January 29, 2011

Lesson Learned

I got my first job out of college by responding to an ad in the paper.  The ad didn't even say much about what the job entailed.  I mailed my resume to a P.O. box and waited.  I graduated college in 1993, before the Internet...before the opportunity to research a company in advance and know what you were getting yourself into.  I was also very naive when at college.  I thought the career center was for the business students only.  Since I was a music major I assumed those services weren't available to me so I did not pursue them.  I missed out on valuable information about interviewing, the job search, coping in the workplace.  I regret my ignorance.

My job was for a local construction company and I was hired as the receptionist.  My boss hired me because we both graduated from the same college and she respected one of my references.  Within two weeks I was promoted because someone else was leaving.  I was excited and nervous all at once.  My boss would be going on maternity leave very soon after I took the position and I had a lot to learn before she left.  The morning I pulled into the parking lot and realized she would not becoming in my heart sank.  It was time to prove myself.

And I did.  I flourished.  Sure, there were a few initial moments when terror struck because I couldn't remember how to do something.  I remember the owner found me crying in the back room one day because I was so scared.  She reassured me everything would be fine and that she had faith in me.  I took that to heart and did the best job I could.  Pretty soon I was quite confident and getting everything done.  I was really proud of myself.

And then my boss came back from maternity leave.  Everything changed.  I had not spent much time with her before she left but knew that I liked her and was going to enjoy working with her.  She was a talker though and there were a few conversations that confused me. Conversations about old employees and how there had been a friendship but it had gone wrong and she never understood why.  I came to understand from my co-workers that there had been a few people in my position and they all left because my boss drove them out.  I was warned about this behavior so I could prepare myself.  I didn't see it at first but once we were with each other on a regular basis I realized what I had gotten myself into.

During this time I moved out on my own into my first apartment and bought a new car.  My expenses were modest but I needed the job and I certainly wasn't going to move back home; that equaled failure to me and I wasn't going to accept that.  I had worked hard for my independence and I certainly intended to keep it.  And I truly liked working for a construction company and all I was learning.  It is actually one of the reasons I am now working towards my interior design BFA and am interested in pursuing an MFA in architecture.  From an educational standpoint it was a very good job for me.

Personally, it sucked.  I'll just go ahead and say it:  I was bullied by a female boss.  It happens all the time and it is wrong.  We should stick together and support each other instead of tearing each other apart but unfortunately the latter happens more often.  Years later I had a female boss who was bullied by her female boss and I was able to share my insights.  But I'm getting a little bit ahead of myself.

When my boss came back she did not respond well to the fact that I had succeeded in her absence and this confused me.  People who had counted on her for years were now asking me to do things for them instead.  Do you see where this is headed?  Yeah, I didn't - idiot.  As I started to turn tasks back over to her the owners decided to keep them with me.  I get why that made her upset and possibly nervous.  She had been the hub of the wheel at that company for many years and here I was excelling.  I was a threat, but certainly not intentionally.  While I never took advantage of the resources the career center had to offer, I had held several jobs and I have an excellent work ethic.  You tell me what you want, point me in the right direction and I will get it done.  I did not know this would be a problem in this job.

What she didn't realize (right away, at least) was that the owners had bigger plans for her.  They started giving her more responsibilities and moving her towards more project management types of assignments.  She still wanted to hang on to everything else and found it very difficult to let me do those tasks which she had done for years.  One day she actually ripped an assignment out of my hands in front of our Vice President (who had given it to me to do).  He took it away from her and handed it back to me, indicating his wish for me to do it.  I was flattered but she was incensed.  Another time, an associate she typically worked with called me with information she should typically be delivering to my boss.  I thanked the associate, told her I'd deliver the message and reminded her she should be communicating directly with my boss because it was her job.  And yes, I know it is wrong to say, "that's not my job" but that's not what I was saying.  I was saying, "this is her job" out of self preservation because she was getting more and more irritable about people coming to me.

I went to deliver the information to my boss and she interrupted me, telling me to stay out of her business because that was her job.  If she had let me finish she would have heard me say I told our associate just that.  But she didn't and I left frustrated and upset.  It was Friday and things had been dragging on me and she really sucked the wind out of me.  I'd pretty much had it.  An hour or so later, she called me at home, supposedly to apologize, because she could tell I was upset and wanted to know why.  I started to explain but she instead cut me off again and started yelling at me that I was stepping on her toes and needed to learn my place.  That certainly made my weekend much better.

