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.