I sit here now, clutching the last few fragments of my sanity. There are just a few tiny shards of it left, and they’re cutting into the palm of my hand. If I insist on keeping them, I’m sure to eventually end up in the emergency room for some stitches and a tetanus shot. If I toss them out, well, I won’t have any sanity left and then what will I do? It’s quite a dilemma.
And the cause of my shattered sanity? Work has been bad for the last couple of weeks. Bad. A bunch of big, ugly things are all happening at the same time (I won’t even try to explain any of the details). I reached my tipping point on Thursday afternoon and cried a little in frustration, but did manage to stay functional. The big release deadline was Friday at 10am. That was the magic hour when the software image had to be shipped off to the people who burn the CDs. I worked until 10:30pm Thursday night and then got up at 5am Friday morning to handle the thousand little remaining details. Everything came together. I even jumped through the five extra hoops that have been added on to the end of our process since the last release. By 9am all that was left were the final test results and then the whole software product would get shipped out the door and we’d be done.
Shortly after 9am I sent out an email note to the four people who would have to rubber stamp the final release, explaining that everything was ready and mentioning the few changes they would see in the approval process since the last time we did this. I ended with a little joke, where I threatened to take my own life if the final tests failed, because that would mean that I would have to redo everything that I had just described. We all knew that the chances of the tests failing were miniscule, but I thought it was funny to add a bit of levity at the end of all the drama. These were all people I have known, worked with, and joked with for years. I knew they all had a sense of humor, and I assumed none of them had a corn cob up their butt. Plus, I really didn’t think it was that big of a deal.
The final tests did pass, the release was sent out, and everything was done, correctly and on time, by 10am Friday morning, just like it was supposed to be.
Then I got an email response from my boss, one of the four people who received my earlier note announcing that we were ready to go. I was expecting it to say something like “Great!” or “Excellent!” or “Woohoo!” My expectations were fairly low. I certainly didn’t expect any acknowledgement of the fact that I had killed myself for the last week, working around several fuck-ups by other people and coping with a brand new, buggy, temporal black-hole of a release tool. I wasn’t even expecting to be tossed a small bone like “Good job!” or “I appreciate it!” or “Thanks!” Hell, even complete silence wouldn’t have been a huge surprise, and wouldn’t have caused me any distress.
It turned out, however, that my expectations were still a little too high. There were no good feelings or kind thoughts or, god forbid, words of praise, waiting for me in my Inbox. Instead, the note was a slight scolding for my little joke, and a request that I not do that again.
I sat there stupidly for a few seconds, with my mouth hanging open, completely stunned. Then I promptly burst into tears. Right there at my desk, at work. Great, very professional. I. Could. Not. Stop. I shut my office door and sat there sniveling for a good ten minutes, while at the same time wondering if I could possibly be any more pathetic. There I was in all my glory, a grown, educated, professional woman, crying because her boss hurt her feelings. I did not want to be that woman, but clearly I was.
I think the heart of the problem is that nobody else in my group has a clue what my job involves, my boss least of all. He has no idea of all the crap I deal with on a daily basis to keep my little universe moving in the right direction. These are things that he never hears about. He doesn’t have to worry about my stuff because it always just works. And I know that’s how things should be. If I do my job right, nobody has to know. But it also means that nobody knows, or cares, when I perform heroics. Nobody knew that I spent Thursday night re-entering all my release data after all the data I entered Monday afternoon was overwritten by another team who thought they knew what they were doing, but were, in fact, mistaken. Nobody knows about all the screw-ups I fix at the end of every project when everyone tries to slip in “just one little change” at the last minute, and never stops to think how it might affect the big picture. Nobody knows about the deals I negotiate with other teams so we came get our software published at the right time in the right place, or the pestering I do, or the groveling. I’m sure there are people out there in the company who cringe when they see my name on their caller ID screen, because they know I’m calling to nag them about something.
So, as is normally the case at the end of a project, I did plenty of heroics last week, most of them completely invisible to anyone above me in the management chain. But that’s fine. I’ve always hated over-enthusiastic, empty praise. I wasn’t expecting a cake or a medal or a parade. Being ignored would have been just fine. I’m used to that. But I got even less than being ignored. I got bitched at for making a joke. I expected appreciation and I got a scolding. Unfortunately, the drop from the cliff of appreciation down into the chasm of a scolding was just too far for me to land on my feet. My feet could not find purchase on the rocky ground at the bottom after such a speedy descent, and I landed on my ass instead. Hence, the “office crying.”
So what now? What can I do? What is within my control? Only my expectations, I think. Expectations are, after all, the mother of disappointment and the grandmother of crying at your desk. In the past, I have expected small bits of gratitude now and then, scattered against a background of dead silence. Clearly, that is not a realistic expectation. I’m not going to get that. As far as I can see, the only way I can fix this problem is to lower my expectations. From now on, the most realistic expectation is that my accomplishments will be ignored. The ledge of being ignored is a lot closer to the bottom of the chasm. From the ledge, I think I’ll be able to handle the occasional chastisement without crying.
Expectations have now been lowered. Carry on.
Now, what about these fragments of sanity I have here? I think I’ll stick them in that zip-lock baggie where I keep the few remaining crumbs of my ambition and some dust left over from when my ideals dried up and blew away. Never know, I might need them again someday.