So I Was Fired. Or Promoted. Or Something.

When I joined my company, my role was ill defined. Someone with more leadership ability–or perhaps someone who is a normal career-minded person–would have nipped that in the bud up front. But like the rest of my non-career career, I’ve managed to become employable for the exact reason I always lose my damn job–I’m a Jill of all trades, master of none. And so it goes.

This time around, things have gone a tinge better. Despite some hiccups as of next year I will have been employed at this company for three years (well, three years minus maternity leave, but you don’t see that on a resume.) Three years at a respectable “real” company (vs a startup that doesn’t exist anymore) is a pretty big deal for me. It’s a huge deal. I need to celebrate that.

With the three years I also need to celebrate that I’ve been extremely fortunate. Through a mixture of luck and having some sense of what makes a good company, I have seen my stock grow to a ridiculous dollar figure, and have largely sold through that growth and turned it into real money and a real down payment. While I could have bought a house without the networth growth this company has provided me, it’s unlikely I would have. Or, at least, I would have spent many more years saving before that was a reality.

But here I am, a day after listening to my boss tell me, in so many words (actually in these exact words)–it’s not working. I’ve heard this story before. Over and over again. I guess it isn’t. I’m only upset because this time I thought I did better. This time, I thought I was starting to figure it out. Due to a hiring freeze (where I was supposed to be getting a new boss) I was put, temporarily, in charge of a new team and given the reigns to lead–not because my boss particularly wanted me to–but because she had little choice otherwise.

Where I got lost is in trying to make everyone happy while also caring about real results for the business, and putting myself last. I was put in a situation with two other strong personalities who didn’t like me from the beginning–and especially didn’t like my collaborative, back-and-forth type of leadership. The #1 trait of winners here is decisiveness, and decisive I am not. It’s not that I can’t make decisions — I don’t trust myself to make decisions with that kind of sweeping authority where people forget what you’re telling them is built on opinion and intuition, not fact. But in a role like mine, fact tends to get in the way (though people use “fact” to support their positions when it suits them.) I guess it’s the politics that I’m bad at. (Not that our presidential nominees are much better. Is it odd the cluster of a debate last night made me strongly hopeful about my leadership skills?)

Still – it stung to get called out on all the things I’m not. I wish I disagreed with my boss’s assessment, because it was quite harsh, but I know she’s right. I’m not a leader, she said, in so many words. I’m not able to influence people or get buy in or delegate work. I don’t come across friendly enough and build bridges (i.e. people don’t like me as a person enough to protect me or stand by me through disagreements.) And I just am not suited to be a functional leader. Pretty much ever. (Ever, ever? I asked. She said, well, maybe one day. One day in the far off distant future.

The saddest part of all is that this project I’m leading isn’t a failure. She even admitted to that. And less than two months ago I was called out as a leader in the company by the head of the department. Two months! But then shit hit the fan. I wasn’t able to run a fairly large project across teams. I made it bigger than it had to be, because given the way our company works you have to go big or go home, and you get one chance to prove out success. I went too big. And then I got anxious. As I do. I second, and third, and 90th guessed everything. I missed a deadline that I arbitrarily committed to. That was a big deal. That was the knife in the coffin. Game over.

In a startup, it would be over. This is the typical job arc from success to failure of my life. I’ve been here before. Except this isn’t in startup time, so through various wins and flexibility and being luckily hired by the head of the department before any of this happened, I have a little wiggle room. But I get it. I can’t run the show.

Who can? Oh, my friend can. My friend, who is basically the other me in my department, who joined to fill in for me when I was on my last maternity leave (I was the first one to interview him) is being promoted into my job. My emotions are all over the place. He deserves it (well, sort of) and I think it’s needed for his career and he needs a shot to prove himself. He’s put up with managing projects that make little sense or that melt his brain for too long. He’s earned the promotion (it’s not official yet, but he’s taking over my role, and it’s clear when I’m on maternity leave he will get the title –I’ll explain more on how that’s working in a minute.) He’s done a lot of great work, and more importantly, he’s been consistent. He doesn’t overcommit. I like to build mansions and he builds tiny houses and no one notices the difference–except that my mansions tend to be missing a wing at launch. I get why they’re putting him in charge. I think way too much and run through a thousand “what if” scenarios and he–isn’t like that. He comes up with something he wants to do, and he just gets it done. And because he’s smart–and talks smart–he can get people to rally behind him. People trust him.

