I read a funny post this morning over on Paul’s blog. He wrote about the demise of a wonky calculator. I told him that I’ve “been there.”
What I didn’t tell him is that it reminded me of a very dark time in my life. The Year of the Bitch.
Ten years ago I was going through a divorce, living temporarily in the basement of my brother’s home, and working long stressful hours at a hellish job. I was in mourning for the loss of my married life, my dream home in the country, my cats, and gardens.
The object of my fury was… well, you see, that was the problem. There was no single target. Neither my ex-husband nor the unwelcome situation in which I found myself was the target. Instead, I directed, or as the textbooks say, “displaced” my anger inappropriately to other people, mostly my co-worker. Ironically, when the situation at work reached the breaking point, she was my champion. Go figure. Thanks again, Betty.
It’s a Nokia cell phone that took a hard blow to the transistors one day. (Note to my fact checker: do cell phones have transistors?) Were it not for the fact that the door had wire-mesh reinforced glass, “windowcide” might be on my conscience, too.
Back story time. At the time, I was a dispatcher for a utility locate company. I worked in a satellite office. Springtime is the busiest season for the “call before you dig” people. Arborists plant trees in new subdivisions, construction companies and road-works crews are champing at the bit to dig and pave, and homeowners are anxious to get the new hot tub or flower bed installed.
This was the first season our company had the contract. Unfortunately, we were very slow off the mark. Everyone was on a steep learning curve and the volume of work surpassed estimations. That meant we were all overworked and a large percentage of the tickets were “lates.” Clients were impatient. The original workload doubled for those of us in dispatch who had to respond to customer queries.
The Nokia in question was not my own. In order for every locator to have direct lines to dispatch, we were assigned cell phones. It was a bad idea. I had two telephone lines, email, a fax, AND a cell phone to juggle. Plus the unreasonable expectation that I would handle them. Sure, no problem. [Eye-roll]
When I find myself in a challenging situation like this, I can do one of two things. I can walk away. Clearly that was not an option. So, Plan B then. Which meant
- that I rise to the occasion
- surpass all expectations
- make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear
- and mountains out of mole hills.
In that order.
In other words, I try to be a superhero and save the day. If I’m thwarted, I pout, I simmer, I stew, the rage grows and… boom.
Here’s the kicker. From head office we were commanded “thou shouldst have no lates.” I believe the intent behind this directive was meant to set the bar high, so that even if we missed it, at least we are aiming for excellence with our focus on the bull’s-eye. However, my supervisor interpreted it literally and expected that we, the company must do what it takes to make sure that there would be no lates, EVER!
The burden of that swell responsibility fell to me, the dispatcher. Kinda like handing me 5 corks to stopper up 7 holes in a sinking ship, and I was responsible for the success or failure of the voyage. Sure, no problem. [Twitch]
Meanwhile, back on the phone lines…
There were two ways to meet deadlines.
- One, hire enough staff to handle the load. Yeah, right.
- Contact the customer to renegotiate the dates. That means I must get on the phone and contact the contractors and homeowners. If time permits. If the requester agrees. If the customer is not that particular contractor who is famous for dumping hundreds of requests into the system at one go and then doing a little tap-dance of rage on the VP’s head when he doesn’t get his locates on time. Sure, no problem. [Unclench jaw and relax shoulders]
With the added phone work assigned to me, I started to lose control of the workload. I would have still considered this a “doable” challenge if only I had access to the support I needed from my co-workers and supervisors.
This is where things fall apart. On the rare occasion that I was able to connect with the “higher-ups”, my requests for help were met with scorn, ridicule and dismissal. I was told that I was panicking or over-reacting.
(They had problems of their own and did not want to hear from me. I get that. Now, I get that. At the time, I took it personally.)
When I told my supervisor that I could not get “that particular contractor who is famous for dumping hundreds of requests into the system at one go” to agree to new due dates, she said,
“Well, if you called me the day before my tickets were due, I’d say no, too.” Then she had the gall to tell me that my counterpart in head office did not have any problem with getting dates changed. “Sorry”, she said, “I can’t help you. Figure something out.”
Sure, no problem. [Deer caught in headlights].
OK, I know this is long. But I’m getting there.
Apparently, that conversation had some good come from it. My supervisor reviewed the status reports and finally admits, hey, whaddya know, Maggie’s office has more requests than any of the other regions. And look! They are behind AND understaffed!
She advises that she will re-assign two guys to help out. My job is to coordinate with my counterpart and build a workload.
It instantly becomes apparent that my counterpart has been hiding stuff from the supervisor. Her guys’ work is not updated in the database. There are [shudder] LATES! I call my supervisor, and explain the situation. The two guys have lates of their own, and can’t come down to help me.
Her voice was cold and stern. “Why are there lates on the books to begin with, Maggie?” [Bite tongue, oh god BITE TONGUE]
And here, like Paul, I black out. There is a gap in my memory, as far as the rest of the conversation goes, that is. I do recall slamming down the phone and reaching for something to pitch across the room.
It bounces off the window, and fragments of Nokia are scattered about.
I was enraged. I was embarrassed. And I was so very, very ashamed of myself, and then I began to panic! How the hell was I going to explain the broken cell phone? I blubbered and wailed (thank GOD I was on my own that day!) and my hands trembled as I reassembled the cell phone.
Sonuvabitch. It still worked!
The rest, as they say, is history. Some days later, my supervisor came down and “suggested” that I take some time off work. I did. She “suggested” that perhaps this job wasn’t a good fit. It wasn’t. At least it was not a good fit for me in at the fragile time of my life.
The next year the company purchased a computerized dispatch system and my job was made redundant. I was offered a position at head office, so at least I knew I was considered an asset. I declined. I had a new boyfriend, lined up a new job, and bought a new house.
On to the next teaching moment. More or less a happy ending.
(Note to fact checker: do they still make Nokia cell phones? I think I’ll check ’em out for my next upgrade.)
Inspired by http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2014/02/24/writing-challenge-object/ DPchallenge
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