My boss asked if I could help pull together information for a report. The report was going to the then CEO (Starbucks, 1997). I was young, 26, eager to help. There were about a dozen people who owed me content and I showed up on their doorstep demanding it. I took the job seriously, I dropped Margie’s name, dropped Orin’s name (he was the CEO), took notes like a reporter. I showed it to Margie and she’d say go back sometimes and I would, I’d interrupt meetings and stand outside offices and one guy (there’s always one guy) was always late and he’d laugh at my intensity but I didn’t laugh back, and then his face would change and he’d say alright, when do you need it.
I didn’t know anything about corporate politics, didn’t want to really. I had a direct report who mentioned it once, the politics, and I said don’t use that word around me again. I thought if I didn’t believe in the politics I could make it go away, but I was wrong about that.
I didn’t know how to attach documents either, it was my first time. I figured out the paper clip icon did it, and thought how smart! The first time I attached something I don’t know, it was like magic. I had no idea what I was doing with my hands but it felt powerful. I was supposed to work 40 hours but wrote something proving I could do it in 20 and asked what else they had I could do. Margie offered me a different role called roll-out specialist and we joked about rolling out of bed but I declined and announced I was leaving, moving to France, couldn’t seem to find a girl in Seattle, done.
But I got lonely and came back. When I did, it was like I never left. Some people didn’t even notice (it had been 10 months). My extension was the same and somehow, it remembered my internet Favorites. Margie suggested I should get another job, leave the nest. I’d gone from being a coordinator to administrative assistant—more pay and prestige, but not as exciting as coordinating, really. When you coordinate, they’re like mini-projects but the work was kind of droll. One time when Margie was away I wasn’t feeling well and napped on the carpet beneath her desk but it made a pattern on my cheek like a waffle iron. They had wellness rooms but took the locks off because people were abusing them, which makes sense when you think about it.
I’d just gotten a professional certification for project management and was really pumped up, 10 years later. I’d been reading a lot of books and geeking out over processes and tools, calculations: it seemed you could fit every problem in the world inside a box just perfectly, with project management.
I was in a new department and led a two hour meeting, a kind of intervention with two teams under the same VP who weren’t playing nice or talking enough and me coming in to define the OCM impacts (which were overlooked) was viewed as a discreet way of identifying any gaps in scope or places we were out of alignment. It was like getting under a car and poking around, looking for leaks.
I guess I demanded a lot of answers and clarity and did a good job managing the clock, and someone got it in her mind I should lead a bigger project and nominated me, and then six weeks after I took it she left the company and I got a different business owner, and their view of me or the group I represented wasn’t the same, my help didn’t seem as welcome, and in my first meeting someone asked for the dry erase marker and I handed it over and sat down, and that’s when it all started to turn, right then.
But I had that persistence still, that started as a reporter’s persistence but shifted to a mountaineer’s push-through-it persistence, the same attitude I had about certain yoga poses, the reason my knees give out now, I ruined the ligaments. And though two peers had been on the same project before but managed to get off (and then got promoted), I refused to leave. I thought if I stayed on and pushed through it would resolve itself, but I was wrong about that too.
Dawn says she thinks it’s a tribal thing for us, with work: we want to feel like we’re of use as part of a tribe (an instinct that goes way back) and when we don’t, when we let other people remove us of our use or marginalize us, it feels really bad. It’s because we’re looking for human acceptance I think, validation, it’s the same feeling that starts when we’re young on the playground and it never stops, it’s not much different than what we need from our parents to make us feel like we really matter.
But the mistake we make is giving that power to someone else, when it’s ours, and only ours, to keep.