Quiting time

I quit my job today.

I loved the company I worked for and was able to do some amazing things over the past four years. I respected most of my co-workers. There was an unusually high number of smart committed people. I have nothing but good things to say about the founder and icon of the company.

But then there was my manager.

He was hired while I was away after Elena died. When I came back to work he wasn’t my manager yet but he was somebody I’d have to work with. After our first conversation I was horrified. Here was a guy committed to doing as little as he could while appearing to be thoughtful and competent. He convinced the CEO (also the founder) that he would spend the first six months on the job just learning the business and then he would start producing.

I was stunned. I called the CEO and told him he should get rid of this guy immediately. He didn’t. And the next thing I knew I was directly reporting to this man.

He was a micro-manager who couldn’t make a decision. I had to run everything by him before doing them. They would sit on his desk and wither until the deadline had passed and nothing could be done. I watched as all of my active projects died and by Christmas I had little left to do. He would fly me out three thousand miles to meet with him and then he’d have a schedule conflict and not show up.

He loved meetings and soon I was scheduled into many weekly phone meetings that seemed to serve no purpose. Each Friday night at around nine the phone would ring.

“Don’t answer it,” Kim would say, “you know who it is.”

But how could I not answer the phone. Sure enough it would be my manager. It was six pm on the west coast and everyone had left the office. He needed someone to talk to. Some reason not to go home. Some way to convince himself that he was busy.

With all that, I stayed at the company asking to be transfered to another position. Two things tipped me over the edge. The first should have been enough.

I took the week of February 22 off. It was the anniversary of Elena’s death and I didn’t know how I’d feel but it seemed like a good time to take a vacation. I told my manager why I was taking the week off and let him know that I would not be checking email. I explicitly told him that the 22nd was the anniversary.

The phone rang all day from friends and family checking that Kim and I were ok. Sharing a memory of Elena. Letting us know they were there.

Mid afternoon I picked up the phone and it was a former boss who now worked for my current manager.

“I’m sorry to call today. I know this is a hard day for you.”

She’d come to the funeral the year before. It was nice that she remembered. We’d been friends over the years.

“But,” she continued, “xxxx asked me to call to get you to book a flight to San Francisco to meet with Intel in a few weeks.”

“Today?” I asked, “it has to be done today?”

“It does. He wanted to make sure it was done today.”

Like an idiot, I did it. On the first anniversary of my daughter’s death, I took time to call Continental and book a flight. Maybe he asked her to call – but she made the call. She didn’t tell him “not today.” And me? I did what they asked.

And here, in retrospect, is the most puzzling part of that story. I didn’t quit my job then. I came back from vacation and flew to San Francisco and went to the premeeting. Sure enough, my manager had forgotten that he had double booked the slot and wouldn’t be able to make the meeting.

I continued to work for the company but something felt different. I had been covering our conferences since before I came to work for the company and now I had been told to miss two in a row. A couple of weeks ago the phone rang at about ten o’clock on a Friday night.

“Don’t answer it,” Kim said, “you know who it is.”

Sure enough, it was him.

“I finally had my meeting with [the director of conferences],” he said. This was the meeting he had supposedly been trying to schedule since November. This was March. He had sent her a budget for how much our services would cost her. In it he would be charging her tens of thousands of dollars for the use of one of her employees. He was surprised when she reacted badly to that.

And then he dropped the bomb. “[The marketing director] doesn’t want you to come to conferences any more. They don’t think you’re a team player.”

I was stunned. I had just done her a favor two nights before when she was in a bind and needed me to help her post some files quickly. We had always had a great working relationship.

He should have left that alone – but then he gave himself away by saying “And they don’t want you to call either of them to confirm that this is what they actually said.”

When I later told the story to Kim, I said that that was like Elena coming home from school and saying, “I was really good in school today. You don’t have to call my teacher and check or anything.”

Over the last couple of weeks I made some calls. Kim, as always, had the common sense approach. She said, “you can’t fight this battle from three thousand miles away. He’s had you working through him for seven months so all they know of you, they hear through him. He’s gotten to paint their impression of you.”

“But that doesn’t make any sense,” I said, “they’ve known me for years. They know how I am.”

The final straw came when I talked to two women. One was the woman who had supposedly said I wasn’t welcome at conferences and I wasn’t a team player. She said that she had said neither and invited me to let her know which conferences I wanted to attend. The other was the woman who had called me on the anniversary of Elena’s death. She was a woman I’d worked closely with for four years. She told me that she had heard I wasn’t a team player.

“But you know I am, we’ve worked together for four years.”

“Yeah, that’s what I thought but [the marketing director] says that you’re not.”

“Really?” I said, “did she tell you that?”

“No,” she said, “but [my manager] said that that’s what she said. Why would he lie?”

I’ve been watching people and politics for long enough that when smart people trust something they’ve heard over their own experience, there’s no way to convince them otherwise.

And so I quit today.

I don’t know what I’ll do. I have no job waiting for me. I didn’t quit in order to go somewhere. I quit in order to get away. But in the hour since I quit I already feel so much better. I should have done this months ago.

Note: This was much harder to read because I’ve gone to such pains not to use anyone’s name. The point of the story wasn’t who did what. In my resignation I summed up what I had done for the company over the past four years. I’m really proud of what my team did. I also summed up what the company had done for me. I’m very thankful for what they’ve given me. I probably could have gotten some sort of money out of them for the abuse and hostile working environment but it was more important to start fresh and move on than to worry about every little detail.

Published in: on April 2, 2007 at 6:56 am  Comments (4)  

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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. One thing which comes from dealing with the death of a loved one, is that you tend to reexamine your life. You weigh things out, and you decide what matters to you in life. Life is really short, and it’s best to use it well. Which means, excel in the things which make you happy. Be productive, be the most loving person you can be.

    We are all changed by, and change the people in our lives. Blossom together.

  2. It never ceases to amaze me when people like that manager are promoted to positions of influence. Sounds like you made a very healthy decision in getting out of that destructive dynamic. I have a feeling something much better is waiting for you now.

  3. Bravo! My mom was debating quitting after my brother died because she realized that 25+ years of working nights was limiting what she wants out of life. The company made the right choice and moved her to days. Personally, any company that doesn’t go out of its way to care for the parents who have lost a child doesn’t deserve to be in business.

  4. We would probably have some interesting thoughts to share, now that a few months have passed since we lost Owen. You know where to find me. I’m still at the company.

    I hope you and your family get through this holiday season in the best ways possible. It’s our first without Owen, and we’re not quite sure how to get out of bed in the mornings. So, we do it anyway. Just like you did last year, and like you will again this year.

    Please know that many of your former co-workers think very highly of you and your work. I wish I had had a chance to meet you in person.


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