When You Do Good Work But It Doesn’t Matter.

I struggled through a new process at work that was ill-defined and required leadership where I did not serve the role as leader effectively for a number of reasons. In the past–less than two months–I went (briefly) from a top performer to bottom of the pack. This time, I really tried. But I didn’t get everyone to move fast enough. I didn’t get myself to move fast enough. I committed to dates that in hindsight were unrealistic, but I also didn’t know enough about what I was doing to fully scope the project and understand WHAT I was committing to, which was the biggest problem.

In the end, I lost my leadership role and was transferred to another position. Which is fine in that I don’t know if I would do THAT much better should I be offered another chance. I don’t think I’m creative enough for the position, or able to produce the best work required by the position. The guy who is taking over (who happens to be my friend) is way more confident, has a clear vision, and is a leader. He’ll do well. He believes in himself and his ideas. I wish I believed in myself but it’s hard when I don’t know what I’m doing.

I’m a bit sad this week because the project was actually launched on time, despite my initial delays that led to me losing my role. There is a lot more to it, but basically my failure to force everything through a new process and timing that I agreed to led to my hitting a wall. In fact, had I not been pregnant, I think I may have lost my job a few weeks ago. I’m not sure. In any case, I am conflicted because I’m proud of the work that I was able to put out and feel like I collaborated fairly effectively with the team, and yet in the end it doesn’t matter because I messed up when it came to certain delivery dates that really had no meaning outside of my setting them.

Talk about self sabotage.

It didn’t help that a project manager came in and threw me under the bus multiple times. That was not a good situation. Again, I take the blame for the dates pushing. She had convinced me that moving the dates for delivery of this one part of the project out a few weeks wouldn’t hurt, and that it was better to be realistic in whatever date I set if I was changing the delivery date. I had a planned vacation in there as well, so the date that was reset to seemed quite far out. I knew it wouldn’t impact the semi-planned launch date (I couldn’t get everyone to agree to a launch date or what launch meant to begin with, which was part of the problem) so against my better judgement (of which I have little) I agreed to the delayed delivery date. I knew this date still gave the team plenty of time to hit the semi-agreed on launch date by end of month for all of the other work that needed to be done once I delivered my part of the project.

Oh, it also happened that the week I was on vacation there was a meeting where my boss joined and the project manager said I decided to move the dates and acted like this was not her idea and she didn’t know why I decided to move the dates or why I was delivering the project so late.

Well, all of this set off a ripple effect of shit sandwich. Everything was hooked up in our project management system so suddenly dates for all the next steps tied to a launch date we never committed to moved out, and everyone freaked out. My boss was unhappy to say the least. I tried to explain that this shift wouldn’t actually move the project launch timeline we committed to (by end of month.) But that didn’t matter. I missed a deadline, which has been an issue of mine that I had to not do again this year, and so, I’m out. Kaput. Well, transferred.

The new role is fine. It’s an opportunity to focus on one area and build processes there and if I can just get shit done on time (and really pad everything even if I get pushback up front on how long the timeline looks) then maybe I can survive the next year and become a better project manager and people will trust me again.

I just wish I was judged for the quality of work and how it will help the business in addition to any pushed deadlines. I should have just said hell with quality and minimized scope. That’s what a true leader would have done. Or any person in their right mind who doesn’t want to lose their job. But I saw the opportunity to do good work and I didn’t want to skimp on anything. This took time and reviews and feedback from a lot of people. I don’t actually love the end result (it’s not even my vision, I took everyone else’s ideas and executed on them generally) but I think it’s solid. I think it will be good for the business. I think it deserves some kind of “not getting fired” recognition for being pretty ok.

What I’m most sad about is I get it now. I could take what I’ve learned and do it so much better next time. But I’ll never have the chance. Not here, anyway. Maybe that’s ok. I can take what I’ve learned and one day apply it elsewhere, even if the processes and people will be different.

On top of this project, I’ve spent the last year building a foundation for a lot of the general processes in my respective area. I’ve done a lot of work that my boss unfortunately doesn’t care about (which is dumb on my part) but I still know it will help the business and maybe, eventually, one day, someone will notice. Or not. But I feel good about that too.

