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The day I decided to quit my job

The morning started like any other. I’d prepared Robert’s breakfast and had laid out his clothes for the day. He was comfortably sitting in our front office contemplating getting dressed. I patted my hair down to some semblance of respectability and logged into a 7 am conference call for the biggest product release we’d launch that year. After spilling coffee on my first work shirt for the day, a grey jersey, I had to scramble to find another that wasn’t too badly wrinkled for my day on Skype. I settled on a black turtleneck.

Pandemic style

This was January of 2021, in the throes of the pandemic. For our previous product release, as the Director of Training, I’d led my team to produce a catalog of hands-on, in-person training to be delivered at regional training centers. But all the work my team had done was undone by COVID-19. We couldn’t meet in person. We pivoted to remote training delivery. In six months, we published a library of over 50 videos delivered through an online university we nearly killed ourselves to create. It wasn’t perfect, but it got the job done.

The new product was behind schedule. Hardware is always behind schedule. Software is always behind schedule. These are truisms of high tech. Products are never on time and are never bug-free at launch. (Just because you can think it, doesn’t mean it will work!)

The tail of the dog

And therein lies the rub with training development. Training is a bit like the tail of the dog. Without a completed product on which to model training, it is extremely difficult to prepare materials for release at the same time the product is ready to ship. This isn’t a chicken and egg problem. The dog always comes first.

But we had largely done the impossible with our last launch. We’d shadowed the product team, and become defacto product testers. In trying to use the product as our customers would, we identified bug after bug after bug. Why couldn’t we do it again? Well, because with this new product, we could not finish some elements of training until software development was complete. How could we tell our customers which buttons to tap if the user interface wasn’t designed yet? If the buttons didn’t yet exist?

Tech is stressful

I’ve never worked in a high-tech environment that wasn’t stressful. I’ve learned to steel myself and to push back against unreasonable demands. But on this particular day, I was not myself. I was undone by caring for Robert and by trying to manage a team to a schedule that wasn’t realistic or achievable. I was unable to muster anything like finesse on this 7 am conference call attended by over 60 of my nearest and dearest colleagues.

Off the rails

My update on the training development schedule went something like this…

My boss, a conservative, C-level executive: “Training is late. I’m really disappointed that training development is not on schedule. What will you do to bring it into line with the project plan?”

Me: “I’m really disappointed the product isn’t ready.”

My boss: “That’s uncalled for. We’re not going to point fingers here.”

Me: “We can’t finish our work until the product is ready for prime time. We are uncovering showstopping bugs every day.”

My boss: “I don’t like where this conversation is going.”

Me: “Neither do I.”

The conversation continued with me accusing my boss of failing to lay the blame where it was deserved. The exchange just spiraled out of control from there. It all sounds almost reasonable in the retelling, but in fact, I was playing a game of “No, I’m not! You are!” like a 7th grader on the basketball court during recess in junior high. The exchange was defensive, unconstructive, and damaging to my morale and the morale of my coworkers.

Coming back down

Following the call, I met with my team for our regularly scheduled weekly check-in. There were rumblings from all corners.

“I’m not sure what happened there.”

“Are you okay?”

“Is there anything we can do to help?”

Sick all over

I felt a familiar gut rot creep through my abdomen. I’d experienced this same physical reaction to stress one other time in the course of my career during the dot com bust of the early aughts. My stomach felt like it was in a constant jump state, plummeting at the end of a roller coaster run that took me over the highest peak and dropped me down over and over again. In 2001, it took me four months to return to any semblance of equilibrium. I literally woke up every day and as soon as I was conscious of my circumstances, the interminable stomach upset would be back.

I tried to steady myself. I transferred the morning’s pee-soaked bedding from the washer to the dryer, grabbed another cup of coffee, and ran back to the front office to check on Robert. He had one leg in his underwear and one hand holding onto the waistband. With his other hand, he was pointing out the window, counting trees. He’d been in the same position since 6:30 am. For over 2 hours. With a sudden, unwelcome clarity, the absurdity of my situation registered with a jolt, “I can’t do this anymore.”

The next morning, I called my boss and quit my job.

To be continued…

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