Missing The Boat

I left my job of almost 20 years on May 2, 2014.

For someone who could dedicate an entire blog post to something trivial like convenience store bathrooms or safety pins, I imagine it has been unusual that I have been silent on this topic for more than half a year.

Although the below account is not “starting at the beginning,” it captures important emotions and touchpoints of the decision, with vivid imagery.

Here’s the backstory: a few years ago, each of our board members received an anonymous letter outlining the author’s grievances. Topics included lack of cost of living increases and perceived favoritism, among other concerns. After that letter was distributed to our board, our Executive Director scheduled one-on-one meetings with each of us to “really hear our concerns.”

He had led the organization for several years by this point, and my initial optimism that had been born partly from a trusted individual saying “Oh I have worked for him; you’ll love him” had deteriorated. I decided in this one on one to be completely trusting and say exactly what I thought, which included some of my thoughts on the issues posed in the letter (which I didn’t write). As the meeting wound down, his statement to me was, “I still think you put your family ahead of your job.” Talk about a disappointing close to what I felt like was a productive meeting.

That evening, I had this dream:

A line of kayaks stretched out as far as my eye could see, buoyantly poised on gentle waves.

I was supposed to be with this group but had not realized I was supposed to be in a kayak – I was still walking.

It was a beautiful, sunny, calm day.

I pleaded with a leader to help me get my own kayak to join the group.

He somewhat reluctantly agreed and got me set up with a kayak and a paddle.

As he and I paddled toward the group, the weather worsened rapidly; there were dark clouds gathering and the wind was whipping up. The waves were intense. It was like white water rafting – the dangerous conditions were just like a book I read where the father who wasn’t especially trusted and had been drinking took the young son out for what was supposed to be an easy trip which turned into a white water disaster. We ducked and dodged huge waves like the kind you see surfers in Hawaii dealing with. We eventually decided we would have to wait it out.

Abruptly, the water receded. My leader and I started off on foot, following the path of everyone who had gone before us.

It was a dirt road made of light clay. There were very clear marks where the others had tried to leave us messages regarding their status.

As the leader and I walked on, the marks faded and grew more difficult to interpret. Blood stains began to appear among the marks. The stains were pinkish brown – they weren’t red and fresh but it was clear there had been a struggle.

We never found our group.

I had missed the boat.

The next day, I went to work.

The next day, I pulled into my parking lot at work and saw my Executive Director’s car, loaded up with a kayak.*

Leaving Work

 

This dream happened in 2012; I didn’t leave the organization until mid-2014 (after that Executive Director had moved on). Although it took me a long time to decide about leaving work, and the navigational maps for the next steps still feel a little fuzzy, the dream precisely represented where my spirit was at that time.

When I sat at my desk in early April 2014, having cleaned out all of my email streams, professional and personal, and feeling “I don’t have anything to do,” I called my husband and said “I have to go.”

And go, I did.

*Looking at it now, several years later, I realize maybe the “kayak” was actually a small boat (is that a motor I see?). But all I saw when I pulled up that day was “kayak kayak kayak.”

 

Wife of one, Mom of two, Friend of many.

But I DID Bring It Here!

The title of this post “But I DID bring it here!” is a reply I have been wanting to make to someone I dealt with earlier this week. Here’s the story:

(and note, I have intentionally not said what entity I was dealing with because I think the staff person was just a reflection of the communication system, not a bad employee)

Earlier this week, a local municipal transportation agency was doing a food collection promotion (titled “Caring in Motion”). If you donated two canned goods you would receive a free one-way bus pass; if you donated three canned goods you would receive a free round trip bus pass. Contributions went to a local agency that does a lot for hunger in our community.  Although I don’t ride our local bus, I am a big proponent of mass transit (as well as eliminating hunger) and I have partnered with this entity before.

As soon as I saw the campaign announced, I shared it on Facebook (and possibly Twitter – I don’t recall). I stopped at the store that night and purchased canned goods to take to the main transportation plaza on the appointed day (and yes I got three).

chicken breast one

When I approached the staff person behind her plexiglass shield, she had just finished dealing with a very unhappy customer who was dissatisfied with some aspect of our bus system’s routing. I approached her and asked if I could drop off my items. She was not prepared for that question. She said, “well I can’t give you a free pass” (I replied that was okay) and continued to act reticent about accepting my contribution. At some point I asked, “is it easier to go to that bus over there and hand it to the driver?” She finally opened a special little drawer in her plexiglass bunker where I could fit my items. And as I deposited my items, she said, “You didn’t bring it here.” (As in “I could get in trouble for taking these canned goods … the ones our agency encouraged you to bring and you then encouraged other people to bring … so let’s keep it between us okee dokee?”) I agreed somewhat non-verbally. As I was walking away, I was worrying about the negative experience anyone I told they could do the same thing might have. My worries were interrupted when she heartily yelled over her plexiglass-enclosed microphone: “THANK YOU!”

Why does it matter? For me, it mattered because I had put my name behind encouraging people to do this. Having dealt with volunteers in many capacities, I know how easily one small perceived slight or mishandled detail can deflate a volunteer’s altruistic motivation. More importantly, I was wishing that from a management and leadership perspective, she as an employee had been fully informed about the campaign underway and encouraged to participate and be thrilled that the public was interested in helping out. I know her job is often hard. This could have been handled so differently, so that our interaction was a positive point in her day, not something that made her feel like she was going to get in trouble.

In a post she wrote about “8 Things Collaborative Leaders Know,” Jesse Lyn Stoner said, “People want their organizations to be successful, and when given an opportunity to participate, they bring their best thinking and contribute fully.” In the case of how my contribution to “Caring in Motion” was handled, I just wish the interaction I had with the staff member had been different. Instead of “you didn’t bring it here,” I wish something else had been brought: some “caring in motion” perhaps.

Have you ever had a sense that someone you were dealing with was not fully engaged with their organization? What can managers do to increase opportunities for everyone to participate?

** Update: I ended up sharing this post with StarMetro, emphasizing that it was constructive feedback and the last thing I wanted would be for the employee to be criticized. I really appreciate the director’s gracious reply and receptiveness! One quote: “As always, I enjoy great feedback like this, since it helps identify areas that improvement may be needed.”

 

Wife of one, Mom of two, Friend of many.