Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Blogging From Hell

Despite all my rage I'm still just a rat in a cage.
It is so exciting that I can, and have enough energy to, start a new blog post right after publishing one. I love being able to write from anywhere, although editing is much easier from home. As a matter of fact, this is an advantageous development for my writing. I always had a hard time not editing while writing, which sucks (to be technical about it). It slows down my writing because I'm flipping back and forth between my writer and editor mindsets, and it can cause me to lose my train of thought or the flow of my writing. It's a bad habit.

I'm sitting in Project Management class right now. I started this program because my job has shifted from Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) compliance to "special projects". One of the first things I learned is that I am NOT a project manager, even though I'm managing projects at work. This is because I have no authority, and a project manager need to be able to make decisions about the project and allocate resources. Otherwise you are a project coordinator. My job has become a living hell, and not just because I am no longer doing SOX work, which was the primary reason I took this job and moved down to Los Angeles almost five years ago. That's bad enough, to be torn from my passion in life (or in work, more accurately). Over the last year to year and a half my position in my department has been eroding. Although my level of stress has skyrocketed over that time, I did not become consciously aware until the week before Christmas. The short explanation for this is politics. Corporate politics is enough to ruin a job, besides that I'm not working in my field of expertise and it's not because I'm advancing in my career, I was publicly yelled at and humiliated by my boss, and my department has been overrun by ass-kissing (another technical term) which is valued over expertise. They would replace ass-kissing with phrases like "relationship building", "demonstrating leadership" and "doing it the right way" though. All that corporate talk annoyed the hell out of me in business school too. I'm starting to become bitter writing this, so I'll move on.

So what to do. The stress I'm under is nearly unbearable, definitely affecting my physical and mental health. I have migraines weekly, and take anti-anxiety pills every night to get to sleep. I'm on two anti-depressants and HELLO, I have PTSD. It's not an easy condition to live with under benign circumstances, even more so when you are being yelled at among other things. My boss and co-workers talking behind my back triggers memories of the neighbors talking amongst themselves about the abuse in my family, and the small town whispers when my brother committed suicide, and the manager of the restaurant I worked at telling everyone so that when I came back from the funeral I knew they were talking about it but they didn't say anything to me. Like most people, I hate finding out people are talking about me, so besides all my past stuff, it's just not fun for anyone to have their boss complaining about you with your co-workers. It makes me feel awfully uncomfortable around pretty much everyone, because I don't know who's talking about me and what they're saying. Plus, it strikes me as wildly unprofessional, especially for my boss. WILDLY unprofessional, inappropriate, trust-destroying, motivation-killing, the emotional equivalent of throwing your cute pet bunny off a cliff while laughing maniacally and then telling you straight-faced that you have no reason to be upset. Maybe not that bad, but the blowing apart of my perfect job has been heart-wrenching. I really thought this was my dream job, for almost 4 years. When I look back on the criteria I had when I decided to take this job (intending not to settle until I found my dream job), it was:

1. SOX work
2. A company that has strong support for SOX compliance and internal audits, consistent accounting practices, etc.
3. A supportive, non-psycho boss
4. Salary - I want to explain this one. In my last job, I was underpaid for my qualifications, experience, and the type of work. It seemed that my salary level had an impact on the level of respect I got as well. It seemed kind of dumb to go through all that schooling and work to get my CPA license and then take significantly less money than the average for my graduating class in business school, and I was sick of just scrapping by financially for the majority of my adult life. I wanted enough money to not have to worry about money. I wanted freedom from money.
5. Stability

I learned in the project management class I took in my MBA program to reassess projects midstream to determine if they will still give you the results you intended. That was one of the best life lessons I learned in school. You can apply that reassessment process to anything you're involved in or any life choices you've made to see if it's turning out the way you predicted. If not, you can tweak your plan or abort. It's not easy though. We tend to factor in what we've already put into the project. That can be money, but it can also be time, effort, expectations, hopes and dreams, sweat and tears, anything you put into your "project" that you can't get back. In project management they call these "sunk costs". Sunk costs are irrelevant for the purposes of valuing the effort going forward. They don't feel irrelevant, but you have to ignore the past to get a clear idea of the future.

A good example would be a house you bought as a fixer-upper. Say you put $5,000 into the house and increased the value by $7,000, so you're up $2,000. You have $5,000 more in improvements planned, but you find out the last $5,000 will only increase the value by $3,000. If you bought the house as an investment, you should just stop now while you're ahead. Right now the value is up $2,000 more than you spent, but if you continue you will have spent the same amount fixing up the house as you'll increase the house's value ($10,000), so you're basically back to where you were when you bought the house. Even worse, what if you bought the house, started renovations, nothing is going as planned, and after spending $5,000 the value of the house has only increased $2,000, and after you put the last $5,000 you're only getting another $3,000 in value back. Abort! Right now you've lost $3,000, and if you keep going you'll lose $5,000. But it's hard for people to walk away from something they've put time, money, and effort into, even if it's not paying them back the way they planned. You want to finish what you started even if you know it's not worth it. Sometimes the expectations are the hardest thing to let go off.

