A Series of Unfortunate Positions

Or, how a bad job situation managed to get worse — Job #1

Lately, I’ve been writing quite a bit about what feels like income inequality to me here in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. I can’t know yet exactly how right or wrong I am (I’ll be needing more than just general demographics to figure that out), but if such a problem did exist, it ought to parallel some anecdote in my own life in some way as a biracial single mother. Another way I’ve come to think about this is that one coincidence is a coincidence. So are two. Three is a pattern, but it’s still technically just three coincidences. Aside from that, I’ve found plenty of ways to blame myself: being too “picky”, changing direction too much, not studying the right subjects, not taking my education far enough, being a mom, being single, not socializing enough, being too “leadery”… or something. It has to be something, because three years of coincidences is a pretty strong pattern.

This exercise, where I replay every decision I’ve made since moving to Sioux Falls, has been performed repeatedly. Constantly, I re-assess what I’ve done, the jobs I’ve interviewed for, the positions I’ve been in. I look for that pivotal moment in which I failed to grasp a certain task or skill or performed poorly at my job in a way so detrimental to my career that it burns to even to think about what I’ve done to myself, and while there are obviously certain decisions I made which led to cause certain effects, I am hard-pressed to come up with any sort of solid explanation as to why I am living below the poverty line.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe three years of rejection skews the perspective. What better way to find out than to invite opinion by saying something about it on the internet? It will help me feel better and, more importantly, it’s what happened. On that note, while this isn’t necessarily about outing anyone, part of clearing my name and explaining my actions means offering a reasonable explanation for the decisions I’ve made. As such, there are two people in particular whom, while I won’t be mentioning their names, will be easily identifiable based on the information I’ll be providing. Normally, and indeed up until this point, I would feel and have felt badly about the idea of doing such a thing. Also, I was scared that speaking up would be like an invitation to ostracize me. It’s not very practical to be looking for a job while talking badly about the one you just left — I’m not bereft completely of social sense, after all — lately, however, I’ve decided there’s no good reason I shouldn’t be able to talk about these things. If it makes someone look bad, then I guess they shouldn’t have acted the way they did. Or, maybe I’m wrong.

Sioux Falls Job #1

In October of 2012, I started working at the local office of Retail Data Systems. At the time, there were just two other people in the office who were not salesmen or reception. One was primarily in charge of building the website they’d somehow been allowed to exist without developing, and the other was the manager. The taking on of the website was obviously not what my co-worker had been doing for the entire duration of his employment, and he’d started by performing the work that I’d just been hired to do. You know, like how promotion works. Anyway, the manager and I got along because we had to. I had been referred to the place by an acquaintance who’d graduated in my high school class. I was incredibly grateful for this, as for months I’d been making a four-hour round-trip drive multiple days a week in order to interview for positions — sometimes more than one interview per position — so that by the time I’d gotten the job, I could barely afford the relocation and felt obligated to follow through on my acceptance by staying. Plus, I was making my desired $14/hour. The incentive for him was that the turnover for the position I held wasn’t admirable, and I actually had a decent sales funnel built up, even though the last thing I really knew anything about or even wanted to do was Sales. I enjoyed learning Salesforce, had a $250,000 sales funnel built up (that’s giving benefit to doubt and lack of verifiable record), and was just basically pretty good at my job, even though I didn’t really like it. Here are some of the things I didn’t like about my job:

The job was advertised as “degree necessary”. It wasn’t. I was told I’d start at $30,000. I “didn’t exactly”. One part of the interview was explicitly highlighted with the declaration that this guy “do[es] not micromanage”. Oh, but he did. While going for a coffee run alone with my manager one day, he saw it necessary to mention how much the company was saving on my inability to afford health insurance for just myself and my child due to their single/family offerings. I didn’t think it was funny. Several times, I asked for additional work, and although he would complain daily that he had too much to do and was a self-described “bad delegater”, I couldn’t seem to get any extra work to do. I wasn’t asking for more money with the more work, just more work. Who asks for just more work? And numerous small things that really have more to do with personality than professionalism, but aren’t good reasons for even me to leave a job. What brought me to the edge was just a single interaction, after nine months of whatever sort of hell it is I’ve just described.

