December 2011

So I left my corporate job in December 2010 and embarked on my vision quest to be a writer. But, frankly, I was in pretty bad shape. I was so shell-shocked from the insane pace and schizophrenic demands of the corporate culture that it took me months to find my own natural rhythms again. My typical day in Corporate America went something like this:  Rise at 6 am, log onto work laptop and begin pulling email while I crawled down to the kitchen to get coffee. Yes, I worked from home which sounds like a fabulous gig because you don’t have to shower or get dressed or even leave the house, but the reality then is that you rarely shower or get dressed or leave the house. You sit in front of your laptop and respond to the relentless stream of demanding emails and chats and conference calls, only reluctantly leaving your perch to answer the call of nature and sometimes, but not often, actually eat lunch. You do this for ten to twelve hours a day. In my case, I am a West coaster who worked for East coast bosses, so by the time I signed onto chat at 7 am, the East coasters were already in full swing in the middle of their morning.  This was sort of like jumping onto the playground merry-go-round spinning at full tilt, and the sun hadn’t even come up yet. I would manage to stuff a breakfast bar down my throat about two hours later when I could actually stomach food.

By then, I would usually know what insane task had been set before me that day, but it was never really certain, because often we would be told we needed to accomplish something incredible in a completely unrealistic short period of time, with very little direction on how to accomplish it, all while being in hard-core competition with other groups who were trying to do the exact same thing, only to be told several hours later to stop what we were doing and run headlong at top speed in the other direction. Needless to say, this was exhausting and draining in a very unfunny Monty Python kind of way. You start to feel like you are at the bad end of someone’s cruel joke except that they are paying you good money to accomplish very little other than indulge the whims of whatever executive happens to be at the helm. Here’s when you know your corporate career has gone to the dogs: when the main focus of your job is to 1) provide bullet points for an executive’s powerpoint presentation that will be delivered to yet another executive, and 2) do weekly status reports that will then be rolled up with other executives’ status reports to demonstrate how “effective” the organization is. It doesn’t really matter if the stuff is true, as long as it sounds good, it looks like progress, and it’s all formatted in a pretty package, especially with customer logos inserted for good measure, then everyone is happy. That is, for about fifteen minutes, until the next round of PowerPoint presentations and executive briefings is scheduled. My work days were an endless repetition of this cycle, sort of like shampooing: apply, rinse, repeat as necessary, and you have no idea how much repetition is required to keep this executive model in motion. But in retrospect, that stuff was easy. It was the organizational models that were killing me.

Organizational models sound quite innocuous, just a nice tidy tool to help whip your organization into shape. What they really are is a way for executives to neatly trim their organizations of headcount, thus putting the burden of work onto the shoulders of the lucky few who are left to carry on and are expected to kneel gratefully because they still have their jobs. So here’s the deal: I made a conscious decision years ago not to go into management, because I never wanted to be in a position where I played God with someone’s life by laying them off. Intentionally did not go there. But here’s the rub: by working on organizational models, I was handling the back office piece of that. I hated it. I knew the direct results would be people losing their jobs, and often, I actually knew the impacted people. This, quite frankly, sucked. So while my brain was giving me stern instructions to do whatever I was told to do and hang on because people were losing their jobs, I also had the humbling experience of seeing how callously this type of work is done. It’s all a numbers game. They only come up with the names later, after delegating that task to lesser management who then select their actual victims, and even then, I wouldn’t know who actually got chopped until I saw who dropped off my headcount report the next month.  It was all cloaked in secrecy, as if people didn’t know it was coming. Believe me, everyone knows it is coming.  I knew one day they’d be coming for me, but not until they had sucked every last bit of my soul dry. So I threw myself on the funeral pyre willingly. Please take me now.

They didn’t want to, but after I told them I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown and had put myself in therapy, they decided it might be in their best interests to let me go quietly. So I got my notification that I had thirty days to find another job within the company, and I spent those thirty days training up my replacement. Bless her soul. Gratefully, I turned in my work laptop and never looked back.

I woke up the next Monday with absolutely nothing to do but what I wanted to do. I felt like a kid again, except now I was a grownup who had just let go of a sure thing, and I had a mortgage and a husband who thought I had lost my mind. I had no idea where I was going. The only thing I knew for sure was that I was going to finish that novel, and that’s what I started to do.