I thought of relationships when I learned about sunk costs. How many people stay in relationships because they've been there so long and been through so much and they think that's a reason to stay? Or stay because the relationship used to be good, and they hope it will get better again. Not that I'm making fun of anyone, I've done it lots of times. Hell, I wanted my dad's approval long after I knew it wasn't going to happen. Letting go is a lot harder to achieve emotionally than it is to decide to do rationally. But I like having this logical, objective framework for assessing situations. Sometimes it's easier to get over the disappointment and other emotions of something not going the way you thought or falling apart if the logical, analytical part of your brain has figured out the right way to go and it is just waiting for the emotions to follow. The decision to walk away from something that's not working is a lot easier for me if I can put aside what happened in the past and just focus on the future, especially if it used to be good and it went to hell. Trying to figure out why something went to hell just confuses everything, and feeling bitter over how much of myself I put into this failed effort is painful and mostly pointless.

So back to my work situation. It no longer meets the criteria I had when I took the job (not SOX, don't have a supportive non-psycho boss, not stable because I really think I could get pushed out i.e. fired, and not in that, "Oh my god I'm going to get fired!" kind of way). Plus my criteria has evolved over the years, for instance, I want to be treated with respect and appreciated and recognized for my work. I don't want my job to make me sick or unhealthy, physically or mentally. I don't want to be so wiped out by my job that I don't have the energy to do other things I care about (like blogging). I want to respect my boss and co-workers, and want to work with them. I want to like my job. High on my list is to feel like I'm doing something worthwhile. SOX work feels worthwhile to me because I was working on internal controls that could prevent or detect financial misstatement or fraud. I was an internal control. I was contributing to the proper functioning of financial markets by lessening the possibility of my company lying or misrepresenting the financials and other information used by investors. I was a crusader for truth and justice in our (overly) capitalistic society in which corporate malfeasance can cost people their retirement savings and jobs, hurt the U.S. and the global economy, even cost people their lives in some extreme instances (suicide). What am I now? A corporate drone. A suck-up (at least I'm being pressured to be a suck-up, which I suck at). I'm a peon. I'm doing nothing to fight the good fight against corporate misbehavior. I have no control.

(We're talking about quality management in class, and I just accidentally posted before I was done. This violates my quality objectives!)

You might have guessed I take my job seriously. I don't want to spend my time doing work I don't believe in, with people I don't believe in. There is so much that is messed up in the world, and I want to feel that I'm at least doing something to make the world a tiny bit better. I also want my job to contribute to my life. I want to learn from my job. I want to feel good about what I do. My confidence and sense of self and competency should be enhanced by my job. I shouldn't feel beaten down. I've invested a lot in my career, paid my dues, worked my way up, and it really burns me to be in this situation. My boss actually suggested I think about quitting. I've been totally loyal and worked hard and made him look good. Now I'm doing what I'm trying not to- complaining about what I put into this in the past. I'm hopped up on anti-anxiety medicine (at home) and it is so hard not to feel completely betrayed. I am not a peon! I am not a corporate drone. This job is not meeting my needs, and not just because my boss is not a nice person. That's as far as I can go without violating my "no bad-mouthing" policy. (I hate it when people complain about me behind my back, so I'm trying not to do it myself. Another one of those things that is a lot easier to say you won't do than to actually not do.)

On the up side, my boyfriend has been amazing through my crisis of faith. He's got my back, not like my boss or that Jesse guy. I know he'll be there for me and help me no matter what. He's that kind of person. I guess this is one of those situations where one area of my life is super happy while another one is crashing and burning. Ah, the wheel of fortune. The ecstasy and the agony. I'm really tired and I want to watch "New Girl". I said I'd talk about the money, but that's enough for a whole other post, so stay tuned for Part II:

"Money often costs too much." - Ralph Waldo Emerson


Ann Light said...

You are quite clear. My question is why have you not contacted a headhunter or executive search agency to help you get interviews in the preferred area, SOX? Some things come to a close, end. You had the dream job for 4 years and you no longer have it. Time to move on. This is not the only company that is interested in compliance as policy. I would imagine Foundations are very interested in compliance.
One thing about worry, and you are worried [anxious], is it is sitting in a rocking chair, just rocking, and going nowhere. You are locked in a perspective that includes, scolding, gossip, and disappointment. No wonder you have migraines you are NOT a project manager and in the depths of your being you KNOW that. [To thine own self be true]
There is no waste. You practiced your craft and did it well and learned along the way. This is called experience. An experienced worker has great value. You can now go to another job and expect a bigger salary based on your experience. You do not have to be Syiphus (sp?) and keeping pushing the rock. Believe me when I say you are not the 1st employee to be in this position. In these times 4 years is a good run.
Headhunters and Executive Search Agency’s know this. You will not have to complain and gossip in you conversation with them. Time you dreamed a new dream. Imagine a nice office, convenient, minimal commute, sincere co-workers who are interested in the goals you have for the company and well, it’s your dream so dream it big and elaborate.
Don’t be the last one to leave the party you might be asked to clean up the debris.
You are loved, Ann Light

Marianne said...

So I'm not the only one! Work politics is absolutely terrible when it flares up...I'm going through a similar situation (no solution yet). It's so stressful.

I have worked with you before, so I know about your excellent work ethic and ability to perform... it sounds like your boss doesn't recognize that and you feel undervalued and disrespected. I find the public yelling / reprimanding completely unacceptable. Plus, like you mentioned, you wanted SOX work (although special projects also could be interesting?)
I'll be looking out for Part II. :) Hang in there!

Kristina said...

I do have an iron in the fire. Waiting to see if that works out. I'm strategizing :) but I do want to take action soon. I can't tolerate this kind of thing for too long. Ugh.