Friday, March 30, 2012

The LOC Ran Over My Daffodils - The Spot I Am In

They were coming along beautifully.  Elegant green stems standing straight and true.  Bright yellow petals opening in the late-coming spring sunshine.  Little orange and white centers adding zest to their presentation.  Daffodils.  "My" daffodils.  

But the driveway is a tad quirky.  The original owners had it built to swerve around a toyon tree that juts into one portion of the aggregate driveway.  Thus, if my Buick is in the right-hand lane of the driveway, then the *LOC's pickup must swing a little left to avoid both said Buick and the toyon tree. (Lovable Old Coot*)

I didn't like that whole arrangement the first time I noticed it.  I like it even less now.  And a "toyon" tree?  What kind of tree is that anyhow?  Oh, yes, I looked it up, and it did not look like anything that would be worth curving an entire driveway around.

And now the doggoned thing has hastened the demise of my freshly blooming daffodils.  I'm bummed.

Tell you what I'm going to do though.  I'm having that dratted tree removed, and the driveway widened.  

Not just because of the daffodils, of course.

But that certainly clinches the deal.

For today, the LOC is backing out very, very carefully, because he knows that with about one more daffodil-killing incident, I may just decide to have him removed too.

Just kidding ....sort of ....

Hope your daffodils were not decimated today, or anything else you liked.  Until next time .... Marsha

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Beautiful, But Badly Broken - Chapter 23 -Telling My Story

This is chapter 23 in a series entitled Telling My Story.  Please note that all names (both people and companies) have been changed.
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She was thirty one years old, beautiful, blond, and wore a size 4 suit; her taste tended toward Donna Karan.  She had become a vice president at thirty:  smart, good-looking and driven.  She was my new boss and she was ten years younger than I.

After leaving the health department, we had moved to a large city and I went to work in a huge health care corporation.  It was, in fact, the largest managed care company in the United States at that time. There were nearly fifteen thousand employees then; which later grew to about twenty-two thousand.

I was from a small farm town with a population about one-third the size of the number of people working for my new employer; and  I had no idea what I was getting into when I walked through those elevator doors on that first day.

Office politics at this level made what I had previously encountered look like a kindergarten squabble over the play-dough.

I do recall that I was wearing my favorite red suit with black trim (power colors :) and I thought the interview had gone well.  Indeed, I received a phone call with a job offer within two hours of the close of the interview and the next day I began what would become a whirlwind career ride.
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Within the first two years of my time with BHC, I had been promoted twice and my salary had nearly doubled.  The pressure had increased along with my responsibilities.  Fortunately I had experienced a couple of key "wins" early on, and it had given me a certain cache' as a problem-solver with Kay, my new boss. 

First there was the matter of the missing directories.  These were annual publications of doctors, hospitals, and ancillary providers who had contracted with the BHC network. They were not cheap.  Whoever had been in charge of the most recent publication project, several months prior to my joining the firm, had not maintained good inventory control.

Now, with six months left before the next publication, we were getting daily calls requesting directories; but our supply was nearly exhausted.  Some felt that there had been an error and that we had actually only received a partial delivery.  Some speculated that someone (no longer with the company) had place bogus orders and siphoned off the money.  No one knew for sure.  But we did know that we were running critically low on our supply, which could negatively impact the flow of business.

I made some inquiries, reconstructed the history of the project as best I could after the fact, and came to an odd suspicion.  

Fridays were casual dress day, and while I did not usually dress down, I chose that day in order to be as inconspicuous as possible.  I went to work wearing jeans and a sweatshirt and left the office in a company car, headed for a warehouse on the edge of town.  I had obtained keys from the facilities manager, who looked at me oddly when I asked for them.  Managers did not generally visit the warehouses.  But I did, and there in a dusty place no one had visited in a long while, I discovered a $100,000 in missing directories, still shrink-wrapped and loaded on pallets. They had been sent to that location in error, and then following staff turnover, forgotten.  I was the hero of the hour for that little deal.
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After four years with BHC I had moved on from $100,000 dollar issues to multi-million dollars problems.  But I was still asking questions, figuring out where the bodies were buried, and still handling the tough stuff.  But the VP, Kay, who had been my early champion and loved the kudos that came her way from headquarters whenever my team scored a victory, had decided that some changes needed to be made.

First she began a campaign to reduce my influence in the region, reassigning my staff with no advance notice, asking my key subordinates to report directly to her on major projects, even though she knew little of the actual work involved. Then she hired a new guy from the outside, and soon began an affair with him (during working hours and on company property).  They took long smoking breaks, lasting an hour or more in the basement parking garage, and became an office joke.  Given that he was her subordinate, it was not surprising when he later sued the company for sexual harassment, naming Kay as the offender.