So, I’m 3 months from going on maternity leave and I’ve lost my job. Sort of. That’s the bad news. But there’s good news. You probably understand why I find it hard to see this as good news right now, given how this all went down, but it is good news…

Instead of being fired or, well, demoted, I’ve been given a new function to run. It’s funny that I’m being given a new function to run after being told I can’t run a functional area. What she really meant is I can’t run a functional area where I have to shove ideas down a lot of people’s throats and make them rally behind these ideas enough to spend their time contributing to the outcome. My shit will be off to the side–and off to the side is where I’ve done my best work. It’s not clear at all how any of this will work yet–and in typical fashion my boss has asked me to come up with a plan. I don’t know what my title will be, but it sounds like my level isn’t changing. My comp isn’t changing. I’m just, you know, fired from the job that actually had leadership/career potential, and now in a semi-IC role where I can maybe do good work–or at least get work done on time and people will think it’s good.

What’s happening now is I’m transitioning out of my role (which isn’t hard since it was going to happen organically anyway when I go on maternity leave) and when I come back I’ll launch this new official function. If I didn’t know the situation better, I’d say something is awfully fishy here that I’m going on maternity leave in 3 month and losing my job–but they’ve got me cornered. I had a negative performance review last year (coming off of my first year as a mom with little sleep), and here I am again. This isn’t a legal situation. This is a me failing to execute and being me situation. And I realize that I’m lucky to still have a job. Maybe the pregnancy saved me there. I don’t know. It’s funny because I tend to do really fucking amazing work when I’m not leading shit. And they recognize that. They want more of that. So I guess I should be honored. Or something.

They like me, they really like me.

Or, they like the work I produce, but will never see me as a true leader. I get it. I think the fact that my friend is stepping into my role hurts more than I want to admit. It hurts because he doesn’t care as much as I do about much of anything. But he’s good. I don’t always agree with his ideas or choices, but man, can he get people to rally behind him. And, unlike most guys, he’s actually not, well, the typical know-it-all guy. He’s a good person. He’s worked hard and deserves this–at least a shot at it. I’ve joked before that I should report to him. Well, I guess they decided that would be weird (plus it would clearly be a demotion on my side.) So off to new function land I go.

New function land is in the same group that old function land was in, working with the same people. But I’ll be creating stuff for a piece of the puzzle (or piece of lots of puzzles) versus running the show. I have to reenergize and figure out how to build something despite it making no sense in the grande scheme of my career. But maybe that’s ok. I’ll be in new-mom stage for a while again, and running something a bit simpler where I feel a bit more in control of things could be good–especially without a pay cut. At the end of the day all that matters is I keep vesting. The bulk of my grant runs through the end of next year.

This role should–barring any major layoffs–get me there. After I make it to that finish line, I can start thinking about what’s next. And all signs point to looking for a new role closer to my new home anyway. I’ve informally agreed with myself, even before all this went down, that I’ll transition out in 2022 at some point.

That’s a solid 5 years with a respectable company, and the first really respectable thing on my resume after working for over 15 years. That alone will land me interviews. I’m in a great position. I need to focus on being grateful vs hurt. I know where I failed and I can do better next time. it will be better starting on a fresh slate anyway if I’m going to try out the leadership team again. Maybe find a company that’s a better cultural fit, if one exists. We’re filled with type As where execution matters more than building foundations and strategic vision. It works for this company, but what’s clear is I don’t belong here. I could have faked it better–a lot better–but I don’t have the energy for that. I don’t have the ability to speak coherently when I get flustered. When I don’t trust myself or my ideas. So, this just isn’t the right fit. If I wasn’t 3 months from maternity leave and 15 months from vesting a lot of stock, in any other world, I’d probably start looking elsewhere.

