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longest post ever, or why i'm amazed i haven't quit yet

late summer last year i wrote a long post about why i love my job.

i reread it today. the calm before the [latest shit]storm. i sound SO young.

i read back even farther, and was astonished to realize that i never even fully described the situation that changed everything in my life. sure, i've made some comments about work from time to time, but i never really explained why things were the way they were. as i type this, i remember, rather vaguely, that i had made a decision to not write about it because, well, management, but in retrospect i suspect that the outlet possibly could have helped my sanity.

just under three years ago, my boss' boss and the head of hr told me by phone--while i sat on the floor of my bedroom (it was paul's first day of first grade, i think, so i took him to school)--that they had just laid off my boss. in the same breath: would i be interested in taking his place with regard to my department? (my boss oversaw--nominally--three departments. he had been with us since late 1998, but picked up the other two within the last few years.) speechless. um, YES? but i wasn't really taking over... i was getting a salary bump, but my title would remain the same (supervisor). and three members of the department would be spun-off into their own little group for the boss' boss to oversee.

whatever. as my assistant said, "congrats! you've been promoted from supervisor to supervisor!"

we managed to survive the first year (september to september), and sometime into the second i realized that i wasn't half-bad at this management shit, and life settled down. i grew a thicker skin and developed a combative streak. also at some point into the second year my former boss' boss--now MY boss--became a micromanaging jerk, stopped being a micromanaging jerk, and became my friend. we settled into the roles and learned how to play them, but then he got promoted, and our time to connect dwindled to almost nothing. it was frustrating enough having a boss on the opposite coast, but having a boss who suddenly needed to hold HIS boss' hand 24/7 meant that there was no one to even consider holding mine when i needed it. (for that, i learned to rely on the other members of my trinity.)

i'm not a needy female. but sometimes i long for some support, maybe a little validation.

the second year brought me two of my greatest successes--one, the turning a longtime enemy into a staunch supporter and friend, and two, the reuniting of the two separate groups of the department under my management. it also signaled a beginning of a trend i couldn't have foreseen: the loss of one of my researchers (to a transfer).

the third year brought me the painful conclusion of that trend: the loss of two more employees (to a reduction in force). and because of the timing and several previously scheduled projects, i couldn't immediately regroup to reassign their duties--so i took on the bulk of them myself.

it worked, off and on. when things would slow down, i'd catch up. when things sped up, i'd get behind. when things were good, i did things like... sleep. i started taking a lunchtime yoga class with some of my employees. when things were bad, i did my best brit impression and downplayed my unhappiness.

but then things got very very bad.

my relationship with my boss has been rather complicated. he's a nice guy, an awesome drinking buddy, and we openly do the work-wife/work-husband thing. (yeah, so i'm the favorite work-wife, but what does that mean? he has at least three.) he's hardworking, a creative thinker, a convincing speaker, etc. etc. etc. but he's so busy he doesn't have the time to think about the things he says he'll think about, much less do the things he says he's going to do. his follow-through, both personal and professional, sucks. and yet... because he's been so kind to me, and because he's been so [occasionally] helpful, i feel like there's a debt i can't repay. logic tells me this is stupid, but i can never fully shut down that feeling. even after everything has gone to hell and i'm livid and hysterical and shouting at cam that i owe my boss nothing, well, he'll call and tell me something he did for me, and i all but fold and whisper that my love for him knows no bounds. and if he shows up in person, forget it. cam says it's like magic. he's like an anti-depressant. he shows up, the sun shines, i feel sassy and optimistic. it usually takes a week or so for the feeling to fade, but in a life of lows, a temporary high can be... worth it. to this day, he calls, i roll my eyes, but he brings a tiny sunshiny spot in a dark day, even when i know he's not saying anything substantive or even realistic.

for a long time, i scoffed at the idea of leaving because i couldn't bear the idea of leaving my group. the spun-off group, they could survive on their own, but the others are my children. but after the worst year ever, i finally admitted to myself that maybe they would survive under new management, but if i kept at this pace without support, i wouldn't survive my own. my work bff has been ranting for ages that what i've been doing is just not sustainable, which i know and understand, but all this ranting ever does is frustrate me or fill me with despair.

paul is usually too obsessed with himself or his dad to notice that things are bad with me, but nola notices when the "nola, please" moments increase in frequency.