I did my best to stay clear of her and just do my own job; but she was my boss and it was difficult.  Finally, she called me to her office and instructed me to give a poor performance rating to a director, whom I knew had performed well for the entire year.  My boss disliked Leann for personal reasons, but tried to convince me that the low evaluation was justified.  I pointed out that Leann had met all her deadlines, delivered two critical projects under budget, and enjoyed the loyalty of her entire team.  A poor eval would cost her her annual bonus and become part of her permanent record. Kay did not care; she was on a vendetta.  

She told me to recheck Leann's file and find something, anything, that would justify her directive; and said we would talk again the next day.  We did and the conversation came to the same  point, with Kay ordering me to do something that I knew was unethical and further emphasizing to me that she was giving me a direct order.  Failure to do as she demanded would be considered insubordination, which was a terminable offense.  (Talk about two birds with one stone.)

I went home to contemplate my resignation as it seemed she was leaving me no decent alternative.  The next day she repeated her directive, and I respectfully told her I could not do that and that she would have my resignation on her desk first thing the next morning.  She looked completely non-plussed and began to backpedal.
Once back in my office I phoned a senior vice president at headquarters twenty-five hundred miles away, with whom I had a matrix reporting relationship, which was less direct than the one to Kay, but still valid.  I explained the situation, and told him that I wanted to let him know why he would also be receiving my resignation.  He asked me to delay doing anything while he looked into the issue.

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After several more agonizing weeks (during which the daily tension in the office was so thick you could cut it with a knife) relief arrived.  Anne, a senior emissary from national headquarters, flew into town and asked to meet with me privately in a nearby hotel.  Good grief, who knew business could be so cloak and dagger-ish.

Anne asked about the numerous issues related to Kay's management decisions over the past year.  I learned headquarters had received multiple written complaints about her in the past, and they were aware of the potential legal action regarding her behavior. I could not understand why they continued to delay taking remedial action, but again there were politics involved.

However, by this time I was once again in the midst of a more important issue in my own life.  My oldest son, who had been a paraplegic for about ten years at this time, was scheduled to have both legs amputated in a few weeks.  I was struggling with the emotional impact of this, even though I knew it was medically warranted.  I kept remembering the little red-haired boy who loved to run and ride his bike.  Even though he was now an adult, and had made a decent adjustment to his disability, it was so hard to accept yet more loss for him.

Anne asked if I would stay and guide the team through the "fall out" that was bound to occur, once headquarters made a move to replace Kay.  She said they were planning to send in a new VP out of San Francisco, to whom I would soon report.

I was reluctant to bring up my personal issues, as I never liked to mix business and personal life; but since she was making her case for my continued involvement with some fervor, I finally told her that I did not feel I could agree to her request.  When she asked why, I told her about my son's scheduled amputations.

Her eyes were kind as she said with some astonishment, "You have been dealing with this total disaster at the office at the same time you are facing this surgery for your son?  I do not know how you have maintained your composure through all this, but from today forward, the company will handle this.  You just take care of yourself and your family.  I'll be praying for you and your son.

We don't want your resignation.  We are going to need your to help restore some order after the company takes action."  But she could not say exactly when this "action" would take place.

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As it happened, on a sunny day shortly thereafter, I was sitting in a hospital waiting room, awaiting news of how my son's surgery had gone.

A hundred miles away, two vice presidents flew in from headquarters, walked into the regional office unannounced and straight into Kay's office.  They gave her less than an hour to clean out her desk and escorted her out.  She was done.  After ten years, her career there ending in ignominy.

Nevertheless, I was a mother bowed with grief, struggling to once again put broken dreams behind us; and on that day I could not have cared less whether Kay still ruled the western region.  However, I later learned the details from staff who were present. It was a sad, but necessary, ending and after months of doing battle with her professionally, God allowed me to be absent on the day of her professional demise.  I was grateful.

Epilogue:  Kay was also fired from her next two jobs in less than three years.  Yes, she was physically beautiful as well as smart and talented.  But she was spiritually bankrupt and broken.  She descended her career ladder sliding from VP to director, from director to manager and .... downward.

Meanwhile, God continued to give me strength.  I continued to go to college at night, was promoted again, and eventually had an office on the 32nd floor of a building on California St. in the financial district of San Francisco.  I could see the Golden Gate Bridge from my office windows.  flagpolehill_view

As Thomas a Kempis wrote, "Man proposes, but God disposes."

