New Life, New Worries

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I’m glad I have a completely anonymous blog to post on, because otherwise it would be impossible to admit this.

Giving up a regular pay check is tough.

I’ve done this before, and I know January and February are slow months for freelance work. I’m actually busier than normal for this time of year, but one of the disadvantages of freelance writing is that it takes a while for those checks to come in. I also have a lot more support this time around…I don’t have to worry about paying the bills–just about funding those extras that come up. Perfect time for the dishwasher to leak and the dryer to smell like smoke.

I know I have to think long-term/big-picture and not simply spend all my time chasing the money and developing new freelance clients. The point is to actually follow my dream and work on my novels, hoping all that hard work will pay off someday. I’m beyond grateful to have this opportunity and to not have to go back to the hell hole where I used to work, but this is tougher than I suspected.

I’ve read other blogs and books where people who made six figures gave it all up to lead the simple life, and I wonder how they did that. Granted they would have had a bigger nest-egg than I do, but how did they adjust to a sporadic, unreliable (much lower) income? Everyone makes it seem like it was a seamless transition, but I suspect not. I don’t miss the “prestige” of being a director, but I do miss not having to fret about money.

Yesterday was particularly difficult. I have been selling a lot of possessions to prepare for moving to an island…and to make extra cash. Unlike my boyfriend, who has expensive electronics and camera equipment to sell, I only have things like shoes, household goods, and clothing. I’m lucky if I can get $20 for an item.

I decided to part with something that I thought might fetch $100 on Ebay–a museum-quality replica of an Egyptian canopic jar that was handmade and one-of-a-kind. In the process of photographing it for me, my bf broke it. He paid me the $100 I was hoping to get for it, but neither of us felt good about it, especially since he’s covering the bills right now. It made me long for the bad old days when I was working in an office and, while still not chump change, $100 wasn’t such a big deal.

I know money is far from everything. I’ve had enough health issues to know that you truly don’t have anything unless you have your health. But I’ve been poor before, and it’s not fun. I’ve been in debt and I never, ever want to go back there.

I hope I will move through this slow period soon and get to a place that isn’t so scary.

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Freedom!

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As you may have guessed, I quit.

After agonizing over it for weeks, the actual event wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be. Due to my boss’s previous emotional abuse and bullying tendencies, I expected her to go ballistic, but she was calm and almost reasonable. She was surprised I was leaving, though.

“You honestly don’t feel we can work this out?” she asked.

In a word, no.

Things went so well that she intends to hire me for freelance work (I’ll believe that when it happens), and negotiated one more day of work out of me (it would have been another week if I hadn’t had an airline ticket booked for that Wednesday). I was shocked at how easy it was, but why are bosses always surprised when people quit after months (or years) of being treated like shit? Why do they think employees will stay no matter the cost to their health and self-esteem?

I was a little concerned that leaving the rat-race would result in at least a temporary depression, but so far it hasn’t hit me. I’ve simply been too busy, first with Christmas celebrations and flying across the country to see my family, and now preparing for a two-week trip to an exotic island, which I hope will become our new future home. Have to see if we like it first!

When I mentioned to my SO that I was worried that leaving the corporate life would hurt my fledgling ego, he had a good point. “You already achieved amazing things in the corporate world,” he said. “You were a director. If you’re going to feel badly about anything, feel badly about how little you’ve achieved in your fiction writing career. Let your ego boost come from what you achieve with your writing.”

He was exactly right. I never wanted to be an office drone, so why do I care if others look down on me because I no longer have a fancy title that really meant less than nothing? My director job was less advanced than my middle management job at the other place.

There’s no better success in this world than doing what you love. And leading a healthy, happy, balanced life.

Happy New Year to you, and thank you for following my journey.

Fifteen More Days….

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Anyone else remember Office Space, circa 1999? I survived my first hellish office job just by watching this movie a hundred times, and I suspect I’m not alone.

