While I’ll never say I was perfect at my job, my new boss REALLY didn’t like me. I believe he had it out for me from the day he joined the company less than three months ago. People respect executives that come in and make fast changes – it gives them credibility that they know what they are doing. And, looking at the scenario outside myself, AND if I was a heartless professional (i.e. the kind one has to be to survive in the corporate world, I’m not saying this is a bad thing) I’d probably make the same move. From his perspective, I was this employee who committed to a whole bunch of stuff, and then it took longer than she expected, and things were done late, and she lived so far away she came to office at 10am when the rest of the team got in at like, 8.
What sucks is that I was actually making good progress. It was way too slow as I really was learning as I went, and I made a lot of mistakes that I’d never make again. I came in and reachitected a sales database and all the corresponding marketing workflows. I focused way too much on the operations and not enough on the actual marketing. But when everything was in place and I did turn it all on, it really started to work. I could see in the system a large number of really great people who could buy our product who were engaging with our content. It was just too little, too late. And, so, off with my head.
Even though I did get a warning about 20 day ago, the actual getting fired was a bit jarring. For one, I thought I had 30 days or maybe a few more, as my boss and I discussed both 30 days AND my staying through to the beginning of November to wrap up projects. But for whatever reason he got pissed about something I did and decided that yesterday was the day. Maybe my CEO made the call – like many CEOs I’ve worked with he has a black-or-white view of the world and while he used to adore me and my work (when he hired me and shortly thereafter) I had moved over to the dark side, getting a few nasty emails from him about a press release he hated and my asking the office manager to help with some mailings, that, apparently I was supposed to do myself. I have a suspicion that they both had it out for me — they gave me a warning on Sept 23 and said I could go peacefully into the night right then and there, but I am not a quitter, so I said let me stay and prove to you I can be better. I’m so close to having things work. I’m so close to showing you I can do this.
The problem was, I didn’t really believe that. Even with the systems all set up and emails going out, I didn’t have enough content to send, or enough support to deal with the thousands of other requests pouring in — managing a series of conferences, getting PR up and running again, dealing with random asks from other teams that I didn’t plan for, et al. And, the thing is, my boss(es) really want someone who just willing to sacrifice their entire life for the job. That’s what they do, so why shouldn’t everyone else? And, in my 20s, I was all for that kind of life. I had being bored, I like feeling part of a team and helping contribute to a common goal – so what if it’s at 11 at night and I’m half asleep and I have to wake up at 5am to get on a plane?
Now, that’s not how it would be every single day at this job, but the mentality certainly is either you’re the type to just spend every waking moment of your life working (or at least be smart enough to provide the appearance of this) or you’re out on the street.
Well, I’m out on the street. My boss set up a 3pm meeting and someone at the company actually leaked a memo that gave me a little bit of a heads up, which I am forever grateful to them for. I spent the day clearing off my computer and starting to clean out my desk. I wasn’t 100% sure it was going to happen that day — after all, there’s an event next week and I’m the only person who was going to be able to set up the booth, so I thought. I thought wrong.
He must have been really pissed at me because … he set up a 1:1 at 3pm, then at 3 he asked me if we could meet at 4:30pm and then at 4 he comes over to my desk and – out loud in front of everyone else says – “let’s just get this done with. We only need 30 minutes.” That’s when my suspicions were confirmed.
And that was it. “We’re going to let you go,” he said. I waited for more. I waited for a list of specifics which I failed to do in the last 20 days when he had told me I at least had 30. But he basically gave me the look like “you know.” Yes, I do know, I wasn’t willing or able to dedicate the entirety of my life to the job, nor was I able to successfully be about 5 other employees that I wasn’t able to hire for the team, for various reasons. Ok, this is it, I thought… what crazy paperwork do I have to sign in order to get my severance and how little is it going to be (being as I was there a year, I thought they’d at least pay me out until the end of the month.)
But there would be no severance. Clearly they don’t think I’m a lawsuit risk. They just want me out. Last paycheck, last expense check, and good day. This guy is so irrational that he told me that I should consider coming in the next day to pack up in the morning, early, so no one else would be around to see me do it – or I could pack up then. LUCKILY I had already done most of my packing earlier in the day, you know, standard fall cleaning, nothing to see here folks – what was left was just a lot of trash and work content that I didn’t want to deal with anyway. About an hour after I left I get a text message from him saying it’s a bad idea to come in tomorrow and they’ll pack up my desk and mail me things. I love how quickly he changes his mind.
