Don’t Live Regrets: Make It Happen (Part 7)

This blog of my life story is about my job situation. This is where “don’t live regrets: make it happen” truly applies. Generally, this is a summary of my years in the first half of my working world.

At the time I was in college, I was under the false impression that a job was a career and once you started working, you would work for the same employer for the remainder of your working career, like our parents and grandfathers did.

I learned rather quickly that changing jobs is something that happens, and one should not be frightened or intimidated to remain in a lousy position because he’s afraid that another job cannot be found, or he fears the unknown. To many, the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t.

When I graduated college, I began working as a teacher. I enjoyed it. But I learned within 2-1/2 years that I lacked the stamina to pour all of my energy into teaching and have enough energy left to do other things, like study for a graduate degree, remodel a house, volunteer with the rescue squad, or have a social life. I truly admire teachers for what they do. Most have found a level, or stasis, that they can maintain and balance work with life. I couldn’t, or didn’t want to, or both.

Also, I mentioned helicopter parents and absentee parents. I had both. Children of helicopter parents were difficult, especially when they were about average, likeable kids, but their parents thought that they were geniuses and appealed C grades to the Principal every.single.time. Little Johnny is the next Einstein, don’tcha know, but only if the teacher understood him enough to challenge him properly. Then there were the kids whose parent (usually a single parent) had to work two jobs and didn’t have the time to pay attention to her children. These kids looked to me as their teacher for parental guidance, which I couldn’t or shouldn’t try to do.

When I got involuntarily surplussed from the school and grade level that I loved due to a population shift and my being “low man on the totem pole,” and when my former employer for a student job at the university offered me full-time work for better pay and shorter hours, I jumped.

That was my first, but not my last, time when I changed jobs voluntarily for something better.

So there I am at the university, working in a staff position. I am working on my graduate coursework, too, taking advantage of tuition remission as a staff benefit. I am taking courses that I arranged for apprentices so I could learn the trades myself so I could apply those skills to repairing and remodeling that fixer-upper house that I bought at the ripe old age of 22.

I had time enough to continue volunteering with my local fire department and moving up the ranks, serving as Vice President of the volunteer fire company for a couple years.

After 5 years in my job at the university with progressive promotions about every two years, I thought, “man, this won’t be so bad a job for the rest of my life.” The pay was decent, the benefits were good, and the hours were not demanding. But in hindsight, it was a dead-end. No career advancement was possible unless I wanted to suck up to higher level people, pretend to be someone I am not, compromise my principles, and play politics. I hated all that.

When my boss who mentored me retired and his replacement looked around at the staff he inherited, he started asking for changes — both personal changes and work practices changes. My work life was becoming hard to tolerate. There were more days when I was unhappy at work. Even a few I would classify as miserable.

I admit, I brought some of that misery onto myself because I was stubborn and unwilling to consider even moderate changes. I was unable to articulate adequately why I was doing things the way that I was, or admit that just perhaps someone else may have a better idea. I was a college grad with five whole years of experience–I knew everything!

The new boss and I had our first conflict during his first week of work when he told me to stop dressing like a student, and wear a coat & tie every day. He also looked down his nose and made disdainful, disapproving comments about the dress cowboy boots on my feet.

I refused to don the coat & tie or buy and wear dress shoes, claiming that the university dress code didn’t require conforming to the business clown attire (I actually remember saying that), so I wasn’t going to do it. (Oh boy, what a big mouth I was in my youth.) But there was no way that I was going to diminish my standards and wear silly, dorky-looking dress shoes!

Within a year of the new boss’ arrival, I took the hint when I found, quite by accident, a draft of my performance appraisal. I was rated “average” or “below average” on every appraisal item, where my previous ratings for the past five years were almost all outstanding (and got me some nice pay raises and promotions).

Instead of waiting for the appraisal session and trying to find ways to resolve conflict, I looked around and said to myself, “he can take this job and shove it.” Without hesitation, I submitted my resignation and gave a month’s notice. However, I did not have another job, yet I had another new mortgage on a new-to-me fixer-upper house.

I took advantage of that self-imposed time off. I got busy fixing that house, as well as spending time networking with influential people. I volunteered even more with the fire department, instituting “Senior Safety Saturday” which I continue to manage to this day.

This was the first time, but not the last, that I learned, “when seeking a job, let everybody you know that you’re looking and what you are good at. Shop your resume. Contribute your skills to help others and impress them — in turn, they will be inclined to help you find your next job.”

Between leaving that job and finding the next, indeed I was nervous. I had six months of reserve funds saved up to use for living expenses, but if I didn’t find a job in that time, then what was I going to do? I was giving thought to selling my first house and moving into the second house sooner than later. I was not considering renting it, because my “sister-who-knows-this-stuff” did an analysis to advise me that the market-rate rental income was close to a wash for the monthly carrying costs.