nola: let's play a game.
me: okay.
nola: you ask me to play a game.
me: okay--nola, let's play a game!
nola: [turning away, pretending to type on a blackberry] no, please, i'm working.
me: oh my god.

i often felt torn talking to cam about his work situation because he was clearly unhappy enough to have an actual quitting timeframe (the end of a project), even though he was supportive of me leaving my job. i never wanted him to feel trapped by my misery. i felt that his situation was possibly worse because the pain came with one person, and it came on fast. i reasoned with myself. well, my descent into hell has been slower, so i can bear it. when things came to a head, i felt entirely comfortable telling him i thought he should quit. i'm glad he did. i do think his situation was intolerable in a way mine wasn't.

right now we're coming off the worst month of my working life. i thought nothing could beat october, but i was so totally wrong. may was so amazingly, astonishingly awful, so painful, so sleepless, so alcoholic, so... wearying and soul-killing and heart-sickening. i almost quit on thursday, the very last day of the month. little sleep, lots of coffee, lots of tears. there were so many different projects, emergencies, problems, challenges, issues. most of them probably would have been fine on their own, but the combination was overwhelming. opportunistic hiring, planned hiring, contract hiring, new business, training, teaching, an injury to one of my employees, another department overstepping boundaries.... it wouldn't end. the lack of support from higher levels felt even more painful than usual.

in retrospect, i feel like i sound melodramatic and trite, but i was probably averaging 14-15 hours of work a day, 6-7 days a week, for weeks. sometimes (and this covers the last three years) i get to the point on weekends that i need to get out, but i spend much of that time glued to my blackberry in tears so it's almost a total waste. this past month was no exception. nights didn't belong to anyone but work, but i struggled to try to at least pretend there was balance. one night i remember (and it was a weeknight, so i felt decadent) agreeing to go for a 15-minute walk with cam and kids sometime before 8 pm, and i spent the entire time pushing nola's tricycle and barely noticing where we were going because i was looking at my blackberry for most of the time. i think i even mentioned to someone that i was on a walk, feeling guilty that i was on my blackberry and not on my computer, knowing that everyone else was sitting in front of a computer.

after one particularly wretched day, i told the senior member of my trinity that i would quit when the latest project was all over. then i said something similar to my boss, who kinda sorta talked me off that ledge for that moment. but then on the next to last day of the month, something else happened that put me teetering on the edge again. someone was hired in another office to perform a function my department without my consent or even my input. i sent a very politely questioning email in response. i told cam that if it was just a misunderstanding, i'd shrug it off and not worry about it, but if it wasn't a misunderstanding--if i actually did have an accurate read of the situation--it was a fucking quitting offense and to hell with them. i saw the email come into my inbox in the middle of the night, gritted my teeth and refused to look at it.

of course it wasn't a misunderstanding. the next morning, i read the email, burst into angry tears and forwarded it to my bff. then i sent it to gc and waited. he indicated that he hadn't been asked to approve the situation, which immediately put all the burden on my boss. then, true to my sense of him, he very rationally laid out reasons why we should let it work. i knew he would respond that way, and i rely on him to behave the way he does. it's balance. then he told me to call him, and he proceeded to fill me in on an entire year's worth of crap above my paygrade. and he made me promise to not quit that day.

with the bff's help, i wrote another very polite email--this time to my boss to express my disappointment. (i originally wrote "resent," but he made me change it.) i set it up to be delivered at 6:30, so my boss possibly wouldn't get it until the next morning. but he got it immediately and responded that it was news to him. the next morning, he called and said that he understood my concerns and shared them--and also talked about how he had voiced the same concerns when talk of the hire had originally come up, and how he had essentially shouted down the proposal initially, so he, too, was totally surprised that it had gone through.

so off the ledge i stepped. my boss has the amazing ability to make me fall in love in him while simultaneously hating him for what feels like years of neglect. it's a skill. he will go far, if he can ever get out from under of the thumb of his boss.

i also found out that my boss sort of lied (omission? or did i believe what i wanted to believe? so heathers.) to me about my role with the spin-off group from my department. how and when did i find out? when i logged into the review system so i could start drafting annual reviews. well.

the hits, they kept on coming.

so what to do? who fucking knows. but the ledge gets narrower and narrower, and i suspect that it's just going to get harder and harder to keep me from stepping off, and maybe if i continue my current trend of whining like a wee baby when times get rough, those who care may cease to care at some point.



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