Hard But Good

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I’ve been asking God lately to release me from my current place of employment.

Over the past seven years, I’ve explored leaving my current job countless times – going to seminary to become a biblical counselor, going to art school to become a graphic designer, interviewing for same-industry-but-smaller-company procurement jobs, interviewing for different-industry-but-still-major-company procurement jobs, interviewing for management consulting firms… None of them have panned out, and I believe it is because God has not yet “released” me from my current place of employment.

I could, of course (of my own volition) just choose to quit my job, leaving without having another job in place. Some people at my own church have encouraged me to take this “step of faith”, believing that God will only provide me with another job once I have proven my dependence on Him. This might be, but I think God calls us not only to faith but also to wisdom and prudence. Sometimes it takes just as much faith to stay as it does to leave. And I don’t want to leave preemptively, taking matters into my own hands; I believe it is for my good to wait on God’s timing. I’m just hoping He doesn’t decide to put me through 25 years of waiting like Abraham or – worse yet! – 40 years of waiting like Moses!

I’ve been asking for the past few months, “God, do you still want me to stay at my current job?”, and the answer I’ve been getting about my current job is: “It’s not hard, but it’s also not good.”

If I wanted to leave my current job because it was too hard, and I just wanted to quit, that would be a red flag. There is benefit to being long-suffering and learning to be dependent on God. But God doesn’t tend to call us to difficult things just for the sake of the difficulty. The best challenges in life are hard but good, like a solid workout that leaves you both drained and energized. It’s painful but for our betterment. And my current job is not that way. It’s neither hard nor good.

My job is easy. It’s boring. I get paid a ridiculous amount of money to do very basic, menial tasks that are neither fun nor challenging. It would be easy to be complacent, choosing to stay in this easy but unfulfilling, lucrative but simultaneously fruitless station in life. For many people, my current situation is ideal: an undemanding job with high pay. But I don’t believe God is glorified by easy, comfortable complacency with easy payouts that require nothing of us: no discipline, no hard work, not heart investment.

My job is not “hard but good”. It’s comfortable and easy and unfulfilling. That is not the model of the Christian life; it is the antithesis of the Christian life. The Christian life should not be comfortable; it should be challenging. The Christian life should not be unfulfilling; Jesus came that we may have life to the full. And sometimes (often!) experiencing the fullness of life also comes with working hard; working passionately toward something that matters and has impact.

In recent weeks, I have started to see the ropes begin to fray; the ties that bind me to my job are dissolving. Between a deplorable performance review (wrongfully given) last month and an intense meeting with HR yesterday morning, I am starting to see that my time at this company is indeed coming to a close.

I’m not going out the way I wanted to – liked, respected and valued – but fortunately, the ones who actually know me still hold me in high esteem and have even encouraged me that this poor rating is a blessing in disguise. God is working through my critical, close-minded boss to finally release me from a company I’ve been hoping to escape for years.

The rejection and wrongful performance scores are difficult to swallow, but my boss would have no power over me if it were not given to her from above (Rom. 13:1). Jesus promised us that in this world we would have trouble, but take heart! He has overcome the world and is working all things together for the good of those who love Him.

Authentically Aurora

Loving Humbling

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I’ve been working at the same company for the past 7.5625 years. To a Baby Boomer, that may only seem like a fleeting moment, but to most Millennials, that seems like a lifetime to spend at one company. I always thought I’d be like a Baby Boomer in that I planned to stay at the same company for 50 years and make my job a true career; to invest in one company and show fidelity and faithfulness and I worked my way up and invested my blood, sweat and tears to make my company a better employer and more profitable company.

But the company where I work has never wanted my blood, sweat and tears in the traditional sense. Only two of the eleven bosses I’ve had over 7.5625 years has wanted to truly see me invest in the company for both my betterment and the betterment of the company as a whole. For the most part, the people I work with – management in particular – want to see us bleed, but only because they draw blood. They want to see us sweat, but only out of fear and intimidation. And they want to see tears because that means their carefully crafted demotivational comments have hit their mark.

Because I work for one of the most widely recognized major oil companies in the world, they are able to hire the best and the brightest. This corporation hires class presidents, valedictorians, visionary students who have founded their own organizations, and PhD students making breakthroughs in the future of biofuels. But rather than channeling that raw intellect and stunning creativity, all of these initially highly motivated self-starters are shoved into The Machine where they are expected to be simply one cog in one wheel, with no insight into or influence over even the most minuscule of process improvements. Don’t think independently. Don’t disrupt The System.