Once again, volunteering and networking paid off. I impressed the right person at a meeting at the Fire Department who took me aside and pulled something from her purse — a job announcement that was not being advertised. They were looking for “just the right person and I think you’re it!”

I mailed a nicely-written, typed cover letter and my resume, which by the way I typed at home using a second-hand IBM Correcting Selectric that I wisely bought (again, before laser printers with computers were ubiquitous).

A week later, I got a phone call asking me to come in for an interview. A month passed with no word. I called to inquire and was told, “we are still considering you, be patient.”

I got called into a second interview, and then had another month wait on pins and needles. I was just about to pull the trigger to list my first house for sale when I received a letter in the mail (not a call), offering me the job. I received the letter on a Wednesday and the job began on Monday.

The weekend before I began work, I celebrated with some friends and went skydiving. I was going skydiving with some buddies since college without any major problems. This time, though, I broke my left foot when my boot got caught as I exited the plane. So I began working in this new job, which was an eight-block walk from the nearest Metro station in downtown DC, hobbling on crutches. I was in agony but happy to have a job that promised to be very challenging and interesting.

That it was. For 20 years, I worked hard at that job. I loved 19-1/2 years of it. I traveled a lot, met great people, learned a lot, applied new skills, and during that time, I earned my doctorate, met my partner, built a house, continued to serve as a volunteer with my Fire Department, was elected to a community position, and was developing an international reputation in my field. I thought I was soaring and that there was no end in sight for next levels of achievement.

But then the great working environment came crashing down in another reorganization. Mind you, I had lived through and survived several major reorganizations of this agency during my 20-year career, but the last reorganization was a train wreck. Due to various political circumstances, a position that I thought I was destined to get was given to someone else because they had to retain a certain percentage of women and minorities in those positions, and I was neither.

But I also mentioned in Part 6 of this series that the frequent and demanding travel was wearing on my soul. It was making me a difficult person to live with. Ask my spouse! Then adding the pressure of a disastrous reorganization, by early November of 2004, I was coming to the difficult decision that it was time to leave. I was planning on staying for the remainder of my career, but the handwriting was on the wall.

Then came the email from (un)Human Resourcelessness: “if you’ve been here Y years or more and are being paid more than $X, you are entitled to a buy-out. First 40 people to sign up will be considered.” I read that email after returning to my office after another miserable meeting with the clueless new-to-me boss. I signed up and took the buy-out. The buy-out wasn’t really any more money, but was a generous extension of time for my pension. Extending it to 25 years meant that I would have a full pension when I reached retirement age. The pension would be adequate, but that was still 14 years off before I would qualify to get it.

There I was, suddenly without a job. It was a crazy time for me as I did not know what to do. Talk about routine being totally blown away!

My partner and I had already planned to take a trip to Australia for the Christmas & New Year holidays that year, so off we went. I rejuvenated and renewed. My partner was loving the return of the man he fell in love with. I was relaxed, happy, and finally feeling free of tons of self-imposed pressure. Sure, I missed most of the people I had grown to know and to love. I missed feeling accomplished in knowing what I was doing and being respected for it by being asked to speak at many conferences.

But I also learned that when you no longer work in such a position that so-called “friends” are fickle. When those “friends” realize that you can’t help them any more from the resources of your former position, they drop you like a rock.

What I learned from this situation was two things: 1) co-workers and colleagues you call “friends” are mostly just people you are friendly with, but are not really a true friend who will stick with you regardless of where you are (or are not) working; and 2) most people don’t care and don’t want to know your side of the story. You’re gone, relationship ended. Done. This seems to be rather harsh, but it was my reality.

So now what? Life happened, that’s what. A major event in the Indian Ocean kept me in Australia for three months. Tune in for the next post in this series to explain the next steps in my life calling.

Life is short: learn from experience, stand your ground within reason, and make decisions best for you, not best for your (former) employer.

1 thought on “Don’t Live Regrets: Make It Happen (Part 7)

  1. You are absolutely right about co-workers and colleagues. They are just that. You would be lucky if you can count true friends on all fingers of one hand. How many people do you stay in touch with from early schools years, college and work places?

    Watch your back. A change of boss gives a malicious co-worker the opportunity to make him/herself shine by fabricating negative reports about you and your performance.

    Had a young woman write a 10 page letter to my new boss at the time, alleging that I was incompetent. Fortunately, my new boss found the letter lacked credibility. He worked closely with me to satisfy himself that the allegations were untrue. He then approached the young woman and made her substantiate her allegations. My boss never told me what was written in that letter; just said that it was unmentionable.

    She was gone the following Monday morning. Found out later that another manager within the company had put her up to this. This manager was hoping that I would be terminated so that his son could take my position.

    Half a year went by and this manager was gone too. The owners of the company discovered that he neglected his duties and had misrepresented himself in his resume.

    A Humorist and Mentor made this valid observation. “Truth is stranger than fiction, because fiction has to make sense.”

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