Friday, December 27, 2013

What I Did On My Winter Vacation

Day 1 of Vacation: Work 10 hours, hopping onto a last minute conference call where my direct manager announces her departure from the company effective January 1st. Vow to shut computer down until January 2nd.

Day 2 of Vacation:  Work 4 hours. Rejoice in learning my strategic refusal to take a California-based job without relocation money meant I didn't get the promotion I didn't want.  Join a group of fabulous women for cocktails worthy of a new dress and sexy stilettos. Have friend unzip dress in hotel lobby because me doing so later would involve dislocating my shoulder.

Day 3 of Vacation:  Go to therapy and, as the last session of the year winds down, realize my response to E reaching out via email was formal and distant and pretty much an indication of emotional paralysis.  Oh, right, E sent a very nice email just prior to vacation, an email that I needed five days of over-analysis to respond to poorly. Lose appetite.

Day 4 of Vacation:  Finally succumb to chills, cough, and aches that have been lingering on the periphery.  Begin a course of Nyquil that proves I'd be a terrible candidate for Ambien.

Day 5 of Vacation: Receive email from senior manager insisting I apply for my departing manager's position. According to her, I'm a high potential candidate for this position based in Washington, DC.  Dedicate time to pen a cover letter for a job I'm more interested in but am still hesitant to aggressively go for. Beam about my ability to write a stellar cover letter in twenty minutes and do so using a beautifully crafted sentence using one colon and three semi-colons.

Day 6 of Vacation: Knit Olivia a new winter hat because little else can be tackled in my current state.  Learn senior manager would like to conduct a phone interview while I'm on vacation for a job that technically isn't even posted by human resources because, unlike me, they don't work when the office is closed.

Day 7 of Vacation: Make parmesan-thyme crackers, maple-pecan bacon, flan, and dark chocolate brownies. Gather around a table with friendly faces, delicious food, and exhale that the worst has passed.

Day 8 of Vacation: Realize hair still smells like bacon. Pull on jeans, lace up sneakers, and spend part of Christmas day at a no-kill shelter petting pooches, rinsing dog bowls, and scooping poop. Head home only to learn friend of twenty-years, a friend who insisted I visit her over my vacation, doesn't know what to do because a boy she's known for four weeks wants to spend time with her and, like, it conflicts with my trip. It is a trip that is to start in twelve hours.

Day 9 of Vacation: Awake at 6.30AM to cancel NYC-bound flight slated for noon. Justify $200 cancellation fee as reasonable compared to showing up somewhere one is not welcome. Refuse to take so-called friend's craptastic insult personally and instead focus on how to get to Sarasota now that flight south from NYC is canceled.  Accept the fact my hair will probably smell like bacon forever.

Day 10 of Vacation: Climb into Gretel's front seat, slip on sunglasses, fiddle with the radio, and pull onto the highway. Just shy of Macon, sing along to Feeling 22. Passing through Valdosta, commit to reading, to writing, to playing tennis and to ending this year on a high note. Pulling into Sarasota, realize that for all that's knocked me down, I've continued to get back up and oftentimes with grace. Know that, no matter what, life's still pretty good. Even though my mother asks why I smell like bacon. And even though I have a phone interview scheduled for New Year's Eve day.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Now We're Getting Somewhere

In sixth or seventh grade, my mother asked to see a paper I was scheduled to submit two days later. It was a little before bedtime and the house was relatively quiet. "This is shit," she said when she finished reading my work. They were hurtful words coming from a woman who was supposed to comfort and console. Except I wasn't permitted to cry. Instead I was expected to collect my books, meet her in the breakfast room, and rewrite the paper through the night while everyone else slept.

In high school I was not really permitted to wear jeans. Besides being too casual, my mother liked to remind me my shape was a challenge.  "Your rear-end is built like a shelf," she'd say as I stood in the fitting room, the waistband gaping as the hip area strained. Judgmental words coming from a woman who was supposed to love me unconditionally. Except instead of telling her she was being mean, I quietly stood there as she directed the owner of the local denim store to tailor the waistband to accommodate my mismatched curves.

In law school I found myself standing at the foot of my parents' bed, abdominal pain, a high fever and extreme nausea keeping me awake. When I whispered I felt terrible and thought I needed to go to the hospital, my mother said, "Let us know if you need anything." I was in too much agony to weep at the fact my own mother let me drive myself to the ER. Upon my return home hours later, I was too exhausted to inform her that I had an infection so high it registered off the charts, the doctor resorting to IV antibiotics to help me recover. It didn't make sense to say something because it would never amount to anything anyway.

