The Cupcake Conundrum

Some days, everything goes right.  The sun shines without making you sweat or burn.  You get the last piece of cake at the bakery.  You are a hero at work and your coworkers cheer your achievements and appreciate your help.  But then there are the other days, when you get less than your daily allowance of victories and successes.  I seemed to be having a lot more of those lately.

I think it’s my mother’s fault.  A few weeks ago when she bought dessert for a family dinner, she decided that no one needed more than half a cupcake.  You can’t make this up.  Of course this is the same lady that told my nieces parent that their daughter was fat.  For the record, I’m the only in the family who is fat.  One of my nieces is on the heavier side, but she is most definitely not fat.  And members of my family obsess over another niece’s weight because, in my opinion, she might be 3-5 pounds from her ideal weight.  Let’s be honest, they obsess over weight period.  Its not healthy.  Yes, my family is meshuggah.  Of course if this is all we have to bitch about, we are in good shape.  We have more, but I’ve no intention of talking about that.

That half a cupcake became my albatross.   Try as I might, I can’t get rid of my annoyance that my mother felt empowered to cut my caloric intake options.  I believe at 50 I am now the master of that domain and her need to make that decision for me hangs around my neck, dragging me down.  Metaphorically.

Things started to go sideways at work.  Not in a big way, just an overwhelming avalanche of pebbles, covering my feet and surging ever upwards with the intent of covering my face and inevitable suffocation.  Perhaps I exaggerate, but only a smidgeon.

I have been struggling with a few people lately.  My stress level is already up because my major project is a complete clusterfuck.  In the midst of trying to find alternatives and build temporary solutions, that direct work was taken from me and given to another.  Not that I’m still not responsible for the project, I am.  I felt like I failed to the top. Moved out of the way, as I was to manage all the subprojects that other people were managing.  It didn’t help that every one of those people took status straight to my boss and skipped me.  I could only get information from him, what information there is.

Oh, and that wonderful person that took over the issues I was trying to solve?  He decided that each strategy I employed, each decision I had made was wrong and took each project/issue in different directions.    it was hard not to read between the lines of his “you are so stupid, look how smart I am” game plan. It’s a cousin to the NIH (not invented here stratagem.) All I could do was watch and answer questions.  And of course the general feeling in the office reinforced my feelings of inadequacy.  A short conversation with my boss left me with the feeling he thought I was part of the problem.  And then he was unavailable for 4 days.  Nothing left but introspection.

I hadn’t felt like this in 10 years.  I had a bought with depression about 10 year ago.  I had a senior position with a Fortune 500 firm.  I was outspoken and always did what was in my boss’ best interests, defending his strategies and organization.  I was well paid and influential far beyond what one might have thought on first glance.  Sometimes I fought the edicts from headquarters because while it might make sense for some divisions, it was harmful to ours.  I also was good at telling the Emperor he was not wearing clothes. I now know that there is a downside to being right too often.   After finishing a horrible 2 year assignment handed down from the Ivory Tower and being a hero to my boss and his organization, I was immediately demoted and relieved of 95% of my responsibility and authority.  Seriously, backslaps on Monday and demoted on Friday. Someone even had the audacity to say that my job would be in jeopardy if I wasn’t in the office by 8am every day.  I worked 9am to 7pm (or later) every day at this point.

I sank pretty low.  At 40 a large part of my ego was tied up in my career and accomplishments.  I was seriously depressed.  Anti-depressants helped.  They kept me around long enough to finish another project and kick me in the head with “we can only give 60% of your agreed upon bonus, because corporate won’t let us give you more.” And “Today is your last day.  It wasn’t our decision.”  Those days were the bottom.  To some folks I must have been a villain.  I know I wasn’t to most of my team and coworkers.  Those were dark days but I got through them.

