Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Middle management

Between my early twenties and my early fifties, I never held a full-time job. To be honest, I generally held multiple jobs. Part-time jobs when my children were younger. Multiple jobs, at the same time, as they grew--graduate student, teacher, editor, writer, single mother. But 40 hours a week at one job never.

In my early fifties, I was hired as an editor in the documentation group at Adobe, a software company in Silicon Valley. To tell the truth, this was my first “company.” And, to my knowledge, the first I had ever had a “manager.”

During my first months on the job I used to laugh with friends that folks at my new job were gullable enough to think of my ignorance as “fresh perspective.” I had a very good gig. Within the first few months, my boss asked if I wanted a permanent job. I said yes. And then a couple of months later, she asked whether I wanted to be promoted to manager. Since each “yes” on my part meant more money, I began my trip up the corporate ladder. I was a bit chagrined to learn that, as a manager, I was expected to lead and manage entire projects. Still I coped. And within three years I had been promoted to the position of Director.

At which point I began to contemplate in a more organized way what this meant. I was sent to a year-long set of classes for “Women Unlimited”--women, as I was led to believe, on their way up. I spent one full day a month for an entire year attending these classes. I play acted, talked, listened, met with my mentor, listened to our coaches, contemplated what it mean to be a woman on her way up. Contemplated ultimately my own misery. On the final day, each of us graduates stood and told what we had learned, what we planned to do with our future. I stood, admitted my sense of being misplaced--and described my plan to get out of my job. I was lucky to talk my boss into cutting my job in half, hiring a new director, and demoting me to exalted editor and middle manager. And I took the opportunity to move from the center office to Seattle.

Where I have been for five or six years--coming on my 10th year anniversary with the company, a very good company. An ethical company, a humane company full of smart, creative people.

But ultimately the job of a middle manager is a thankless one. I’m not a particularly social person. I prefer solitude, books, walking, driving, writing. I hate parties. It takes a good deal of energy to expend myself in minor social situations. And I spend most of my time in rooms with people listening to their problems, trying to find solutions, making tough decisions that never make anyone happy. Today I came face to face with my continuing sense of misplacement , alienation, as I listened to a writer, strung out at the end of a project, unhappy with his manager, tell me what a mess our group is, of the miasma of fear and distrust, and so on and so on. When I contemplate my work, I can feel pride at progress, change. I have a modest sense of what one should expect of a job, of a company.

But I’m wondering again. Why?

1 comment:

Lisa B. said...

New template--cool.