I won't bore you with petty details but I ended up enduring this for four years.  Our support staff was all female and the male project managers came and went so they were often not involved with things happening in the office.  In hindsight I think they preferred hanging out at the job sites because the office was a bit toxic at times.  The verbal assaults and the jealousy got worse and worse and ultimately I couldn't take it anymore.  I went to the owner for help.  She said she understood and would take care of it.  She took my boss to lunch, explained my position and then brought her back to the office to deal with me.  Bad idea.  It was bad....really bad.  And my co-workers, out of self preservation took her side.  They were used to her driving people out and knew it would be worse for them if they supported me.  Outside work they would tell me they disagreed with her treatment of me and said she was petty and jealous.  At work they would tell her I said those things.  She ended up setting my schedule so I had to cover the phones at lunch every day; it was mainly my job to do this anyway, but some were kind enough to rotate with me so I could go to lunch with co-workers.  She put a stop to this and basically isolated me.  They would all go to lunch without me and I knew they were talking about me.  They did it in the office where I could hear it so I knew it was happening behind my back too.

I kept my head down and tried to just do my job but she made it so difficult.  There were items we both used to do our jobs and she kept them all in her office so I had to go in there several times a day.  She made me so uncomfortable and was visibly hostile with me.  I remember having to leave one day for a medical emergency.  I went to her to explain and her words were, "just go."  No consideration, no "are you   OK?" - nothing..."just go."  I was getting sick more often, had chest pains, was sleeping poorly and had a pit in my stomach every day when I pulled into the parking lot.  I needed to get out but I hadn't the slightest idea how to do it.  If I wanted to stay in the industry she certainly wasn't going to give me a good reference and any competitor I worked for would surely get an earful from her.  I was stuck, at least it seemed I was.  The worst part was the owners knew what was going on but never addressed it.  As long as they were making money they didn't really care what was going on with the employees.  I saw it happen with the field employees too - sad.  We also had an office gossip who was related to the owners and she loved nothing more than stirring the pot.  She could get away with it because she was family and they let it happen.

Here's the chicken shit part of the story:  I left because I got married and moved away.  I told them that's why I was quitting.  Technically, it was; but I would have left anyway.  I was finally getting my confidence up to take the leap and then I met Jim.  I knew I could suck it up until the wedding and then just walk away.  And once she knew I was leaving things got better.  She needed me to train the person taking over my position and she needed me to finish my projects.  It wasn't easy.  There were bumps in the road and I got treated poorly several times by her before I left but I tried to ignore it because I was finally getting out of there.  On my last day one of the owners asked me if I would have quit anyway and I said yes.  I didn't tell him the truth though.  I said I wanted to go to graduate school; again, the truth, but not the reason I would have left.  I just wanted out of a very, very bad situation.

Here's the thing, I'm a tough gal.  I tend not to take any crap and to this day I cannot figure out why I stood for that behavior.  I think I finally just resigned myself to it but I am not proud for sticking around as long as I did.  It was a very unhealthy work environment.  Luckily, I was soon introduced to the best work environment of my entire career and I met someone I still consider a mentor to this day.  I think I went into that company with guns blazing because I was never going to be treated that way again and soon realized not every office is like that.  I was surrounded by men and women, all supportive of their coworkers, all working towards the same successes and goals...as a team.  It was wonderful.  Not only were these people my coworkers but many of them to this day are still my very dear friends.  That experience helped me recover and molded me into a true professional.  I have had several jobs since then and I haven't handled every situation the best way I could but I have grown so, so much.  I look back on that time and I shudder.  I want to go back and tell that young girl that things will get better and she will have some wonderful experiences down the road.  But she knows, she knows.

January 18, 2011

Go With Your Gut

Lately, a lot of people in my life have been struggling with decisions - good and bad.  "What should I do???" seems to be the battle cry as of late and I'm going to give you my best answer: Go with your gut. It never lies. We all know the answer deep down. Maybe we don't have time to sit quietly and listen to that voice; some call it God, others call it intuition. Regardless, it's there and we often ignore it because we either can't hear it or don't want to because we don't like what we're hearing.

How many times have you ignored the voice? Toxic relationship, bad job, pressure to participate - we all have our issues. If we really take the time to listen to ourselves we will do what is right for us and those around us. If you are feeling pressure to participate on a committee and your heart isn't in it will you give it 100%? You might feel the best thing to do is just suck it up and volunteer, even if it causes you great difficulty in scheduling and a lot of stress. Who benefits? You are miserable and you're likely not giving the committee your best effort. Maybe one less activity would make you happier and more productive when it comes to the other things on your to-do list. Do you hate your job but continue to sit there day after day, convinced you are stuck? I understand quitting is not financially feasible for everyone. However, no one is stopping you from making a list of the things you do not like about your job and doing what you can to make it better. If you can't, it might be time to start circulating your resume.