In short, I’ve learned a lot this year and I think I’ve done pretty good work. That is meaningless because I missed deadlines that set and also suck at communication, apparently. Some parts of the communication were easier due to everyone WFH and others were harder. A few slack and email conversations were incorrectly interpreted. There were a lot of cooks in the kitchen and I was just trying to make dinner on time for our guests, but the cooks were all mad at me for delaying parts of the process. Dinner was served on time.

So I’m just frustrated at this point. And unsure if I’d be happier had I met deadlines and kept my role going forward. It would still have been hard, and I still would have struggled to drive alignment and get everyone moving in the same direction. I am sad because my friend (who is very good at his job) was given the role–not because he was given the role–but because of why. Because of all the things he is that I’m not. I’m not jealous or angry or resentful. Just sad. I process things too slowly. I don’t use big words or sound smart and confident when I talk. I don’t have that gusto that is needed where everyone just trusts you and your vision. Nor do I have it in me to put out work that I’m not proud of just to hit deadlines, which seems to be a key skill in leadership. To me, everything needs to make sense. If we’re doing something, we’re doing something that isn’t just to check the box and move on to the next thing. I actually want to put out work that adds value.

I just need to do that faster.

And it’s too late. I have a few weeks left at this point before maternity leave, and I’m already transitioning to my new role. When I come back, I’ll have to build processes from the ground up again. I enjoy doing that, but it puts me at risk for the same issues in a way–because I’m learning how long each part of the process takes and trying to sort that out with a whole other batch of cooks that are slightly different but equally opinionated. I don’t feel good about that. I want to be able to take what I’ve done and learn from it and do better next time, versus start over.

But it doesn’t matter. I don’t get that choice. And to be fair, my boss has given me a lot of runway through the last years, through my mental health issues, through having a baby, through getting a performance plan and then six months later being recognized as a top performer (not by my boss, but still) and then another two months later of letting everything get to me, falling apart, and giving me the opportunity to move to a new role that has less visibility, so I don’t make her look bad. I get it. I’m not upset at that.

I’m sad because I wonder had I just hit those dates, would I still have this job? I know there were other issues with communication and such. I felt like maybe the work I was producing wasn’t good for a while. The more exciting parts of the project requiring more work from others were cut due to reprioritization. I stepped in and filled in the holes versus just accepting that we were cutting a crucial part of the project.

What my colleagues get that I clearly don’t is that you just have to protect yourself. It’s all a game at the end of the day. Good work matters, but we’re already doing good work–that’s why we were hired. What matters is that everyone else sees you as someone they can rely on to deliver. I get that. I don’t know how to do that and also stick to my principles of always delivering high-quality and meaningful work.

In the end, the project was delivered on time, and I’m on-time being delivered to a new position.

I did not get a formal demotion or reduction in pay (likely because of the whole being pregnant thing.) I have no idea what my new title is because things are always so disorganized that no one has brought this up yet. No one has actually even informed me that my coworker is taking over for my role officially. It seems either they are too busy to do this or they are purposefully waiting until I’m on maternity leave to make the transition. However, it’s a whole bunch of awkward given that people keep asking me who will be doing my role and I have to answer them I don’t know. They seemed to want to set this whole thing up to make it look like it was my choice to move into this new role, but they really aren’t giving me a lot to work with to support that story. Meanwhile, if coworker friend takes my title, wtf is my title?

And should I even care? I don’t know what I should care about. My ego is trampled on yet at the end of the day, I still have my paycheck. I am so grateful for that. If I can step back and just look at this whole situation from a purely financial perspective, I’m over-the-moon fortunate, especially given the current state of the world. While there is no guarantee I will still have a job at this time next year, it seems odds are increasingly in my favor. So I should just shut up, stop complaining, and focus on doing a good job in my new role. There is absolutely no reason I cannot, in approximately 18 months, look for a position similar to my original role at another company and try this again, if it makes sense to try this again. I’m not sure yet if that’s what I want to do–but with the experience I do have I can actually go in and make a good first impression versus scrambling to figure out what I’m doing.

I think that will be a good thing.

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