Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Major Rewrite, part 3

I'm trying to recall that first interview so I can describe it - I even found my neurologist's business card where I scrawled notes as I sat in my car and sipped McDonald's soda and learned about a new business and answered questions as best I could.  I can't bring details to mind.

Yet some mixture of God and my default mode took over and did well enough to rate an interview with the hiring manager, my boss-to-be, later that afternoon. 

"My schedule fell apart," I admitted to the recruiter, "so my afternoon is completely free!  I can talk whenever he can."

I had lunch with a dear colleague that I worried I'd taken down with me - a bright ray of sunshine in an increasingly dark world.  She was mostly fine after also being let go - little bursts of anger around the edges but doing her best to point out all the problems we could release and how much time we'd have and how much better we'd feel.  Such a blessing is this woman - thanks be to God. 

I was preparing for my interview, doing more deliberate research, noting questions I wanted to ask and reviewing my CV for specific examples I'd want to highlight, when the phone rang and I winced. 

"Katie," an accented voice very dear to me said when I answered, and proceeded to explain how shocked and sad and sorry he was.  And I wept because I'd miss him and my feelings were hurt and I was - despite many faults in other areas - a brilliant manager for my people.  Viciously protective, wildly supportive and eagerly encouraging them to learn and fail and be good, kind people and colleagues.  They'd noticed and would cite examples.  And it would never fail to make me cry.

But balancing those voices with a new one who interviewed me - a different accent and sharper humor - was extraordinarily helpful.  Discussing new opportunities, ways I could learn and contribute, decisions I regretted and projects of which I was proud - it gave me the opportunity to reflect positively but also note that it was time to move on. 

I wasn't ready - I'd been clinging to the known with both hands (and arms and legs) - but it was time.  And over that hour-plus interview conversation, that truth became increasingly clear. 

"You should meet with my guys," Boss-to-be noted, indicating my recruiter would set up time for them to speak with me.  I paused, glancing through my page of notes that mixed personal notes, business practices and technical details. 

"What should I read?" I asked.  "What will they expect me to know?"  And I smiled when he gave me tips on winning them over. 

I still didn't sleep well that night, emotions cycling between peace and terror, exhilaration and shame.  I finally tossed aside the stack of pillows that form one wall of my nest and descended the steps to curl on the couch with my notebook and iPad, writing questions, marking examples and reading articles on technology and management. 

The following morning was the worst - I canceled most calls but took a deep breath and answered one. 

"Why," he asked - this first person I hired personally and coached proudly, "would this happen to such a good person?  Katie, I went to my parents and I talked to my wife and I went to church to pray for you.  I prayed so hard that this would change." 

I tried - so mighty was my effort but it was equally futile.  Unable to hold back sobs, I worked to gulp them back and told him that sometimes our plans didn't match God's plans.  That doesn't mean God doesn't love us - it just means we need to switch direction.  That he could absolutely be successful without me - all the talent and dedication was his.  There would be others to cheer him on!  This was a good company with amazing people who did great work.  And while it was a sad time, we would all be fine.  I promised between gasping sobs that we would all be fine. 

It was awful. 

But I reminded myself I've been through worse than this.  I watched Dad suffer and die.  But Mom had just gone in for her 5 year appointment and was healthy!  I was very financially sound - I could probably afford to be out of work for upwards of a year before it became unworkable.  I know God and His love.  And, I reminded myself, I had been unhappy.  And my love for these colleagues would have trapped me in this job so the forced departure was a blessing.  Albeit a painful one.

The interview, in contrast, was brilliant.  I asked a fraction of my questions but answered all of theirs.  I was completely open and honest, wanting to be authentic to the point of risking the job so that I found the right spot - not just a place to make money. 

"This will probably go fast," Boss-to-be had told me the day before and he was right.  "You'll talk to the guys and if they like you as much as I do, we'll have you in and then we'll both decide if we want to work together." 

I ended the third interview call and nodded.  "I really think I want to work with them," I told a sleepy Chienne, curled up in her bed by the fire.  She's lost hearing in one ear and smells like old dog and is has a heart murmur giving the vet increasing concern.  She blinked at me before nuzzling her head back into a pillow to nap and I curled up on my couch to read more about a new role in a new place. 

Monday, November 20, 2017

Major Rewrite, part 2

"Let's talk about it next week," my manager said one Friday afternoon when I approached him again.  I told him I felt better!  Was getting things done and feeling happier about the role.  I still got headaches but they were less severe.  I was still unhappy but more irritated than completely miserable.  A great deal of progress had been made and while I knew changes were coming and wanted to help the team as much as possible, waiting to understand my options was increasingly difficult.

A couple hours later, I received a LinkedIn message from the recruiter with a request to speak on Monday.  Surprised, I immediately accepted but only had 30 minutes in a day otherwise packed with meetings.  We negotiated and time and I moved a few items on my calendar to make it work and looked forward to the opportunity.

