It feels like the older you get, the more formed your sense of self becomes, and the lower your tolerance for bullshit gets. You don’t believe it’s inflexibility, or a grumpy old man’s resistance to change. You’re just personally offended by the artificial substitutes that try to pass for “authenticity.” The pissing-contest town halls and their sandbagged sales pipeline, the self-congratulatory executive pats-on-the-back in the guise of sales training, the mediocrity proclaimed with the authority of industry-anointed genius, the ass-kissing golf breakfasts with men who supposedly matter.
To your surprise and contrary to arbitrary definitions, you fit the textbook profile of an overweight, greying millennial hipster after all, who finally broke with The Stranger-like confluence of a flu relapse, an unsung 18-hour workday, fault for unrealistic client itineraries you had absolutely no involvement in, tropical noontime heat, the worst traffic in the world, a direct line to an operations chief you could not respect, and why the hell is it so hard to find a goddamn parking spot?
Late last year
The CEO introduced you to a client as the new revenue chief who’d already doubled the sales of their competitor. It was a complete fabrication. And while you were in China, having volunteered to salvage the company’s tradeshow representation, you received an email blaming your lack of response for the delay in integrating systems you never knew you were part of. Eventually, you would learn that, due to executive amnesia, you could not avail of the remote work privileges that prompted you to sign with the company in the first place. You were asked, “Where did we go wrong?”
Early last year
It was never your style to tell people things they ought to have known in the first place. For if you did, would it make a difference anyway? So after having done your part to secure several million dollars for the next three years, you worked on content marketing and sales enablement projects you believed were more valuable to the firm than being a follow-me-anywhere minion—like everyone else—to the founders. Then, at the slightest excuse to exit, you did.
Two years ago
It’s funny when a firm that keeps yapping about leadership gets a new President eager to display immediate shareholder impact. If they didn’t yammer about John Maxwell so much, the snowballs of hypocrisy wouldn’t have seemed like an avalanche of duplicitous clawing for survival. You’re glad you held out as long as you did, though. That severance package would serve you well.
Six years ago
Whenever there’s a new HR manager where there previously was none, complacency and politics would have an umbrella of teamwork and corporate culture to shelter under. And when you began noticing being excluded from management meetings and company-wide announcements, you tried to find out if somebody else would pay you double to learn something new. It turned out somebody else would, even though they would take four months to choose you from a field of 150. It was a real NBC-departing Conan O’Brien moment.
15 years ago
You loved the savagely meritocratic management consulting work-ethic and politically unencumbered British humor (humour). Unfortunately, working hard and playing hard—daily 7AM standups and boys’-club midnights—would hit physical and psychological limits.
18 years ago
You thought it was strange that the head of banking was doing your performance evaluation. And that she used a pencil. And when she discussed the evaluation with you, on some items she would erase her rating and rate you higher on the spot. She ended with, “Overall, I think you’re doing really well.” Strangely, she asked you to sign it in ink.
Later, the expat COO would tell you you weren’t eligible for a pay increase or a promotion, because your starting pay was already higher than that of your peers of the same level. You had just finished your MBA and had offers for more money, one from a management consultancy, another from an internet startup. No-brainer.
19 years ago
You’d never really felt leadership throughout your short career. You pretty much figured out on your own what projects you would work on and how you would work on them. You weren’t always right.
This era was the clichéd small-fish/big-pond versus big-fish/small-pond conundrum. The small pond won.
You felt so embarrassed for winning a convection oven at the Christmas party on your last day. Your boss said, for leaving too soon, you might have to pay back the company for the external training they sent you to. You knew you weren’t contractually obligated to, but you wrote them a check anyway. Judging from their cluelessness receiving it, it appeared not too many 20-somethings did what you did.
Nearly 20 years ago
Every day was directionless meandering, and not just because it was the late 90’s. The company was in the middle of opening itself up to external investors, thus a reorg and an office renovation. You started learning about “misalignments” from your MBA organizational development class.
In between software installation requests and trippy journeys to the brutalist worldwide web, you documented your idea for a leveled, ticket-based tech support service and posted it on the discussion board for feedback. It would become standard in the industry 10 years later, but for the meantime, it was hearing Lotus Notes crickets and gathering intranet dust.