For those who are missing out on perhaps the greatest movie of all time, the Coles Notes version of the plot is this: a twenty-something man puts in his time in cubicle hell, where he endures an obnoxious, slow-talking boss, working weekends, and being tortured repeatedly over a simple mistake. As he so awesomely puts it, “Every day at work is worse than the one before, so whenever you see me, you are seeing me on the worst day of my life.”

Once Peter is hypnotized into not caring about his job any longer, everything changes. He dumps his no-good shrew of a girlfriend and asks out the woman of his dreams. He knocks down the wall of his cubicle, giving himself a view. He shows up whenever he wants to, often sauntering around in ripped jeans and a Hawaiian shirt, and once goes so far as to clean a fish at his desk. The result? He gets promoted, while two of his hard-working friends are laid off.

I have now become Peter post-hypnotic suggestion. Since the light at the end of tunnel is grows near, I truly feel like I have nothing to lose. I’ve been saying what I think a bit more, even telling my boss that I was sick and tired of all the credit-stealing that goes on…something I’ve never dared to do before. The result? She’s been praising my new-found confidence and lack of nerves. She’s been telling me she’s “invested” in my success and doesn’t want to see me fail.

And why? Because I no longer give a shit.

So there you have it, friends and neighbors. If you want to succeed at your job, stop caring about it.

Collapse!

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It’s strange how things can change so suddenly.

Last week I went to lunch with my best friend from work. She is blunt and funny and real, and I will miss her. She is the only one I’ve told about my plans to leave in January.

I was angry. My boss has this little paradox going on: she insists on having approval over everything I write, but she’s never in a hurry to get back to me or move projects along. She can avoid me, put me off, and cause as many delays as she wants, and it will still be my fault if we miss a deadline.

So I’ve developed little tricks. One is creating unnecessarily short deadlines for her so that she doesn’t have a chance to “forget” I’ve sent her something for approval, which she does with frightening regularity. I’ll ask her about a document, she’ll get a vague look and invariably mutter, “did you send it to me?” No, I’m expecting you to read my mind and pluck it out of my head. I’ll tell her yes, she’ll ask when I sent it, I’ll say a week ago, and she’ll say she doesn’t recall seeing it. Or, and this is my favorite response, “Oh, I must have twenty emails from you”. Well, perhaps you should RESPOND TO SOME OF THEM!

Sorry, I got a little off track there. The point is, on this particular day, I’d given her one of my short deadlines in order to create a sense of urgency, and I guess she was feeling pressured, because instead of reading my lousy two page letter and telling me it was good to go (or not), she wrote me a nasty novella of an email with all these accusations about how it was actually my fault that we were under this time crunch. Of course.

So when I went out to lunch with my friend, I was mad, but that was okay. We’re used to ranting with each other about our miserable jobs. It’s become a coping mechanism of sorts. I asked if we could go to this little pub I loved, where the waiters really do all know your name, and where I knew I would be hugged, fed comfort food, and just loved and made to feel welcome in general. We headed over in the charity van, which was kind of funny in a sad way, since it promotes the kind of lifestyle that is the exact opposite of what you typically find in a pub.

It was a good lunch, but when we came back to the office, everything had changed. There was medical equipment everywhere, and cleaning staff in their scrubs scurrying around. My friend found out what had happened before I did, and it was shocking. My office mate, a brusk Argentinian woman that I’ve come to care about quite a bit, had collapsed during a meeting with our boss.

My office mate, like everyone else in this crazy foundation, is under a crippling amount of stress. Not only was she juggling two enormous projects with little to no help or support, she was also dealing with the end of her 30 year marriage, the anger and resentment of her two grown children (she decided to leave her husband, who still wants her back. End result: no one is happy), selling the house of her dreams, and whatever threat her soon-to-be-ex happened to be currently holding over her head. The following day was the big memorial wall ceremony, when hundreds of people come to remember their loved ones and see their names inscribed on a bronze plaque. My co-worker was dealing with this event all by herself, and the pressure was enormous.

