Thursday, August 30, 2007

Dreaming of Da Boss

This is long and boring and not that interesting so if you're busy, wander on. ;-)

About a year and a half ago, my Senior PM team at work was broken up by a major corporate/multi-company restructuring. Our semi-executive boss got 'laid off' and promptly rehired as a consultant making even more but for a different company name yet in the same general group of people, go figure. One of my coworkers went to a different part of the company to manage the tech he'd been the "main" one working on, one left, two went to a different division, and since I was the "main" one working on a semi-new product line we'd been developing that had sold so well it was becoming a company standard, I got moved with the product line into the production department, so it could be standardized.

For those of you who aren't business freaks, what this means is that one day I was doing a job that required brains and creativity and some tech knowledge, and that had a lot of flexibility for things regularly changing, and the next day somehow the allegedly same job was a "widget" job, where a standardized product with known parameters is made the same way over and over again, and I "managed" the vendors that were the lowest bidder and the editorial people who haven't yet run screaming from the position of providing you content for it. I do my best to make the role one of "facilitator" and not "red tape", as I'm anti-bureaucracy in a big way, but the fact is, solely by accident and just-the-way-things-go, it was a demotion.

I also lost a good chunk of pay with it, because they weren't willing to keep my contractor status, and instead insisted I become an employee, and a 'project manager' role in 'production' pays less than a 'senior project and product manager' role working on what we called 'the A-team' under the senior VP. The fact that part of the salary was based not on the job but on my college (which is minimal) and "the economy at my location" (in the poorest county of the poorest state in the nation, last I heard!) did not help.

Suffice to say I was kinda pissed off about this turn of events.

But I work from home in nowhere, Oklahoma, where the only local jobs are Wal*mart, fast food and a few doctor's offices. Being unemployed in this area nearly makes me hyperventilate just thinking about it. And because I am FAT, something with more deeply ingrained cultural prejudice than being a black lesbian satanist with blue hair would probably invoke, walking into another job is not really that easy. I've always gone from one job to another based on contacts I already knew, and usually took jobs because someone literally asked me to (often pleaded with me to), not because I was applying for the position. I no longer fit in the cute little Vanderbilt suits and pumps I used to wear, which is not only a disaster for my fashion life, but a real problem for first-impressions and new jobs. So I was forced to be terribly grateful for the job I had, no matter that it was now something I was over-qualified to do over 20 years ago, and that greatly ignored a whole spectrum of talent/skill benefits I can offer employers.

Hard as it was to imagine, the situation was even worse, though. One of the managers that my team (especially my boss) had really kind of avoided and rolled our eyes about, became MY BOSS.

That's right. GAH. And frankly, it was just as I feared. Her 'style' (I say to be polite) meant I did the same work three times on at least a dozen occasions early on, and usually when I had the least time. I constantly had the urge to suggest training or explain (read: lecture) to her about some basic, only to remember that she was MY boss not the other way around.

I've been in management pretty much all my adult life, usually working directly for a CEO, or a Sr. VP at least, often without a title off and on as a troubleshooter/PM, in between sliding into various mgmt roles usually to set up a new dept., arrange training, or solve some problem. Suddenly, I was... I can hardly say it...


I was one of a bazillion employees of a company that recently sold for just under 8 BILLION dollars. I worked for someone half my age (a situation I'd always been in, in reverse--usually I was the young one without a degree managing people twice my age with MBAs, so I understood her position), and she didn't know much about me, didn't want to know, and greatly preferred people working at her location not from across the country.

I would do work, and then do it again and yet again when it turned out she hadn't provided enough info up front--as if it were some secret need to know kind of thing--in such a way that it sponsored "mindless obedience" instead of any independent thought, because 'thinking' when someone is withholding context is likely to be more harm than help. Then I would do work, and then do it again and yet again when it turned out the report I spent 14 hours working on, based on her original I had to radically update with my info per her own request, I'd send it to her, after which she'd send HER original--not my revised version--to someone else, then send THEIR revisions to me to 'update' with my info 'cause gosh, guess we need to integrate these... this happened repeatedly. I wanted to scream. I wanted to stick pins in a little PJs-Boss-Voodoo-Doll.

Then there was communication. Mostly email. I would ask a question and get no response. I would ask it again and get a response that didn't even address my question. I'd ask it again, to clarify, and get a response that basically just restated what was obvious I already knew based on the question in the first place. She was incapable of hearing what I *said*; she was so "inferred" a communicator, that if you said, "Boss, the sky is blue," she would hear any number of things she "thinks that you must MEAN by that"--never what you actually SAID.

This is not that uncommon. In hypnosis and NLP one of the studies relates to the communications format that people engage in. Normally I'm a little better at dealing with this in people, but that is based greatly on physical intuition; you have to know a little about them in order to know how to say ABC when you "want them to infer" XYZ based on that. I had barely been exposed to her, and she was too busy and stressed out even to talk to me hardly at all, until I finally kind of made a big deal about how we NEEDED to communicate. (My job at a distance depends on it.) Even still, we have weekly meetings, which she actually manages to make once a month.

