It has been easier in my past incarnations to accept failure and move on after a few tears were shed. This time is different. It’s personal. It’s being reassigned not because of the quality of the work (well, I’ve heard only positive feedback on the quality), but because of who I am. While I get it, that hurts a lot more than being told my work was not up to par. When I see a friend/colleague who is smart and confident and well spoken be placed in my former role, I feel no bitterness towards him, only sadness in my lack of ability to perform as expected. I don’t blame anyone but myself, and yet the gash of the moment bleeds deep.
There is nothing worse after being transferred from your role than being told the work you delivered is of good quality. Any compliments from this point on feel like paper cuts along the way as you smile and wave like a beauty queen on a parade float on the way to your next position that has been defined loosely as a transfer, not a demotion. But it’s a demotion nonetheless. It may not have a pay cut now, but what’s cut is the potential for any future growth. It is the company telling you they aren’t in the mood to fire a pregnant woman or a new mom, so they’ll let me work that out for myself. Work myself out. Out of the company.
I realize I’m a difficult employee in some senses. But I’m also incredibly loyal and care deeply about my work. It’s not perfect. I make mistakes. A former colleague of mine reminds me time and again that everyone makes mistakes. People miss deadlines all the time, even people who hold me up to a certain standard. It’s just that once people view you in a certain way, it is near impossible to change their minds. I blame myself for that too—but I never have the energy to play the game of perception. I just want to collaborate and do good work that moves the needle.
The transfer has been handled with what can only be described as disrespect (or ambivalence) to me, but I am trying to not take it personally. If only there was clear communication, or perhaps sharing my new title with me and the plans to move my colleague into my former role before sending out a mass email to the company about the transition and failing to mention the replacement situation, only allowing that to happen organically as suddenly he is empowered to run what I was running days ago. Surely the powers that be see me as highly disposable, at least in not caring if I leave on my own, and also knowing that my compensation (for the next year anyway) is high enough that I would never walk by choice. They know I have to (and will) give my all no matter where they put me.
My boss positioned the transfer as using my skills in the right role, vs keeping me in one that would never be a fit. Yet in my first meeting for my new role she nearly fired me over how poorly I ran the awkward 30 minutes. I clearly embarrass her, and she doesn’t want me on her team, but she is putting up with me either due to HR saying to hold off until I’m no longer a protected class employee or because every now and again I do really good work that makes up for being such a klutz of a human being. Or both. Who knows.
This is not to say my gratitude is lacking. I realize in the middle of a global pandemic I am lucky to have a job at all, not to mention one that, due to stock growth, has an earnings potential in the next year I would have laughed about just 4 years ago as a total annual income I could ever make, even years from now at the tail end of a long career. So I know I need to bite my tongue and grin and bear it. I’m not fired, like another friend and colleague who was let go last year and had since gone on to an even better role. I managed to survive the last dark winter, and made it through the first months of the pandemic and WFH with newfound energy to prove everyone wrong. And the everything came crumbling down. Anxiety. Pregnancy insomnia. The state of the world. From failure to top performer and back all in the span of a few months.
I’m trying not to dwell on it. Clearly it leaves a dull ache even when I put it all to the back of my mind. But I’m trying to figure out how to pick up and move on. I know where I lack in polish I can sometimes make up for in my good attitude. If I focus on being thankful and do not complain or discuss how hurt I am (that I still do not have an official new title, for example, or clarity in what success means in my new role which makes the whole thing seem like a setup to fail) and just smile and talk as little as possible and try my best to do the work, then maybe I can survive. At this point, it’s the most I can hope for. Not long-term survival, but 18 months. It’s completely feasible, even with a tattered ego and watching my colleague step in with the confidence and swagger and intellect I’ll never have to thrive.
As I watch him step in to the position, I also question how I’ll ever be able to convince anyone, anywhere, that I am able to lead like that. I know folks on here have reminded me leadership isn’t everything—but I’m not talking people management, more senior IC where people actually trust you and look to you as an expert in the organization. I don’t know if I’m cut out for that role either. I think my ideas are generally good. But I don’t know how to gain buy in until the end product. Then, suddenly, people see the vision and are saying that the work itself is good. I am personally never satisfied with it, but I’ve learned to accept done is better than perfect (as long as there are no blatant errors.)
The challenge for me is getting everyone to buy in along the way. I’ve found, instead, I have two options: 1. Let everyone else tell me what to do and execute on other’s vision to the best of my abilities or 2. follow my intuition and do what I know will lead to the best result in the end. I find 1 impossible as I am incapable of doing much of anything when executing someone else’s vision—esp when there are 6 different someone else’s who all want something different that I fundamentally disagree with. 2 is always why I have a job in the first place. People remember my output and not how I got there. But then as soon as they do remember they label me as difficult to work with and put me on the path to nowhere and likely pray nightly that I’ll leave on my own volition, sooner than later.
Is it possible to find a stable job where I can be my best self and not feel like a babbling teenager every time I set foot into a meeting? Is it possible to position myself as person to be respected instead of someone who is there to take notes and churn out robotic work just to check the box and get it done? If I can survive the next 18 months, knock on wood, I’ll be 38 when I go into my next job. That’s my “40 year old” job, likely. At 40 people are either moving up in their career or falling backwards. As a mother with young kids, it’s pretty common to slip at this point in terms of growth and long-term earnings potential. Maybe if I lived a life that didn’t include a 7k mortgage, 2 kids, a goal for one more, and a husband who works part time, I might throw in the towel at this point and say I accept defeat and will take what anyone is willing to pay me. But I can’t do that. There is a certain amount I need to make to pay the bills and a target amount I need to make so we can live the fairly modest but good life I want us to live. I am alone in this and alone I have to figure it out.
I don’t even have a clear vision for who I want to be—this work persona I need to invent—in order to succeed anywhere. Certainly, I want to be seen as someone dependable and reliable. But beyond that I want to figure out how to have swagger. It seems now whenever I voice an opinion it comes across as nails on a chalkboard to anyone listening. Yet others just state opinions as fact and no one notices. It’s that raw confidence that I find is impossible to embody. It is something I need to figure out in the haze of new motherhood next year, preparing for whatever it is that’s next, and doing whatever it takes to prove I’m worth saving until it makes sense to step into my new work psyche make that leap elsewhere.