First, she collapsed on my boss’s carpet, taking off most of the skin on one of her elbows. When she came to, she started throwing up everywhere (hence the small army of cleaning staff). As worried as I was for her, I had to bite back a smile when I heard she threw up in my boss’s recycling box. My boss is squeamish about puke (she’s a mother and a pet owner–how does she deal?), so she was about to throw up herself. Another co-worker seized the offending box and dumped it into the sink, which promptly clogged, hence the maintenance man.

My office mate was rushed to the emergency room (sometimes it’s handy to have a hospital in the same building), and the rest of us were left with hundreds of calla lilies, vases that were the wrong size, and basically no idea what we were supposed to do. My boss was running around like the proverbial chicken with its head cut off, because the woman who was supposed to deliver the ceremony portion of the memorial event was sick, too, and the henchwoman who would normally tell my boss what should be done had thrown her back out.

Seven of us pulled together and did the work that one woman had resigned to do alone. Why does one have to collapse before people offer to help? I was so worried about her, but also guilty. My office mate had seemed to be in a bad mood that morning, but had never indicated there was anything wrong. Her predecessor had a heart attack six months into the job. She survived, but she never came back to work. How many people in that position have to collapse before my boss realizes she’s working her staff to death?

But of course we pulled through, like we always do. The ceremony on Saturday was a success, and my office mate felt well enough to come for the afternoon, though her children begged her to stay home and rest. The doctors suspect she may have had a stroke, but they need to do more tests in order to say for sure. She was back to work on Monday morning, and told our boss that it was only her personal stress that made her sick. What was the alternative? Admit you can’t handle your job?

I will never look at charities the same way again. I used to like to give to the ones with low administration costs. I wanted the bulk of my money to go to the cause, of course…everyone does. But I never before realized the cost of that bottom line. Maybe low administration costs mean fewer people doing the work of many. Maybe it means talented, goodhearted people are working tons of unpaid overtime just so the executive director can live large. It costs money to make money, and while I wouldn’t support a charity that is flying its admin staff to vacation conferences in Aruba, I now know there’s a happy medium.

Less isn’t always more.

55 more days.

Bitches, bitches…everywhere.

ImageWarning: this is not going to be a happy post. Those with heightened sensitivities are best to move on. There’s probably a blog about kittens or babies somewhere around the corner…go there.

I am surrounded by bitches. Remember when women decided to “take back” the word bitch and make it this big statement of girl power? Well, I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about the old-fashioned, straight-up type of mean girl bitch…except these women are in their fifties and should know better by now.

Ever see (or read) The Devil Wears Prada? What I appreciated about the Miranda Priestley character is that she was so honest. She was a bitch. She treated her staff and everyone around her like dirt, and she knew it. So did everyone else. She didn’t care, and everyone else was too afraid of her or dependent on her to care. If you ask me, my boss is a lot scarier.

My boss exudes warmth. People who’ve never worked for her probably think she’s the nicest person they’ve ever met. Well, they’re wrong. I was wrong. I admit it–I fell hook, line, and sinker for her compassionate act. I fell for the arm squeezes, the way she stopped to greet and hug everyone as we walked down the hall, the “genuine” happiness to see you in her eyes. It turns out the only genuine thing about her is the rampaging bully she turns into the second you’re behind closed doors. I realized the ugly truth too late, but also much too early.

My boss is evil.

As you can imagine, this somewhat tainted me towards this “great new job”. My last boss was not perfect, but he was a human being. He had compassion. He had feelings. He may have thought he was right far too often, but he could usually admit a mistake. He cared about his employees and he respected them as people, most of the time. In comparison, my current employer is the anti-Christ.

I’m not sure who’s scarier…the woman who runs this evil empire or her wicked henchwoman, the dreaded Second-in-Command. In a strange twist of fate, I met this particular charmer at an acting class ten years ago. It was a coincidence that we ended up working at the same place, but she was either a quick study or she never needed lessons in the first place. Believe me, the woman can act.

So we have two nasty women who do their best to make your life miserable while rarely losing the smile on their faces. Their voices will get extra soft and friendly while they twist the knife in your back. Everyone else is playing a constant game of “pass the blame” and that all-time office favorite: cover your ass. It’s sad to see so many grown women acting like a bunch of cornered rats. We’re all just playing into the stereotype of terrible female behavior in the workplace. Can’t help anyone out, because that task might permanently get added to your workload. Can’t tell anyone what you really think, because these ridiculous alliances are far too important.

