I’ll Never Be the Leader Corporate America Wants Me to Be

Let’s just say I’ve accepted that I am not like the people who thrive in corporate America — or business, for that matter. I rub people the wrong way, I guess. I don’t make enemies, but I certainly don’t make friends. As others move up like they’re floating on political air, I fall down. Hard. On my face. And I look up and wonder where I went wrong. I know the answer. I went wrong everywhere.

Today, I was notified that I have a new boss via an all team email. I’m still not clear if my soon-to-be ex boss thinks she communicated this to me previously, or she just doesn’t give at shit that this list the way I found out. What hurts more is that I literally asked her last week, when she informed me my role was changing, if that means I’d be reporting to this other person. She told me (clearly lying) that she hadn’t even though about that yet. No, the truth is she had thought about that. She just wasn’t ready to discuss it. And then it got announced and she hadn’t told me officially or unofficially about the change.

Clearly, they don’t care if I stay or leave. There is a minimal amount of respect you provide employees that you want to keep. Because I’m pregnant, and I’ve done enough good work, they know it’s probably not work the liability to let me go 3 months before maternity leave. But that doesn’t mean they have to treat me like a human being. They know I can’t go anywhere between needing my maternity leave coverage and the remainder of my stock. They know that I’m a slave to them — and they can treat me like crap and I can’t do anything about it.

I’m trying so hard to be grateful because I know in any other situation I’d probably be done for. Instead, I have a chance to prove myself in a subset of what I’ve been doing all along. I can maybe do an ok job. They seem to like my work in this area. There is no potential for career growth there. I find it hard to be motivated when I’m bumping into a ceiling. I’m overpaid for the role (I guess a good problem to have) and that leaves me more stuck than ever.

My new boss and I also didn’t get off to a good start last year. I think we’ve made amends since, but he certainly isn’t a fan of mine. My “get off the train by July 2022” is still the game plan — the questions are–can I make it that long, and where the hell do I go next?

There are things I’d like to do. Things I think I might be better at. But how? I’m going to be 37. I’m a mom of 2 kids. I want another before I turn 39. I know people make career changes at forty, but those people do not have a 7000 a month mortgage and a husband who works part time. The reality is that I can keep doing what I’m doing… in another company… start over… get a job that pays 150k-200k and with my father-in-law and husband’s contributions we can afford the mortgage. And that’s the next 30 years of my life, I guess. That’s 15 more jobs if I last 2 years at each of them on average. If I’m lucky enough to keep getting the same level job as I get older. People don’t like to hire older people for these jobs. I may find eventually I can’t get a job. Then what?

I don’t think I was that horrible at the job I’ve been demoted from. I was horrible at pieces of it. I was horrible at figuring out exactly what to do. I was horrible about being able to take everyone’s ideas and make that into something that made sense. I was horrible at executing on anything because I couldn’t make senes of what I was doing. I missed deadlines because I have too much anxiety and want to make things that are perfect and know that I’m not actually smart enough to do the work so I get stuck and have no one to run my work by to get their feedback because my boss wasn’t interested I helping me in that way. She wanted someone who could run with things and lead. Get shit done. I wasn’t that person. I faked it decently for a bit this year. I thought it was going well. I was recognized by the head of our department as “MVP” of the quarter, which made me feel ill when it was announced because I knew everyone on the team, including my boss, was rolling their eyes. Two months later this MVP is being demoted–so, clearly that title wasn’t deserved. It all makes me feel sick.

I just have to get through the next 15 months at a minimum. The amount of stock on the table is life changing / pay for my kid’s college and build a better safety net so if I can’t get a job for a while ever in the next 30 years I might be ok. I’ve got a hard road ahead–maybe not in the next 3 months before maternity leave where I’m wrapping up projects and doing my best to be my best and hit all committed deadlines and communicate the best I can–but in those 6-18 months when I come back from leave and need to do incredible work while also not sleeping well due to having a baby. I did not fare well in my first year back after having my son, so I have no reason to think this will be any better.