And I get it, when we are the person embroiled in the struggle it seems impossible. Often those around us have a clearer picture of what's going on and what we need to do. Deep down, we do too, we just refuse to listen to the voice. We need to stop ignoring it.

Case in point: Jim (my husband, if you're out of the loop) was miserable in his job this time last year. I watched him deteriorate daily as the stress of it ate away at him. He felt obligated to stay in the job for many reasons, most of all to support us both. But he wasn't listening to himself. At what cost was he hanging on? I finally confronted him and told him I could tell he was not happy and I thought he should walk away.  He was shocked. It took some convincing, but long story short he took that leap of faith and is now in a job he absolutely loves and I am thrilled for him.

I recently expressed my concern about keeping up this quarter at school. I didn't mention it in my original post, but there was a class I knew deep down wasn't right for me. I knew it was a topic that didn't interest me but I felt pressured because everyone else was going to take it and I felt like I needed to hang with the pack. Well, I went to the first session of the class last Friday and it was everything I expected...and more. I spent the next four days ruminating about it and feeling guilty about dropping the class. What will people say? Will the instructor think less of me? Will my director be disappointed in me? Guess which questions I didn't ask? What do I need? How do I feel about it? What is best for me? Until this morning: I woke up with a pit in my stomach and a feeling that something had to give. I knew what I needed to do but I wasn't taking action. It took three phone calls and within an hour I had done the right thing. I dropped the class. I already feel lighter and like I can dedicate my energy to what is most important - me.

Is it selfish to listen to the voice and do what is right for yourself?  I don't think so.  If we are not happy everything else suffers and we are not good to or for those around us.  I expect some of you might be thinking I'm full of it but if you are, are you one of those people who needs to let something go?  Think about it.  We are taught from a very early age about God, religion and taking things on faith.  Is it really that much of a stretch to listen to that voice?  It might be God; it might be intuition.  Either way, you are an expert on you.  Listen to yourself more often.  You'll make the right decisions and you'll be happier.  I promise.

January 8, 2011


I have a love/hate relationship with Oprah - it's been that way for years. There are times when I think she is brilliant and there are times I swear that if she doesn't stop telling me what to do I will never watch her again. But I always go back; I dare say many of you do too.  Over time I've come to understand she means well but is sometimes (OK, maybe more than sometimes) out of touch with the general public. I can live with that when she keeps giving me what I want; and that is the opportunity to make fun of Tom Cruise, drool over John Travolta and stoop to wondering who Jennifer Aniston is dating. Tell me you don't get just a little kick out of it too. You know you do.

So let's talk about this new network she just launched - OWN. I hear many of you complaining about or making fun of the name, but seriously, if you could do something that cool with your initials, wouldn't you? If you try to tell me you wouldn't guess what I think you are? A giant liar. We all have that tiny bit of ego in us that wants a few minutes (or more) in the spotlight and if we somehow found ourselves in Oprah's shoes I think it might suddenly be a little harder to sling mud. Think about it. I'm by no means her biggest fan, but I get it. She can do this so why the hell not?

When she launched her XM channel I was right there tuning in to every show. Some of them I still love and some of them wore on me, just like any show can - not solely because Oprah touched it. However, these days I walk almost everywhere, and we don't have XM in the house, so I rarely get a chance to listen. And I had nearly forgotten about OWN until last Sunday night. It was 10:00 and I was headed to bed and I checked facebook one last time. My friend Karen had posted about OWN and I was immediately sucked in. I said I wouldn't be, but I was. I quickly looked up our local channel and started watching. Master Class with Diane Sawyer was on and who doesn't like Diane Sawyer? Master Class ended and here came Oprah with an hour long show telling me all about her network and the new shows. Can you hear the sound of me getting sucked in just a little further? I think I finally went to bed around midnight.

