Getting out of my head

If you wanted to know where my head’s at recently, here you go. But I warn you. Be prepared for some thoughts that aren’t so nice. Hell, I’m used to those kinds of thoughts these days.

I wanna start by apologizing for all the negativity recently. You can take that to mean whatever time period you want, but I’m sure it pretty much extends to the past 2 years at least.

For now, I’m gonna take you on a journey of where I’ve been for the past 2 years, and how things are going with me now. Be warned, the following post is bound to be incredibly long. If you wind up making it all the way through, thank you.

Before the Pandemic

In 2019, I was somewhat gainfully employed with a small business that supports local governments. My job was that of the real estate title examiner, meaning I was responsible for looking up all the legal documents associated with a particular property and putting them together. Essentially, I was creating a “story” of the property for the clients. All of this was to make sure they were going after the right people, the right property, and that whoever said they owned it actually did. The legal requirements for this process are vague at best and minimal at worst, but the company I worked for strove for 100% customer satisfaction, which is understandable and laudable as a goal.

Toward the end of 2019, things started to get interesting here in the States. Rumblings of a new virus were all over the news, and the then-leader of the country wasn’t doing much to calm the fears that it would be coming here. The management at my then-employer wasn’t too concerned with whatever was going to happen. They figured it would be yet another virus blown out of proportion by the news media, hyped up by talking heads who make money on fear.

Neither I nor they were prepared for what came next.

2020

2020 was regarded as the worst year by just about anyone you could ask. Jobs got disrupted. Life had to frequently be put on hold. Coronavirus infections were rampant and spreading quickly, overwhelming the state’s healthcare system faster than anyone could predict. Then the shelter-in-place orders came. My area was put under one relatively early on in March, which I communicated with my manager. My manager told me that it didn’t apply to work travel and that I should come in anyway, so I did, leaving my vulnerable immune-compromised partner at home alone as usual.

Part of my job with this company required travel to the farthest corners of the state to complete work in-person. With the shifting stay-at-home and lockdown orders, unclear restrictions and guidelines on masking and personal protection, and the general ineffectiveness of state leadership, each client I visited was a new surprise and a new gamble. Some started requiring appointments to be made in advance, limiting the available times and amount of time I could spend in a given location. Some required extensive pre-checks and clearance to enter, which took time out of my day and slowed my processes down. And yet others, fearful of having their employees get sick and be unable to work, shuttered their offices to the public entirely, preventing my access at all.

Over time, management told me the quality of my work was no longer meeting their standards. I got pulled into administrative meetings where I was thoroughly dressed-down for the slip up in quality without once being handed a list of corrections to be made. My work was organized and handed off to specific people in secret, away from my view, to comb through my entire process and pick out errors to penalize me for. Eventually, I was having conversations with management about transitioning out of the position at the company.

By Christmas, things had not improved – either with my work situation or management’s opinion of my work ethic. Despite me actively trying to get every single file I touched to as ready a state as possible, I still was met with complaints. This or that is missing, this isn’t filled out the way they wanted it, this document I was never required to grab before wasn’t included and so someone had to find it. Stuff like that.

And then there came another meeting. This time about my “attitude” at work. Apparently several of my coworkers had come forward to management and complained about how I conducted myself. I didn’t think I was particularly negative or unhelpful – I just wanted to focus on my work, since that was what was coming to question with management so often. I wanted to make myself better at doing what I’d always done and what they’d always been okay with. In doing so, I had let my usual social interactions with the rest of the office fall by the wayside, apparently making me appear as standoffish and unapproachable. So after this meeting, during which I couldn’t help but fall to pieces, right in front of my manager, I endeavored to be more sociable and approachable to my coworkers.

But that wasn’t my only hat.

In office spaces, people frequently talk about “wearing multiple/many hats” when they have to juggle a bunch of different responsibilities in different areas. I was one of these people, though my areas of responsibility were somewhat unbalanced. While I was still a part-time employee, just working while I was trying to make it through college, I saw an area where I could immediately help: tech support. I wasn’t doing anything especially complicated; just the usual swapping out of defective keyboards and mice, troubleshooting printer issues, and stuff like that. I took on that work alongside my otherwise light data gathering and processing responsibilities.

Initially, I was able to manage this balancing act pretty well. Despite early confrontations with management over issues that were not honestly material to my ability to perform my duties, I soldiered on. The pay was decent, the rest of the employees were kind (for the most part), and my commute was only a half-hour from my college town. Providing tech support wasn’t part of my job description – not that I actually had an official one – but I wanted to help out however I could to make myself more valuable to the company. And for a while, this was enough to impress my bosses and keep them happy.

Despite the amount of value I provided in this area, I could not get the company’s leader to accept that tech support was a full-time job in and of itself. They saw me as more of an emergency tech than a preventative tech, so my pleas for them to acknowledge my efforts and pay me for them went unheard. They would throw a bonus at me occasionally for completing large projects, like overhauling their server and Active Directory environment, but not once was I offered tech support as a full time position with pay.

