Sunday, 16 November 2014

How long does a lipstick last?

Those of you who have known me for a long time might remember that, a few years ago, I dated my toiletries to see how long they lasted.  Out of curiosity, I extended that to my cosmetics after I wondered how long it took to get a lipstick from this:

To this:

Take a closer look from the top:

Can't get much emptier, can you?

How long do you reckon?  This is the lipstick I use virtually every working day.  I apply it in the morning, cover it with Lipcoat sealant and forget about it.  I probably only reapply it one afternoon in three. long do you think?

A clue:

Yes, that's right, three and a half years!

- Pam

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Career girl? Who, me?

In the beginning, I didn't set out to have a career.  Initially I just wanted to take care of people, travel and get paid a living* wage.  Later, after I fell out of love with nursing, I added the requirement "to not get treated like a slave".  After a couple more years, I added "and not be bored" to the list.

For a while, when I first became an accountant, I did get really ambitious.  I wanted job titles, promotions, to get away from the tedious stuff, and to earn big money.  If you'd asked me then what I wanted to be doing in five years, I'd probably have responded with "I want my boss' job" or "I want to run the company".  The blazing ambition faded as the years wore on and realisation dawned that I'd never really got onto a path where my career could follow any sort of trajectory.  I'd chosen tax as my speciality and then discovered it wasn't for me; got rescued by a finance systems project but became a systems trainer, not a systems accountant (another blind-ended career path).  When I did, finally, make it out into the business as a management accountant, I got made redundant 18 months later, having still not achieved what I considered to be the necessary step on my career path: Assistant Financial Controller.  After a few interviews, it became blatantly obvious to me that the dream job wasn't going to happen - I'd have to settle for having a job, not a career.

When I interviewed for this company in 2006, I was asked what I wanted for my career.  I remember looking at Simon and Mike and considering telling them  "I want your job".  Instead, I told them that I just wanted to do something interesting - that I didn't want to be bored - and that I wanted to be part of a team.  I must have said something right - they hired me.  Since I was hired for one specific project, I half expected to be made redundant 2.5 years later, when it was due to cease.  The project eventually ran for 5 years. Occasionally, Mike and I would have a chat about what I'd do next, after "The Project" finished. (Worst case scenario was project controls.)  When things did eventually start winding down in September 2010, I was poised to become his assistant when I came back from a long weekend in France, got dragged into a meeting room and was told "I'm sorry but we're going to have to change to Plan B".  "What's Plan B?" I asked.  "Sergey's resigned.  You are going to have to take over Buildings Group"!

I took on Sergey's projects and responsibility for four project accountants.  I had a shiny, new job title "Project Accounting Manager" (later changed to Finance Manager) but it was apparent that the business didn't need me - they had never received much in the way of financial management support from Finance and had set up its own internal support systems to cope.  Anyway it was another 9 months before The Project finally left site and I had the time to consider the non-project aspects of my job and wonder why I wasn't involved in the business in the way that my peers (the other Project Accounting Managers) were involved in theirs.  

It was then that I got to know Tall and Dark.  At that time, Dark was the project controller on Sergey's two projects; Tall was the business' Commercial Director.  Since my month's work was front-end loaded, once that was done both of them would regularly receive emails from me: "I'm bored.  Do you have anything I can do?".  I lost count of the times I sat at my desk trying to figure out a way to do something which would add value to the business, something which would help me make my mark, convince the Powers That Be to involve me and use my skills.  I gate-crashed the monthly Project Accounting Review meetings ("PAR") - Mike had been invited to them, but I never was.  None of the business' senior management team were based in my office, so unless I made the effort, I'd never meet any of them.

Tall became my ally - often, the first I knew about the time and date of the PAR was when he sent me slides; sometimes, it was when his hand would appear in my field of vision, between me and my computer screen, holding a cappacino for me. Later, I would learn that he'd reference me in management meetings, saying "Pam and I investigated this..." or "Pam and I did that...", even regarding things where I thought my contribution was minimal.  (Not that I was at the meeting, you understand - I was never invited to anything - but information would drift back to me.).  Tall ensured that I got copied into internal reports/introduced to people/informed what was going on.  He mentored me; my job changed and grew.

I can date exactly when Tall and I became real friends and not just colleagues to a working lunch where he explained the arcane workings of the forecast file.   In the course of three hours, we shared a lot more than just his forecasting methodology.  We clicked.  

