This is from a document I found on my new laptop after transferring all my files. It’s from June 2015, I must have meant to post it.
A little after one on Saturday afternoon, my phone buzzed that familiar vibration that I had just received a work email. It was a work phone, all managers were given them – expanding on the expectation that we were at client’s beck and call day, night, weekend, and vacation. I hesitated to open the mail application, it could be just a regular system message generated by the support software or another notice for the ongoing weekend software update.
Regardless, my alpha side compelled me to open it – ever since I started in the role, my alpha got the better of me. A long career in the military and an even longer career in the military contracting world created a monster for addressing items as they came and not letting things go until the time was right. It was a long couple of days that already provided great tension. Our home central air conditioning had finally kicked the bucket about 72 hours ago and we were extremely lucky to get a new system installed on a Saturday without draining every penny our savings – or what little we had left after the biggest tax hit of my professional life. The installers had left about an hour before and the temperature in the house was just starting to drop from what seemed like sauna conditions.
The AC picked the worst time to die – it was a record start to summer in the south and heat indexes were ranging from 105 to 115 degrees for two weeks and more to follow. My wife and kids had been huddled in our master bedroom for two days already, thanks to a small window unit I had purchased last summer for just this occasion. It did little to support our usual need of relief from the oppressive heat and humidity. We were just starting to feel normal again.
So, I opened the email app. At the top of the list sat a message from my boss’s boss’s boss – our Vice President of Services. Great, my heartbeat picked up a bit. I was expecting this message, just not on Saturday. One of my client’s projects hasn’t been meeting their expectations. In fact, hardly any of my client’s projects were meeting anyone’s expectations. I had been trying to tell myself that it wasn’t all my fault – but my alpha side kept singing a different tune. Our company was in our so-called “slow season”, yet I had more clients than any of my colleagues; and our recent reorganization was a complete flop. The reorganization was mainly to utilize more offshore resources, eventually pushing a lot of the “expensive” US personnel out. At least, that’s what I inferred. Most of the project tasks were handled by the offshore resources. And they were terrible. It was causing pain and discontent for me and my colleagues: schedule setbacks, missed agreements, and client escalations. But, upper management pressed on with it anyway.
So, on Friday, I had wrapped up an action report for a big to-do client that was grumbling about our poor services as it was, and I had reported bad news that had to be provided. Unfortunately, my source of that bad news within the support team had her notes mixed up – so, I gave bad news that wasn’t correct. Enter the flood of emails on Friday afternoon, more like evening. The client is in Chicago, so they had the benefit of an extra hour. I has on my way home, trying to get there in time to meet the nice man dropping off my new AC unit to be installed on Saturday. Emailing and driving – it’s not recommended. I had to pull over on the way twice to type my apologies for the incorrect information. That was useless. On goes the escalation calls. First to the sales team. Oh, the sales team. It was an even bigger problem than the reorganization heartaches. I had heard of upselling before I came to the private industry, but I had never experienced it. Our sales teams were notorious for claiming we could do things that were either impossible, not in the works, in the works but too long out, or used to be a capability but not any longer. It seemed like every sales transition call was a pitfall of unobtainable client expectations. But, they would help out through the project. Yeah, that only happened when it looked like the remainder of their sales commission was about to go bye-bye.
Now sales call this guy, my boss’s boss’s boss. And it’s now the second time this week he’s heard this client’s gripe and my name in the same dialogue. I got warned Friday night. My boss’s boss was filling in for her boss and he usually gets those calls – he was already dealing with two other clients of mine. She was kind enough to let me know my little gaffe got some attention and I should expect to get a request for information Monday morning. OK, I can handle that. I can explain how the notes provided didn’t jive and I didn’t do enough due diligence before providing them to a client. I could mea culpa my way out of this I thought. I spend three sweaty hours with a laptop propped on my crossed legs while I baked in a weakly cooled bedroom as the family watched movies (we put the window unit in our bedroom and used it as a chilled sanctuary). I pulled together every note, email, and document I could on this one problem to show I knew what I was doing. I had my case locked up by ten pm and I could finally relax enough to be ready for the AC installers to arrive at 8 am the next morning.
With my pulse racing a little more because of the heat still in the house, but mainly because I thought this would wait until Monday, I scanned the email. Oh boy, eight paragraphs, bullet points, action items for me and my team, blah blah blah. It wasn’t harsh or pointed. But it didn’t once ask my side of the events. Nope. We just answer the bell when big-time clients get loud. My favorite line was that he’d like to show them the increased service level they are expecting. Sure, I was already pushing 70+ hour weeks Monday through Friday and tacking on about another 8-10 on the weekends. How do you think we got into this situation? Now I’m supposed to miraculously find more time to provide exceptional service for this client? At which of my other client’s expense? I must have reread that email fifteen times over the next hour. I just couldn’t believe it. The response to my not being able to attend to a client’s needs is to put more demands on me? Reports due on Monday, action items every day, task sync meetings in the afternoons with him. Where would it end? I just felt defeated. Knots got tighter in my stomach like they had been over and over the past couple of months.
I had read many reviews about the company before I joined. I needed to get out of my previous role because of the budget cutbacks, funding losses, and never-get-anything-accomplished environment (I was a contractor for the federal government). My new company was hiring and they were making headlines in the local and major tech scenes. I thought this would be it – get this job with an up and coming software firm, finish my masters, and it’d be smooth sailing. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I didn’t understand the private industry and I didn’t do enough research. I just knew I needed to get out of where I was and this opportunity was good for me. Millennial culture, freebies, new building. It had all the shine. Which I now know should have been the warning signs. It didn’t take long for me to discover that the company wasn’t in the efficiency business, but revenue-enhancing business. Who cared if clients complained and eventually left? There were so many pouring in because there was no real competition for our product. We’d only do something when it was a BIG client – one with clout.