The last few weeks felt similar.  I felt my Joie de Vivre slipping away.  I pretended to be basically ok and pressing forward.  There were many other things weighing me down. I’m sure I wasn’t as affable and on my game as I should have been.  And still I was annoyed with the great cupcake decision of 2012.  Thank god they make great Greyhounds at Van Kleef, right?  Someone described me as having layers, like an onion.  Several were rotten.

Previously one of my coworkers answered my questions on the financial part of a subproject of my project with “Lee, you are asking questions that have already been answered.” In email, of course.  I immediately dragged the offender to conference room to explain that it was my job to understand the answers, and if I didn’t have them he should explain them.  He couldn’t understand why I would take offense at such a statement of fact. In his mind there was no way I should have inferred that he didn’t want to tell me.  I explained in no uncertain terms that his note was rude, insensitive and out of line and he needed to work on his communication skills.

Monday brought the tipping point.  In trying to help Mr. Sensitivity with questions he had – making no judgments on if he really needed the information – I received an incendiary email.  He thanked me for my “layman’s” opinions, but he was an engineer and the answers I gave him were surely flawed.  He went so far to disagree with my principle motivation in one area, telling me he couldn’t believe that. There were further implications (if A, then B) that I was incompetent.  I was livid.  More than livid.

Others were on this email thread.  More than one laughed at his audacity and inept communications.  Another called him a douche.  I made sure I wasn’t over reacting.  I wasn’t.

Eliminating everyone else from the email chain, I shot off a strongly worded, but polite email that pointed out his disrespect, his implication that I wasn’t even qualified to ask engineers questions and relay those answers to him and why it troubled me.  Of course I added that as a layman, I wouldn’t trouble him with confusing him by trying to help him any longer by answering questions.  He could wait for others to be available.  If I hadn’t told my boss I would work with this guy, I would be working hard to change this.  In this case I can’t.

To make matters even worse he responded to my last email with an explanation of why I am a layman and that he’s an engineer and I must “surely understand…”  All he did was underline that he had no respect for my technical knowledge.  He had no reason to apologize, just that no disrespect was intended.  Seriously? For the record, there are few IT related topics I’m not qualified to chime in on.  The expert?  Rarely.  But I know the experts and I am a problem solver and this was my project.  I have lots to contribute and I planned on contributing.  I had had enough of all this related bullshit and I was tired of it spilling over to the rest of my life.

Things can be dicey when you are a contractor.  You are a guest, serving at the pleasure of the person who wants you to work for them.  I don’t want to upset the apple cart which is way to easy to do.  I like working here and other than the stress associated with this project and this one troglodyte this is a good gig and a great fit for my skills.

I fumed.  I thought.  I figured it out.  I am not a control freak and most definitely not a micromanager.  I sat down with my boss and cleared the air.  No I wasn’t part of the problem and I shouldn’t have received that message.  I explained what I wanted to do.  He agreed.

At my weekly meeting I didn’t call anyone out specifically.  I was direct, I was emphatic and I made it clear I was angry without yelling.  I emphasized 3 points:

  1. There was no teamwork evident.  We were all on the same team and they needed to act like it.  We have problems and we wouldn’t fix them as individuals.  The subtext here was the two people who always insist on talking over everyone and being the smartest person in the room needed to shut up, because they are not.
  2. This was my project and everyone owed me status everyday. I would update our boss, not them and it was ridiculous that they made me go to him instead of vice versa.
  3. No more bullshit.  You all answer to me on this project.

Yeah, they might have been stunned.  They’ve seen me talk or bitch.  They really haven’t seen me manage in crisis.  I was tired of being affected.  I took control back.  Let’s see if I get those daily status reports.  Unhappy will be the person that doesn’t send me one today.

The sun came up today in the east.   It seemed a bit brighter today.  And there was half a cupcake in an albatross’ mouth as he flew west.  I hope he liked it; I didn’t.

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1 Comment

  1. Ann

     /  August 22, 2012

    Another excellent entry, Lee.


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