Early on, I really was irked about this. I didn't dislike her -- it's work, it isn't personal -- but I was really irked about the entire situation, including her role in it all.

I consider loyalty to my boss one of my primary job duties. I've always worked for people where there was a great deal of mutual respect, and a great deal of what has always motivated me is personal recognition from someone I respect--in short, the reason I'm drawn to "power behind the throne" roles in most areas of my life, is because I'm motivated by the personal relationship. This just didn't exist for me anymore.

As if that wasn't bad enough, I got to experience the cultural prejudice that the media and liberal college has indoctrinated into the entire country: a whole team of coworkers who were so convinced that anybody not in a coastal state or metro city was a hick-moron that they regularly made jokes about it in meetings. Which I would counter with a voice dripping frost, the best I can do from this distance. If we were that prejudiced against people for being a certain race or religion, they'd be sued into the ground. But it's perfectly ok to say or imply that anybody who isn't a liberal or who lives in the midwest is a blithering idiot "just because". The enormity of this stupidity is just ridiculous. In a San Francisco-area company, the bias was everywhere. I'm a California girl. I could excuse myself. But it's the moral of it already. Prejudice is gross no matter what it's about.


I was no longer a daily leader in some kind of entrepreneurial enterprise, dedicated to my company's vision and the support of my boss and coworkers and employees and vendors/ contractors. Now I was just a distant number in a huge conglomerate, buried by bureaucracy and unfamiliarity and at the mercy of coworkers who knew nothing of me and a boss who didn't even care.

My job is my survival instinct. I get more psychic about my job situation when there is any threat to it, than any other area of my life. To the point of completely freaking out people I work with. It's my combat zone, I guess.


Early on, just at the peak of my early despair about all this, I had a fairly intense dream.

In the dream, my boss and I were great friends. The dream bounced between two time frames. One was some years in the future, when we were very close. The other was a psychic thing in the present.

I found myself at her house, which somehow was a martial arts dojo. We set ourselves up to see who was going to win this little competition. I was clearly winning. She regrouped and we went at it again. This time it was a little more equal, but she was still losing. She stepped back, and a man I knew was her husband came up to us. He put his hands on her from behind, and talked to her softly, and "focused and grounded her." And then she was a tough opponent. I could see how she was definitely 'grounded' and her focus improved by him, and finally she had become an equal.

And then we shifted back to some indefinite point in the future, when I understood that we had become wonderfully good friends, one of the few women friends I'd ever had that I got genuinely close to.

Turns out her husband is a martial arts sensei. Like many in that situation, they live in a part of a building that houses their dojo. So maybe some of that wasn't entirely imagination!

But wait, talk about coincidence. She herself has a black belt -- in the not super common form of karate (Gojo Ryu) that just happens to be the only kind available in my locale, thanks to a local expert, and is the one my daughter is actively studying. She trained with the son of its founder. Small world, or what?


I decided to trust my intuition. If my dreams say that she and I are super compatible, that we will be close in the future, and that if she focuses herself she is an equal opponent, then I will go with that, afford her whatever respect I can based on her position and this dream-based hope, and trust that things will improve.

She has grown on me.

I don't have to do things quite as repetitively now. And thanks to insisting on communicating regularly, by IM if nothing else, we now know each other a little better. We met briefly earlier this year, though I barely saw her. Now I am more likely to say something about it, or even (mildly) complain.

But for about a year and a half, since all that shift happened, I've been different at work. Depressed. Totally lacking ambition. I just did my job and logged out. Didn't do any more than I had to. From a person who voluntarily worked over 100 hrs/wk for about 20 years, simply because I am always so driven by creative ideas, proactive behavior and troubleshooting inclinations, this is a pretty big deal. It was like a different person. "Who wants to volunteer?" she would ask our team. I would silently take one step back. I didn't care. I'm a fucking number. Any moron with half a clue could do this job. 'Why should I care'.


Several days ago, something inside me shifted. I have no idea what. I just woke up and suddenly, I was the person I've always been about work. I looked forward to getting to it, because I had so many things I knew needed to be done and I wanted to accomplish. I looked at our documentation. PATHETIC! I started greatly improving the shared web area we use for that. I looked at that web area. PATHETIC! I started adding handy links and things like that to it. I looked at the documentation for my product line. Which, by the way, I was supposed to do a better job on eons ago and didn't give a damn enough to really work hard on. Astounded by how I could not have cared, I've spent a few days working like 8am to 2am, with just a couple breaks of about 2 hours each, including making that much-needed documentation, training manuals for editorial, and more. By this weekend, hopefully, I will be fully "caught up" for the first time in probably 18 months, and will actually FEEL glad for my job, interested in my job, and "on the ball."

