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

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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

And the Waters Stilled (Part 4)

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“God made a wind to pass over the earth, and the waters assuaged… the rain was restrained… and the waters decreased.” -Gen. 8:2-3

Even after the rain finally stopped pouring down in the famous Genesis flood that wiped out most of humanity, Noah still had to remain on the ark for a few months while the waters receded. And although the proverbial hurricane winds around me have abated, not everything is resolved, and I know the coming months will carry with them more unknowns and uncertainties as I continue this season of transition.

Living Situation

Since my apartment management came through with addressing the marijuana issue affecting my unit, I am planning to stay at my current apartment complex through the end of my lease in July. Although I could be saving $400/month at a cheaper apartment further west of town, the benefits of staying here are:

  • I don’t have to deal with moving now when so much else is in transition.
  • I will not have a possible black mark on my credit report in the event my complex decided to call this “breaking a lease” rather than being “released” from a lease.
  • By July, I should know where I will be teaching in August, so I can choose an apartment closer to my school, whereas if I moved now, I’d be making an educated guess on the best geography for my upcoming year.

I think this worked out for the best, although there was certainly a lot of (possibly self-induced) upheaval that ultimately resulted in no change to my living status.

Relationship

A few of you expressed concerns about Seth based on the past few posts – that I should listen to my gut and not ignore red flags; that I need to be with someone more supportive; that he has a lot to learn; and is this even the Seth I thought I was dating?

The tough thing about relationship blogging is that the non-blogger (i.e. Seth) becomes a bit of a straw man, unable to defend himself or share his side of the story. For the past two weeks, I’ve had a bad cold, been PMSing, and been under a lot of stress, so I know that I was not as much the heroine in all of these interactions as I made myself out to be.

Seth is a good man. He brought me Kleenex and Gerber daisies (my favorite) when I first got sick. After the latest round of disagreements, he showed up to my apartment with homemade soup and a bouquet of roses. He’s supportive of my job change to teaching when few others are, and he’s currently in the process of planning a surprise birthday party for my 30th later this week.

He is kind and servant-hearted. Neither of us is perfect, but I think one of the strengths of our relationship is that we both seek to understand the other and genuinely desire to resolve conflicts, even if it takes a couple of weeks to get to the root issue. We talked this weekend about everything that’s gone on lately, and I asked him very candidly, “Seth, do you generally think of me as a godly woman?”

He was kneeling in his garage, sanding down a piece of wood, but he looked up at me with surprise in his eyes – and a little bit of hurt. “Well, first of all, I’m sorry that you even have to ask that question.” He paused his sanding. “Yes, I think you’re a godly woman.”

“Do you think I’d be a good mom, raising kids with strong values?”

Seth stood up to walk over to me and wrap me in a hug. I peeked up at him from where my face was nestled in his chest.

“Yes, I think you’d be a good mom.” His deep voice reverberated around me. “Aurora, you’re the best woman I know.”

He sighed, dropping his hands to his sides and then shoving them in his pockets. “I know I’m not the most affectionate man.” He rubbed his stubbled jaw and looked around at the scene of masculinity around him – woodwork, car parts, mountain bikes and a canoe. He’s the manliest man I know. “But I want to get better at that. I don’t want you to ever doubt how much I care about you and how highly I esteem you. You’re a good woman.”

And although I don’t always do him justice on this blog, he’s a good man.

Work

My boss didn’t approve the 1:1 switch with Stephanie. She said Stephanie wasn’t qualified to be my replacement. Honestly, as tough, superior and controlling as my boss is, I can hardly imagine her thinking anyone is qualified for the job. She certainly doesn’t think I am.

At this point, it’s looking like there is no further opportunity for severance. HR is pushing ahead with my possible talent placement. I could stay and get a hearty paycheck in this new, assigned role for a few months before quitting in August, but I’m ready to go. I’m ready to be finished once and for all with this chapter in my life.

I don’t have another job lined up. I’m not guaranteed a teaching position in August. I have a lot of fixed expenses that I’ll need to find a way to cover. But I’m taking a step of faith and walking away. It’s time.

An Unexpected Blessing

For this upcoming season of transition, I’ve done a rough calculation of my anticipated income and expenses. I have an idea of some income-generating activity that can help make ends meet, and since I’ve kept a personal expense report for years, this number is fairly accurate.

The net difference between my anticipated income and expenses for April through July is about the amount I would have to dip into savings during this time of transition. And I was prepared to pay that amount in order to leave my company a few months early. But I may not have to dip into savings after all.