The good news is my new boss–who certainly would fire me to protect himself–also has kids around the same age, and maybe has a smidgen of empathy for me as a new mom (vs my soon-to-be ex boss who is in her forties and does not have children.) I think between a small safety net of HR not wanting to fire a woman who just came back from maternity leave immediately and the fact that I can actually do a decent job was what my new job is (though I know I’ll never be great at it) I think I can hold on tooth and nail to at least make it until the end of the year, and then start looking for a new job. I have no idea what I’ll be looking for. I wish I had the ability to figure out what career I would be happy in and then actually make that happen.

But I’m super stuck. Stuck in the best place possible, and grateful for it, but also extremely sad. Sad because I’m turning 37 and I’m no better off than I was in my 20s when I didn’t know what I was doing in my life. It doesn’t look pretty on a woman in her late 30s. I’m sure my boss thinks I’m pathetic. I mean, my ex-boss. She is probably counting the days until they can get rid of me. That motivates me to do better. To try to change their narrative about me. But I’ve realized I can’t live a lie. I’m not polished. I’m awkward. I ramble and have a poor short term memory so it’s difficult to converse with others in a proper way. I’m known for putting out good work sometimes, but not for inspiring others to do great work. I’ll never be a leader. So what then can I aspire to be?

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5 thoughts on “I’ll Never Be the Leader Corporate America Wants Me to Be”

  1. For years I’ve read this blog, and time and again, it’s the same thing. You go for a job that requires you to lead, and it ends up not working out.

    Maybe look at this as the opportunity that it is, rather than focusing on the parts that were taken away. Aren’t the parts that were taken away the parts that you….weren’t good at?

    Sounds like you might actually get an opportunity to thrive. Maybe if you approach it with that mindset, you could?

    1. You are right. And I appreciate the thought. My biggest concern is that people who are not leaders do not make the kind of money needed to be breadwinner and pay for a 7k a month mortgage. If I can figure out a way to be an individual contributor and make enough money, I am ok with that. The specific individual contributor role is, unfortunately, one that would be much lower paid in any organization. On the bright side, I’m getting paid a good salary now to do this role. But it is scary to think long term what this means for my career. I do think finding a well-paid individual contributor career makes sense. This one specifically, while I may be somewhat good at it, is going to make me unable to pay my mortgage if I lose this job. I’m thinking maybe there is something out there, especially in a larger company, where the pay is high enough for IC. So I’m just trying to figure out what that is. Creatives rarely get paid well unless they are “leading.”

    2. Also, I think the issue is less “leading” in the traditional sense. Even individual contributors need to influence others and generate buy-in for their ideas, and get feedback from appropriate channels (and inspire others to respond on time.) This is more the area I struggle with. Especially in my specific field. Everyone is so busy and it’s hard for them to see my piece as important. So either I feel like I’m nagging or I don’t get a response on time and things are delayed.

  2. … I also wonder if I was in an organization that had stronger leadership and clear goals would help. I don’t blame my failure to lead entirely on the team’s leadership, but it certainly would be helpful if everyone was aligned and there were clear goals and direction. In startups, things changed so quickly it was hard to lead because everything required so much agility. In a bigger company that still acts like a startup, we have similar pivots and misalignment. I think with more clear direction, I might be able to lead. Maybe grass is greener, but I think the organization has a lot to do with it as well. My boss is basically MIA and wants me to run the show, but without her support people ignore me. My miss is that I don’t have the gravitas to get people excited about a project and my follow through is lacking specifically because I’m unclear about goals and find it difficult to know when things are “done.” Some of this would be an issue in a larger org and some is just an issue with my field, but I think it is worse in my current and past companies. I need to get out of startups and growth companies that think they’re startups.

  3. I had similar experiences at startups/companies that still call themselves startups after 10+ years. I’ve been at a large company now for 2+ years and love it. It can still be crazy, but there is definitely more structure. It also ended up paying more than what the other companies did too, so I think there are large companies that will pay well to get good people. Everyone is really nice too, which wasn’t always the case at the other places. My advice would be to find something outside of the startup world. They likely won’t have stock options/RSUs, but there are companies that pay annual bonuses that can end up being substantial too. Even if you initially have to take a pay cut to get out, it could be worth it in the long run and you could even end up making good money again. I wouldn’t give up hope – there’s something out there that’s a good fit and that will pay well!

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