A Little Late on the Uptake

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So in yesterday’s blog post, I mentioned a revelation that I had had during therapy, and said that I would be blogging more about it today. I’m quite a bit embarrassed by this, so this is going to be therapeutic on multiple levels.

Back in 2004 I was a certified pharmacy technician, and I was a good one – graduated near the top of my class, managed to get a wide variety of experience in both retail and hospital pharmacy in a short period of time, card carrying member of one of the professional development organizations in the field. I was working in the surgical pharmacy satellite dealing primarily with anesthesia medications, and I was very happy with that job. But a colleague had recruited me for a position with the aforementioned pro-d organization, and it was one that I couldn’t pass up – I was going to be brought on board as the editorial coordinator for the entire organization, with the job of editing the organization’s bi-monthly trade magazine falling within my purview.

When I was brought on board, the organization was in the middle of the issue cycle, and so rather than bringing me on board with the ending of the process, my job for the first three weeks that I was with the group was to disseminate trending news among the organization’s mailing list as a daily digest in several different categories. (This was prior to social media becoming a Thing; I imagine this part of the job is now being published in real time on both Facebook and Twitter.) I was good at this part of the job, because my ability to find relevant news was fairly strong.

Then came the day that I was brought on board with the process of creating a magazine. There was going to be a staff meeting to kick off the next issue, and before that meeting I had a ten minute long one-on-one with the executive director and publisher of the magazine explaining what was going to happen in the meeting. I was told to rely on the others on staff for the creative direction until I got the hang of the job and could handle that on my own, I was given a few other general pointers as well. And then I went to the meeting.

Which everyone, including my boss, expected me to run. I was not informed of this little detail before it happened, I was just basically thrown under the bus in front of the entire office staff. I had no idea what direction I should take the next issue, I didn’t have the first clue about what was going on, to be honest. I was very much outside my abilities at that point and we managed to wing it with a little – and I do mean little – help from my boss.

I pulled him aside after the meeting and addressed my concerns with him, and he explained that he had every faith in me to be able to have a rough draft of the magazine’s articles ready in three weeks.

And shortly – within a few minutes, actually – after that vote of confidence, the executive director of the organization locked the door to his office and hopped on a flight to Australia to fulfill a lifelong dream of swimming with the sharks off the Great Barrier Reef, an activity that he spent three weeks doing.

Remember that earlier mention of three weeks? This guy expected me to produce a full magazine with what was effectively ten minutes of vague guidance and no actual training.

Now, before you jump in and say that I should have known what I was doing when I accepted the job, my complete lack of editorial experience was a prominent point in my interview and I made it crystal clear to him that while I would appreciate the opportunity I had precisely no experience whatsoever of doing this type of work. So he knew what he was getting into when he hired me.

So there I sat without the first clue about how to produce a magazine, with three weeks to somehow magically do so. I had no training, no guidance about what to do, who to talk to about finding writers for the articles, no nothing. And the most important thing that I was without was resources. I knew very few people in my field; I’d only been in it about a year at that point. And the magic Rolodex with all of my boss’s contacts was behind a locked office door and the key had skipped the country.

No direction. No guidance. No training. No resources. Three weeks.

I spent that three weeks feeling my blood pressure rise, and about two weeks into this personal hell I had a doctor’s appointment. I don’t remember what my diastolic was, but i distinctly remember that my systolic blood pressure was in the 250s. My doctor openly wondered why I wasn’t having a stroke in front of her eyes. She asked what my life was like – diet, sleep, workload, everything – and I told her the summary of what my work was expecting of me. She asked if there was any way I could delegate some of my work responsibility and I explained that there really wasn’t anyone to delegate it to. Her order – not her suggestion – was for me to leave that job as soon as humanly possible, and it was emphasized that my health was directly counting on me doing so.

So I bided my time, continuing to make every effort to produce a magazine out of thin air.

When my boss finally arrived back into the office, I made it clear that I needed to see him as soon as possible. He made that meeting a priority, and in it I informed him that I had not completed the rough draft and that my doctor had ordered me to leave the job as soon as I could, and that this conversation was my resignation effective immediately. I left his office to go pack mine up and together my wife and I took the boxes down to the car and started a new chapter in my life.

It was May of 2004 and I felt like a complete and utter failure, and I blamed myself for the whole thing.

It took me almost a year and a half to go back to work, and only then because I had determined the best way to rebuild my confidence in myself was to volunteer somewhere, and the place that I volunteered at was so impressed by my performance that they hired me on part-time after the first month. I worked there for three years, working around 12 hours a week. That was the limit of my confidence. I still felt like a complete and utter failure because of what happened with the editorial job, and I still felt like it was all my fault.

Fast forward to September 2016. I still felt like a complete and utter failure because of that job and was absolutely convinced that the failure was 100% on me. And the experience came up in conversation with my therapist yesterday.

I explained to her what I’ve just told you, and her immediate response was that none of it was my fault. Given what I’d been given, there’s practically no one on the planet that could produce results with as few resources and as little training as I had. I had been thrust in a no-win scenario, and I was not to blame.

For twelve years I’d been shouldering the burden of the blame of that failed experiment, and I let it intrude into almost any situation that required me having self-confidence. It was doing so silently, surreptitiously, with me unaware of how thoroughly it had affected me.

It was like a light went off. It wasn’t my fault. It really wasn’t my fault. I’d been set up to fail from the beginning, and it wasn’t my fault. My former boss was the one to blame, he was the one at fault.

It. Was. Not. My. Fault.

I keep saying that phrase, “it was not my fault,” like it’s a mantra. I can hear myself saying it. But it’s another thing to believe it, and to change my point of view regarding the whole mess, and I’m not at that point yet. I hope to get there in the not-too-distant future. Right now I’d settle for it not being an embarrassment to tell this story – then we’ll worry about believing that it’s not my fault.

Baby steps.

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