Thursday, February 25, 2010

Fifteen Years

At my work they do an e-mail blast known as a bell ringing, which is tantamount to an "Atta Boy".  It's nice actually even though I've been known to make some fun of them.  Generally a core group of people will e-mail you to congratulate you, and you feel pretty good about yourself for a day or two.  As part of that program, the executive who sends them out also sends out a quarterly list of employees who are celebrating their anniversary with the company.  The current list came out this week, and I was on the top of the list with a big fifteen years.  My co-worker, who is familiar with my history, shared a laugh with me about it.  For all the times I've either left or been asked to leave, they still choose to list me as one long, contigious tenure.  I guess because it looks good.  I theorize that they think the perception is that this can't be a crappy place to work if someone sticks with it for fifteen years.  But maybe people think, "Wow, what a loser.  She can't find anything better even after fifteen years?"  Actually, with my current title attached to a tenure like that, who would blame someone for thinking that?  I have had an absolutely meteoric fall to the bottom.  I have gone from Senior Vice President, to the leader of a sub-department, then back up to a department leader, and now I am literally a clerk.  So, my friend and I had a laugh about that, but it was a little bit of a bitter laugh for me.  Unlike my friend, who works as a clerk because she's got her priorities a whole lot straighter than I did at her age (kids first, in other words), I don't have time on my side.  Every year that whisks by closes the door just a bit on any hope I might have to re-establish an actual career.  Does it matter?  Can I be happy doing what I currently do?

I don't mind what I do usually.  I work for a woman who has been my friend for a long time.  I knew her before I hired her several years ago.  She is now a highly competent, trusted department head, and I am one of her staff in one of those twists of fate that my life seems to be full of.  The work is important, but, despite being plentiful, not particularly difficult.  The hardest part is to stay alert and pay attention to what I do because the mistakes are almost aways because of becoming distracted or numb from the repetition.  Mistakes, as I learned this week, can be costly. But, it's contained.  When I walk out of the office every day, the work stays behind.  I have yet to pull a weekend shift.  I listen to my iPod most of the day, rocking out to whatever it is I want to listen to, and I can, but don't always, mind my own business and maintain a low profile.  I am friendly via e-mail with dozens of other clerks and paralegals across the country, and I adore the people I work with in the department.  However, I rarely get calls. When my phone does ring, it often startles me. Most people in the company do not know me. Fewer still know my history. This low profile allows me to come and go as I've needed to, leaving for hours at a time to transport Marissa places, attend grief counseling, and attend to the many, many needs of Mother and her various care givers. It is, in short, the perfect fit for someone in my situation.  But I would be an incredible liar if I didn't say that I occasionally long for the headier days of running a dynamic, growing company, managing an independent group of people, and that feeling that your presence is important.  I created a lot of the policies and procedures the people across the office work with, including the couple who can't deem themselves to stoop low enough now to speak to me.  Now my largest decision in a day is whether to heat up my lunch before I finish running a particular batch of statements or after.  I sometimes feel the bitter taste of regret about what I am not rather than just being content with what I am.

I know, on the one hand, that this is a ridiculous way to feel.  It's the people on the bottom of the pryamid that support the top of it.  Without people like my co-workers and I, the next layer could not exist, and the layer after that, all the way up to the CEO himself.  More importantly, I am not the sum of my job title.  Even if I were, this is all I can handle.  As a matter of fact, my mother's broker suggested I take a few days off to try and get her current crisis under control.  The suggestion, made with sincerity and no malice whatsoever, made my livid.  I wanted to reply, "Sure, I'll do that if you'll pay my electric bill and mortgage this month."  But, there is simply no way to consider a job with more responsibility when life outside of the office is such hard work.  Most days I know what the right thing is.  I am lucky to even have a job.  Many don't.  I am supremely lucky to have a job that allows me the chance to take a phone call, or two, or four, or eight about Mother - or whatever.  But, every now and again, I glance at the bank of office doors from over top my cube wall and think I could be in one.  And every once in a while, I get reminded of what a down hill slide the last fifteen years has been.  And every once in a while, I'm not okay with that.  Thanks for ringing that bell.

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