January 16, 2001
Nine Eight Working Days


He is still finding ways to make me crazy.

Even though I know I'm leaving ... even though I know this is just temporary, and that there is a verifiable light at the end of the tunnel, and that nine working days from now I will be able to ditch the St. John's Wort permanently, if I want to ... he is still finding ways to reduce me to a quivering, weeping nervous wreck before the second cup of coffee.

And he doesn't even have to be in the office to do it.

His first voicemail message came in just after 5 p.m. last night, according to the timestamp. Technically, I was still at the office when the message landed: I was standing outside in the hallway, just beyond Reception Area Hell, watching for David's Subaru to pull up in the parking lot. I could hear my phone ringing. I saw the little voicemail light start to blink furiously as soon as the ringing stopped. I knew precisely who was on the other end of the line: no one else calls me after 5 p.m. and actually expects me to BE there.

(Which is precisely why I didn't answer it.)

Instead ... I went home. I enjoyed a quiet evening with David, cleaning out our closets and watching junk TV. I talked to Jaymi on the phone. I read my bridal magazines. I had a bowl of low-fat ice cream. I went to bed early, gently anesthetized by two spoonsful of Benadryl. I knew that my voicemail message would still be right there waiting for me, come morning.

When I got into the office this morning, the voicemail count had mushroomed to nine, overnight.

The first message started out with Franz coughing wetly into his cell phone. "I've been sick today," he said, sounding wan and sad. He tiptoed around the subject of my resignation. "I'd like you to tell me what's going on with you ... when we had lunch before Christmas you seemed so happy, and now things have changed again ... just let me know what's bothering you, and let me see what we can do to fix it." He concluded the message with a polite request that I fax a copy of his time sheet to him at home in the morning, "whenever you get in."

The second message, landing hot on the heels of the first one -- I checked the timestamp, and they were no more than two or three minutes apart -- could have been left by a totally different human being. "I'm on the phone with Dr. So-and-So's office, and it looks like you've screwed up the schedule again!" the message screamed. "Fax a copy of my calendar for the week of the 22nd immediately to me at home!" 


The third message, delivered maybe half an hour later, according to the time stamp -- sometime around quarter to six or so -- saw the return of Humble Franz. "Wow," he said, faux sheepishly. "I just looked at the time and I guess you're not still there, huh? Let's get together first thing in the morning and talk about everything ... Okey-dokey?"

The rest of the messages in my voicemailbox were the usual first-thing-in the-morning, Franz-in-a-frenzy stuff. Franz cancelling meetings. Franz rescheduling meetings. Franz requesting meetings that would eventually be cancelled and rescheduled. Taken individually, the messages were less than nothing: a mere blip on the radar screen of annoyance. But taken as a whole, they were everything I hate about this job: contradictory, and condescending, and rude, and boring as hell, and incomprehensible, and insulting ... and completely infuriating. By the time I'd finished transcribing half of them, I was dangerously near tears. I knew that if I picked up the phone and attempted to answer his messages, right then, I would unload on him with both barrels.

"You ask 'What's going on with me?'," I would scream. "HERE'S what's going on with me. I hate coming into the office in the morning, checking my messages, and having YOUR voice set the tone for the rest of my day. [thanks, mizz.] I hate the fact that each voicemail message you leave me completely contradicts the one that came before it. I hate spending an entire morning telephoning your platoon of dentists, doctors, pharmacists and building contractors. I hate arranging your fudking colonoscopy. I hate being forced to run interference between you and your family ... I hate your stoopid "living documents" and your stoopid "tickler files" and your stoopid "okey-dokeys" ... I hate taking the heat for your bad management practices ... and right now, Franz, I pretty much hate YOU."

But I don't want to do that. I don't really hate my boss, for one thing. I may hate working for him, but I don't hate him personally. For another thing, I want to exit this position with my dignity -- and my professional references -- still intact. So even though lunch was still a good hour and a half away ... I took a walk. I put on my coat, and I switched my phone over to "DO NOT DISTURB," and I walked ten blocks over to Long's Drugs, where I loaded up a shopping cart full of bridal magazines, low-fat cereal bars and ridiculously expensive skin care products.

By the time I got back to Reception Area Hell, I was forty-six bucks poorer, but forty-six degrees calmer. Just that brief bit of reconnection with the outside world had helped to restore my sanity.

I picked up the phone and finished transcribing the voicemail messages. I cancelled all of the old meetings, rescheduled all of the meetings that needed to be rescheduled, and pencilled in all of the new meetings. I called the colonoscopy doctor and requested a list of pre-procedure instructions, sent conciliatory e-mail to Franz' son, updated all four of his personal calendars through the end of the year 2001, and ordered a new floor mat for his office.

And then I crossed another day off the calendar.

      *      *      *      *      *      *

In the meantime, as is usually the case whenever I'm embroiled in crisis (and frankly, when am I not 'embroiled in crisis'?), the audience rallies.

Good, solid, life-affirming advice for anyone contemplating a difficult career move:

" ... I think you know just from the relief you're feeling, that part of being *healthy* in jobs as in relationships is knowing when staying is worse than letting go. And with this one, you're doing it just right - you're walking away well liked and respected by the people there (yep, even Franz, I betcha!) and even if you don't decide to take the other folk up on their job offers, jot down their phone numbers, because those are references, as is the HR person, and who knows when they might decide to jump ship for greener pastures and need someone they already know they can work with (or knows if they might know someone who knows someone, blah blah).

You're also walking out of there with real experience in one of the toughest jobs out there - and it's one you did very well. It's also one that has a ton of skills that go with it that can be translated into just about anything you can think of. (There are an ***incredible*** number of career fields, I've found, where everything about it is admin - except it doesn't say 'admin' and doesn't pay admin.)

As a veteran of bad bosses and feeling totally unsuited for anything that wasn't job hell, I've found out that the worst boss is far more quickly forgotten than the good ones are - Franz will be nothing but humorous stories about a week after you leave.... and once you get somewhere where making you crazy isn't part of the boss' gameplan, you'll forget even those, except when someone else talks about *their* Franz, and then you'll just shake your head in amazement that you kinda sorta remember dealing with someone like that once.

Y'know... those of us who didn't skyrocket up the career ladder according to the American dream can consider ourselves doing pretty good if every step is a step up - either in pay, benefits, job satisfaction, or a better environment. And it seems to me the way to that is to regard ourselves just a little bit higher each time... "I *deserve* no less than something better than what I'm leaving." Helps weed out the real crap jobs, and it's funny how the better ones only become visible once we see ourselves as being worthy of them. Do you know that four years ago, I was working at a Hallmark, and all I really wanted was a job with a chair?

I'm just rambling to say what I am sure you already know - that you do deserve better, will be able to find better, and that from here on in you're going to be able to pick the job that best suits YOU instead of settling because you have to.

And once you do that even once, you never, EVER have to go back to the old way.

Major congratulations on everything, professional and personal!"

Thanks, Lynda.

two years ago: housekeeping

throw a rock