I don't know why. I'm pretty damn happy that some part of me finally returned home, though.

I imagine my boss is too, LOL.

Meanwhile, the last two weeks -- and maybe this is it, frankly, damn, until I wrote that I had not considered this.

I'm one of those people whom stress actually holds together. I excel in situations that destroy other people, probably because most of my childhood was training for it. Calm, easy, no-stress jobs, even temp gigs I had when not in a regular position, make me profoundly depressed. I thrive on challenge and demand.

Well the last two weeks have been the most demanding since all that job shift happened.

For example, before that shift happened, at our national sales meeting, I slept one hour a night for eight nights straight, working frantically on a million problems and products that were emergency situations. The last three sales meetings, I literally had no work for about a week before until about a week after. Whole days without a single email. I was no longer solving problems. I'm in production now. I just shuffle widgets through a pre-defined path over and over. Until the last couple weeks, when my coworker with whom I share disciplines/projects is out on vacation (getting married) so I'm doing both our work, and the new term brought more problems than ever, and somehow our customers and sales forgot tech support existed and keep showing up in OUR inboxes begging for help on stuff, and so I've been busier than... well, busier than I have been since the days when I felt like I had a real job.

Maybe that's what finally woke me up again.


So the other day I dreamed. I dreamed that I was hanging out with my boss. She was really stressed out about a lot of stuff, much of which I had not heard about. I was consoling her and telling her she needed to be kinder to herself. I pointed out the many aspects of her life that were obviously very challenging. Some of which are impossible outside the dream world--such as that I was her roommate LOL! (Maybe that was a translation. ;-)) In my dream, there was a japanese shoji lamp, tall, but broken off short, empty and without light. (In my house, I have one that has no light, but is not otherwise broken.) I interpret that as hers though, for some reason. The fact that she had this broken light seemed significant. But I stuck with her until I felt she had her strength back, and was grounded, and ready to face the day again.

When I woke up I thought, well, I feel closer to her again suddenly. Like we are a team. Like some of the 'loyalty-to-boss' that is always engrained in me, has come out a bit. I felt the 'psychic counseling and kinship' was probably true on some level.

So will we be buddies someday? I don't know. We get along fine by phone, but I don't really understand her from a distance. Maybe not even from up close.

She has an intriguing face. She looks a little bit like that man who played on the show "The Pretender." I'm not sure what nationality that is. Something from one of the former Russian provinces I'm guessing. She has an 11 year old girl, just like I do -- and twin boys, about 5 or so.

I guess we'll see.


Geez. That reminds me. I had some dream this morning that my daughter had absorbed a twin in the womb. In the dream there was some consequence of this; I could feel teeth growing out of her lower torso, can't remember if it was front or back, but I 'understood' that this was somehow related to some problem she was having. Weird!

Speaking of karate and the kid, by the way. For the 18 months her dad lived here, she picked up his interesting 'habit'. I am working during the period when I have to take her to it, as my biz is on pacific time and we're 2 hours ahead. I have to take off work to do it and work a little after (my lunch hour+ is getting her from school and errands. So technically I'm working-or-something from 8am until 8pm most days.) The habit goes like this:

Mom reminds that karate is coming in a few hours. Reminds again that it's a couple hours. And then an hour. And then half an hour please get ready NOW. And then 15 minutes. And then either mom goes to grab purse and run out the door -- and kid is not REMOTELY ready, often hasn't even begun dressing, or is pretending to be asleep --or, mom is totally busy with work details, and nobody says anything at all about the time they KNOW we are supposed to leave, and mom finishes some business thing in time to realize it's 20 minutes after leaving-time, nobody said a word conveniently, so either we miss it again, or I use gas and time plus disrespect the dojo by being late, all for 10 minutes of workout... so we don't go.

After nearly two years of this, last week I freaked out. Had an official Hissy Fit. I didn't want to do some punishment that made her associate something bad with karate. So instead I said she was supposed to be responsible enough to go, and it is only two nights a week, and I had even let her choose the night. But. If she blows it and doesn't get ready on time, then she will do karate every single night that week, as "practice" for the discipline she must be lacking. If she wants to do karate LESS, she needs to be BETTER about doing it at all. This is a funny true corollary to adult life actually. I figured, worst-case, she'd be really good at karate!

She has now gone for nearly two solid weeks.

Today she brought up the subject of going every night. I thought she was going to plead for a break. Instead she said,

"If I go every night for the next two weeks as well, will you consider putting me in private lessons one night a week and the regular class the other night a week?"

She says she is serious about wanting to get better. More time in it, apparently just focused her more on it.

I've probably created a monster. ;-)

1 comment:

Khakra said...

my job is my survival instinct. so aptly put, but life would be much better if only the office coffee was better. on topic.. is there a good karate school out here in the bay area? i'm struggling to find a half decent dojo.