All week I've tuned in an hour or two a day and for the most part I've liked it but I am surprised by one thing: they don't seem prepared for a full launch. There are many gaps in the schedule where they've just dropped in old (really old and really bad) movies and reruns of Trading Spaces. Really? One of my favorite shows on OWN is Season 25 Oprah Behind the Scenes, and I am beyond impressed with her staff, their creativity and their organization. Aren't many of these people the same people contributing to OWN? With Oprah's insistence on only the highest quality I am shocked the schedule isn't completely full, especially since she told me herself during that hour of "Welcome to OWN!" that the network is 24/7 of original shows. Not so far and it kind of takes the wind out of her sails for me. I'm sure it will eventually be everything she's claiming it to be now, but it's not quite there yet. Already this morning there was a marathon re-running of the first three episodes of Behind the Scenes, and they're playing episode 3 over and over again. Catching Liza Minelli smoking in her dressing room was funny the first time...the first time.

I'll keep watching and will settle on a few shows I really like.  For now it's Behind the Scenes, Enough Already!, and Master Class.  I tried Your Own Show last night and it drove me nuts.  If the 10 finalists are the best they could find out of 1000's I'm not impressed.  I'd rather Oprah do another season of her reality show about paying it forward and giving - remember it on ABC?  You have your own network Oprah, bring it back!  I'm pretty sure I'll pass on the cooking shows and I don't think I care to see The Judds, O'Neils, Shania or Sarah turn their lives around.  But that's the beauty of TV - I have a choice and so far Oprah has given me a few I really like.  Check it out and stop making fun of the call letters.  If you could "OWN" and run your own network, you know you would.  Yes you would.  Stop lying.  I mean it.

January 6, 2011

Half Way There

Lately I've been feeling a little itchy about school - restless, bored, irritated - fill in the blank and I've probably had those thoughts about it.  I start my 6th quarter Monday, in what is supposed to be a 3 year program - less than that for me because of transfer credits.  So, I'm probably about half way through my program, give or take a few classes.  I'm very close to achieving my goal of a second career (OK, fine...I've been around the block a time or two, but this is my second degree).  I should be excited instead of feeling an imminent sense of dread.  What is wrong with me?

I'm terrified.

Yes, I am scared of what awaits me at the end of this journey, and boy has it been a long one.  It might be 2 or so years of education, but I've struggled for nearly 20 years to figure out what I want to be when I grow up.  Now it's finally (almost) here and I don't know what to do with myself.  What will I do once I'm no longer searching?  I will have to prove myself now that I have claimed, "this is what I want to do."  Gulp.  Maybe I should have just kept my big mouth shut.  I know...I know.

I breezed through the first 5 quarters.  Sure, there were struggles and I complained (a lot), but I am proud to say I have a "perfect" (I really hate that word) record of straight A's thus far.  Or am I?  I have always been very competitive, mainly with myself.  I can't help it, and please believe me, I do not enjoy it.  I am a perfectionist and it drives me nuts.  I find myself wishing I could just let go and be "good enough" while still enjoying other activities.

I start every quarter with the same intention:  go to the gym regularly, eat right, participate in activities outside school - stay balanced.  I hang on until midterm and then all hell breaks loose.  My drive for perfection at school causes me to lose all control and perspective in all other aspects of my life.  I seem to be able to focus on school only and my head is down, with blinders on,  until I can ultimately proclaim another quarter is over and I am that much closer to graduation.  And guess what?  I'm excited about those grades for about a day and then I start telling myself I didn't really earn them and that I could have worked harder.

But I'm still terrified.  The foundational courses are behind me and now it's time to prove myself in the studio classes.  I have to show my instructors what I can do and I feel stuck in the mud.  What if I fail?  I always thought I had a flair for this...until I started school.  We spend so much time learning what we are supposed to know that we lose sight of what made us passionate about design in the first place.  Now because I know things like color theory, I wonder if my color choices, which were always at a gut level before, are good.  I always loved color and putting the right combinations together; turns out my gut was based in many aspects of color theory but I still find myself questioning my decisions now.  Why?  I don't want to fail and I have set myself up for it...big time.  What on earth was I thinking striving for those A's?

I was doing the best I can, which I guess, earned me those grades.  But I'd really like to break the streak.  No one believes me though.  I truly hate it when people tell me I love getting A's and winning.  I'd be happy with less.  I swear.  If you could sit with me for the third day in a row in my pajamas, without a shower, manic about getting something just right, you might begin to understand how this plagues me.  I want to be different.  I want to enjoy what I am doing and stop competing with myself and just have fun.  I want to stop worrying about others approving of or liking my work.  I want to be who I know who I can be:  someone who strikes out on her own, makes great decisions and doesn't look back.  She's somewhere inside of me.  I've met her before and I'd sure like her to come out and play.  In the meantime, I'll start school on Monday and hope the cycle doesn't repeat itself.