There’s a Lesson in Here Somewhere

There’s a pattern playing out, and I know there’s a lesson, but I’ll be honest, I’m struggling to figure it out.

There’s all the stuff with mom. Yesterday, I noticed the wifi was out in the house before I went to work. It was annoying, but I figured it would come back during the day. If I had thought more about it, it was clear that it went out around 1 a.m., I noticed it around 7— that probably merited more investigation than I gave it, but I went to work, instead. Around noon, Mom called to tell me that the phone was out, too, and I should call on the cell if I needed to. I put it together then, and suggested that she call our provider and have them reset our modem. She said something about “it’s an outage and they probably already know.” I said “it might not be a neighborhood outage— I think you should call them.” There was something about the way she got off the phone that I knew she wouldn’t call. It was still out when I got home. I asked if she called. She said “no— did you hear anything about an outage?”  I said “I wouldn’t— that’s why you needed to call.” She said something lame about not wanting to get tied up on the phone with them. Listen— I understand it, I do. I hate to call them, also. But one person is at home all day. She spends her days talking on the phone and playing on the computer, neither of which was available to her yesterday. Occasionally, she does a load of laundry and she opens every blessed piece of mail that is sent to her, no matter how inconsequential and reads it all the way to the end and responds with requests like “Please don’t call me Mrs. MyFirstName MyLastName— I would prefer that you refer to me more generally by my initials.” or “I would prefer that you didn’t address me as Ms.,” but as far as I can tell, any other contribution she made yesterday was to move the array of family Christmas cards from the upper left hand corner of the refrigerator door to the mid right-hand side of the refrigerator door. I feel like this was a call she had time to make. Instead, I had to make it when I got home from a brutal day at work. After I arranged for dinner, re-submitted her taxes, walked the dog, and watered the lawn I reseeded the night before.

I thought about not making the call— about letting her do without wifi and a landline until she was willing to make the call. But the problem was that I wanted wifi for later in the night, and I couldn’t punish her without punishing myself. So I made the call.

Yesterday was, as I mentioned, brutal. I met with my boss. I asked if I had his support to ask my former boss to plan ahead a little on the work I’ll need to turn around in the next couple of weeks. I have to produce several videos from an upcoming event, and work interdepartmentally to do it. Sometimes, I need to pull in a vendor. My former boss always waits until the middle of the event to narrow down what she wants produced on a tight turnaround and what we have longer to produce. That means I have to put other departments under the gun, I contact the vendor and he seldom has capacity to help. My boss said my request made sense, but asked to be the one to speak to her. I said “fine.” He came back with the answer I expected— she will not narrow the decision down, but he at least gave me the green light to contact the vendor. Later, I met with my boss and his boss and a contractor I’ve worked with, but with whom the relationship is not good (I had to beat a project out of him, and he doesn’t like me much as a result.) I did not want to fight with the contractor during the call, so I sat on myself. There were points I wanted to make, but I felt that most of them would be made more effectively after the contractor got off the phone. Things like that his estimates are historically pretty far off, and that his recommended course of action was pretty self interested. I made a few points of fact, and some suggestions, but at one point, the CEO, who noticed that I was holding my tongue, blew up at me and yelled “SPEAK! You know this project better than anyone— tell us what you think!” I explained, after we hung up with the contractor, that I saw no point in arguing with him, but that his estimates were off and to base our decisions on those estimates was faulty. But it was humiliating to be spoken to that way.

I don’t like that the CEO responds to me the way he does. By the same token, the reason I don’t speak up more is that a lot of what I said got disregarded and the degree of toxic communication on this project has had me so stressed out I can’t even function: I’ve been told in writing that my job was on the line if I didn’t deliver this product on schedule. I’ve pulled the CEO in to hear what the contractor said about why it didn’t make sense to finish the product on schedule and been told to disregard the contractor and finish it. Within 48 hours of finishing it, I was told to shelve it, 10 days later I was told to beta test it to launch within two weeks. I launched it six weeks ago, and 45 minutes into yesterday’s hour-long meeting, the CEO said “I didn’t know we had launched it! When did that happen?!” like he wasn’t the person who envisioned the product, chose the contractor, overrode the contractor and set the launch date. Like he hasn’t been in meetings where I described how the product had been launched.

This is to leave off my third meeting of the day, in which I spent less than 10 minutes and for which my former boss has apologized to me three times.

And let’s not even talk about Grey Area Guy.

There’s a thread here about the things I’m not saying. My entire life, there’s been this tension between the quiet version of myself (dominant) and what I call the Mouthy Broad. People like the Mouthy Broad (except when they call her arrogant.) They like what she has to say (except when she makes them feel like she’s smarter than they are, or when they think she’s too big for her britches, which is, let’s just say, a lot of the time. That’s why the quiet version runs the show.) But the quiet version who chooses her words carefully doesn’t actually save me much. I get told that I need more confidence. I don’t need people to tell me I’m smart— I’m pretty well acquainted with both edges of that sword. And I have confidence, but the same CEO who shouted “SPEAK!” at me has also told me that what I’m saying isn’t my job.

I feel like I’m stuck in several double binds in several areas. I have to launch and not launch a product, tell a contractor what to do and not tell him what to do. I have to be there to very tangibly support Grey-Area Guy and also give him space and let him “earn me.” I have to treat my mother like she’s an adult, capable of making her own decisions and also pick up her slack without comment.  I’ve called out these double binds, to no apparent effect.

I know that part of this is that I have to care less what people think and care more what I think. I can take their disapproval, if that’s all it takes to resolve this, but I feel like the lesson is bigger than that. It feels like my professional success and mental health, at very least, depends on better resolving this gap between the quiet, nonthreatening version of myself (which feels like selling out and doesn’t actually even work, because people are plenty threatened by her [keeping your mouth shut without a poker face, it turns out— not that effective]) and the mouthy broad whose confidence reads as cockiness and who plenty of people, over the years, have found insufferable. I’m playing smaller than I am, and that’s on me— I took a job where that seemed to me to be the bargain. In theory, that’s fine, at least in the short term. In practice, coming in, working hard, and collecting a paycheck with my mouth shut is harder than it looks. When I’ve tried to grow in this role— to take on more responsibility or to tackle different challenges, I haven’t been encouraged to do that. When I’ve tried to improve the role— make it more efficient, improve processes, etc., I’ve been told no, more often than not. I tried to stay in my lane. It didn’t work much better. I can accept that this job was maybe a wrong turn that I can’t make right, for trying— story of my year. And I can look for a place where who I am is celebrated. But given that it isn’t just coming up at work (the same dynamics seemed very much in play at Toastmasters this morning, much to my dismay), I feel like there’s a lesson I should get to the bottom of, if I can.


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