Tuesday, October 18, 2011


What do you make of a thirty-something-year-old man who has a perfectly respectable name, but prefers to be called by his self-given nickname - Dick? To be clear, it's not a family name or a college nickname, it's just a conscious decision to be called a name - that if said out loud by any one of my children, would likely result in a mouth full of bar soap. Between 1930-1940, the name Dick reached its all time high in regard to popularity. From there, the use of the name declined sharply. Likely because the idea of passing down a name like Dick had a pretty clear downside. Imagine yourself calling the home of your new elementary school friend Dick. His mother answers and says, "Little Dick or Big Dick?" Enough said.

When I met Richard, I was immediately struck by how unusual he seemed. Typically, at least in the work environment, people did not reveal their oddities right away. When he was introduced to me, he was introduced as Richard. He extended his hand for the customary handshake, and then - with what felt like the grip of a small feeble child he said, "Hello, I'm Dick."

It wasn't just the fact that he preferred to be called Dick. There were all sorts of odd things about Richard. He was the guy who laughed last at every joke, and the way he laughed, clearly indicated that he had no idea what he was laughing at. He was considered a bigwig, and wanted to make sure every vendor knew his title - even if they'd already met. The one thing that always stumped me, the one thing I just could not wrap my mind around, was how this odd little man somehow went from a supervisor of the team in charge of cleaning our building, to a C- level position - in less than five years time.

When he spoke to you directly, it was challenging to understand what he was saying. In a group setting, it was hard to not feel embarrassed for him (although he did not seem to be embarrassed for himself). We would often leave meetings where he had the floor and ask each other if anyone understood what he was talking about. It reminded me of the story about the little girl who pointed out what everyone already knew - the Emperor has no clothes!

As time went on, it was clear that he was one of the CEO's pet projects gone awry. She didn't have the heart to let him go and he had no shame in collecting a substantial paycheck.  He was known to pitch the ideas of others and then take credit for the idea himself.  He would always admit to it when confronted, never trying to cover up for what he had done. He knew what we all knew. He was a untouchable - awkward laugh an all.  Fortunately, I didn't report to him and I was able to avoid him for the most part.

Our facilities manager, Jim wasn't so lucky. Jim had no idea what he signed up for when he accepted the job. Not only did he report to Richard, he joined the company only to be told about a month later that we hit an iceberg and things didn't look good. He did what many of our employees did, he began aggressively searching for a new job. I still remember the day he came to my office. We didn't interact much at that point. He was on a different team and at our company, we didn't cross department lines.

His face was bright red and he was shaking. He told me Richard asked to see his resume, he wanted to proof it and use it to write Jim a letter of recommendation. Jim said he was so appreciative of Richard's gesture, he went against his good sense and not only did he give it to him, he told him the name of other companies he applied to. Jim also told him he was one of the final three candidates for a really big job. As it turned out, bigwigs run in the same circles, and Richard knew the CEO at the company Jim applied to. Jim said he got a call from the recruiter telling him that one additional candidate was being added to the final three, specifically requested by the CEO. He said he didn't catch a last name, but the first name was Dick.

I'm not one to believe everything I hear so I went to the source.  When I went to Richard's office he was packing boxes. I told him Jim was pretty upset. I told him Jim was telling people that he tried to steal his job. After what seemed like a very long and painful silence, Richard said, "After reading the job description, I felt like I was much more qualified for the position." Then, he asked me if I had a copy of our newly created training manual. He said he realized he may not be here for too much longer and wanted to get copies of anything he may need in the future.

I finally figured out what was so odd about Richard. He was the most transparent opportunist I had ever met. Opportunist are typically secretive and manipulative, but there he was, hiding in plain sight. It was easy not to notice him, he seemed so harmless.

Richard didn't get Jim's job. Jim was one of the first to leave, and as it became more and more evident that the ship was sinking, Richard's motives became more and more visible. My last memory of Richard was the evening he escorted me from the building. As my eyes welled up with tears he very calmly explained to me that he would need to look in my car to make sure I didn't take any documents or training materials that belonged to the company. It was the first time in my life that I was truly rendered speechless.

Richard taught me a very valuable lesson. I learned that Richard behaved outwardly the way every single one of us did in secret. He promoted himself in any way he could, but only to those that could help him get ahead. He never had to fight his way to the top, because no one ever saw him as a threat. We were all so busy scheming and manipulating in the dark, we couldn't see what was going on in broad daylight.

