — This from our new General Manager. Score!

“Departmental Memes… love it!”

Kyle, of the fire alarm story, comforted me with this when I got my feelings hurt about never fitting the mold at this company: “It was a good try. It’s always tough to make modern changes with an oil company. Don’t let it discourage you. You made at least one coworker laugh!”

Thanks, Kyle. At least someone appreciates my creativity and sense of humor here!

Authentically Aurora