It was such a draining experience, the business of "firing my own boss" that if anyone had told me that it would not be the only time I would have to endure it, I might have retired right then and there.  Fortunately, we cannot see the future.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Rainy Days and Mondays - Wrinkled Brows

Note: Wrinkles Brows is a series on a word or a quote of interest (perhaps only to me.)

"... rainy days and Mondays always bring me down..." 
 ~ song by the Carpenters

Image Ref: 12-33-37 - Daffodils, Viewed 5177 timesThose of you who are old enough may recall this melancholy song by the Carpenters (a brother and sister duo) from the 1960's.  While I loved the melody, and although Karen Carpenter had a beautiful voice with a haunting quality to it, I never could really identify with the theme of this song.

I like it when it rains.  I like to watch the rain falling, I like the sound of it on my roof (and now upon my skylight too), and I love what it does for the spring flowers.

Granted, it was another  hectic morning around here (at K's house) where his nurse did not show and did not call.  We were finally running out of time for her visit, as the transport van was due to pick him up for hyperbaric treatment soon.  So we called her number, only to learn that she was in the hospital for emergency gall stone surgery.  Poor P., she works so hard and has been such a blessing to us through this whole thing.

Then, while his ride to the clinic is waiting, he gets ready to transfer from the bed to his wheelchair, and lo and behold his cushion must be swapped out for a different one due to functional difficulties.

But you know what .... K. and I had just had a really good conversation about the fact that everyone has challenges and difficulties in their life.  Everyone - period!  The only real difference is that some are dealing with  their problems and others are just plain old in denial.

Karen Carpenter died of anorexia, weighing only 80 lbs. They found her curled up in the floor of her closet - dead.  That is what staying in denial will do for you.

Meanwhile, I watch K. wheel out the door, headed for the van that will take him to the hyperbaric chamber, and hear him give a cheery "hello" to the driver, despite the harried morning we have just had.  He is dealing with his difficulties.

And I am sure trying to do that as well.  Dealing or denying - which side of that choice matrix are you on today?  Because it is for certain that we each have our own share of problems.  

The choice of whether to deny them or deal with them as best we can is always up to us.  No, rainy days and Mondays do NOT get me down.

Hope your day is full of sunshine and daffodils; but if it is not, I do hope you are choosing to deal rather than deny.  Until next time ...Marsha

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Irish Memories

I spent some time the other day re-reading some of my old journals.  It was a good exercise in relaxation; primarily because so many of things I was worried about back then are now settled and are no longer issues.

If only we could learn to take the "long-view" in the moment; but I guess that would be an oxymoron or very close to it.  On the other hand, I think it may be called faith.

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A year ago now we were arriving in Dublin, Ireland for a ten day stay.  We saw wonderful sights, made new friends, and created memories that will last a lifetime.  Now that is my idea of a good ten-days.

Saturday will be St. Patrick's Day, and also the *LOC's birthday.  Corned beef and cabbage - coming right up!  (Lovable Old Coot*)

Just now, we have Irish folk music playing on the stereo, and I am thinking of the St. Paddy's Day parade we watched in Galway last year.  What an amateurish little thing it was, compared to parades like the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, or the Rose Bowl Parade on New Year's.  We were told it was the biggest St. Patrick's Day parade in Ireland except for the one in Dublin.

Despite its lack of glitz and glamour, people were lined up for blocks to watch it, and they laughed and applauded as though it was the eighth wonder of the world.  I like that about the Irish; they are simpler in their enjoyments and more basic in their expectations.  At least that was my repeated impression; but then we were only there a few days.  Maybe they get cranky, too; when the tourists have all gone home.
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One of the greatest blessings of our trip to Ireland was that we made two new friends, Doug and Lynda, and we have kept in touch since then.  I can still see the wide smiles on Doug and the LOC's face the day they "lifted a pint" at the famous Guinness brewery.  And Lynda's gentle smile as we walked around the public park in Adare was a pleasure to see.  The daffodils were in bloom there that day, as they now are in my front yard.

Although the trip is now a year in the past, the benefits and blessings of that adventure continue into the present and the future.

Hope wherever your adventures take you this spring, the benefits are true and lasting.  Until next time ... Marsha

Monday, March 12, 2012

Bumfusticated - Wrinkled Brows

Cartoon of a Woman Running from Question Marks clipartAll right, I will just admit it.  I am bumfusticated. 

