Culture is a funny thing. Whether it be that of a country, age group, location, religious group, or company, it is something that is often underestimated, and can mean success or failure in any endeavor.
When I was young, I did not realize the importance of culture. I went abroad and found it interesting to note the differences, though not difficult to fit in. Lately, though, it is obvious, every day and in every way, that if you don’t fit, you won’t just be unsuccessful – you’ll be miserable.
I think a lot of that has come with the rapid advancement of technology, and with a group of people who have grown up with technology and not only call attention to themselves, but demand it, and live in a completely transparent manner. It has come with the fact that we can easily watch and interact with any number of people from around the world. So we think that everyone is as transparent and easy to figure out.
It’s not quite that easy. Being transparent, or merely being authentic, does not mean that others do the same – even when asked a direct question. Which makes it difficult to determine fit, especially within a company, until it is too late. Or there are companies that do not see culture as important, or think they have created one culture but have actually created another. These companies are deluding themselves, and often experience a high rate of turnover – and again, either don’t care or the smart ones wonder what is “wrong” in order to fix a bad pattern.
I am in the middle of a “job” search. After returning from my Peace Corps experience more than a year ago, I was eager to get back into a paid position. Even though I asked about the company culture, I found the answers misleading (very, as it turns out – though this came to light after I was already there). During that time, I was working long hours and making myself go to the office every day, and lost some of the lessons I had learned during my service. I felt like I had once again lost myself.
Being laid off was a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, it took away my source of income – which paid my rent, and enabled me to eat, pay toward my student loans, and start to rebuild the life I had to give up not so long ago. It was devastating, as was an experience that followed immediately.
On the other hand, I realized that once again I had been in a position where I was working for a paycheck, and not because it was doing anything in which I had any enjoyment. Now, once upon a time that was the norm, but in this day and age, we’ve been taught differently – we’ve been taught that our source of income should be something in which we find meaning. And I found no meaning in what I was doing.
So I was able to revisit my lessons and realize that it is important for me to do what I want to do, what I like to do and what I am good at doing. Now comes the hard part – finding a company that is not only able to see what I have to offer (there is a lot of competition out there), but also a company whose culture fits mine.
I’ve had some rays of hope during the darkness – I have had a couple of interviews where it seemed like not only was the position a good fit, but the culture as well. Of course, this has to be a mutual belief. But what is encouraging to me is a conversation I had recently, where, in response to my question of how many people they are talking to about a position, the person responded by telling me it was difficult to answer, because he is looking beyond a person’s resume to whether the person would be a good fit at the company. This is a smaller company, where the people work in a very collaborative manner, and knowing that a person is going to come in and “fit” is of great importance to them.
This gives me hope – that there are organizations out there that pay attention to not just a checklist, but realize that a person is so much more, and that how a person fits in with a company’s culture is important, for both the employee and the company’s success.
I am in job opportunity seeking mode lately, and have had quite a challenging time getting myself back out of a dark place. It is simply a challenge to look back over my career and not wonder what sort of theme I have – after all, I have to have a story to tell when I speak with prospective employers, or people who may know someone who is a prospective employer.
For all of you out there who have never been through a period of unemployment I will say this – you are fortunate to not understand this. And it is simply exhausting to do this. To get up every morning and have to motivate yourself to make it through another day, especially when the phone does not ring and people do not respond to your emails and attempts to get together. To know what you have to offer and feel like no one else does (based on experience and current situation). To have so much experience, education, skills, etc. and yet still be searching for your story.
So on Saturday I returned to a group I had not visited in a year and a half. It is a group in the DC area that is for networking, motivating, job search skills building, and support. This past weekend, someone was there to discuss personal branding, its importance, and figuring out what each person’s brand message will be. In this day and age, if you don’t have one, you don’t have a chance.
I was somewhat dismayed to see so many people my age and older who were attending. A few of them were in a position of transition on a voluntary basis, but most were not. During the session, we were encouraged to think of some adjectives that describe us, and to try to come up with an “elevator pitch”. I was in the midst of doing a stream-of-consciousness list when my roommate, who had come with me and was sitting next to me, wrote down “All-Around Badass” on her notepad and showed it to me.
All-Around Badass. That sounds kind of cool, and rather positive. I wish I could put that on my business card, as it would at the very least strike a chord of curiosity in people with whom I connect. But the exercise, and her encouraging words, did bring me back to my life’s theme thus far: Change.
I have said it before – I am a change agent. I am an agent of change. I am a person who likes improving things, who can spot risks and issues and fix them. What it means is that people don’t get me, and sometimes do not like my direct/honest manner, or my message. What that has meant to this point is that I have been in positions where I am greatly underemployed and underestimated, and where I get bored.