Any genius is called ignorance if it doesn’t fit the mold of the Kool-aid pushing management. Any creativity is stifled when the innovative try to use the very skills for which they were hired. The majority of the most fun, hard-working, creative and brilliant of my colleagues have long since left the company, opting instead to tap into their entrepreneurial spirits or become consultants to companies who will pay them triple to actually listen to the input that was so scorned at my current place of employment.

I have been trying to leave this company for nearly 7 of the past 7.5625 years. I’ve applied to smaller OG companies. I’ve interviewed with Apple in Cupertino. I’ve gone to seminary to become a biblical counselor and taken graphic design courses with plans to start my own design studio. I’ve written music and even released an album on iTunes. I’ve interviewed with consulting firms and, most recently, earned my teaching certification. I am a self-starter who wants to passionately pour myself into my work if only I can find a career and employer who will respect me enough to give me room to deliver.

I’ve been close to leaving this corporation countless times, but nothing has ever panned out. I’ve had offers on the table that were unexpectedly revoked as the market tanked. I’ve had companies that wanted to hire me but were on a hiring freeze. I’ve been faced with hardened hearts, lack of favor and lots and lots of closed doors over the past 7 years. I’ve fought bitterness, anger, hopelessness, despair and doubt about whether God is really good and loving. And what I have come to conclude is that there is a way that seems right to a person, but it is the Lord’s good, gracious, loving will that prevails.

When I was in 2nd grade, I decided that I was going to go to the United States Military Academy at West Point and become an engineer. Ten years later, I was accepted to USMA but fell into deep depression when my high school sweetheart broke off our relationship just months before high school graduation. Physically weak and emotionally despondent, I gave up my offer of admission to someone on the wait list who would actually be able to make it through boot camp. I ended up at a state school and spent most of my freshman year bitter about how I’d let my wayward emotions rob me of a golden opportunity and lifelong dream. But God had a plan.

Three years ago (almost to the day), I said yes to marrying the man I loved. Mere months later, he had an emotional breakdown and called off the already-planned wedding. I faced not only his rejection but also the public humiliation of informing friends, family and coworkers that I was an undesirable woman no longer loved by the man who’d promised to love and protect me. But God had a plan.

Nearly eight years ago when I graduated from college and started work at my current employer, I was on a fast track for senior management. All of my performance reviews and feedback sessions – for a season – said that I had the makings of a Senior Executive at one of the largest corporations in the world. But a VP who’d championed me retired, and the capricious whimsy of our talent forum found another shining star to adore. I was turned over to a manager who despises and disrespects me constantly. But God has a plan.

If I’d gone to West Point, I would surely be a harder, more cynical woman than I am today. Simply to get through that military academy as a woman would have robbed me of much of my God-given softness and femininity. Going to a state school not only humbled me but also gave me experiences that taught me about how women are gifted to show the world about God’s kindness, gentleness and unconditional love in a way that is uniquely feminine.

If I’d married my ex-fiance, I would have been joined to a man who could not and would not lead me spiritually. I would have been lonely in my marriage, yoked to a man whose affection was flighty and temperamental. Instead, I have been given the blessing of knowing what it is to love a man like Seth, whose pure heart and consistent, dependable servant leadership inspire me to become more the woman I’ve been created to be.

And if I’d stayed on the executive fast-track at this company, it would have been harder to leave. I don’t see myself as the kind of woman who would have become a workaholic, sacrificing friendships and family time for career; choosing advancement over integrity. But all of the women I know in leadership at our company behave like men. They have lost their softness; their gentleness; their kindness. They are tough and gritty and entirely masculine in their communications and interactions. That is not the kind of woman I want to be, nor is it who I’ve been created to be.

Each circumstance has been brought with it a painful sense of rejection. Each circumstance has taught humility through humiliation. But each circumstance has been a profound blessing orchestrated by the loving hand of God, who is more concerned with my eternal holiness than my temporal happiness. God is a loving father who wants to give good gifts to his children. Sometimes those gifts look like punishment in the moment, but in time, we are able to look back and realize that our omniscient, omnipotent, unconditionally loving Father knew what he was doing all along.

Authentically Aurora

ACAscuse me?

Screen Shot 2016-07-21 at 11.02.54 PMI called my mom crying after work on Tuesday. It had been a hard day, and my insecurities were running high.