Nearly every call I would have with a client was bad. Still reeling from the initial news that sales had pretty much told them everything they wanted to hear, the clients would be on edge and always blaming me for it. I just couldn’t grasp that. I’ve dealt with customer service many times in my life. Was I the only one that knew not to blame the person on the phone for all the company’s problems? Just because I was speaking with someone from x-company that had done me wrong, didn’t mean I was speaking to the one that had ACTUALLY done me wrong.
I had never dealt with clients per se before I started in the private world. I was military, always had been, and always will be. I had been screamed at since boot camp twenty years ago, shot at, forced to do so many things I believed to be unnecessary or repetitive, but I had never experienced client calls. It was always palpable. I always felt that if they didn’t like every word I spoke, they’d leave and I’d take the fall for it. It was an awful job. It was supposed to be technical. A management position actually managing technical people, like what I had done for the military and for what I went to school. Alas, it was a client management job. Nothing I was trained or prepared for in the least. But, we weren’t account managers. No, we had those and they would come along toward the end of the project to be ongoing support. And they were usually new kids (I say kids because I’m forty and they’re in their 20’s) with no experience or real background – and the clients would EAT THEM UP. If the managers of my world had it bad, account managers had it worse. They barely got any training on the systems or what are products really did, they just got a whole lot of client call tactics. But, honestly, you’d never know it when they’d start engaging with the client. Um. Uh. Er. I could only shake my head in shame and know I wouldn’t be rid of the client any time soon.
Back to the email.
The knots grew tighter. I was not excited about this extra attention. I would be forced to do more work to provide information about why things weren’t getting done and no actual resolutions. It was a vicious cycle and I was fed up. I had been trying to gear up my job search recently. Heck, I even reached out to my old company for a job. No help there. I was in despair. This job made me feel inadequate and feeble. Why? Just because the system was setup for failure? Why would I let that affect me?
It was my inner locus of control that kept telling me I could affect outcomes if I worked hard. It was right up until this job. My technical roles before this were purely “take direction and complete task.” No matter how difficult or detailed, I worked it like a champ. I was routinely praised for my work efforts and dedication at my previous roles. It was just so monotonous and now very career enhancing, so I went after a higher education. And that cost money. I added a whole lot of student debt and deferred the whole way. The present job paid well, but not that well. We were just getting by and now all our savings were gone. Thank you IRS and air conditioner.
I had been through tough spells before, but this one was worse. It was only my first job outside of the government industry and I shouldn’t think that they’re all this bad. My colleagues complained about all their last jobs though, that didn’t help. I would always tell them that we had a saying in the military, “There are only two good commands – your last one and your next one.” My smirk would always turn to a frown after I saw the look of bewilderment on their faces.
I did everything I could to remain positive – meditation, breathing sessions, spiritual readings, reminding myself that I’d find a good job soon. But, it wasn’t enough to quiet the storm inside me. The job search was coming up short, no calls or return emails to my applications. I had a shiny new resume that I paid for after completing my masters and I just couldn’t figure out what was wrong. It took its toll on me. I was educated, had a great work history, always moving up, but no irons in the fire. I couldn’t go to networking events or trade conferences because of my work schedule. I would get up at 6 am, be out the door at 6:30, at my desk by 7:15 and not leave the building until 12 hours later. Mostly because I would rather work the few extra hours and have a 30 min commute home with no work to do than sit in an hour plus bumper-to-bumper traffic knowing I had to work a few more hours when I got home. Yeah, they rattled on and on about a work-life balance during the interviews. Another warning sign. If you have to constantly tell candidates you have a great work-life balance, it’s because you don’t actually.
Instead of opening up my work computer that Saturday afternoon and start attacking the VP’s demands (I’d say requests, but we all know they’re not), I opened the personal laptop and began a feverish job hunt. Six hours passed before I took a break. My wife knew what was going on and she steered clear. She was miserable seeing me miserable but couldn’t do anything for me. All the hopes and dreams I had built up over the past few years getting to this job didn’t pan out. She saw the disappointment in my face and I saw the sadness in hers for me. I did it all for her and my boys. I had delusions of a grand life. I wasn’t content with getting by and wanted more. Which is fine, that’s what makes this country great. We can have a dream, chase it, and it comes true or it doesn’t. I just needed another dream.
I was losing touch with my family. My oldest son was a teenager and I wasn’t around enough for him. Middle school woes – studies, bullies, girls, puberty. It’s an awful time to not have your father around enough to talk about those things. I know. That’s why I was so bent on chasing these dreams. I just may have been a little late in life when I started chasing them. My wife worked hard too, but luckily didn’t have the same demands as I did. She was there for everything. I love them and missed them, but needed to provide for them.
That email ate at me. The whole company ate at me. I had been away from family for long periods of time for jobs with the military. But, I’ve never felt more distant from them than the past year. It added to the knots. It wasn’t fair to them. My sons deserved their father. My wife deserved her husband. I deserved a break.
I even looked for jobs further south. I could stay with my brother for a while if needed. I’m sure that would have gone over great with his wife due to the baby. But, he heard the pain in my voice when we would speak. “Hey brother, you do what you gotta do. You’re always welcome here.” You never really know how much someone means to you until they offer help when you need it.
It was almost 9 pm when I finally put the computer away. I had applied to ten new jobs, something had to become a prospect. But, it didn’t do any good to worry about it on a Saturday night. I moseyed up to the kid’s room and they kicked my butt for a while on one of their video games.
Tomorrow was Father’s Day. I had to find a way to stop this from eating me up inside out.