Sunday, April 8, 2012

the book of my life ...

facebook post: March 23, 2012

cathartic morning ... i feel a weight lifted ... lighter ... unchained but grounded ... i am grateful for what has been offered me and i breathe a sigh of relief at moving forward and not looking back (too often) ...

*     *     *     *     *

July 21, 2011 was the last day I was physically in my office in the building in which I worked for the division of the company that employed me. On August 1, I started a leave of absence in order to clear my head, regain my self-respect and dignity, and start rebuilding my self-esteem and self-worth that was sucked out of me by this job. I also need to confront the crippling depression and grief of losing my partner to AIDS.

From 2003 to 2008, I worked in a different division of this same company. They hired me to do what I do best: define and implement business processes to positively impact bottom line results. That job brought me to New York with my “at that time” boyfriend and it kept me in New York when that tumultuous relationship ended. It was a challenging and rewarding job. It pushed my skills as a business driver, stretched my partnership and influencing skills, honed my communication and training skills, and molded me into a more effective executive leader.

I loved that job and the company loved me. I excelled at my work and I wore the success well. Being alone in New York was a new chapter in my life. It was my chance to prove that I could embody “If you can make it there, you’ll make it anywhere.” That job was a crowning achievement in a career started almost by accident and definitely by necessity.

*     *     *     *     *

in the late 1980s, my career started by working in retail stores. I had a lack luster high school education and no college degree. I never planned for a career in retail. I planned to be a Broadway star with three Tony Awards under my belt by the time I was twenty-three. Clearly, I failed at setting achievable life goals. I did not have the discipline to properly train or hone my craft let alone the level of talent to make that goal a reality. Retail sustained me. It gave me a creative outlet and it paid the bills.

I have great memories from my in store days: opening and closing shifts, floor sets, store meetings, conferences, inventories, learning from great managers. I worked with amazing people and learned an unending amount of business acumen.

In 1988, I joined one of the best American fashion companies during its heyday. This was THE company to work for in the late 1980s through the 1990s. I grew up in the “backyard” where this company was founded and headquartered. I “grew up” professionally by working there. My store management skills helped me to work my way up and into the corporate environment where I excelled and advanced in the Store Operations arena. I worked in this company’s various divisions for thirteen years until I was laid off during its first ever “workforce reduction” in the recession of 2000.

I humbly worked in the stores of another great American company, as a sales associate selling home d├ęcor and furniture. In 2002, I met a man who moved us to Southern California, and started a new chapter of my life as a store manager with this same hard lines retailer.

Within a year, I was in New York with that same man and our dog. I landed a new job in a corporate role created expressly for me. This job was with a company whose name alone evokes the aspiration of wealth, opulence, and the American dream. It was a very “New York” company to work for. What I was asked to do was never done there; it was a clean slate. I was charged with defining processes, policies, procedures, tools, techniques and training to enable stores (and the division) to manage a $46 million dollar payroll budget. It was glorious.

I worked there from 2002 until 2007 when I left to start a new chapter of my life. I joined a UK fashion brand and worked in the US headquarters. This job moved my career in the direction I had always wanted. I supervised both the Operations Department and the field organization. I had three regional managers reporting to me along with Store Operations, Store Communications, Inventory Control, Facilities & Maintenance, and Loss Prevention.

In June of 2009, the poor state of the company’s financials made them eliminate my position. I was incredibly grateful for this. My partner was hospitalized in March and was released the week I was laid off. I spent the last six weeks of his life with him here in my apartment. He passed away in August of 2009. That chapter of my life started a deep depression that seemed as if it would never end. I didn’t make smart life decisions during that time. I was desperate to escape the reality that I just faced. That chapter tested me in more ways, but that’s a story for another day.

*     *     *     *     *

In November of 2009, I was asked to take a position in a different division of the company I left in 2007. I was told that my skills and experience were needed. I was told that what I accomplished before was still seen as important and my skills were needed in this challenged and evolving division. I was told I would take a $20,000 pay cut, and that the division’s culture was intense and demanding, almost like working in a “start up.” I needed the structure and a diversion from my sorrow. I was broke and desperate and the recession of 2009 was in full swing. I was told I was lucky to be offered a job “in these troubling and uncertain times.” I took the job and a new chapter of my life started.