But, instead, I’m doubling down here and committing. I want to close out the year strong (the project that I got my “fired” is still in progress and still going to be a huge success if I have anything to say about it) and I have a few more projects I’m working on before I go out. When I go out, it will be a clean break, because I’ll be done with this job. I’ll hopefully have a plan built up for when I get back–my boss wants me to start things when I’m back, not before–so I can take my maternity leave and truly disconnect. My friend will kick ass in his new role–my old role–and show everyone how it’s done. My ego will be bruised and I’ll be embarrassed and ashamed and not so excited to show my face around the office (thanks to covid, maybe I won’t have to.)

The only way to win here, though, is to make this all come off like it was my idea. Like I wanted to go off and start this thing and I’m excited about it and really just make the best of it. I can still show how I can build something and lead, in my own way. In my own little corner. In my own little chair. Or something like that. Maybe this is actually something I can do, sustainably, and be good at it. It’s really the only thing I’ve done that people actually appreciate here. Now I’ll just be doing it full time.

My biggest challenge is this specific role and function is never paid this well. I need to figure out how to position myself to move into a real leadership role in my next gig. I think I’m actually ready for it. But I can’t let myself get stuck in this function. Six months to a year is ok. It really doesn’t even have to be on my resume as a new role — it’s kind of a sub part of what I’ve been doing all along. I can finagle the story enough where it’s true enough to get me a new role, when I’m ready and have the energy to start something new. Until then, this is not a bad place to do good work and hide.

I wonder what this will look like to everyone else. Those who know much of anything will not be surprised. To everyone else, this will look like they’re demoting someone who is going on maternity leave and putting a man who was her junior in her place. That’s not a good look people. But if you know anything you’ll get it. And I’m not going to fight it. I’m not sure I could. I’m not actually losing money. I’m not actually being demoted. So far, I’m still reporting into my boss. She trusts me on this one area so that’s good. Maybe this is all good. Maybe this is all a blessing in disguise as a punch to the gut. I still have a job. And, unless I do something terribly idiotic, I’ll have one when I get back from maternity leave too. My company still allows vesting over maternity leave (though I lose a few thousand dollars due to my ESPP plan pausing when I’m out) and you can look at all this like I’m the luckiest gal in the world. Everyone wins, right? That’s how things should be.

My career doesn’t win. But maybe it doesn’t lose either. Maybe this is a neutral step–a temporary window of time where I can build up confidence again and get my bearings. If I were to stay in my role for another year or two, I’d have more of the same to show and talk about. I’m sure I might have something a little better to show for it, but not exponentially better. I already ran things enough to say I ran things. I feel good about what I’ve accomplished and the story I can tell. When I’m ready, I’ll be ready to present well to my next potential employer. All good.

And my plans and timeline still seem to make sense. Maybe more sense now…

  • 2020 (36) – pregnant
  • 2021 (37) – baby #2 / vest final year of stock
  • 2022 (38) – new job ~Mar-May, try for baby #3 Jul-?
  • 2023 (39) – baby #3
  • 2024 (40) – super mom of 3

The timing of the transition between this job and my next job is key because I want a third child and I’m running out of time. I need to be in my new job for 12 months before I give birth. That means, for those of you bad at math, 3 months before I get pregnant. It will likely be had for me to get pregnant (due to age and medical issues) so I suspect I’ll need to go the IVF route. It may take a while or it may never happen. But I can’t even start trying until 3 months into a new role. And I want to be pregnant by 39 at the latest. I can start trying for #3 in July 2022. So, I should have a new job by ~April 2022. Which is actually exactly aligned to when I want to leave this job. That also means when I come back from maternity leave and into this new role, I should be able to wholeheartedly commit to it for 10-12 months of solid light-up-the-room horsepower to remain gainfully employed while getting my ducks in a row for what’s next. It’s really an ideal timeline. I think making this a 1 year contract to knock of the park makes a lot of sense. Then I’ll feel really good about my contributions and be able to leave on a positive note.

So — I should be celebrating. Maybe, deep down, I am. That doesn’t take away the fact that it still hurts a lot to be told basically that I’m a loser who doesn’t have the skillset to lead. It wasn’t like — you can grow in these areas. It was more — you tried to grow in these areas and failed. We still like the work you do and want you do to more of it, we just don’t want you to ever be a leader here.

At the end of the day, I’m not an asshole enough to lead. So maybe I don’t want to be a leader anyway.

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