“Hard day” is of course relative, and I tried to pep talk myself that I really am blessed; I have a good life, and my day wasn’t that bad, all things considered. Then I beat myself up for not being more grateful, which of course made me feel all the worse about myself. I found myself in a vicious cycle of feeling awful about my life circumstances and then feeling guilty for feeling awful.

Head in HandsThe basic gist of my hurt and frustration was that I didn’t feel valued in any arena of my life. I have felt unappreciated at work for years, so that is something I have come to expect. But Seth said some things this week that made me feel unvalued by him, and that was a new and unexpected sting of hurt. I volunteer with a lot of organizations outside of work to ensure that I am adding some semblance of value to society (since that’s nearly impossible to do at my workplace), but lately – in addition to my occupational and relational hurts – I recently started feeling disrespected and manipulated by some of the officers in my a cappella group.

AuditionsI constantly go above and beyond expectations for this group, arranging music, quietly paying cover charges for open mic nights, finding and booking videographers for performances, creating T-shirts and banners and flyers… I do so much that goes unnoticed and unappreciated. Not only that, but my voice has been picked on lately – something that had always been a source of confidence for me. Singing is something that I do for fun – because it normally brings me joy! – but instead I found myself feeling more beaten up than ever.

So when I called my mom on Tuesday after work, crying about how I felt unvalued in all these areas of my life – at work, by Seth, and by my vocal group – she reminded me that she and my dad love me and hold me in high esteem. “You have to say that,” I sniffed through my tears. “You’re my mom.”

She patiently reminded me that God loves me and values me, and then she told me that she would be praying God would give me a little reminder that very week – a reminder that God is on my side and that I am valued by Him and by the people around me, even if they don’t express it all the time.

That night, I went to choir rehearsal and was shocked to get the solo for our Adele mashup. I was feeling so beaten down that I almost didn’t audition, but of the four auditionees, our group voted for me and affirmed my singing ability – something God knew I needed this week.

This morning, I got an unexpected voicemail from Seth that said simply: “Hey, have I told you yet today that I like you a lot? Well I do. And I just wanted to call and tell you that.” I put down the phone in bewilderment, feeling surprised and pleased.

I was amazed at how quickly God answered my mom’s prayers for encouragement in my life. God is such a good Father, and He loves to give good gifts to His children! Things don’t always go as we hope or expect (or even understand), but in the times where God is so obviously lavish in His blessings, I want to take notice and remember that faithfulness for those seasons where He does not seem present. God knew I was at the end of my rope and needed a lifeline to keep me trudging through this week. And He delivered!

Now I’m just waiting on some sort of affirmation from my workplace… But I’m not holding my breath.

Authentically Aurora

Zingers

Work break room

I just had this conversation in the break room at work. Commence scene. 

[Aurora walks into the kitchen and throws away a bag of trash.]

Male Coworker 1 [dryly]: Thank you for contributing to our landfill.

Aurora [cheerfully]: You’re welcome. That’s what I do best! [points both pointer fingers at Male Coworker 1 with a snarky grin] After all, you know what I’m full of!

[Brief pause, while Aurora starts walking away and Male Coworker 1/Female Coworker 1 process]

Female Coworker 1 [laughing]: Wow! That was amazing!

[Aurora turns, pausing her exit]

Female Coworker 1 [surprised and pleased]: What a great delivery. That was hilarious! You timed it perfectly.

Aurora [grinning]: Thanks. I secretly want to be a stand-up comedian, but somehow that skill set just doesn’t come into play here at the office. [Pause, thinking] Actually, working here sometimes IS a bit like being a comedian.

Male Coworker 1 [drumming fingers on tabletop in rhythm of drum set]: Bah-dah, chhh!

Female Coworker 1 [enthusiastically]: And she does it again! Two zingers in the course of [she checks her watch] thirty seconds!

[Sounds of appreciative clapping as Aurora exits the kitchen area]

And my boss doesn’t think I have relationship skills. Psh. I may be introverted, but I’m a social introvert who knows how to skate by on wit, charm and charisma!  

Authentically Aurora

Candid Conversation

Dilbert ExpectationsIn my experience, people who ask a ton of questions and need a lot of oversight are considered newbies, whereas people who are independent, individual contributors are considered competent.

Not so in the mind of my Category Manager.

At the end of last year in my year-end review, I was given a ranking of “performs below average”. The reason given was that I don’t ask enough questions. My Category Manager (who serves as something of a “dotted-line manager” in our matrix organizational structure) shared with my boss that she has a lot more projects she needs me to take on, but she doesn’t feel comfortable giving them to me because she thinks I can’t even handle what I have going on right now.