I made an error. I think. That’s what he said, but it was never really verified that anything had ever been an actual problem. I was called to his office to explain. As he fumbled around on his computer screen, nowhere near the source of the answer as I tried to verbally steer the mouse from behind his office chair, I finally became annoyed enough with the inefficiency of what we were doing and said, “Here. If you just let me go back to my desk, I can take a look and tell you what I did.” With that, I went back to my desk (which had recently been relocated from a corner office and positioned in a cubicle directly outside of his office door) and started looking through my work. I was told to come back to his office. I protested, saying we were not accomplishing anything. I was once again called into his office. I preceded to protest, giving a finger-list of things I wasn’t going to do, which included searching fruitlessly in the wrong place for an answer I could easily find in three minutes or less. Then I was told to “get back into [his] office, or else”. There were three other employees in our immediate area at the time, and they were all (very respectable) men.

Well, guess. What.

I chose ‘Or else’ so fast I forgot my phone when I left, forcing me to turn the car around and go back into the office; just in time to awkwardly witness this manager recommending the changing of all passwords, including the Twitter account I’m pretty sure I still have access to on my iPad, three years later. Anyway, on my way home, I called the Company President and left a message for him to call me back. We were not unfamiliar, as he’d made visits to the office. It was not a move out of hand. I later found out my manager had done the same, but I’d been called back first, nya, nya. I told him what happened, and he told me he knew there wasn’t much room for growth in the office. He told me he’d pay the rest of the day if I would send him some thoughts on how the positions and the office could grow. I was grateful; he asked me if I really wanted to leave the job, and I said no. I didn’t.

I just couldn’t handle being managed by someone who was both less emotionally mature than I was (which … I mean, look at what I’m doing), and who didn’t really seem to have as great of a grasp on marketing as he liked to think. It would seem that the problem with being led by great managers is that the experience ruins your ability to tolerate anything less.

It was not until the Company President called me back that I’d realized none of the issues between the manager and I had ever, ever been brought up. At all. And we’d had some notable spats. This would have been a deal-breaker for me because it demonstrated a supreme desire to attempt to control situations with no regard for transparency. Indeed, whatever it was that the manager had said to the President made him think that maybe staying under the direction of this manager wouldn’t be the best idea for either of us. They paid me for the next month.

Writing this reminds me how much I actually did like the company and its top leadership. I was feeling pretty badly about the entire situation at the time and I guess I don’t remember if I even thought to write him a thank-you. I think I’ll write a thank-you.

So, anyway, that’s how I quit my first job in Sioux Falls. I really didn’t think it would be as hard as it was to find employment after that, although I remain skeptical that my difficulty didn’t find help. That manager stalked my Twitter feed so often that I had to block him. If you’ve read any of my other work lately, you’ll know that the block button is not my friend, and not a defense I deploy often. He also seemed to be terribly interested in absolutely any change to my LinkedIn profile. Had he been someone who’d shown any interest in my career before, that might have made a little sense, but considering how everything came to a head, it felt more like stalking/sabotage. Did he put out a note out to everyone in his professional network that I was a bad seed who shouldn’t be hired? Maybe, but even if he did, who should care? Hiring shouldn’t be done based on the butthurt opinion of one not-great manager; that’s about the furthest thing from “professional” that I’d even dare try to wrap my mind around. It would evidence a serious problem with the way that jobs are awarded in Sioux Falls, if one person were to be shut out of just about every job in town just because she didn’t appreciate being told to “get back into my office or else”.

I hope I wasn’t supposed to learn a lesson from any of this, because I still don’t appreciate that shit.