It is Monday morning, and I have already made the trek to K's house, and we have done breakfast, read the newspaper, briefly discussed the daily news, and started the first load of wash.  The home nurse was already here when I arrived, which always leaves me feeling slightly guilty, even though K. has told me repeatedly that he is doing well enough that I don't need to be here 24/7. 

In a little while he will leave for his hyperbaric chamber treatment, as today begins the third week of a four week (five days a week) course of these treatments.  His slight irritability tells me that he is more than ready to be done with these miserable experiences.  They are not painful, just uncomfortable and boring. 

We scramble around to make sure he has a 100% cotton shirt clean and ready to wear, since that is all that is allowed inside the chamber.  Apparently at 400% pure oxygen there is some danger of clothing bursting into flames if you go in wearing the wrong thing.  (I could certainly have used that incentive to encourage staff to dress appropriately back when I ran an office, given the state of dishabille in which some arrived.)  

I personally would have a tough time being sealed in a chamber the size of a closet with two other strangers for two hours, five days a week, wearing a breathing device and trying to watch a stupid movie to pass the time.  Talk about claustrophobia!

While he is gone I will clean house, do his grocery shopping, and stop by the medical supply store because we are out of two-inch paper tape.  If it is anything like the last trip for pink zinc-oxide tape, they will have one-inch and three-inch in stock, but will be out of two inch and will have to order it.  And so it goes....

Still, these are all normal, everyday happenings (at least "normal" in my current world) and combined they do not tell me why I am so bumfusticated.

Odd word, isn't it?  You won't find it in any dictionary that I know about.  I am fairly certain it is an amalgam of several words which attempt to describe confusion, frustration and a sense of being stymied and out of sorts.  I learned it from an old gentleman I knew in my youth, who had an amazing lexicon of hybrid words that colored his vocabulary like a three year-old with a brand new box of

Although he sometimes used words and phrases that I had never heard before, I almost always understood exactly what he meant.  He had that kind of clarity about who and what he was.

Some days he was "frizzled", other days he was "as pleased as a pup with two tails", occasionally he was as "happy as a dead pig in the sunshine."  (I never did quite "get" that one.)

Thus, today I am bumfusticated.  Although I may not know precisely what it means, I know exactly what it feels like. 

Hope your day is full of clarity and sunshine.  Until next time ...Marsha

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Ecumenical LOC and Me

Cross sunrise

As you know, we are in the middle of Lent.  The LOC* is Catholic, while I am Protestant, so it makes for some interesting dining and dialogue during this season. (Lovable Old Coot*)

Not only are we from divergent backgrounds, we are what might be described as "doubly so" given that the LOC spent three and a half years in a preparatory seminary when he was a teen, planning to become a priest.  At seventeen, he felt God speak to his heart one morning in chapel and came to the conclusion that he was not called to the priesthood.  He subsequently left the seminary and His own father did not speak to him for quite a while, as a result of the family disappointment at his decision.  I admire tremendously that he could be so forthright and clear in his convictions at such a young age.

I, on the other hand, spent twenty years a pastor's wife; and that phase of my life ended painfully and poorly.  Thus you can see where we come to our own spiritual persuasions with a good deal of prior convictions.  Neither of us believe in divorce, and yet we both are, and we have had to struggle with our place in the congregation of God's people as a result of that.

My own mother (a died-in-the-wool fundamental evangelical) was shocked when she learned I planned to marry a Catholic, but mellowed somewhat when she met him, saying cryptically, "Well, he certainly is good-looking."  I couldn't see what that had to do with anything, but Mom's logic often escaped me.

Still, we have been married for over twenty three years, and we have come to have a lot of respect for each other's traditions.

I am glad to eat fish with him on Fridays during Lent, and we have found a little cafe near home where they serve a wonderful batter-fried cod.  It must be really good since I don't ordinarily like fish very much. 

The LOC, however grew up in the Bay Area near San Francisco, and loves nearly any type of seafood, including lots of shell fish.  Oysters, clams, crab, etc. tend to make me gag.  Sorry, but they just do.   So when we go to a "surf and turf" place, he does surf and I eat turf.

Today our own little ecumenical efforts go a bit further.  This evening we will attend his Saturday evening mass.  Tomorrow morning he is going with me to the church I attend.  We don't do this often, but when we do, we always come away with something new to talk about.  It surprises and amuses me how much of our protestant music has been incorporated into Catholic services in recent years.