I come in at 8am and leave at 4pm every day, after taking an hour lunch break. I am bored out of my mind, and the work hours I keep speak to that fact. But her perception is that I am overwhelmed and don’t understand anything – that I am incompetent – because I don’t ask her a lot of questions. I guess it never occurred to her that I don’t ask questions because I don’t need her answers. I have things handled.

But she is a control freak who needs to feel needed. So my lack of question-asking leads her to feel like she’s not in control, which somehow makes her believe that I am incompetent.

In our 8:30pm conference call on Wednesday night (that’s right; we have weekly night calls), she made an off-hand comment in front of the team that she would like me to read up more about our SAP HANA contract to ensure I am able to add value during a benchmark study taking place next month. Irritated with her lack of confidence in me and annoyed by the scheduling of yet another meaningless hour-and-a-half-long call, I decided I’d had enough of her condescension.

“I know it’s your perception that I’m incompetent and clueless, and you want me to read more legal documentation and ask you more questions,” I began, “But I feel like I have a pretty good handle on SAP HANA. I understand our RBU structure and the fact that we are in the process of migrating from Application-Based to Dynamic HANA. I understand the pros and cons of our options, and I know the breakdown of our RBUs based on Hardware, Software, Storage and our Data Centers. I recognize both the fixed and variable costs; which ones are consumption based versus a fixed fee. I believe I am able to speak intelligently in the benchmarking sessions, so don’t think that just because you don’t hear me show off about my knowledge doesn’t mean that I don’t know what’s going on.”

There was stunned silence on the phone line for a moment; then she moved on to another topic, but she brought up the conversation again the next morning. “You seemed a bit tense last night,” she commented.

“No,” I said casually, “I just wanted you to know that I am not incompetent despite the fact that I don’t ask you a lot of questions.”

She paused; then said, “I hope you’re passionate about the things you’re working on.”

I just stared at her, unsure how to respond.

“Are you passionate about IT?” she asked.

I am not a lier, but I also wanted to give as diplomatic an answer as possible. “I wouldn’t say that I am passionate about IT, but I still want to do a good job at what I do.”

“What can we do to make you passionate about IT?” She seemed to believe that was possible, just because she’s a freak of nature who actually gets off on this stuff.

“I don’t know that I’m wired to get excited about IT contracts, but that doesn’t mean I won’t deliver good work.”

“Why did you take this job?” she finally asked pointedly. She has never wanted me on her team despite the fact that – by her own admission – I do deliver.

My direct boss is the reason I took the job. I like and respect him; I’d worked for him before, and he asked me to be on his team again. But I hadn’t known at the time that I’d end up doing all of my work for this madwoman. And I couldn’t believe she would be so blunt as to ask me why I even took the job.

“Patrick. I took the job because Patrick asked me to, and I like and respect him.”

“Well,” she said with a disapproving look, “Your first year in the role is almost over. Just three more years, and you can move on.”

Is there any question as to why I am looking for a new job?

Authentically Aurora

Sleepy, not Grumpy

Kristen Stewart I don'tI used to walk around the office with a Resting B Face so that people would find me less approachable. There are few sufferings more torturous than listening to a coworker prattle on about their latest invoicing issue.

Then I got coaching that I needed to soften my Grumpy image. I went through a painful phase where I tried actually smiling at people, but I recently discovered an effective new tool in avoiding human interaction: Pretending to be Sleepy (and no, I don’t mean the dwarf, although that would probably be an effective tactic, too. I doubt anyone would willingly approach an adult wearing a Seven Dwarfs costume).

Sleepy

Putting on the non-Seven-Dwarfs costume of Sleepiness is a rather natural disguise to wear early in the morning. When you get into the elevator to go up to your office during the week, just close your eyes as though trying to catch a few more seconds of Zzzzs. Furrowing your brow just slightly will also cause any observers to believe that you had a rough night and just need some peace and quiet. Whether or not you’ve had a rough night, peace and quiet you will get.

Are we dead

Once you arrive at your desk, ensure to move very slowly and methodically, putting down your bags and settling into your chair. Keep your eyelids droopy and your expression placid. Repeating this routine for a few weeks will allow coworkers to think you’re not a morning person. This is a winning strategy for those of us who actually are morning people but just don’t like to share our morning quiet time with other human beings.

Sleepy

When you are walking the hallways to the bathroom or kitchen area, you will inevitably encounter coworkers who will want to talk to you (or talk AT you… about their kids, their gardening, their weekend, the latest football game, etc). Keep that dull expression on your face and blink lazily every few seconds.

