It seems weird today, but there was a time when “out of the office” truly meant incommunicado. And once, about 15 years ago, I left town for a family vacation and a much-needed recharge, and had not one shred of news from the office for at least two weeks. It was bliss.
A couple of months earlier I had made the horrible decision to hire my friend, Sparkly. In my defense, she had looked good on paper, and her references – all from people I knew and trusted – were stellar. But in close quarters, her boisterous behavior and machine-gun laugh put me on edge. She had no work ethic and I started to suspect she lacked even the rudimentary skills to do her job. What she did have was an ability to get people to do things for her. She was just so … Sparkly. Everyone wanted to be part of her retinue.
The problem was how to manage her. There had to be a way to utilize her strengths and … well I didn’t know what the heck I was going to do about the other stuff. But I returned from my trip resolute, sure I could turn things around with a good attitude and a stiff upper lip.
Maybe moving her out of my office would alleviate our mutual desire to smash each other’s faces in with our keyboards. It was worth a try. So, while I was out of town, Sparkly moved to cubicle-land. I returned to a quiet office.
Only … quiet wasn’t the word for things. This was more than quiet. I was in the middle of an office with a couple dozen other women and no one was talking to me anymore. No one asked how my vacation went, or even made much eye contact.
In the pre-Sparkly days, I’d been a de-facto office counselor. It wasn’t a role I relished. It’s not like I was nice or anything. I was, however, the first person to utilize our bring-your-baby-to-work policy with my first son. People used to file in all day to coo at the baby. When I was nursing him, they’d come in and chatter at me while I tried to type and balance a suckling kid on my lap.
Something about having a kid stuck to your boob makes people think you care to hear about their problems, I guess. In any case, it was hard to duck out of the room thus encumbered when someone would swoop in to dump all their angst on me.
It was all very weird, and the impromptu counseling sessions continued after I’d weaned Jack and sent him off to a bonafide daycare.
Fast forward about a year or so, I’d hired Sparkly, realized it was a colossal mistake, and run off for vacation.
So, the quiet-thing was new. Nobody stopped by my office anymore. Nobody trapped me in the lunchroom to tell me about her problems. No one stuck her head in the door anymore to see if I had “just a sec.”
At first it was heaven. Then it was unnerving. Then it started to feel lonely.
Finally I was able to corner a gal I knew would level with me.
Sparkly, it turned out, had spent the time I was away regaling my coworkers with stories about how I was a control freak (okay, true), and wouldn’t give her enough information or resources to do her job. She spun some tale about having been offered my old job at my previous workplace, and implied she was overqualified.
None of that sounds like much, but it was all I could get out my colleague. She looked at the floor and stammered as she told me how awful it was that I’d made Sparkly so miserable, then ducked out of the room.
Once upon a time, there were a couple of weeks in eighth grade when I wasn’t getting along with my best friend – the queen bee of junior high. Every day of those weeks, I would be on my way to school feeling my stomach tie itself in knots, wondering what new tortures she’d concocted. Eventually, my queen bee friend found a new focus for her for her aggression and things got better for me.
That time in eighth grade was what this felt like. I found myself dreading going into work. I cringed when I heard Sparkly’s loud laugh from across the building.
Screw it. Screw all of that nonsense. I was a professional. I was freaking MANAGEMENT, for crissake. I was a grown-ass woman and a mom. I had gone through 27 hours of natural childbirth. I hadn’t had a full night’s sleep in eighteen months, and I had a hair-trigger temper to show for it. I knew from experience I could breast-feed in front of a full board meeting holding an Al Pacino expression.
Are YOU looking at ME?
I was tough and I knew it.
… And, yeah, I pretty much cried in my car on the way home a couple nights a week.
I wish I could go back and let eighth-grade me know how quickly things would get better, just like it would be nice to fill 31 year-old me in on that, too. Because things would get better.
But first, they got … interesting.
I didn’t realize when I started out that this would be a multi-chapter blog entry. My apologies. Have you ever been disappointed in adults who act like adolescents? Have you ever had to deal with social aggression in the workforce? Lay it on me.
Hang in there, I’ll wrap this up next time. The favor of your vote is still appreciated. One click will do ya.
Photo by: Personal Creations