Monday, October 08, 2007

Career, Craziness, Connections and Karma

My faithful readers will remember that I got laid off last April from what I thought was my dream job -- and not only because of the incredible view from my office.

I was the Senior Program Manager for a non-profit organization that was hired by the Gates Foundation to develop content around education reform. My specific job responsibilities were the overall management of the office and the hiring and management of the staff. The idea of working so closely with the Foundation in an arena that was important to me (education) and of mentoring and leading a team were both very exciting to me, and I planned to stay in that position for a long time to come.

So when I was laid off last April, it came as a great shock to me. I knew that, once I had hired an awesome staff (I still miss them!), my responsibilities were covered from a variety of directions, making my position somewhat superfluous. And I couldn't very well ignore the huge differences in management style and approach to day-to-day issues between my boss and me. (We were, and remain, good friends, but oh, man -- how our work styles differ!) But I was still hugely disappointed on the day I was laid off and it took me quite a while to recover. I still don't think I've completely gained my self-esteem back.

I've kept in touch with "my" staff at the organization, so I knew that things have been rocky since I left. But I was shocked to learn last month that my boss had been asked by the Gates Foundation to leave the project. This was the same person who the Foundation absolutely adored when the project began, and now the Gates Foundation was asking this person to leave. This was the same person who I, too, absolutely adored when the project began, but who I came to realize had a completely different management style than I do... which was tough because he managed me, while I managed everyone else. One would think I'd feel some sense of vindication when the Foundation asked him to leave, but oddly enough (because I really like him as a person, even if I didn't like him as a boss), I really only felt sorry for him. He and I met for coffee and, because I know what it feels like to be suddenly out in the cold, I offered to help him with networking and connections. It really is a small world in our field (educational media) in Seattle and there's really no good that can come from angrily alienating people. Tom thinks I'm crazy to keep up that relationship because he blames my former boss for my current unemployment woes, but I am not one to easily burn bridges or end friendships, and I can't see any good that could come from severing that tie - especially because I do really like this guy as a person. No, I'll never work with him or for him (or hire him) again, but I'll go to dinner or a party with him any time, as he cracks me up and is an absolute hoot to hang out with!

The biggest shocker around this whole Gates Foundation job is what happened last week. The Foundation severed its relationship with the organization I worked for, essentially shutting down the entire Seattle office and leaving everyone unemployed! My first thought, upon hearing this, was remembering that just about all applicants I interviewed asked whether the position was short-term or long-term, and I assured them that I certainly planned on being there "ten years from now," and that it was most definitely long-term. Once people were hired, they began doing things like remodeling kitchens and buying cars based, I'm sure, on the assurances that had been given to them. And now every single person who worked at that office, from me to my boss to the staff I hired, is unemployed. I'll write to them today and ask if they want to meet for coffee (I'm interviewing directly across the street from them later this week); maybe we can somehow continue to help each other through all the crap that we've ALL now been dealt, directly or indirectly by the Foundation.

I guess it just goes to show that we can't really count on any real permanence when it comes to our careers. How sad. This seems to be so different in Germany, where people work and advance in the same company long-term. Thomas, for example, is now the CEO at the same company where he was an apprentice when we met in 1980! Sadly, that'd be almost unheard of here.

As I seek my next position, my primary considerations will be the true immediate impact of the position on real-world concerns and the potential for job permanence. Sure, I worked with education reform in my last job, but that vision was so far removed from the day-to-day details of my job that I couldn't even feel the importance of my position to the mission. I've decided that the high-tech industry, while lucrative and exciting, seems to be too volatile for me -- especially if my job has no real connection to the overall product or mission. Since it's the overall vision and content arena that drives me (for example, "education reform") rather than the specific tools to get there (for example, database management), I should just look for positions that focus on the bigger picture. And while I love technology for the connections and relationships it affords (like blogging and e-mail and IM), the details of those tools bore me to pieces. I like the phone, too, because it allows me to connect to friends and family, but if you were to ask me to be involved in creating or maintaining the technology inside the phone I'd yawn and tell you it's not for me.

The more I ponder all this, the more the Executive Director position with the childbirth and doula organization feels like the right fit for me. (I'll hear today or tomorrow about any future interviews...) The absolute essence of that position is the mission and vision of the organization, and the day-to-day duties of the position are directly tied to the nitty-gritty work of the organization. Technology is used as a tool to accomplish the mission, not as a focus in itself. And the connection to the people who benefit from the organization is direct and strong. My business and project management experience as well as my experience with childbirth and non-profits would all be directly relevant and I could really, truly make a positive impact on the people whose lives we strive to improve.

Stand by. One of these days, I will be working again... and it will be the perfect job for me and I will love it.

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Anonymous said...

Hoo boy! You're a better person than I am. Vicariously I'm glad that your old boss got the boot and it's weird that the whole place got shut down after all. I think that boss was a baboon for the way you were treated back then and I would guess that your lay-off had less to do with how you did your job and more to do with how bad he was at his. But it's great that you're able to enjoy him for his better qualities and not burning bridges is always a good thing. Good luck with your new work adventures.

blackcrag said...

This sudden hiring and firing is going around it seems. I went to B.C. for a week to visit my parents and see a few friends. The ay after I got back my boss laid me off from the cafe I was managing.

My boss said I was trying hard, but wasn't fullfilling my mandate. While I recognized I needed to improve at the job and expand my role into areas I hadn't been trained in yet, I thought it was something that we could contiue to work on. He. evidently, thought differently.

And so, now... I need to start again--again.

Goofball said...

oh gosh, how ironic. How sad for 'your' team!

And I agree with Lilly: you are a much better person than I am: i'd hold a grudge against my ex-boss...a very big grudge.

good luck with the job hunting!

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