When they very predictably ask if you’re alright, inform them that you haven’t had your coffee yet. Whether or not you are a coffee drinker, this magical statement pulls at the heartstrings of everyone in corporate America and will earn you a knowing nod as well as the pleasure of seeing your coworker walk away.

first-world-problems-coffee

As the day moves into the afternoon, substitute your “sleepy” look for a more “tired” look. When forced into conversation, make comments like, “It’s been a long day.” Exude low energy and no one will want to be around you.

Ladies, this is the moment to try pulling off that “grunge look.” It’s the totally fashion forward way to ensure that everyone leaves you alone. Succeed in your K.Stew impersonation, and peace and quiet will finally be yours.

Grunge

Authentically Aurora

I’m an Incompetent Sloth

I’m at the office right now, and I kind of want to go to the girls’ bathroom and cry in one of the stalls. I’ve done it plenty of times before. But I’m going to write instead. Because both crying and writing are ways for me to get everything out, but the latter results in far less puffy eyes. A girl’s got to have her priorities.

I had my Mid Year Review at work this week. A few months ago, I joined a new group in the company that does Procurement for IT services. When I joined the group, I sort of knew was a computer server was. I mean, I’d seen them in spy movies and stuff. Now I’m in charge of managing a 10 year, 6 billion dollar contract for hosting and storage IT services. No big deal.

computer serversFortunately, I work for woman who is a subject matter expert, having earned her degree in IT prior to starting a career in IT Procurement where she has worked for the past twenty years. Unfortunately, this woman is strict, harsh, and encapsulates everything one would expect from someone who grew up in East Germany. Which she did.

Since she has worked in this space for so long, this East German manager typically has difficulty speaking at a basic enough level for new staff like myself to understand. I’ve felt like I’ve made huge strides toward understanding IT in the past few months, despite our communication issues (both ethnically and technologically). For example, I can now translate this sentence:

“The CCN for the DTAO NSD went to the PPC and IBB last week. For K2, we are moving toward ROMv1 prior to DG3.”

That means:

“The Contract Change Note for the Desktop Anywhere Online new service development went to the IT Business Boards last week. For K2 Blackpearl, we are moving toward Rough Order of Magnitude version 1 prior to Decision Gate 3.”

Which means:

“A contract amendment for one service line went to two different business approval boards last week. Another service line is going through a re-pricing exercise.”

Brilliant, right? Once I learned to translate the IT jargon; then I just had to get up to speed on what the heck DTAO, K2, Filemover, Control M, Sabrix, Webphere, XenApp and TAD4D actually are. One is a license reporting application; another is eHosting software; yet another is tax reporting software.

Further to understanding the various applications, I got to connect with the various Product Managers, Project Managers, Service Managers, Product Management Advisors, Category Service Managers, Business Managers and Product Architects – both internal and external – for each of the service lines. Working on a global, virtual team, it is of course no problem at all to keep straight all the people I have never met face to face: Kelvinder, Satish, Bhavesh, Sanjay, Kayoor, Christine #1, Christine #2, Paul, Alexander, Mike, Michele, Haley, Linda, Katrin, Gerdien, Igor and Shadonna.

So now, after four months “in seat”, I still don’t enjoy the work, but I am finally starting to feel like I at least have developed enough knowledge and competence to where I can start adding value. But, as I discovered this week per my Mid Year Review results, my East German manager has yet to be impressed.

In the field where she was supposed to fill out “What this individual has done well“, she wrote:

“Despite extensive onboarding, [Aurora] has made slower than expected progress.” She went on, “She has to quickly increase her knowledge base regarding IT to be successful in the future. She should… be more confident”, ask more questions and act more independently.

Okay, first of all, if that’s the “What this individual has done well” section, I don’t even want to read on to the improvement areas. Secondly, aren’t asking more questions and acting more independently mutually exclusive?

In my last role, I was called arrogant and over-confident. Now I’m being labeled insecure and lacking in confidence.

In my last role, I was told that I dug into too many of the technological details and was advised to focus just on the commercial side. Now I’m being told that I am technologically incompetent and lacking in knowledge.

At some point, some encouragement would be nice. Either at work or at home. At work, I’m an incompetent sloth. At home, I’m a duplicitous woman lacking integrity.

I’m tired of being beaten down. Hey life! Hey God!

(…is anybody listening?)

Authentically Aurora