I liked it for the first few months, but soon it deteriorated into something I wasn’t expecting. I supervised a team filled with talent, energy, and drive. We had fun times, hard times, late nights, early mornings, long days, many laughs, and many venting sessions over many drinks. We created and implemented good solid creative work.

I had three direct supervisors with three different approaches and three different perspectives on what needed to be done and how to get it done. My job became trying to get their alignment on the initiatives and work approach, keeping each of them up to date on projects and progress, and navigating through the conflict between them.

The CEO of this division made Amanda Priestly, from “The Devil Wears Prada,” look like a dream boss. Stepping into the office, one never knew if you’d be meeting with Dr. Jekyll or meeting with Mr. Hyde. He had a very democratic approach in the verbal abuse he doled out and occasionally one could fall victim to his violent outrage. Eyes rolled, voice raised and yelling, fists pounded and fingers pointed, cups thrown, papers tossed. Being called a fucking idiot, worthless, ignorant, stupid, and a waste of time was routine. Being thrown out of meetings or his office was common, while “Why the fuck did we hire you?” or “We pay you money for this shit?” or “What the hell were we thinking?” trailing off as you’d slink out of the office picking up shreds of dignity and scattered papers off floor. He was known for firing people on the spot.

Turn was high and morale was low. Within the division and parent company, this behavior was defended as being part of that divisions’ “culture.” 

My peers – the divisions’ other department heads – were often told that Store Operations was not an important part of the business by this CEO. After all, we were a fashion brand based on design and visual display. Store Operations gets in the way, hinders progress, and is inconsequential in everything we stand for. Partnership and inclusion was not necessary.

The Store Operations team was moved to a separate floor away from the rest of the division. We were told that our workspace was needed to accommodate the growing visual team. The work area that my team vacated was filled with boxes and props for weeks after three of us moved into a 5’ x 8’ office nine floors away from our employer.

I could no longer gloss over or protect my team from the “culture” or attempt to motivate them to deliver quality work. They were all too wise. I struggled to motivate myself. One changed departments. One, with amazing potential and a great future, quit. One position remained open for more than six months, during which several workload intense initiatives crested. Potential candidates, including the best I have interviewed in years, were turned down by this CEO. Even after being interviewed and approved by the VP of Human Resources, VP of Stores, VP of Operations, CFO and COO.

After two and one-half years of working 60-70 hours per week, and of being beaten down, feeling like each day was a fight, and of trying to overcome devastating emotions, I hit rock bottom. I was given the worst performance appraisal of my career. Some criticism I agreed with, but many points I rebutted. These rebuttals were acknowledged with nods of agreement by two of my three direct supervisors, along with “that’s a good point,” “yes, that’s what we discussed,” “hmmm … you’re right,” etc. The third supervisor was not present and was unaware that my assessment rating was so low. Hmmm … I wonder how much input she had on my assessment.

Because of this rating, I was ineligible to move to a different position within the parent company and was ineligible for my annual bonus and stock options. I felt pushed into a corner. I had no options. I was stuck.

I snapped. I left one day and I couldn’t go back. Emotionally broken, spiritually bankrupt, I fell into a deeper depression that no amount of alcohol or drugs could ease. I needed to get as far away as possible from this dysfunctional and abusive relationship. I needed to end this chapter of my life. I hit my bottom. I filed for a leave of absence. I went to rehab and I started intense therapy.

*     *     *     *     *

I have been out of the madness since August and I am now completely sober, in use and in thinking. I have focused on my physical and mental health, slowly regaining my soul and learning how to think positively about life and myself. It has not been easy.

I have worked hard my entire career. The service industry suited me because I am a people pleaser and prioritized the needs of others before my own. Now, finally, this time, I am living my life for me and not for anyone else. It is my life on life’s terms. This is the most important time in my life. This has been the hardest work I have ever done.

