It’s funny. I filled out my performance review this year and in tabulating all of my contributions since last January, including ones that arguably delivered (significant) quantifiable ROI, I feel jolted into a sense of satisfaction meets unease—pride paired perfectly with the PTSD of being constantly reminded by my boss that I am not a leader, that I’m bad at running meetings, and that people generally don’t like me.
The reality is we are both right. I have a long way to go to be able to take the quality of my work and have a presence to match. And maybe I made a bunch of poor strategic choices this past year, but it’s hard to say when the only objectives my boss set for me was to hit deadlines (I was doing ok at this until one big project slipped) and make people like me (well, I don’t think I made major inroads in becoming queen popular this year while holed up inside my bedroom working in my PJs—though non interaction seemed to solve for this over a chunk of the year when people probably forgot I existed until I put out some decent work.
My issue 100% is consistency—which in a creative role is a massive challenge for me. The end product is usually good but the path to get there never clear. When I’m off on my own doing creative work and/or managing an agency I can GSD effectively. But throw in the kitchen sink of stakeholders / opinions, especially in an environment where I’m told my opinion doesn’t actually hold the same weight as everyone else’s, and I can’t seem to move things forward as I should. If I was just a project manager, I could do it. But as project manager and creator I find myself so often stuck. I know better than to stay stuck, and if anything it is best to just push forward and put out something vs drown in the sea of trying to make everyone happy and making no one happy.
But to be fair to myself, I was also put in a hard to win situation. My boss wanted me to lead, but her idea of leadership is somewhat incompatible with the processes designed to be collaborative. She made comments on how I brought too many people into the process (probably true) and yet in the end this collaboration was actually one of the most positive feedback notes received during the review of what went well and what didn’t.
What didn’t go well is not knowing how to guide people to my strategic vision and instead trying to execute on “theirs,” however conflicting it all was. My boss was not involved much—she just wants the person in this specific role to lead and figure out what to do and get buy in, but she has little interest in participating in determine what any of that is. She wants someone who will list be excellent. Trusted. Smart. Influential. Charismatic. Assertive.
She, apparently, wants my coworker. I mean, to do this. She put him into my temporary role and moved me out of it without clear communication to either of us. As she was, it seems, prodding him to step up and lead and equipping him with a career path to taking over my role, she was quietly plotting to move me out of it. I’ll never know if I still have a job because I am pregnant or if the leadership team actually sees value in me and wants me to stay (perhaps a little of both) but I’ve been put into a role where success is even more unlikely given again I have no control over the work I’m doing, only put in a position where I’m expected to both drive projects forward and make everyone happy.
I’ll do my best.
What is most challenging right now is that I’m being tasked to come up with a strategic plan for next year, yet I can’t move forward with this until other planning I am not involved in is done, yet I go out on maternity leave in less than two months and there isn’t much time remaining to move forward on a plan let alone create a plan. I take one step forward and two or twenty back. If I don’t plan, I am told I am not making enough progress. When I try to move things forward, I’m told I’m moving too fast and I need to wait. Somehow, no matter what I do, my former boss (now boss’s boss) seems to find fault with it. Luckily I have a few projects to take me through mat leave, and I’m hopeful they won’t ask me to leave between now and then with so much that needs to be wrapped up. But upon my return from baby 2 this spring, I acknowledge my days are numbered. The question is how long can I produce good enough work assigned to me and never miss a deadline so their argument to throw me out becomes one of documenting every last word choice made in emails and meetings and not one of failed project delivery. That won’t save me forever, but it’s possible with the right focus I can make it to the end of next year. I really hope I can.
But I also realize that there is no where to to here but down. I’m seen as a mediocre performer at best, saved by occasional delivery of projects that make my team look good. I want a job where people respect me for my strategy and results, not random output that has no greater value. So maybe I can find that next. This job, despite its ups and downs, has truly been life changing for me. Financially, I will be walking away from a few years of stock appreciation mostly sold and now safely in my bank account and diversified across index funds (and a new house.) While I’m sure had I been an A+ player I’d have even greater wealth due to rates and large stock refreshers I did not get, it all works out in the end as there are no golden handcuffs after next year, and it’s much easier to seek out a new role with a comparable package since this company has made it clear they don’t care if I stay (and clearly prefer that I don’t.) But I also take with me a solid chunk of time at a respected company that is not a startup no one has heard of. And while my role may be shrinking into oblivion, my resume has grown enough to at least land me interviews (or I assume it would) vs what life looked like job hunting prior to this role. This is not to say I’ll easily get hired anywhere, but I do think I have a shot at being high on the list of who to call when I submit my applications.