It continues to puzzle the LOC that Protestants regard the communion elements as "symbolic" whereas I cannot accept the doctrine of transubstantiation, wherein Catholics believe the body and blood of Christ are actually present in the Eucharist.  I am looking forward to having Jesus straighten all this out for us when we get to heaven.  Meanwhile, we have agreed to disagree.

Right now, however, he is down at my own church, participating in a free computer clinic.  He loves that stuff, and a couple of men from my new congregation (we only moved here recently) stopped by to welcome me as  new attendee.  The LOC enjoyed meeting them, and praying with them (even though I was not home at the time) and he received an invitation to this computer thingy, which he happily accepted.

The Lord does, indeed, work in mysterious ways.  What the LOC and I try to keep in mind at all times is that we are both Christians and that is paramount. The rest is tradition, theology, and interpretation.  Important issues to be sure, but not as important as "And the greatest of these is love."  That is the most important hallmark of a believer and we are reminded during this Lenten season of how great the love is that God extended toward us through the sacrifice of his son.

May we be gentle with one another in our differences, and steadfast in our shared faith.  Hope your Lenten observations and your family are blessed this week.  Until next time ... Marsha 

Friday, March 9, 2012

Costco Here We Come - The Spot I Am In

Note:  I tried to find an available Costco image to put here, but the ones I found came with a scary message about being "flagged for a bot" - so I exited in a hurry and will go without a logo.  Yeesh!

Today is the bi-monthly Costco run  - the day we venture down off the hill and into the regional shopping center.  The LOC* is jazzed.  As I have mentioned, our little hamlet is so rustic we do not even have a WalMart.  Imagine that! (Lovable Old Coot*)

We were running out of time to go this week, as today is Friday, and I absolutely refuse to flash my card and enter those hallowed doors on a weekend.  That way lies madness.

On weekends, small people are running around with sticky stuff all over their mouths, hands and feet, without any visible supervision and you venture into their path at your own peril. One must assume that there are parents or some sort of adult relatives in the building, but since the building runs to the size of two football fields there is no hope of intervention from that quarter.  I simply cannot save enough on purchases from a single trip to Costco to cover the dry cleaning bills that will result from one of those encounters.  So we stick to weekday visits.

Of course, trouble may lie in this direction, too; you can never really tell where a Costco trip will end up.

For example, a couple of times the Costco run has ended up in other kinds of quick-trips; as the LOC overindulged in the free samples being given out as handily as from a Pez dispenser.  I don't know how many times I must advise him that mixing guacamole and chip samples with chocolate macadamia nut cookies is not a good idea.

His inevitable reply is, "But they were handing them out free!"

Ah ha, the battle cry of the AARP crowed, "It's free!"

I asked him whether he would line up for a freebie if it came with a sign that said, "Come and get it - no extra charge for an upset stomach followed by a terrific headache.  Limit of two."

He does not deign to reply.

So we are off - to buy twice as much as we need, of things that come only in barrels, tubs and plastic wrapped multiples.  We have at least a five year supply of scrubby sponges, toilet bowl cleaner and paper towels.  The LOC believes in being prepared for price hikes.

"Yes," I try to tell him, "But prices really won't matter too much when they give all this stuff away, when our kids come in to organize the estate sale."  He gives me a baleful glare when I talk like this."

After all, Costco day is supposed to be FUN!  Free food and free entertainment (if you enjoy watching people do peculiar things in warehouse aisles) always followed up by a stop at the best (here I must agree with him) and cheapest (can't argue there either :) hot dog stand in town.  Those polish dogs can bark, let me tell you.

So, there you have it.  Costco is the spot I am in today.
Hope your spot is at least as much fun as a Costco run.  Until next time ... Marsha

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

What a View! - The Spot I Am In

This is part of a new series entitled The Spot I Am In.  Hope you enjoy it!
Forest 1

This morning I awoke in my own bed, which is still new enough to be a treat after spending six months in K.'s guest bedroom.  He is, fortunately, doing well enough that I can now come home in the evenings and go back each morning for caregiver duties.

When the LOC* and I hear the pitter-patter of Holly's little toenails on the hardwood floor outside our bedroom, we know it is about time to feed her and let her outside.  (*Lovable Old Coot)

Then the LOC turns on the heat and opens the bedroom drapes...and oh, what a view.  The pine forest is just outside our window!  The sky is blue and cloudless and the sun is shining.  Two mornings ago when I opened the drapes, there were six pairs soft brown eyes staring at me, as the deer wandered lazily about our backyard, grazing on the new spring grass.  What a view!