So where do I go from here?
I have been trying to get into Management Consulting for quite some time, but am finding that, like so many other industries, the players want to take someone young (right out of college) and train them (and not pay them much). So a senior-level person like me runs into a lot of closed doors.
So my struggle has been, and continues to be – should I continue to be myself or try to be someone else if it will increase my level of success? Is it better to live life in an authentic manner or to change who I am to fit in?
I have not figured out the answer to this. I am told by many that someone will recognize what I bring, but my faith is running low right now.
I have recently found myself on quite the career roller coaster. Going from a position where I learned a bit but was not really enjoying what I did to being laid off, getting two offers and having to choose, choosing one and having that not work out, thus ending up searching again, I have re-learned a very valuable lesson.
People don’t like change, and no matter what a company says, they don’t like change agents.
I am a change agent. I am a person who can come in and see things, and see how to fix them, and know how to do it. I am not a specialist who has been practicing one thing for many years, but a person with a background that is broad enough to know a number of different things, who can do a number of different things. I bring an energy and intensity.
Also not so great. People like to put you in a box. I do not fit in a box.
As people who have read my blog know, I am a person who tries to live my life in an authentic manner. I am very direct, ask questions, communicate, am honest, and don’t like to play games. This is not really a recipe for success in the professional world, I have found, but it is difficult to change who I fundamentally am. So here I am, at my age, in a very different place than I thought I would be by now. And not terribly happy about it.
I am reassured at how wonderful I am, how things will turn around. The other day I thought of a quote from my favorite movie, The Shawshank Redemption. Andy is pondering what happened to him, and says “Bad luck I guess. It floats around. It’s got to land on somebody. It was my turn, that’s all. I was in the path of the tornado. I just didn’t expect the storm would last as long as it has.”
Now, I have not been wrongly convicted of murder, and don’t want to sound as if I have faced some of the hardships that others have. I have struggled, put myself through school and grad school, and faced some professional (and personal) challenges. At times I have gotten in my own way. I worked very hard on my emotional intelligence (which, in other hard lessons, I learned is far more important than “regular” intelligence). In other words, being an “egghead”, as my mom calls me, isn’t enough.
But I wonder what is. If a person tries to be a good and kind person, who helps others but is well aware of her faults, but also brings a great deal to an organization, that person should excel, yes?
It seems I should have liked to play the game to make it. To NOT try to help others, or help an organization. To keep my mouth shut and just do my job. The problem is, I get bored when I do that.
It shouldn’t be so hard to find a position in a company that appreciates someone like me, right? So I’m told.
It is hard to remain optimistic when I am so tired, and have no idea what is next. I am very good at beating myself up for past mistakes and past decisions that did not work out. But right now, it is just hard to see through to the end of the storm.
A bit of a different post today. I am struggling with something and decided to share my thoughts.
A week or so ago, my sister told me that my father had called her and told her he had cancer. When I asked what stage it was, she said “I don’t know, but he said it had spread into his lymph nodes”. To me, that said stage four. I am not a doctor, nor am I an expert in illnesses, but I do know that when cancer spreads into the lymph nodes, well, the person does not usually have much time left. She texted me yesterday and told me that indeed, it is stage four, and that while it is treatable, it is not curable.
So why did my sister tell me, and not my father himself? Well, that is a longer story, and causes me to wonder what my next steps will be. It brings up a tangle of thoughts and emotions, and brings into play societal expectations around what family means.
My father did not raise me. He and my mother divorced when I was quite young, and most of my early memories of him are not positive. His parents disowned me when I was a teenager. There are other elements that came into play – financial and emotional elements, and the fact that my mom remarried my (step)dad when I was 11.
In short, he and I have not had any real relationship since I was very young. To the point that when I went to my niece’s graduation a couple of years ago and saw him, it was more like seeing a distant relative than seeing my father.
And now I find out he has cancer. I was discussing it with someone, and whether I will be expected to go to his funeral when that time comes (because it will come, sooner rather than later). The person said “well, he won’t be coming back.” This is true. But.
How do I get people to understand the fact that this man has never really been a father to me, that the man who raised me is the one who is still married to my mother? People don’t get it. It seems that if you are related by blood, you are expected to have some sort of magical connection – a connection I have just never felt with this man. It seems that merely because a person is sick, all of the pain that person caused is supposed to be forgotten, even though that person never (throughout my entire life) reached out and made an effort with me, and to this day still has not.
Is the obligation on me to reach out to the man who is a virtual stranger, who has caused me so much pain? Will his death have an impact on me? He has not been part of my every day life. He has not come to my graduations, wished me happy birthday, congratulated me on my achievements, or comforted me when I felt like a failure. In short, he has had no role in my life.
