April 30, 2002
The Reviews Are In

Midway through the afternoon, my boss races up to my desk and drops a large manila envelope in front of me. 

"This isn't the way I wanted to do this," she pants. "Next year I promise we'll do it right." And then she dashes off down the hallway to yell at Confused English-As-Second-Language Telephone Installation Guy some more.

I open the envelope and peek inside. It is my official Dirt Company performance evaluation.

Oh god.

I've been sweating this moment for weeks ... ever since rumors first started circulating that *Job Review Time* was approaching. (*Job Review Time* being, in my opinion, only slightly more fun than *Posing For Company Photo Time* ... *Peeing Into Tiny Sterile Paper Cup Time* ... *Auditioning For The Company Softball Team Time.*) Right away I tried to plead New Girl on the Block. How could I be given an 'annual review,' I whined, if I've only been with the company for six months? But my protests fell on deaf ears  --  or they would have fallen on deaf ears, had I protested out loud  --  and the next thing I knew, I was dutifully submitting my self-evaluation to corporate headquarters. 

I was purposely vague. During my first six months with the company, I wrote, my focus has been to familiarize myself with personnel and procedures. I figured this would absolve me of a multitude of sins and New Girl on the Block screw-ups. 

Two weeks later, JoAnne submitted her evaluation of my evaluation. The next step was suposed to be JoAnne and me meeting in her office for the official interview, where *she* would discuss my strengths and weaknesses while *I* wept discreetly into a Kleenex. We were scheduled to do this last Wednesday, as a matter of fact. But between the Mold Seminars last week and this latest Telephone System Installation Debacle (our calls are now being routed through Upper Mongolia, apparently), there hasn't been time for an occasional Tinky-Winkle break, let alone a formal sit-down meeting for two.

This then, apparently, is my review.

Heart crashing around in my chest like an untethered cannonball, I slide the first page of the memo out of the envelope. But only as far as the top inch or two. I'll read ONE paragraph. No. Wait. I'll read one SENTENCE. That should be enough to gauge the overall tone of the review. If it's good news, I'll go ahead and read the rest of it.

If it's bad news, of course, I'll lock myself in the Dirt Company bathroom and vomit for the rest of the afternoon.

I hate stuff like this. In twenty-five years of professional Administrative Assitude, the annual performance evaluation is the one little bit of corporate tap-dance I have the most difficulty with.

Knife Factory Supervisor: "You tend to be too sensitive, Secra."
Secra (bursting into tears): "I am NOT!"

I suppose the thing I hate most about the process is how vulnerable it makes me feel ... how awkward and unprotected and scrutinized. All of a sudden I'm twelve-year-old Secra again, weeping over her Algebra grade while Mr. Bartholick scolds her for "not living up to her potential."

(Accepting constructive criticism graciously is a life skill I'm still working on, thirty years later.)

This is not to say that I'm expecting a negative review. I'm reasonably certain that JoAnne is happy with my job performance. She can be maddeningly inscrutable sometimes, when it comes to verbal cues -- she rarely says stuff like "Thank you" or "Good job" or "Way to change that fax toner cartridge, Secra!" -- but I believe I've lived up to her expectations. I'm professional. I'm dependable. I'm neat. I'm organized. I don't use petty cash to pay my electric bill. I don't indulge in cyber sex on the lobby computer. I don't keep a half-empty bottle of champagne in my bottom desk drawer.

I manage to make her laugh, every once in a while.

Still ... the only way I'm going to know for sure is to read the damn review. I take a deep breath, slide the top page of the memo all the way out of the envelope, and read the very first comment, under the heading "Quantity and Quality of Work."

'Secra is a dream,' it says, in JoAnne's neat, careful handwriting.


I yank the rest of the memo from the envelope. What else did she say about me? I skim through the technical ratings -- Thoroughness: 4, Job Knowledge: 4, Coffee-Making: 5 -- and zero in on her written comments. There is a lot of stuff about how quickly I've picked up Dirt Company protocol, and about my proficiency in certain software programs, and about how 'professional' I am with clients and co-workers. 'Every task she is given is completed almost before you can complete the request,' JoAnne writes. 'She is the best thing that has happened to this office.'

At the end of the evaluation form is a final brief comment. 'Secra is everything a supervisor could ask for,' it says.

What can I tell you? I always cry at job performance evaluations. This one is no exception.

A couple of days later, I'm standing in the Dirt Company kitchen, watering my National SecraTerri Day flowers. The potted pink flowers are from Jane the Business Development Manager; the big splashy chrysanthemums are from the geotech department. I also got a stained-glass picture frame from one of the environmental managers, a box of Krispy Kreme Doughnuts (which I gave to the geotech guys) and a fifty-dollar bill tucked into a 'Thank You' card.

JoAnne walks into the kitchen as I'm dumping a packet of Floral Fresh into the chrysanthemum water.

"You know," she says, "I'm sorry I didn't get a chance to do anything for you for SecraTerri's Day." She was just so overwhelmed, she says, with the Mold Seminar and the phone system problems and the monthly billing and the 43,897,621 other things that she's busy being overwhelmed with at the moment, and by the time she remembered SecraTerri's Day, it had already come and gone. She seems genuinely distressed.

"JoAnne," I say -- laying a hand on her arm and looking into her eyes, with every *molecule* of sincerity I possess -- "that performance review was the best present you could have possibly given me." And I tell her that after I read my review, David had to drive us home with the sun-roof cracked open, even though it was pouring-down rain.

"Why was that?" she asks, looking puzzled.

"Because that was the only way we could fit my big head into the car," I reply.

She laughs.

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