The entire situation at the company was impossible. Sure, I could have done a better job, worked harder, slept less, took a 5am train and returned home after 9. I could have lasted a bit longer. But the company itself is a mess. The product has been entirely rebuilt and that isn’t going so well. Clients are unhappy. Everyone knows the CEO is crazy. I caveat that by saying all CEOs are crazy and that on its own isn’t a ding in my book. Just look at Elon Musk or Steve Jobs. The problem is that CEOs think they HAVE to be like that in order to ensure the success of their company, but not all have such inherent intuitive genius. Some are just swayed easily by whatever they hear from someone else, and suddenly the world will end if that particular issue isn’t resolved (while in reality the rest of the world is burning around them, but they have to hyper focus on this one issue to make them feel like they have control of the entire situation, which, they don’t.)
Maybe the company will get purchased by someone and there will be some kind of a successful exit, but it’s like one of those many startups out there dying a slow and painful death. I don’t envy the CEOs of these companies — they come in, usually after the founder has given up or has been pushed out by the board, and they’re handed this pile of shit to try to refurbish. These CEOs are the type that are in it primarily for the money (founding CEOs sometimes actually care about the product and maybe even changing the world.) Second and third CEOs just want to get rich, or more rich. I don’t fault them for that — trying to turn around a failing startup is not an easy task. And there are still a number of people employed by the company, so this CEO is day in and day out fighting for not only his shot at wealth, but also their livelihood. It can be an admirable position.
The problem is more often then not, the new CEO isn’t able to recover. It’s kind of like handing a kid a broken toy and seeing if they can fix it or have fun with it. Maybe they’ll turn this broken toy into something amazing (maybe even something better than it was meant to be) – but – really, you’re probably going to end up with a very frustrated kid having a temper tantrum and throwing the broken toy across the room once he realizes it’s not at all salvageable.
That said, I did respect the CEO of this company because he was handed a broken toy and sold said toy to some pretty big, well-repected toy buyers, so to speak. He works his ass off and for that I can’t not respect him. And, despite his having some pretty unrealistic expectations when it comes to the performance of the team, I can’t fault him for pushing everyone really hard. His management strategy is push people as hard as he can until they break. Make the ones who are working hard feel really special (i.e. CEO is paying attention to you and “invested” in your success!) Then people get super burnt out and either they leave on their own accord or, in the rare case that someone stays because they refuse to quit or move on, he gets someone else to fire them (i.e. new boss, three months later, hands me the ax.)
Well, here I am, unemployed – yet again – but I feel ok this time around. I’m actually in a much better place now than I was a year ago because I learned A LOT over the last year. I have been talking to a few companies while I was still employed so I want to move quickly on those opportunities. I also feel like I need a break. I know it has been just a year since I was last unemployed and it’s embarrassing that I’m this tired and burnt out right now, but I’m this tired and burnt out right now. I threw out my back/neck/shoulder/something last week and even though I sleep at least 7 hours a night I’m always about ready to fall asleep. I can use a week or two to recharge and hopefully will be ready to head into the next thing.
What I don’t know is what that next thing should be. It’s one thing to be recruited for how great I look on paper, it’s another to be able to actually execute and be successful. I don’t want to jump into yet another situation where someone has convinced themselves I’m so great when in reality I’m, well, not quite all that and a bag of chips. Or maybe now that I’ve had some more experience I can be better. I did learn a lot. I see the bigger picture more clearly. I understand the framework of what needs to get done to be successful. But if, at the end of the day, this entire field isn’t right for me, and I’m not right for it, then should I really try to stay in it just because it’s the only place I can get hired? I can take some time off… take classes… figure out who I am and what I’m good at…
I’m still planning to take the GRE soon and I still have my grad school applications in process. Maybe that’s the right way to go. I feel like I need a change. Maybe it’s just a change of company. Maybe it’s a complete 180. In any case, I guess I am relieved right now that I am no longer struggling to promote the wonders of a broken toy that may not be at all fixable.