Yet people expect that because he is “my real dad” (and I take issue with that one – my real dad is the man who raised me, was there for me when I was sick, helped me with my house, supported me through my ups and downs) that I will go running to his side. Is this an obligation, merely because he and I are connected by blood? Am I expected to mourn a man I did not know?
Don’t get me wrong – I don’t wish him ill or for him to die. He is a person, and I don’t want to see another person suffer. But any more than that, well, I just don’t have the ability to bring anything else anymore. Perhaps there was too much damage done when I was young. I am not still angry; I just don’t feel anything. Perhaps I am still protecting myself, or compartmentalized to cope from the childhood pain that as an adult, I decided I no longer wanted to live with. In any case, the only thing I can do in my life is treasure those who are meaningful to me, and wish the others well, whatever their situation.
One of the reasons I moved to the DC area after completing my service was that there was plentiful public transportation, which led me to believe that I would not need a car here.
I was wrong.
Sure, the Metro goes all over the District and out (fairly far) to the suburbs. The bus goes to many places. I live in downtown Silver Spring, which means I am two blocks from the Metro and close to many bus stops. In theory, I have no problems navigating the area.
Except when I need or want to do something outside of the immediate area – then it gets tricky. Or want to go somewhere that entails transport and carrying heavy items. Or when you don’t work in the District. Or when you want to go to say, a winery for the day, or to Pennsylvania, or a host of other places.
There is so much to see and do in this area that I want to get out and explore. I want to go to Harper’s Ferry. I want to visit my friend in Philadelphia.I want to go to wineries. I want to be able to go to Target or Trader Joe’s without begging a ride, or not worry about a bus schedule if I have to work on a weekend.
I previously had lived in states and cities that pretty much required a car, except when I was overseas, and I admit that it spoiled me to have one. I moved here with every intention of not having a car (to have one here is exceedingly expensive). But the fact of the matter is, I missed my independence – that ultimate American quality of wanting to go where I want when I want. It is a selfish quality in a sense – I want, I want, I want. But I was, quite frankly, exhausted with the amount of time riding on or waiting for public transport takes. Weekends in the District, with all of the track work, are hell. Waiting twenty minutes for the next metro or bus after a certain time of day – also not so fun.
So I finally said the hell with it and got a car.
I got a car that I had wanted for a few years, and which I had been researching – a Prius. And I admit that I love it. I loved it from the moment I sat in the driver’s seat to test drive it. And I will give myself major points for getting a nicer model than I anticipated for the price I wanted to pay (even though it is more than I have ever paid for a car in my life!). I will admit that I do not “need” this car for my every day commute, but man is it nice to have. And last weekend, I took it out for its first foray onto the highway, by going to VA, and on a dirt road in VA to see a couple of those wineries.
I feel like I have my independence back. Certainly I have gained some more time in my day, which means I am making other changes to get myself back to a positive place. I hate to admit that I am now bought back into the American “car culture” but the fact of the matter is, I am.
At least it gets great gas mileage.
It has been quite a while since my last post – more than a year, in fact. Much has happened in that year, including my losing a bit of myself in a position in which I was unhappy. I am not going to go into details or name names, but suffice it to say that the more a toxic environment got to me, the unhappier I became, which influenced those around me. I lost myself again, but learned some really valuable lessons in the process. I stayed because I thought I needed to put in some time to be taken more seriously when looking for something else. I stayed because I was looking but not with a great deal of earnest; I knew things were not going well but was hoping I could stick it out for a while because my professional background includes some shorter term experiences.
In the process, I lost my appetite – literally. I stopped caring about food, stopped caring about eating, I stopped writing in my blog because I did not think that people wanted to read about the negativity I was experiencing and processing. I stopped doing a lot of things I enjoyed because I was focused on getting through each day, and each week. I tried to remember that I needed to focus on life outside of work, to not allow my identity to once again become tied up in what I do. I lost a lot – of my appetite, of my motivation, of myself.
About two and a half months ago, I realized that it was time to start looking for something else. My supervisors were not subtle about how they changed in their behavior toward me – I figured it was time to start sending out emails to people. About four and a half weeks ago, I realized that I needed to kick up my search, so I reached out to people and had an interview. That same Friday, I was laid off.
While I was angry about what had happened, I was also very relieved – I mean, I knew the day was coming; I just wanted to leave on my terms (as we all do). I was not able to do so and so I was angry about the things that had happened to me during my tenure there. At the same time there was that sense of relief; I was able to once again be the person I know I am without the toxic influence. My roommate commented on the fact that I was, within a week of my layoff, happier than she had seen me in months.