I was offered a severance agreement, although they could have filled my seat once my short-term disability claim ended. The thought of signing it surfaced different emotions to face and conquer. My life has been defined by my work and I have defined myself by my work. Without work, what defines me? Signing it meant I was no longer, for a fact, employed – not working. No job. I had concerns about what would define the next chapter of my life.

As a final act of self-respect, as a way of getting the last word, as a way to prove that I was abused, wronged, and driven to near insanity, I wanted returned only one piece of paper from the files and paperwork I had left on my desk. This contained my response to my performance appraisal that I had not turned in before I left.

I wanted to sign the agreement and include this response with it. I also wanted to send this tyrant CEO an object d’art, like a bookend-sized king’s chess piece with a note saying, “You win, you fucking asshole.”

I asked about my personal items. They were boxed up and put into storage and once located I could come and find what I needed. The box was located and I was then told to provide my shipping address, as “It will be easiest for all involved to send it to you.”

I received the box and it sat in my hallway for two days. On March 23, I finally decided to open it. I found project files, paperwork, and my business cards (like I’d use those again). I did not find my assessment response. Naturally, I thought it wasn’t sent because I specifically asked for it and this was the only item of importance I wanted. I went mentally ballistic. I lost my mind.

I wanted to get the last word! I wanted one moment to prove that I was right. I could rewrite it! I would rewrite it! I booted up my computer. I was going to get my revenge, a great skill. I used to say I excelled at this because I was born a ruthless Scorpio.

Some have called this behavior vengeful, bitchy, malicious, or passive-aggressive. I used to call it relief, power, control, or “my right” because I “am right.” I now see this for what it really is: insecurity, fear, and self-doubt run amuck.

So … instead of doing what I would normally do, I did something that I have recently learned. I did what I don’t normally do. I did the opposite of what I wanted to do. I took a deep breath, I let go of resentments, anger, and harbored ill will. I closed the box and pushed it out the door for recycling. I signed the severance agreement and sent an email asking for messenger pick up. It was done.

And with that, another chapter ended. A new one will start, but I am in no rush. Metaphorically, I need to put the book on the shelf for a while. It may collect dust, start to smell musty, get cup stains from use as a bedside table coaster, and turn yellow and crack. Whatever its state, my life is now my life.

And all of this, whether good or bad; all of this, whether or not you can relate; all of this, whether or not you choose to judge me – all of it – is a part of the book of my life.

*     *     *     *     *

facebook post: March 23, 2012

cathartic morning ... i feel a weight lifted ... lighter ... unchained but grounded ... i am grateful for what has been offered me and i breathe a sigh of relief at moving forward and not looking back (too often) ...

5 comments:

  1. Wow. The only person I am judging is me for really not paying enough attention when you complained about your job. What a toxic environment to spend most of your waking hours in. Yuck. But, you know what? I like the way this all worked out for you. If that job had been a dream, you probably would not have had the chance to reflect and process all of the pain from the last few years. Here's to the next chapter!!!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thank you so much for sharing this, Scott. As a fellow Scorpio, and someone who knows and loves you and is the "female version" of you....I can relate to so much. I knew work was hell for you....but I had no idea just how MUCH of a hell it was. When you told me you were going into rehab, I felt like I had let you down as a friend. How could I possibly have not known how bad things were for you? Was I so caught up in my own 'stuff' that I just didn't see it? I was also so incredibly proud of you....and still am. You have done an amazing thing...a wonderful gift to yourself...and you should be proud of where you've gotten to. And I am so excited to see where this next chapter leads you, my friend. xoxoxo

    ReplyDelete
  3. Aw, Pfeiffey! Thank You for sharing (...and for choosing to take the higher road).

    ReplyDelete
  4. I eagerly await your next chapter...

    ReplyDelete
  5. Also had no idea. Kudos to you for your strength [give yourself some credit!] as well as the courage to walk away from the toxic workspace. New life chapters are scary. But sometimes if you're scared, it means you're on the right path.

    ReplyDelete