Well, not to me. My mind is made up. I no longer have any doubts. I’m getting the hell out.

Sixty fucking days. I wonder if I can survive that long.

71 More Days

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Outside our meeting room window lay a little dead bird, his tiny stick legs pointing at the gray sky. It seemed a fitting metaphor.

I’ve reached the point where the thought of going back to that place makes me ill. Today, for no particular reason, I got a horrible migraine that my ordinarily no-fail medication couldn’t fix. Waves of heat rushed over me. My brain pounded in agony as I stared at the computer screen. Why is this all so important? I thought, along with Is $8550 really worth it? That’s how much more I’ll have in savings if I stick it out until the new year.

Awesome assignment of the day: writing yet another email to congratulate the teams from one of our fund-raising events, this time telling them how much we raised and announcing the prizes for the top fund-raising individuals and teams. My executive director has decided this email, which is a near carbon copy of the last one I sent the teams, is a matter of great sensitivity and importance, which in her mind means she gets to make rude demands about it on a daily basis. The “sensitivity” in this case is that we didn’t make very much money for a three-day event. I guess raising over $200K (to be split with another charity) is nothing to sniff at, but to put it in perspective, we have another event that takes about five hours and raises over a million. This one involved so much work and so much abuse from the company who ran the event for us. A board member raised the question, “is any money worth the abuse your staff are taking?” at a recent meeting, and I wanted to cheer. No one else has been so bold, though we’ve all been thinking the same thing. My executive director didn’t reply. After all, it’s not her taking the abuse, so what does she care?

It’s so tempting to just drift out of there and never come back. Feeling woozy and like I might vomit, I booked my calendar for a meeting and left, telling only my office mate that I was gone for the day. I hate lying, but taking any sick time there is frowned upon. I’ve been sick three days since I started this job, and already one of the women in the office has tried to stir up shit about it. My boss has questioned me about it, too. So fine–I’ll take a meeting.

I’m afraid that one day soon, I might not be able to muster the strength to go back. And what then?

Has anyone else out there experienced this? What did you do?

Three Long Months…

ImageYesterday I made a big decision. In slightly less than three months time, I’m going to quit my job.

For someone like me, who cultivates security though she yearns for adventure, this is a huge deal. But after coming to the brink of tears in the office for the fourth time in as many months, I’d had enough. I’m not one of those dreaded women who cries at work, typically. There is something wrong.

I was sitting at home last night, ranting once again to my patient boyfriend about the unfairness of it all–the uncompensated overtime (well over eighty hours at this point, and I started in late April); the bizarre things required of me; the attitudes of those around me who can’t be bothered to help or even to do their own jobs…and his response was, once again, “why don’t you quit?”

He had a piece of paper on which he’d marked down all our expenses. He showed me that we could more than make it on his income alone. Would we be eating in fancy restaurants? No. Would we be world travelers? No. Would I still be paying a landscape architect $10,000 to redesign our yard? Probably not. But at the thought of no more desperate tears, heart palpitations, and general misery, I am willing to give up those other things.

Not that I won’t be working. After a break to de-stress and feel normal again–which used to mean “happy”–I’ll start focusing on my writing. My calling is to be a novelist, after all. It never has been and never will be to work in communications, writing boring annual reports, nauseating newsletters, and basically being everyone’s bitch. I’m so sick of it. Freelance journalism will cover our extras, and without a day job, I’ll finally have time to build that side of my career: post an ebook, query the big magazines, apply for writing grants, etc. I’ll even have time to blog again on a regular basis.

Part of me is afraid it’s crazy to turn my back on a $75,000 salary when so many people are losing their jobs and unable to find work. But what’s that money worth? My life? My health? Any sense of well-being and peace? I don’t think so. I can’t possibly think my soul comes that cheap.

If I end up with one regret in life, it’ll be that I spent so much time in jobs that made me completely miserable.