Thursday, January 26, 2017

In someone else's shoes

The girls have health class in school this year - yeah, scary, I know - and there's been an emphasis on feelings and walking in someone else's shoes, in addition to the regular health class stuff such as hand washing.  At home, we discuss being nice to others.  You don't have to be friends with everyone but you need to be nice to everyone.  And maybe just ignore the kids who are really mean to others.

For some reason this week, I've been thinking of a former boss of mine and the torture that was working with her.  She was mean.  She was the meanest person I've ever had to work with in my twenty years of working with many, many different types of people.  But she wasn't mean to everyone.  In fact, four former co-workers of mine left Big Financial Institution to work for her at Big Online Retailer.

I was hired into the Tax Department at Big Financial Institution by B, who was super nice.  We became work friends and I eventually took management of domestic compliance off of his plate.  There was a lot of weird political crap going on way above us and a new leader took over the group.  He basically turned it into a mini law firm.  So, look.  If I had wanted to become a lawyer, I would have gone to law school.  (Did consider it a few times, but no.)  If I wanted to work in client service, I would have stayed in public accounting.  God, I used to despise the fake presentations for the sake of creating a presentation.

So they decided to shake things up, and redid the org chart of the group.  It was announced in a meeting that I wasn't able to attend because I was at home with a very sick Anna.  I still remember it very clearly.  It was summer and she had a fever.  The pediatrician believed it was simply something going around but we needed to keep a close eye on her, given her spina bifida.  I checked my Blackberry and there's an email to the entire group with a pdf attachment of the new org chart.  Have you ever viewed a document on an old Blackberry?  Yeah, so it took me awhile to enlarge and decode but that's how I found out that I now reported directly to J.  And so did my former boss, B.

This is what J told me:  "Think of this as sort of a promotion."

Career advice:  If anyone ever tells you this, immediately push for an increase in pay and a title change.  Otherwise, you'll only hurt your career in the long run.

Six months later, she fired B while I was home sick with norovirus.

It took awhile but I figured out J's deal.  Well, partially.  She was smart but she was most likely a B student.  She didn't like to be challenged and I was used to having intelligent, thoughtful conversations with peers.  Tax does not exist in black or white form.  To her, discussions of options or possibilities were challenges.  She befriended and was super nice to the lower level staff members because they wouldn't challenge her.  If she said the answer was XYZ, they would write down XYZ without question.  She also liked to fill positions with those who were under-qualified because they wouldn't be able to do their jobs properly without her telling them what to do.  She was a micromanager.

She would belittle me during conversations and also behind my back to others.  I knew everyone.  It got back to me.  It got to the point where I would leave her office door open when I went in to meet with her because I knew she wouldn't be so mean when others could hear.  Any anxiety I had lying dormant in me bubbled to the surface during my time working with her.

One day I was in the bathroom crying (a common occurrence) and I thought, If she knew that I'd once held my dead baby in my arms, would she be so mean to me?*

I tried to find common ground with her.  I was as nice as I could be.  I wanted to know why she was this way.  I tried to walk in her shoes.  Nothing worked.

And then I thought about myself.  Should I be in a separate class of people because I'd lost a baby to stillbirth?  Should people automatically be nice to me because of what I've been through?  No.  The answer to those questions is no.  We should be nice to others because we are freaking adults and we don't know what anyone has gone through or is going through in their lives.  

[I eventually equated my job and what was left of my career to the reality show Survivor.  Outwit, outlast, outplay.  Only one of us could survive.  Who would it be?  She knew I had received bonuses in prior years of stock of the company that had not yet vested.  She'd made the comment, "You have a lot of stock." She knew what it was worth and she knew if I left, what I would be walking away from. I can't even say that I won, because does anyone really win in these types of situations, but she left the company when the head of the group was forced out.  And years later, I collected all that bonus money.]

*The answer is yes, because I found out that she had been told.    


Tracey's Life said...

Some people are just mean and it really sucks the life out of you.

Melanie said...

That story makes my stomach hurt. These are the things I don't miss about my corporate job and working for someone else. Does it still bother you when you think of it now?

Sarah said...

Tracey - Yup!

Melanie - Yeah, it still bothers me. I try to not think about it.

Jojo said...

This post bothered me so much I had to come back to it. I could feel the angst coming off you with each word I read: the toxic and subtly lingering bruise that the world of office politics caused to your soul. I am sure that a version of this has happened to many of us. That doesn't make it right, but it DOES mean that we hear you and get it! And send warm clouds of empathy your way.

Tracy said...

Agree with Jojo, I couldn't stop thinking about this and my own experiences with similarly awful people. Reflecting on it now I can see how my situation and yours are probably due to jealousy and insecurity on the part of the hateful bitch in question, but it doesn't make it any easier to swallow. I'm sorry that you had to go through that experience, hopefully as we raise the next generation of working women we are teaching them to treat each other with more empathy and kindness than that hag showed you.

lloyd dunn said...

I had a boss like that, and she wore my confidence down to a nub. She eventually crossed a line, or maybe I reached a point where the thought of working at a job I loved could no longer happen if she was there. Anyway, I told her I was handing in my notice because of her and she was suddenly nice as could be. She was fired a few months later for stealing from the company (haha!) But I still hold her up as the most toxic person I've ever known. Working with her was hell, but it's taught me never to put up with that shit again. Life lessons!