Now I have seen some wonderful views in my lifetime.  The sights from the top of Pike's Peak in Colorado, the scene from the rim of the Grand Canyon, the amazing forests and mountains visible from the front porch of the home of poet William Cullen Bryant (which I will tell you more about in an upcoming post), a three-hundred year old copper beech tree a town square in Massachusetts, the lone cypress tree on the Pacific Coast outside of Monterey, the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland..... I can hardly keep myself from blithering on indefinitely.

Obviously, I love a good view; and I am completely enamoured with the views from our current windows here in the Sierra foothills.  But there is a view coming that will outshine them all.

We are told that Moses viewed the promised land from the top of Mt. Pisgah, but he never got to enter it.  But we will be blessed to view gates of pearl, streets of gold, and a city whose builder and maker is God.  The views will be colorful, beautiful and amazing.

Unlike my current view, however, they will also be one other thing - endless!  An eternal view - talk about something to look forward to. 

Hope your view is a good one today.  But if it is otherwise, please take a moment to consider that endless view that is in our future.  Until next time ... your friend with a viewpoint, Marsha

Monday, March 5, 2012

Another Necessary Ending - Chapter 22

This is a Chapter 22 in a series entitled Telling My Story.   

After an eventful three and a half years at the dental office, I went to work for a county health department.  It was an entirely new adventure for me since the staff consisted of a few dozen employees, whereas I was used to working in a small group of about six or eight people. 

My boss later told me that my application was one of thirty five reviewed for the position. I felt blessed beyond belief to be selected for the position. I walked into that building each morning with a sense of gratitude and left each evening with a sense of satisfaction. That little bubble of euphoria lasted about six months.

When reality began to set in it dawned on me that I seemed to be assigned more and more work, while others appeared to have ample time to roam the halls, chat around the coffee machine, and take long lunch breaks.  Meanwhile I was going at a dead run from morning till evening.

As time went on I discovered what it meant when they informed me that I was an "exempt" employee.  Basically it meant that regardless of how many hours I worked, I was not eligible for any overtime pay. 

However, by now my responsibilities had grown and required that I attend various community meetings in the evenings, speak at non-profit gatherings, and analyze new legislation that could affect the funding for our department.  I enjoyed a lot of it tremendously and when given the opportunity I learned to write grant proposals.  This resulted in the local hospital receiving several hundred thousand dollars in new equipment, and I received a special commendation and a plaque from the board of supervisors.

Well, hot dog, and goody goody, but I could not deposit a plaque in my checking account to pay the bills.

Meanwhile a staff member, whose position closely matched my own, could often be seen in his office, with his feet propped up on his desk.  He would thumb through whatever he was reading, while slowly munching on chips and drinking a soda.  He often left the office in the middle of the day and no one knew where he had gone. This became so common an occurrence that whenever he was actually needed for something, inquiries would go around as to "who was on Dan watch."  (Dan is not his real name.)

Dan's only real value to the department was that he was something of a computer geek, and in those early days of desktop computing very few employees, including me, knew anything beyond how to boot up, log on, and do their own tasks. Dan, on the other hand, was an early "networking guy". It was a key role and he knew it, so he milked his expertise for all it was worth.  

One day, a lady who had been with the department about twenty years took me quietly aside and told me that I needed to "slow down" a little.  I did not understand what she was talking about.  She explained that I was working too quickly and that I was "making the rest of us look bad."

I honestly did not get it ... at first.  But around there, people dragged their feet.  They divided projects up among several employees, when one or two energetic people could have done the whole task.  They set timetables that ran forever, and only delivered what they had to when it became absolutely imperative.  I had never seen anything like it. I had not yet learned the axiom that "work tends to expand to fill whatever time is allowed."

For a long time I just kept my head down and concentrated on my own work; but finally after two or three years of watching this kind of nonsense go on I began to let the director know what I thought of the whole thing.  Since he was "the boss" I had to be careful about voicing my concerns, because after all, this was all happening on his watch, and therefore apparently had his tacit approval. 

It is still my honest conviction that most employees want to do their best. But it is not always the case, and in this organization  blatant favoritism coupled with a lack of accountability had produced an unhealthy work environment.

The breaking point came when I discovered two things within weeks of each other.  First, a woman whose position was similar to my own, was also required to attend the same evening meetings with board members that I attended.  One day we were discussing taking some time off and she mentioned that she had several weeks of "comp time"coming, mostly due to the "time and a half" credit she received for these after-hours meetings.  If she attended a three hour meeting, she received credit for four and one-half hours of time off.  I did not.