Since I stayed at my job through February 1, I was eligible to receive last year’s bonus from my current employer. My 2016 bonus just showed up in my bank account last week, and the number surprised me. Here’s why: The net difference between income and expenses during the time of transition is almost exactly the dollar figure deposited into my bank account last week.

What a blessing that God has given me as a parting gift from my time working in Corporate America! My final bonus is just the right amount to ease me into this season of transition hopefully resulting in a more life-giving and fulfilling career.

I’m excited. It’s time for a new adventure!

Authentically Aurora

Becoming Our Caricatures

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You know that feeling where you really dislike someone, so everything they do – annoying or not – feels annoying to you? Or that person you really think is stupid, so with everything they do, you see it through that lens of anticipated stupidity?

It’s easy to create caricatures of people and then treat them accordingly. And so often when we do that – if we have enough influence over their lives and enough time passes – people eventually evolve or devolve into the caricatures we’ve created.

Have you ever heard the story of the Eight Cow Wife? It’s a poignant story about a woman who was deemed unattractive and undesirable until a man who loved her paid an extravagant dowry for her: eight cows – an unthinkable amount in their society. Knowing that she was so highly valued, the way she thought about herself began to change. She carried herself differently, behaved differently and eventually became externally as beautiful and lovely as she was perceived by the one who loved her. She was transformed from the inside out by the one who loved her; the way she saw herself changed because of the way he saw her. 

When I was a child, my parents gave me a lot of responsibility, believing that I would rise to the occasion. Being entrusted with responsibility developed me into a responsible young woman. My parents’ actions communicating their belief in my capacity and dependability made me believe I was such a woman, and it inspired me to behave accordingly.

But the opposite also holds true. Regardless of the perception – positive or negative – over time, it tends to become the reality.

I have been at the same job for 18 months. There is not much responsibility in my job. Basically when a software package or other IT service line is going “end of life”, I either issue a termination notice, negotiate an extension/upgrade or negotiate a migration to another solution. Every time this needs to be done, my job is simple: I get approvals from Finance, approvals from our Technical team, get approvals from the Board, and send all of those – plus the renegotiated agreement – to a guy named Kevin who processes the agreement for signatures and execution.

Not only do I have essentially no responsibility, but also my job requires no independent thought or creative thinking. Still further, my boss constantly beats me down and repeatedly communicates her belief in my utter incompetence. Just this morning on a team call, Kevin told our boss that he was still waiting on a Finance approval from me – that I was the bottleneck keeping one of our service updates from getting approved. I immediately jumped in, “No, Kevin, I sent you Finance approval on August 9th and then again on the 15th when you said you couldn’t find the first email. Check your inbox.”

Instead of hearing that Kevin was in the wrong, our boss automatically assumed I was the one at fault. After all, I am the completely incompetent one who is incapable of adding any value to the team (a paraphrasing of her words at my midyear review). She verbally lunged at me, “Aurora, Kevin is not the one who provides Finance approval. You are supposed to get approval from the Finance team and then send it to Kevin to process.”

“Yes, I know.” That is the job I have been doing – my only real responsibility – for the past 18 months. I was absolutely infuriated by her condescension. How could she think I didn’t know that?

“I got approval from both Sharon and Bob – ” (our finance focal points) ” – and sent those to Kevin twice already.”

“Oh,” was her response. No apology. No condescension or disapproval toward Kevin. All she said was, “Kevin, please process.” And then we moved on to the next topic.

I am trying so hard not to become the caricature my boss has created of me, but it’s hard to stay intrinsically motivated. I find myself coming in late, leaving early, and no longer even bothering to try to excel at my work. The status quo has become enough for me because: why bother? I will never change her view of me.

I’ve never been a status quo girl. I have always been a high achiever – Straight A student, President of my Girl Scout Troop and Captain of my Soccer Team. In college I was repeatedly on the Dean’s List in engineering and, on the side, got my EMT certification just for fun. Post college I took my songwriting to the next level by releasing an original album on iTunes. These days, I keep a full schedule teaching Sunday School, arranging music for my a Capella group, babysitting foster kids and volunteering at a weekend farmers’ market that fights human trafficking.

I want to keep my passion alive. I want to keep striving to be impactful, make a difference, and be a self-motivated achiever. I have packed a lot of living into my twenty-nine years, and I like that I have been historically ambitious. I don’t want that to stop just because I feel trapped in an unfulfilling, demotivating job where my boss does not believe me capable of adding any value. But it gets harder every day not to succumb to becoming the caricature she has created of me. Why bother? Nothing seems to be changing, no matter how much I pray or how hard I try. 

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