The real question is — how do I make it through next year? The amount of money on the table is non trivial and losing any of it would feel like taking a winning lottery ticket and dropping it onto subway tracks with a train coming at full speed, instantaneously blowing it away as if it never existed. So. I have my personal marching orders. Survival. Survival in the hard months upon returning from maternity leave when sleep is practically non existent. If I am able to continue to WFH due to covid this may help—but it also may prove challenging as partially the return to an office last time enabled a mental split from mom life to work life, and my occasional naps in the breastfeeding room out of sheer exhaustion were not interrupted by a toddler screaming out the alphabet for the nine thousandth time in a row. So this will be interesting, to say the least. An interesting year of being good enough that they won’t fire me. Or at least that they will wait until performance reviews next year to do so, giving me a few months of safety upon my return to work. It’s all possible. I think I can deliver on what is expected as long as I do not over commit and I hide as much as possible. I say little, in meetings or otherwise. My only objective is driving positive sentiment about interactions with me. Everyone should say how easy I was to work with, how they felt heard in meetings, and how I helped them deliver on their vision. If I can do this, barring any major unexpected layoffs, I should be safe. Unless I’m already on the chopping block.
But I don’t think I am. It would be in poor taste (and with questionable legal standing) to fire me a few weeks out from maternity leave with the delivery of a number of successful projects in the recent past. It would be equally questionable for them, within 3-6 months of returning from maternity leave to fire a woman who is performing at least at moderate levels. I never try to contribute anything less than exceptional work, but the reality is after you have a baby (and I hear after you have a second one) sleep is non existent and it’s hard to perform at the same level for a little while, until baby starts to sleep through the night and isn’t waking you up to nurse every few hours.
So on one hand, I feel good about where I am. Two months out from maternity leave, if that, with a clear line of sight to half of the remaining vesting periods. I can’t (and wouldn’t) slack off at this point, but I it feels very possible to make it through that, in the least. Then, I have my 6-12 months of holding on for dear life. And figuring out what’s next. I’d love for my company to acknowledge my contributions and fight for me to stay, but that clearly isn’t going to happen. I’ll be lucky if I see any sort of raise this year (I received a <2% COL adjustment last year with a tiny stock refresh valued under 10k a year compared to my initial grant of 50k+ a year) so I’m clearly in the bucket of employees who are good enough to stay but not good enough to fight to keep.
Would I feel blissful if my company suddenly gave me a massive stock refresh this year as thanks for what I’ve contributed? Sure. That would be nice. It’s not happening. I probably am making more than my new boss right now with my total package, at least should I ever get a refresh bringing me back to where I started. It’s not happening. I don’t even have a title right now. They put someone into my role and moved me into a new role and didn’t have the respect to clarify what my new title is, or to even make it clear that my colleague is stepping into the role I was performing (outside of just organically allowing it to happen.) The whole situation is just unprofessional and unsettling, but who am I to complain when I’m looking at my stock vesting account and see the amount I may receive next year? I really can’t complain. I’m so grateful. And I want to stay and stay not just because HR is saying something about keeping me until legally I’m no longer protected, but because I actually am doing good work. If I am going to leave in early 2022, which is the plan, I want to leave on a very high note.
While it seems like a very long time between now and March 2022, it really isn’t. Especially not in returning to the first year of motherhood. It will feel long and yet also fly by in a blur. I need to have a plan for what’s next since I’m the breadwinner and carry the insurance. I can’t just take time off. I’ll have to be on the top of my game when kiddo #2 turns 1.
Every last ounce of me is determined to make it happen. I am not going to be a superstar or anything close to it, but I’m going to make it through to the day I receive all the stock offered when I joined. And I’m going to surprise no one when I put in my notice, but I’m going to do so after a long period of consistent, high-quality work and everyone feeling good about whatever it is I’ve done, so in the years to come people will remember the positive about my contributions and maybe forget about how socially awkward I am and horrible at communicating. I’ll say as little as possible and hope that gets me across the finish line.