I was first perplexed and then furious when I realized that although we were attending the very same meetings and putting in the same amount of time, I was receiving no extra pay or compensatory time off, while she was accumulating several extra paid days off each year.  It also turned out that everyone but me knew this, and they knew it was because she was one of the "boss's favorites" on the staff.

Secondly, the foot-propping, chip-munching, doofus down the hall got a raise, and I learned it was identical to my own. I was dumbfounded.  How was this possible?  Everyone knew he was a complete slacker.  When I asked the director "why" - he explained that departmental raises were not performanced based, they were uniformly set on a scale by the county administrator.  The entire department received "X" percent raise for the year.  Quality of contribution did not figure in.  Whaaaaat???????

I watched this kind of thing go on year after year, while I privately fumed.  But after learning about the two incidents above, I regretfully concluded that it was time for me to move on and I resigned. As the saying goes, "If nothing changes, nothing changes."

They fussed and feuded, manipulated each other, and formed little cadres that then morphed into new conflicts; but they were like a weirdly dysfunctional family; they kind of liked themselves the way they were.  They knew the game and how to play it.  I was not interested in learning that particular skill set.

During the time between when I gave notice and my actual last day on the job, the posting for my job vacancy went up on the public bulletin board.  A week later a second position was also advertised.  Then a third opening for half-time position was also posted.

I confronted the director, soon-to-be my former boss, and asked him, "Are you telling me that you are going to hire two full time people, plus one part-timer to do my job?"  He admitted that, yes, that was the plan.

He had some trouble looking me in the eye, but he finally muttered, "After all, Marsha, there is just no way we could find one person who would do everything you have been doing around here."

With barely concealed disgust, I asked him pointedly, "Then why have I been doing it?"  He said nothing, as he simply shrugged his shoulders.  Although we had worked together daily for nearly five years, I made sure it was the last conversation I ever had with him.

The year after I left, a former colleague let me know that the department had been subjected to a special investigative audit by the board of supervisors, and furthermore, the director had been personally reprimanded for poor managerial practices.  There is, upon occasion, some justice in the world; but it is sometimes very slowwwwww in coming.

It was a painful, but necessary ending, and one from which I took lessons that would stand me in good stead going forward.  There would come a time when I was responsible for the compensation programs impacting hundreds of employees, and I determined that fairness, accountability, and appreciation would be my watch-words when it came to rewarding performance.  It was a real joy to administer those reward programs.

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                For God does not show favoritism. - Romans 2:11

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Necessary Endings - New Beginnings : Chapter 21

Necessary Endings by Henry Cloud (2011,... This is chapter 21 in a series entitled Telling My Story.

My daughter recently recommended a book to me entitled Necessary Endings by Dr. Henry Cloud.

It is an excellent book and one I would recommend.  I only wish I had read it a few decades ago. (Of course, that would be problematic since it had not yet been written.)  While I did not have the benefit of Dr. Cloud's wisdom at that time, I do have the pleasure of looking back and seeing that I did, from time to time when it counted, do the very thing he advises. 

Dr. Cloud's book uses both professional and personal applications to illustrate the times and situations in our lives when we need to end something - a job, a relationship, a responsibility.  He is not talking about ducking out on our responsibilities; but rather he depicts the rational practice of analyzing our circumstances and deciding when it is time to move on:  to create a necessary ending.

I did this three times in my career.  Each time it was painful and somewhat frightening, but in each case the outcome was that I found myself in a better place with more room to learn and grow.  In this chapter and the following two chapters I will share with you those three stories.
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My first job, when I returned to the workforce after an absence of almost fifteen years as an at-home parent, was as the office manager in a busy dental practice.  I have outlined some of the more humorous aspects of that position in a prior chapter entitled Learning the Drill . 

It was a two dentist practice, one near retirement and the other at the beginning of his career.  The younger doctor was skillful, charming, and upon occasion "integrity-challenged."  One day a local businessman came in to begin a series of treatments to receive ten porcelain crowns which were very expensive.  He was the last patient of the day, and as young Dr. P. sometimes did, he left the last of the finish work to his assistant and he went home for the day.

As this patient came by on his way out of the building, he stopped at my desk and handed me a small brown paper bag, saying simply, "Dr. P. said I should leave this with you."  He walked out without further explanation.

I was busy; the phones were still ringing, the staff was leaving for the day, and I set the bag aside until just before I locked up for the day. When I finally had a moment to look into the bag, I was astounded to see a large bunch of one hundred dollar bills.  I counted the cash to discover it amounted to several thousand dollars. 