"I don't know," I mused when Mom asked what I was thinking on our weekly ride to church.  "I doubt I'll go anywhere - I love my team.  I'm very effective and know most of the answers now.  I make more money than we need.  I don't want to move.  So I think I'll stay, but it's always good to understand what's out there!"

I swallowed hard on Monday morning before dawn, checking my email and fighting back nausea.  I nodded in acceptance and looked over at Mom, playing Family Feud on her Kindle.

"Mom?" I waited until she pushed pause and looked over, staring at the "Important Meeting" that had appeared on my calendar.  "I have a meeting with HR and my manager today at 10.  They're letting me go."

"It says that?" she asked and I shook my head.  But that's what it meant, I knew, even as I worked through the denial phase.  Maybe they were going to beg me to stay after learning I was looking outside the company.  Ask if I would take a pay cut.  I've spent nearly a decade here - could it be that easy to end it?

Turns out it was.  I cried and we prayed and I took a shower.  Selected a black dress that I knew I'd never want to wear again.  Breathed through the pain and dread until the prayers eased it, leaving me feeling peaceful and ready.

"Let the games begin," I murmured as Taylor Swift asked if I was ready for it in my head.  I held my morning meetings, welcomed a new member to my manager's team and clutched my prayer cloth in my hand when I walked over to HR.

Eliminated position. Not performance related.  Difficult for all of us.  Severance package. Take the week off.

"Do you want me to leave so you can talk to your boss?" HR asked.

"No," I replied, having already cried and trying to pull it back together.

"Do you want him to leave so you can talk to me?

"No," I repeated, shaking my head and smoothing the knitted cloth between my fingers.

"Do you want the room so you can take some time?"

I choked out a laugh.  "I'd very much like to leave now."  So they nodded sympathetically and I escaped, emerging into the parking lot where I'd taken that walk.

"Please help me do this," I asked God again.  I called my mom and my closest colleague, telling her I'd meet her for lunch.

But first I got to do this 11AM interview I'd scheduled.  So I went and bought a soda from McDonalds with change I found in my car lest my throat get dry from the crying.  I furiously researched the company on my phone, trying to answer some of the big questions so I could sound semi-intelligent and attractive in a situation that had suddenly gone from exploratory to vital. 

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Major Rewrite, part 1

I have been unwell. 

After the depression treatment last year, I thought I'd be golden. 

I was wrong. 

Deprived of that outlet for my misery, I grew physically ill.  Sinus infections, persistent coughs, daily headaches that grew to near-constant migraines until I spent most of my waking hours in profound pain. 

I took a walk one day, taking each agonizing breath and trying to settle as I felt the depression gleefully attack my brain with sharpened claws.  I moved through the parking lot, feeling the aches in my joints, cramps in my muscles, clots in my synapses.

"I can do this," I muttered to myself, pressing on my chest to try to ease the ache there.  "You have to help me do this," I prayed to God.  "Give me strength to battle through these stupid arguments with some grace and kindness.  Let me get something - anything - done today.  Please let it be even slightly less futile."

And having finished my loop of the parking lot, I paused to watch the wild turkey prance across the western expanse of the property and plodded back to my desk.

"I'm disappointed," my boss would say before he stopped making eye contact.  "I need you here.  Engaged.  Happy.  You don't act like Katie anymore."

As I repeated that to Mom on our way to church, I admitted I don't feel like myself anymore.  The woman who writhed on the bed in the Emergency Room, terrified of the restlessness triggered by one of the drugs they'd given me bore little resemblance to the person I once was.  And even as I met a neurologist and took different drugs that eased the pain but ate holes in my short-term memory, work felt like such a struggle. 

"I'm so unhappy," I admitted to both Mom and manager.  "I don't think it's supposed to be like this.  We need to find another option."

I remember clicking that option in LinkedIn that opened my profile to recruiters.  I tried to rally at work, prioritizing carefully and giving the team as much of my best self as I could possibly muster. 

And - for a small number of scattered days - it started to get easier to breathe.  I stopped missing meetings.  Worked my way through my lists.  Adjusted to the medication so that I could recall both to whom I'd talked and what we discussed!  The white matter changes on my MRI were nothing to worry about, my neurologist assured me.  My psychiatrist was also positive about me pulling through that depressive episode. 

But I met with my closest colleague and held whispered conversations about upcoming layoffs. 

"I think it's me," I'd say and she'd argue that it was her who'd be let go.  "We're ridiculously paranoid," I finally decided after we'd exchanged counts of leaders who wouldn't look at us in the hallway.  "They need us here."

But when a recruiter reached out to assess my interest, I happily handed over my CV.  Unfortunately, it was a draft CV, littered with red text and "XXX" where I meant to write something suitably impressive.  She kindly asked for "a more detailed copy" and I glanced through the document and winced, wondering if I should just ignore the whole opportunity in my embarrassment. 

Instead, I shrugged, cleaned up the mistakes and sent off a better draft.  And then waited over the next 3 weeks to see what my current and future employers would do.