Work meant that Dark and I had to talk several times a day.  Early on, I went up north to meet him and we became firm friends. We'd talk about life, family and football, not just work.  Later, I discovered that he and Tall were best mates and, at some point, we became the "three amigos". A unit. A team.  We'd exchange hugs when we met, find excuses to socialise, use each other as sounding boards.  When Tall was shoehorned into Sales and Dark got promoted, our roles changed but our bond didn't.

Do you remember this lunch?  At some point during it, I told Tall that I was very contented with my lot, that I was exactly where I wanted to be, doing the job that I was made to be doing. 

It was the truth.  And it has remained true for most of the last two years.  Sure, there have been times when I have been driven almost to tears by the frustration of dealing with certain people in Glasgow - and there were other times, early on, when I drove home crying over how unfair it was that Tall was no longer Commercial Director while Dark was doing the work but not getting the recognition - however there was never a day when I wanted to work somewhere else.  For two years, my only ambition has been to be Tall's Finance Manager when he gets promoted to Vice President, with Dark as his Commercial Director.  I just want to work with my mates, my amigos.  I was really happy when Dark got promoted to Commercial Director in the summer - he deserved it.  When we were given a second business to look after - a new one, just beginning - it was fun scheming about how we'd make it work.

Since I only have the one ambition, I thought I was in my job until it either came to fruition or the three of us came up with a viable business solution and jumped ship.  I never expected the conversation I had a month ago with my new line-manager** - a conversation that froze me to the core at the time and has driven me to tears since.  His grand plan is to move me away from the business I know, away from my friends and support network, to take on a smaller business while at the same time taking over some of the corporate work that has been neglected/ended up on his desk because there was nobody else doing it.

Since when has a possible promotion felt so much like a bereavement?

It wasn't sold to me as a promotion. What I was told that day on the phone was that there might be somewhere else in the business that could better use my services while the new-to-us-came-via-a-merger-finance-manager was a better fit for my business(!) because he lives in the same city as Dark and the business' new VP.   (Somehow that logic only works when applied to Newby - it doesn't work when you consider that the business I now know i'm getting has its senior management in Glasgow and Manchester.)

Initially, I wasn't even being told what I'd get or when.  At that point, I was being asked to consent to something that was all hints without substance, without being told the details.  All I knew was that they were taking away my toys! It took another three weeks before I was told the details and longer before an announcement was made.

How on earth am I going to handover everything I know about my current business?  I can't just download my brain. This is not one of those companies with standardised processes for everything - where you can just slot in and out of a finance role - every business does things differently and I don't think we have ever completely followed the way our current region works.  (I don't like the flavour of some of their Kool Aid.)  Newby hasn't even been here long enough to grasp the few things we do have standardised.  We are too far into the Q1 forecasting for me to just do a handover and walk away.  Plus he had leave booked, right in the middle of it all.  Meanwhile the Finance Manager of my new business is handing over responsibility as quickly as he can... Which  leaves me with the lion's share of three forecasts to prepare, plus review meetings to attend, and the certain knowledge that I don't have enough hours in the day to do everything to my exacting standards.  (Oh yes, and from the kick-off of 10 days ago, when we got the timetable, the bulk of the work has to be done before the end of the coming week.)

So where the hell does this leave me?  I am exhausted, stressed out and pulled in at least four different directions right now. I've spent the last two days in forecast review meetings with Dark - a bittersweet  experience since a) it's for the last time (probably) and b) he keeps telling people to send me stuff/update me as part of the process, demonstrating how much he relies on me and how hard it will be to let go.  

I do not know what I am going to do.   I spent the week in France trying to come to terms with things, deciding whether I should stay or go find a new sandpit to play in.  In the end, I decided to stay for at least another six months to see how it all plays out - at least here I know ground rules - but I feel besieged on all fronts.  I don't want to fight again to become part of a business, nor am I certain that my boss will back me over the things that I think add value to the job (he doesn't like bespoke reports and I've always been left with the distinct impression that their way was the only way).  

Dark feels like his right arm is being cut off; frankly, so do I.  Tall is having his own work nightmare at the moment (not mine to tell).  I just hope that when the three of us go mad from stress, the PTB's put us on the same ward.

I'll let you know how this plays out.

- Pam

* A living wage by my definition includes earning enough to pay for a nice home in a reasonable neighbourhood, a car, books,  the odd meal out, one or two concerts/plays/operas a year, and not having to worry about how I am going to put food on the table or pay for my train fare to get to work.

** Yes, another one.  Long story.  Suffice to say that this one was number 2 in Glasgow and got promoted. I used to bang heads with him over stuff when we joined the region and it would annoy him that he didn't control me or my team.  I also used to regularly be surprised when I'd pop my head around his door to ask a question/say hello and find myself still there half an hour later, listening to him vent.