What does this have to do with cooking? Well, in the past month, I’ve been rediscovering it. I started cooking when I was seven years old – my mom was working three jobs and my siblings and I were the proverbial latch-key kids, taking care of the house and cooking for ourselves. So basically, I’ve been cooking for a long time. But when I am unhappy, I am completely unmotivated to do much of anything, least of all cook and eat. My time to recover in this past month has provided me the opportunity to remember how much I enjoy cooking – especially when it is for other people.
Cooking is a way of showing love – you can’t cook without putting work and emotion into it. It is certainly a way that I show that I care about people. When you are more focused on surviving emotionally on a day-to-day basis, there is little emotion left for doing anything for anyone else (or, for that matter, for being there for other people when they need you. I’ve not been so good at that either for quite some time). Cooking helps me connect – to myself and to others. It provides me an opportunity to exercise a bit of creativity, to try new things in a safe environment, to show people what I am not always so good at telling them.
So I’ve been reconnecting a lot, and cooking a lot. This afternoon, I cooked a number of things over four hours’ time, and did not even notice the time going by. In the past three weeks, I’ve rediscovered a lot about myself. Cooking is one aspect – watch out for others!
I recently realized that is has been quite a while since I last wrote in my blog. It is not because nothing is going on; it is because a great deal was going on with work. I also got my own apartment and managed to socialize a few times (but mostly worked. I have some long days. Welcome back, my friend says).
I’m still trying to figure out this whole work-life balance thing, and with a position like I am working in, at times, such a thing sometimes simply does not exist. We have very, very busy times, where I get home and all I want to do is go to sleep, never mind trying to find time to go to the grocery store, do laundry, etc. (Laundry is becoming a challenge now with my new apartment, because I no longer have laundry facilities IN my apartment. On the other hand, I am not hand-washing my clothing). I also have been trying to avoid certain foods which I love (and now no longer have to avoid entirely, but use caution when eating. My body is still mad, it seems).
Still, it is not that I have not thought about my blog. Merely wondered whether it still has a purpose, this place for me to put down my thoughts, now in a less consistent fashion. My experiences are no longer quite as interesting: I am not traveling (for now…I will when I have savings and vacation time), and although my life still does veer into the absurd, I am often not able to sit down at the computer (now more and more my work computer, for a number of reasons) to write down what I am experiencing, nor do I know whether people are interested in reading anymore. Do people want to hear about the rather mundane, or about how I am adjusting, the things that come to mind?
Yet here I am, still writing. I am nearly five months back in the U.S. In some ways, my Peace Corps experience seems to far away; other days I am reminded of how recently I returned. Like the day a new friend took me to Bed Bath and Beyond and to Target. We took our time going through the stores, as I always do now. I don’t rush when I am not at work; when I am at work, I rush as little as possible. I have reclaimed my time and am still trying to live in the moment as much as possible. She later told me that she did not remember the last time she went to the store and did not rush through. I remain committed to living in the moment as much as possible, of enjoying the area in which I live (when I can) and simple pleasures like having my own apartment again – for which I am paying the rent, I am putting up my artwork and photos, I am purchasing (and putting together) furnishings. It is a good feeling, to have this kind of “ownership” of my space again, rather than constantly feeling like a guest or intruder of someone else’s.
It is also still somewhat unreal, and can be overwhelming, when I step into certain stores, whether they be grocery or clothing. I tried entering a Macy’s and quickly exited – it was just too much. I make my way slowly through the grocery store, every time, because there are so many products (most of which I ignore). I still don’t cook a great deal: the only thing I have used my stove for is to make a frozen pizza (An oven! For the first time in three years!) and turkey bacon. I still have boxes in my living and dining rooms, which leaves me feeling as if I am still unsettled, and at times I wonder when I will move again or get to leave town on some sort of trip. I sigh when I see photos that friends post on Facebook from their travels or from where they live – I miss being overseas. As much as I missed the U.S. and like living here again, part of me still wants to be somewhere else.
I wonder if that aspect will ever leave me, or be satisfied by the occasional trip I plan to take when I have vacation time. Will I end up living a standard life, now that I am back in corporate America, or will I find a way to keep it more interesting? How long will I last where I am, since I am so used to change, and will I be able to get involved in things that help me feel as if I have more meaning than just going to work every day? Of course, these things are all too overwhelming to tackle at once. I am trying to take things one step at a time, and wait until I get used to something before adding more challenges to the mix. So I remind myself to stay in the moment and take each day as it comes, and perhaps at some point I will be ready to address some of my other questions.
In the meantime, I’m still here, and may as well keep writing (when I have something to say).