I'm not sure if I took every bad thing that was happening in my life at that moment, and associated it with him. I had so many years of jealousy and resentment built up towards him because of his incomprehensible ability to move up the corporate ladder. I was suddenly very aware of my disgust and anger towards him during that long walk to my car. I couldn't help but feel like he won and I had lost. After all, he was the last manager standing, and it was apparent he would land very well with the new company. I was about to be unemployed and for the first time - since I was 16 years old,  and scared to death about what my future held.

It wasn't until many months later that I realized why I had such a visceral reaction to him. It was because I saw in him, what I was. The only difference is that I thought no one else could see it. I now know, my methods of climbing the corporate ladder were no more dignified than his. The things I said - to position myself in a positive light, were no less devious, just because I felt more qualified than him. I turned into an ugly and bitter person. The bitterness can consume you without notice and suddenly you are left with this seemingly justified anger. It took a long time to dig through all the ugliness inside of me and find my true self again. I learned many lessons from Richard and I am better for it.

As I pulled out of the parking lot I saw him standing on the curb. He was waving good-bye. As I drove by, I rolled down my window and in a moment of weakness, I said something that still makes me cringe. I asked him if I could stop by his house to get a copy of our old training manual - just in case I needed it in the future. He stared at me with his usual blank stare. Then, after a long pause, he simply turned and walked away. I immediately felt bad for saying it, and as I contemplated throwing out a casual "just kidding", I heard him begin to laugh.

*Disclaimer - This is fiction. Any resemblance to a real person is totally coincidental.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Starting Over

When I woke up this morning, my first thought had nothing to do with being excited to start a new job. It's a great job, it's an exciting opportunity, and I feel so very lucky to have been chosen for the position. In the midst of the biggest recession to ever hit California, I was one of the lucky few to have been lifted from the middle of the implosion, and dropped ever so delicately in this place called Texas. I landed well. For those of you who don't know, there is this little place right in the middle of Texasland called Austin. It's a fun, funky, cool, weird, and hip little town where the jobs are plenty and I can buy a house for the price of a modest California condo.

As I pulled the covers back over my head, my thoughts had nothing to do with how lucky I was. Instead, I closed my eyes and wished for California. I wished for my family. I wished for my postage stamp size front yard and my house that looks identical to my neighbors. I wished for my all consuming, stress-filled job, working for a dysfunctional company that got swallowed up whole amid foreclosures and short-sales.

How did I get here? I vaguely remember the interview, the offer, and the discussions with my husband. Were we really "those" people? The ones who actually picked up and moved halfway across country for the simple life? I don't know anyone in California that didn't think about it every once in awhile. Entertaining the fantasy for a quick minute. My friend Rachel had Oregon on her mind. She used to tell me that she and her husband would lay in bed at night and talk about just saying to hell with it all and moving away to start fresh. We would laugh and say "maybe someday".

I never really thought we would go through with it. When my dad found out that I was moving an hour's drive away to San Diego when I got married - we didn't know if he would show up to the wedding. All of the pictures I have with him from that day show his very evident displeasure. It's been eleven years and I still think he secretly holds a grudge against my husband for "taking his grandkids away". It never occurred to me that the perfect storm was brewing in my life and I would need to tell him we would be moving his grandkids 22 hours away.

The one thing that is still very clear, is the moment I emailed my acceptance of the job offer. I held my breath, I closed my eyes, and I pressed the send button. From that moment on, I didn't have time to think, or feel, or worry. Just do. I had less than 30 days to move a family of five to Texas. I had to tell a 16 year old girl she would not be finishing her Junior year in California. I had to tell a 7 year old that she would have to say good-bye to her brand new best friend. I would have to figure out a way to explain to my two year old that mommy would be traveling for awhile. Most importantly - I had to spend every free moment in my husband's arms to try to make up for the weeks we would be spending apart.

Today, the first day of my brand new job, all of the feelings I have been too busy to deal with came rushing at me all at once. How did I get here? What if I hate it? What if my new boss is worse than my old boss? What if they hate me? What if the distance puts a strain on my marriage? What if I fail?

In that moment, the tears began to fall. The air felt as though it was sucked from the room as I tried to catch my breath. I cried until I was too tired to cry any longer. I cried until I felt numb.

Then finally, I did the only thing I knew how to do - I put on my best suit and perfect make-up, flashed my best smile, and told every single person I met today how happy I was to finally be in the beautiful city of Austin. Maybe if I say it enough, it will be true.