2011-05-21

When People are not Helping You Succeed

A Post in Which I Also Mention the End of the World

Sergey outdid himself yesterday. He came to my cube saying he had thought of something relevant and would I like to know what. I didn't ask relevant to what or to whom. He didn't ask if I was busy but probed again, would I like to know.

I glanced at my screen, I looked at him, and then I shrugged without moving my shoulders, presuming he'd tell me something that wouldn't make sense to me -- because our world views are so different we may as well be different species -- and then poke at me with conclusions that I'd find outrageous. And then poke again and again until I'd loose my temper and he'd ask why am I yelling now...?

"Sure, please tell me."

So he told me how he had been hired to do something rather impossible in a particular and rather stupid way. He achieved it, of course. He worked around the stupid particulars and delivered. But at some point he learned of a competing project using a different approach. This was the primary project he realized, his was a backup should the primary fail. The primary didn't and Sergey's work was never used.

This story is relevant to me he said, because my project is not meant to be used either. A different solution, which works, exists within a commercial offering.

"I didn't know until today actually. I didn't want you to be surprised."

Had someone told him this, our boss, the project manager? No. My countenance had stiffened, I was trying to hide my fury and rising panic. "Ok," I said and I stared at him with what I hoped was an expressionless face. He got uncomfortable, shuffled on the other side of the cube wall, made little jokes, and then said he didn't want to end on such a low note and told me my expertise is now in high demand again, because everyone else who used to do what I do moved on to different specializations and have left a vacuum behind.

I said "Ok."

Perhaps realizing that whatever he'd been hoping for -- bonding? -- wasn't going to happen he wished me a good weekend and left.

Fighting panic I sat at my desk. In one way, technically, I am competent at what I do and in another really, really not. It's hard for me to ask people to provide me with stuff I need to for my projects. I get sidetracked and spend my time on non-vital things so I can put off the time at which I actually have to interact. I work hard but my projects go nowhere. Of course, my working life is suffused with the stress of this All The Time, but I am good at compartmentalizing and suppressing the fear that it'll get me fired.

Sergey broke down the walls and brought the fear back so intensely that I couldn't sit still. My body and and mind were drowning in adrenalin. Desperate plans were forming at astounding speeds while I was breathing short and fast.

I got up and walked to Sergey's cube to ask him what the fuck he meant by telling me this, but he'd left already. Back at my desk I left a hysterical sounding voicemail with my therapist. For a while I sat there, not knowing where to rest my eyes, my whole body twitching. Then finally I told Ted over IM that something kind of bad had happened and would he mind listening to me and advicing me.

When he agreed the whole thing spilled out of me in anguished messages, including me suggesting I should tell my boss about my problems and allow him to judge if he actually wanted me as an employee.

Ted was quiet for a while, and then said, "Sergey is not helping you to succeed, you should ignore what he says. Making yourself look bad in front of your boss will not help you." Then he gave me straightforward, obvious, common sense advice -- break things into pieces, if the person you need to talk to is on vacation ask his boss for someone else to talk to, figure out what needs to be done and do it bit by bit -- triggering more panic, because this is what I have been telling myself over and over and failed to execute on, but he listened to my panicked interjections and repeatedly discouraged sepukku in my boss's office.

When I knew the advice wouldn't get any better or sound more convincing I asked him to help me with something that had been blocking me. He agreed and together we came up with something that'd work. I thanked him profusely, by now I felt better, the Lorazepam had started working and I was focused on something that would move my project forward. Around midnight I started getting freaked out by the empty, whispery office building (recalling an episode of SVU with a late working woman found raped and dead in her office Monday morning) and called a cab. And yeah, it was worth the $75 to not ride my bike the 20 miles home in the middle of the night again.

Everything'll Be Alright (Will's Lullaby)Today, as I sit here writing this down, the sepukku -- which seemed like the only way out -- finally seems like a stupid idea. I can and I will focus on piece by piece and get shit done. And if in the end my project is rejected for another that's Ok. That's how it works, a company that has the resources will develop several solutions and then pick the one that works the best. It would hurt my feelings not to be picked, but as long as I complete my projects to requirement it does not reflect on my competence and there is no reason for my employer get rid of me.

I have to presume Sergey's motivations weren't nefarious, that he had no idea of the chain reaction he'd unleash, that he really thought I'd want know this thing he'd figured out -- on his own with no outside validation -- over which should it turn out to be true I have absolutely no influence.

I keep reading the world is supposed to end today. This information is meaningless if it's true, because I have no option to change the outcome, if it's not, well... knowing of the rumor serves only to befuddle my decision making process.

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