We did not have a safe in the office, and we rarely received enough cash payments to make one necessary.  So with this amount of money in hand, I was uncomfortable leaving it in a desk drawer until the next day.  So I quickly locked up and made a special trip down to the bank, arriving just before they closed and deposited the money in Dr. P.'s business account.

The next morning when he arrived the first thing he did was ask me whether his last patient had left anything with me the evening before.  I smiled and said he did, and proudly told him that as a precaution I had made a special trip to the bank to deposit the money for him.

His face displayed instant fury as he nearly shouted at me, "You did what?"  The first patient had not yet arrived, so he went on to explain to me that this was to be an "off the books" job that he and the patient had arranged - cash under the table for a considerable discount off the cost of the crown work.

Now I had spoiled the whole thing by depositing the money, which would mean it would have to be reported on his taxes.  He ranted, he raved, and he sniped at me between patients all day long.

I got quiet and I got scared. (I desperately needed the job as I was the sole support of our family at the time)  And I prayed.  Hard.  I had never agreed to be part of a scheme like that, and I was angry that he would assume I would go along.  But I could not afford to simply tell him to "stuff it" either.  What to do?

When my lunch break came, I was too upset to eat, so I spent the time alone praying for wisdom and for the courage to do the right thing.  At the end of the day, he came back to my desk to give me a few more choice words about my naivete' and lack of savvy about how the "world really worked."

When he finished, I gathered my purse and few personal items, handed him a letter I had prepared in case it came to this, and said, "Here is my letter of resignation.  I did not mean to interfere in your business arrangements.  But now that I understand what you intended, I cannot and will not participate in it. I am sorry it had to end like this.  I believe I have left everything in order so that it should not be too difficult for my replacement to take over."

He was so surprised he said nothing as I walked out.

I went home still shell-shocked, unable to believe what I had just done.  But I also felt a peace that passed understanding, because I believed I had done the right thing.

I did not know how we were going to pay the rent, buy food, or make the car payment.  I only knew that I had done what had to be done in those circumstances.  You either are a Christian when the chips are down, or you are not.  You are either an honest person, or you are not.  Sometimes there is no middle ground.

Please understand that I did not feel brave or holier-than-thou.  Instead I felt scared, and sad because I did not want to be judgmental or self-righteous, and I had actually enjoyed working there, most of the time.  But what was done was done.

Except that it wasn't ....

Early the next morning Dr. P. called me.  I assumed he was looking for a patient number that he could not find.  But no, he was calling to apologize.  He said when he got home and told his wife, J.,  what had happened, she told him he was an "idiot" , that letting Marsha quit was the dumbest thing he had ever done in his life. 

He said she reminded him that he was making more money since I became his office manager than he had ever made in his life and one of the reasons was because of the straight-forward and respectful way I made all payment arrangements with patients in advance of the work being done. (Note:  Our accounts receivables were running at over one hundred percent; meaning we were collecting everything he was currently producing and also collecting some small portion of past due accounts which were on the books from before I began working there.)

He also admitted he was calling because she had insisted that he do so.  So, would I please come back to work?

I thanked him and politely declined.  I explained to him that given that he was still angry over the misunderstanding and in light of the fact that he was only asking because J. had insisted, there was no basis for me to return.  "I would do exactly the same thing the next time, and you would be just as angry.  So there isn't really any way that would work."

Dr. P. knew a little of our personal circumstances, enough to know that I really needed the job.  He also knew he had hit a brick wall. 

A little later I received a call from his wife, J.  She began by apologizing and letting me know that she did not know what Dr. P. thought he was doing in expecting me to go along with his tax- evasion scheme.  She assured me that it would never happen again, and that she was personally asking me to please return to the office. She further assured me that Dr. P. would never again ask me to do anything of that nature.  I believed her.

After careful prayer and consideration, I returned.  However, I now knew that I was dealing with a person of limited integrity and that the time would come when I would need to leave.  But the knowledge gave me time to plan my exit, to watch for other opportunities, and to gain as much expertise as I could in my remaining time there.

When I left, I gave ample advance notice, and then walked out with my head high and my conscience clear.  I also left with the well-wishes of my coworkers and even the sheepish best wishes of Dr. P., who had given my new employer a glowing recommendation of my work. 

Thus, this necessary ending was the bridge to a new beginning.

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"When you ask yourself if you should have hope for this person or business to get better, the first diagnostic is to see what has been happening up to this point.  Unless something changes, that is exactly what you can expect to happen in the future."
~ Dr. Henry Cloud, Necessary Endings, page 94)