After law school, my mother took me to France for a two-week summer trip. We started in Nice and worked our way north, ending in Paris. On our second to last night, my mom threw a fit. I don't recall what it was about but at a certain point, she headed for the door. "Are you coming back?" I asked from the bed.  "I don't know," she responded without even looking at me. When the door slammed, I panicked briefly, realizing I was five thousand miles from home, alone, and with limited resources. But there wasn't time to process the fear and anxiety created by the one person expected to protect and shelter me. So instead I determined I'd be fine, using my passport, return airline ticket and credit cards to make my way home.

"Looking back now, how does it make you feel?" my new therapist asked.

I laughed. "It's ridiculous. But I figured it out."

"But how does it make you feel?"

I sat there quiet.

"I've noticed this with you the last few weeks. You're whip-smart and can think your way out of any situation. It's an incredible skill that you developed as a kid."

"It's how I survived."

"Right. It saved you. Except there's nothing to survive any more. It was never safe to express feelings. But it's safe now. So how does that make you feel?"

"I was twenty-four or twenty-five at the time."

She looked at me for a second and then spoke. "Your mother abandoned you in a foreign city. I don't care about your age. She left you alone as punishment for something most likely minute and probably never apologized for it when she finally did return."

"I think we went out and got crepes from the corner stand."

"How does that make you feel?"

I shifted my lower jaw so that the tips of my teeth gently brushed together. Saliva pooled beneath my tongue and tears filled my eyes. "Sad. I feel dismissed, rejected, and alone." I paused to reach for a tissue. "Incredibly alone."

"See, that's the healthy response. Now we're getting somewhere."

Friday, December 13, 2013

We Need To Talk About Your Flair

In early April, I received a promotion. This new title brought with it additional responsibility, frequent travels to the west coast, and answering to a secondary manager who within five minutes of introducing himself said, "I'm a straight shooter." Anyone who feels a need to say that never is. So it came as no surprise that I was repeatedly cut out of team calls, emails, and meetings necessary to allow me to thrive in my new role. Nor did it come as a surprise that it took him twenty-plus emails to cancel one Outlook meeting.

By August, I was burnt out. Getting upgraded to first class because you've made status on Delta is grand but it doesn't make up for nineteen days straight of working. I resigned all hopes of growing professionally with my current employer and decided to create more work-life balance. To that end, I planted flowers on my balcony, joined the Junior League, and started cooking again. It is amazing how much happiness can result from standing over a pot of homemade Quahog Chowder.

"I wanted to talk with you about the open management position," my direct manager said last Monday when she rang to check in. "I think you'd be a great candidate."

"You should apply!" another manager said a few days later.

By close of business Friday, four different managers in my division and three immediate peers told me to throw my hat in the ring and, for the most part, I wasn't soliciting their advice.

"You don't seem excited," Leslie said as I crawled into an over-sized armchair and pulled a woolen throw across my legs.

I'm not. On paper, it looks like a fantastic opportunity. In reality, it is rife with problems. The position is on the west coast but they have determined at this point not to offer a relocation package. I've already mentored two of the people on this six-person team but three people will be new-hires. My capabilities exceed what is required but I've repeatedly learned that being smart doesn't always sit well with others. There were just too many variables that turned me off.

"Did you apply?" a coworker excitedly asked Monday morning.

I did. Not out of want but out of politics, my direct manager emphasizing that applying would make a more favorable impact that not applying. And as badly as I wanted to phone it in, going so far as to consider creating a resume penned in Crayon, I couldn't. Instead I perfected the language to explain my qualifications. I collected letters of recommendation from managers and peers. And I clicked submit with the same enthusiasm one uses to clean the lint collector on a dryer.

An initial phone screen is scheduled for tomorrow, as are two other conference calls that were added to my agenda around six o'clock this evening. Tomorrow also happens to be the last working day of my year. Being a committed employee, refusing to do a half-assed job, meant I got to November with eighteen days of vacation left to take. So tomorrow I'll bust my tail closing out my year, dazzling the woman interviewing me, and sitting on a few conference calls.  Then, come five o'clock, I'm shutting down. Like, leave-my-phone-in-my-office down. Because for the first time in years, I'm going to give vacation time the same passion I've given my job.