I rebuilt their server…

The server overhaul project was to be completed “in my spare time”, of which I had practically none. This was only decided to be a needed project at all after they randomly decided to have an outside managed services provider come in and do an audit on the system. It was a pretty damning audit, and their estimate for fixing/upgrading everything was quite substantial. I knew this company’s leader, and I knew they weren’t going to spend a dime more than they thought was necessary. So it occurred to me that if I wanted this much needed upgrade to happen, I had to find a way to make it happen myself, more or less on my own, within the confines of the company’s extremely limited budget.

I set to task, sourcing a pre-built server, hard drives, extra parts, backup solutions, UPS power backups – the works. I submitted my invoice for everything needed, and they decided on my plan over the MSP’s. They even got the other MSP they had on retainer to offer their own solution, and I managed to beat their price as well. Granted, the setup I chose was rather bare-bones and not very redundant, but it would bring the company forward a decade in office technology. All the parts came in, I assembled them, and then was told to only work on it in between other assigned work. This meant the only real time I had to set anything up was after hours, and as a salaried employee, I had no “overtime” pay to speak of. What should have taken a few days of installing, configuring, testing, and implementing wound up taking almost a month to complete. There were plenty of problems after the switchover, each of which took several more weeks to troubleshoot and iron out. And after all was said and done, all I got was a small check, a pat on the back, and a directive to get back to other things.

And I fixed their website…

The website was much the same way. The time I spent working on it was all after-hours, at home, on my own time and equipment. Their clients continue to use that website daily, where before, no one would’ve given their ugly web presence a second glance. And again, a small check, a pat on the back, and a directive to get back to work on other things.

In-built pages for event promotion and registration. Links to relevant websites for more information about the services they provide, the legal processes behind those services, and the text of the laws dictating how those services are to be carried out. Links to the internal file management system. Beautiful headers, custom event banners, if they needed it, I made it. Even if they didn’t ask for it. And I kept updating it. Because it looks tacky to leave something up promoting an event that happened months ago.

Not once was I offered to do that – alongside domain management, desktop support, hardware support, light graphic design, and document management – as a full-time position. Not once. I asked. I even asked if it could be made exactly 1/2 of my responsibilities. Nope. “We just don’t see what you’d be doing the rest of the time you’re not fixing something.” Being proactive about these problems, that’s what I’d be doing.

Eventually, they fired me.

Alas, this situation was not to last, despite my fear of losing my only-known stable source of income. My lack of prior life experience left me anxious about the consequences of getting fired, so the fear of it lingered over me pretty constantly. The constant negative feedback and negative treatment from my manager(s) and other departments in the building certainly didn’t help my situation. It was never made truly clear to me how I was to improve. I never received work back for corrections, or even with specific comments on what to fix. I simply got dressed down for it, got told to do better, and got told to go back to work. (Seeing a pattern here? I am.)

Eventually, I ran out of grace. The Powers That Be convened in secret and commenced the procedures. The closed-door meetings got more frequent, lasted longer, and were quieter than others. The feeling hung over the office like thick fog, obscuring everything. It was coming.

And then the Friday before my birthday, it happened. And I didn’t feel a thing, at least until I got home. I broke down into a heap, blaming myself, blaming my failings at the job, blaming anything about me that I could pick at. And then I realized… it was more of a blessing than I thought. It just couldn’t have happened at a worse time.

And so here we are.

It took me several months to finally get a job, but I got one. Not one I really exactly wanted or expected, but it’s what I have for now. They are, in fact, the only ones who responded to the multiple applications I submitted. I had no prior experience in providing customer service over the phone, but that’s what I do now. I thought I’d be answering basic questions about Microsoft products for people, but I’m unlocking accounts and resetting passwords, dealing with unhappy people, and answering dumb questions. There are a lot of strange rules, weird strings, “payment modifiers”, and a strange culture going here. And I’m not sure it’s the right fit for me. It took me three months just to get through the onboarding process, which was largely slow and uneventful. By the time I finally got started with the job, I was so frazzled after waiting and information overload that I started to seriously doubt myself.

I got really negative on my Twitter profile, and for that I am sorry. The calls came at me quickly, and I wasn’t really prepared for it. So I had kind of a major crisis of confidence. None of you needed to see that. I appreciate all of your kind words of support and encouragement, though. I can’t express in words how much I appreciate it.

I’m without insurance at the moment and out of medication, so I’m trying to get that remedied. I’ve got an application in and a potential interview with a local company to do something more creative and interesting, so I’m really hoping that pans out in my favor. I don’t want to be stuck on the phones, worth dictated by the number of “support hours” I log rather than the quality of the product I produce. I realize I haven’t been doing this job that long, so I don’t have a lot of data to work with. But if this is the experience I’ve had so far, I’m not sure how much better it’s going to get going forward, when the responsibilities multiply but the compensation stays the same. (I’m not the hugest fan of withholding my own taxes either)

I thank you if you’ve made it to the end of this. I realize it rambled on a bit, but I needed to get all this down somewhere and out of my head. If it helps someone, that’s even better. Don’t stay somewhere you’re clearly unhappy just because you’re afraid of what might happen going forward. There could be other opportunities that suit you better out there, and they’ll pass you by if you let them. I was terrified of the future, and very much still am in some respects, but I’m tired of being unhappy. I want to do better. I hope you all have a wonderful day. Thank you for reading.