May 11, 2000
Extending the Sentence?


Three more of my co-workers are jumping ship this week: a young female engineer, the office manager from our third-largest branch office, and Barbara from the Marketing Department. That's -- how many people? ten? fifteen? twenty? I've lost track, frankly -- who have bailed (or been unceremoniously tossed overboard) since the beginning of the year. At the rate things are going, I'm gonna be paddling this canoe all by myself before long.

(But hey! At least maybe I'll finally get a window seat.)

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Yesterday was Barbara's last day. A friend and mentor since my first day here -- she used to cover the front desk for me whenever I needed that sneaky extra *potty/coffee/sanity break* -- Barbara will be missed, not just by me but by anybody who appreciates professionalism, punctuality and tasteful e-mail jokes about crotch rot.

Frankly, I don't know how the marketing department is going to survive without her.

I know that Barbara has been surreptitiously looking for employment elsewhere for at least a year. When I was still at the front desk, I accidentally intercepted a résumé she was attempting to fax to a prospective employer. The discreet and sympathetic way I returned it to her helped cement our friendship, I think. Plus I've worked closely enough with her to witness the nonsense she's had to put up with. (I was here the infamous night that Franz ordered Barbara to print out the entire contents of her hard drive.) So her departure probably comes as less of a surprise to me, probably, than it did to some of the other [totally clueless] folks in management.

She stopped by my office yesterday afternoon, while she waited for Franz to sign her final paycheck. (He signed it with a little smiley face & a hand-scribbled "We'll miss you!" in one corner.) I told her that it just wasn't going to be the same around here without her, and admitted that I was frankly envious. "You're getting out of here before the whole place blows up," I said wistfully. And I confided that I'd been drawing up some preliminary *escape plans* myself ... throwing out a résumé, here and there.

"I've been Franz' assistant for a year now," I said. "I feel my brain turning into Quaker Oats."

She reminded me that she's been here a lot longer than I have. "I've tick ... tick... tick...seen this place blow up a couple of times already," she said ... the implication being that the Totem Pole Company blows up on a semi-regular basis and it's no big deal: when the smoke clears, everybody gets new business cards. And then she gave me some unexpected advice.

"Stay at least another year," she said.

I think she could tell by the pained expression on my face that this was not the advice I wanted to hear. (Especially while I'm sitting there clipping sump pump installation coupons out of the Napa Valley Register.)

"No, listen to me," she said urgently. "Stay here another year. That puts two years as assistant to the president of the company on your résumé. After that, you can go anywhere."

A career administrative professional with maybe ten years' experience on me, Barbara was here last year to witness my meteoric rise from Receptionist to Executive Ass. She was among the tiny handful of people who didn't bet against me in the "How Long Will She Last?" company pool. She knows as well as I do that my "success" is due in equal parts to good timing, good skills and good old-fashioned dumb luck. And she probably has a much better sense of how I can parlay that stroke of Cinderella-ish good luck into a career.

(Not that I've suddenly changed my mind & decided that I want a *career,* mind you. I still feel very strongly that my LIFE is my career: I just want a job. But I wouldn't mind having a job that pays me ten bucks more an hour ... and doesn't require me to antibacterialize anything.)

I promised Barbara that I would "think" about it, and we exchanged personal e-mail addresses, and we parted in the warm and weary manner of soldiers who have endured lengthy battle together.

Today there is a temp sitting at her old desk.

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I dunno, Dear Reader. Can I handle another whole year here without losing my remaining four or five *sanity molecules* ... ? Or would I wind up sitting in a mental ward in six months, gluing macaroni noodles to a paper plate and singing "Alles ist Vergänglich" ... ?

The idea is making my head hurt.

On the other hand, what if she's right? What if two years really IS the magic number? If I were an employer and I was looking at *my* résumé, and I saw nine years' experience as a receptionist, followed by one year as an executive assistant ... would I be likely to consider the applicant fully qualified for a higher-level admin position? Or would I be curious as to why she only stayed for one year in her previous job? (Would I secretly wonder, What happened? Wasn't she able to handle it?)

Obviously I'm going to have to give this some serious thought.

Fortunately -- or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it -- I haven't heard back on any of the résumés I've recently sent out into the ether. And I'm duty-bound to not make any big career decisions until David and I have journeyed north to TicTac next month, for Daughter #1's high school graduation. (See: the checks don't write themselves.)

So I have some time to mull this one over.

I'm just worried that if I wait too long to think about it, I'm going to wake up one day and discover I'm alone at the Totem Pole Company. With Franz.  And that he's gonna be ordering me to antibacterialize the contents of my hard drive, right there in the %#&*! canoe.

throw a rock