So, to recap.
I left a somewhat cushy job I’d held for close to two decades. My friends and family were chagrined; it had a high salary and great benefits. It was relatively easy. I know it seemed like a crazy move, but I didn’t feel good about staying there any longer. Over time, I had increasingly lost respect for the company, its inept decision-making process, and its dishonesty (not illegal, just hypocritical and delusional). It felt like I’d been there too long. I wanted to prove to myself that I had value in the big world.
Too, I had long been aware that at my advanced age, the longer I waited to leave, the harder it would be to find a new position. In fact, it took 18 months of sustained effort.
I finally got a job with a mature startup that turned out to have an “exploitative, bootlicking culture,” to quote an unnamed person whom I love dearly. According to said unnamed person, in startups this is common; but I didn’t know that going in. I got fired and I am someone who’s never been reprimanded, spoken to, reminded, etc. So I’m giving myself a pass on this one. I think it was subconsciously intentional; I would never have quit without another job lined up. That’s not how I roll. The commute was unbearable, and I couldn’t stomach the obsequiousness, much less participate. The CEO believed he was godlike. But, he was not. I was out of there in 10 weeks. The really sad thing is, most of the time I found the work to be interesting and stimulating. I learned new things. I liked some of the people quite a bit.
Though I was the oldest person there, what set me apart was more the commute problem. I wanted to start early and leave early to avoid traffic. That didn’t fly there. I wanted to get home to cook dinner; I have kids. My coworkers mostly didn’t have similar concerns. I was doomed from the start.
In less than a month, I successfully found and started a new job. I was proud of myself; that’s unheard of! Truth be told, I had started looking a few weeks earlier. I read the writing on the wall. Misread it to some degree, it seems, but I got the overall gist. The new job seemed like a great opportunity! It was much closer. The benefits were far better and started immediately, none of this three-month-wait shit. No startup this, it was, in fact an enormous global company. The job title and description sounded like something I had always wanted to get into. I was so happy! But.
There were problems. For example:
- I tried not to let it bother me, but the new office was almost ludicrously drab. It reminds me a bit of the scene in the beginning of the movie The Rapture, when the Mimi Rogers character is working in the call center and the camera pulls back to reveal hundreds of workers in identical gray cubicles. I read somewhere that it’s supposed to respresent hell (i.e., Hell), and I think that’s true. Anyway, this place has somewhat bigger cubicles, a lot of them, all gray, everything gray, row after row after row of gray cubicles. It’s depressing. It also seems absurd. How could someone have been allowed to make such bad design choices? Some days when I get to work, the monotonous grayness seems like a sadistic joke and I’m afraid I’ll start laughing hysterically and not be able to stop.
- I tried not to let it bother me, but the free coffee was awful. Worse than Keurig, which aspires to be mediocre. I think this coffee is even less environmentally friendly than Keurig; it comes in plastic sort of packets with more material than the K-cups. There are no decent coffee shops (or any coffee shops except for*) anywhere within walking distance. *There is a Dunkin Donuts on the main floor, but I don’t consider that worth the trip most days. Most days I make my own pour-over coffee in a risky and time-consuming process (risky because it would be so, so easy for me to knock my setup over and spill coffee all over the drab gray rug).
OK, so I care too much about coffee. Whatever. I like it and it doesn’t seem like too much to ask for! It helps me get through the day. It seems crazy to me not to provide good coffee. Like you wouldn’t intentionally buy your employees laptops that are known to die after a few months.
3. On the first day, a person appeared at my cubicle and told me he was going to help me get set up with all the various systems. I’ll call him Terry. Terry had a strangely formal way of speaking, and was immediately revealed himself to be a controlling asshole. I’ll give you an example. He told me he was going to show me how to make tea “so that it is possible to drink.” I like tea, and I thought he was going to show me that you first have to run water through the coffee machine to flush it out before making tea, or something along those lines. You know, the way you have to do with the Keurig. But no. There is a hot/cold water dispenser, and what he was showing me was how to add cold water to the tea to bring the temperature down. I could have come up with the add-cold-water method all by myself. But even more odd was the precise and jerkish way he gave directions:
“Start to add hot water. Keep going, keep going…Stop! OK, now add the cold water. More. Add more. Add some more. OK…Stop! That is how you make the tea drinkable.”
Gee, thanks. But in fact, I like to allow my tea to cool off on its own so that I can drink it when it’s at the hottest possible drinkable temperature. So no thanks.
Similarly, he showed me the key that locked all the gray furniture that came with my cubicle (filing cabinets and such), and directed me to keep it in my desk drawer.
Seriously? And, by the way, keeping the key in the unlocked desk drawer would defeat the purpose of a key, don’tcha think? I have to wonder if he was hoping to go through my things after hours.
Because…he had a hobby of prowling the office at night, when people were mostly gone, scavenging for office supplies in empty cubicles. He didn’t need these for himself, but wanted to use them for his onboarding activities. I didn’t understand why he seemed so proud of himself, that my desk had a stapler and scissors, but it must be because these were great “finds” of his.
At my longstanding job, there was a supply room stocked with many commonly used items; and one could also order supplies fairly easily. I had no idea that at this job, there was no such thing.
Sadly, without Terry I truly wouldn’t have been able to do any work. There were so many systems, so many calls to the two call centers that had to be made, so many confusing and redundant processes. Quite the mess. The company is in a state of flux, an nowhere is this more obvious than during the onboarding process.
For the first couple of weeks, every day Terry would appear at my desk with an agenda of the day’s activities, all related to being able to use the Internet and VPN, etc. (I am not kidding). After a few days, I had actual work to do, but he never seemed to want to leave. I didn’t want to get on his bad side, and it was tricky to send him away but not offend him.
I’m sure you’ll agree: WTF? Right? Most people have stuff to do at work, and even if they are willing to help others out, are happy enough to go back to their assigned tasks when they can. Not him, though.
One day he brought his laptop over to the empty cubicle behind me and worked there for a few hours. I wondered if he might be planning a stealth move into my cubicle, with me in it. I am a fat old woman (sad but true), but I suppose I must have seemed vulnerable to him (even sadder). It’s a story for another time, but he and I are no longer speaking. Which is just fine with me.
Those problems are minor. I wouldn’t quit over the likes of them. Even #3, which started to border on harassment, wasn’t that big of a problem in the end (I’m not as defenseless as I seem). But there was a problem, or constellation of problems, that isn’t so negligible. And that is, that no one agrees on what my job is and no one knows how to do it.