I recently had one of those experiences that challenges your self-esteem and causes you to re-assess your self-image, gives it a reality-check, so to speak. It happened at work, where, as a 9-5er, much of my life takes place. My employer has hired a new Senior Administrative Assistant, who will report to my manager, the Executive Administrator to the Executive Vice President and Chief Investment Officer, and replace her once she retires in June. The “Please welcome…” email that came out introducing her described her 20 years of administrative experience including stints as Senior Executive Assistant to the CFO and Chief Information Officer at Bank X, and Foundation Administrator for Bank Y, as well as numerous project management roles at other financial institutions. My manager, Melinda, was in awe of Susan’s background and technical expertise.
As the department receptionist, I have until now been Melinda’s only direct report. I have enjoyed her freewheeling and spontaneous work style. She has given me lots of freedom and latitude as to how I handle my tasks. She does not micromanage. After years of working in the banking industry, with its OCD-driven rules and regulations, she has been a breath of fresh air. Melinda told me that Susan is “much more stern” than she is. I myself got the same impression when I first met Susan the day of her interview, when she registered in my mind as uptight and stressed, but I hoped it was just nerves.
During her first week on the job, I made a special effort to stop by Susan’s desk and make friendly overtures. We chatted about Bank Z, where I’d had 2 interviews years ago and she had worked for 10 years. She said that anyone at that bank would have said that she ran the place, she wore so my hats there. She told me a bit about herself, first that she runs a home business flipping all kinds of merchandise she picks up at estate sales and markets on several platforms including Facebook. (Admirably organized, she stores all her items pre-packed and tracks them using a spreadsheet and catalogue numbers.) I was happy to hear this for several reasons. I was glad that she was enterprising and not solely invested in her office job and that she felt comfortable enough with me to tell me about her extracurricular activities. Also, it was something we had in common, as I do a lot of crafting and sell my products at craft fairs.
The next week, she told me that her two 20-something sons, who have graduated from college, live at home with her and her husband. She said that by the time they were 12 years old, she had trained them to do their own laundry, and by the time they went to college, they could cook, and not just boil pasta and heat sauce from a jar. She shared that she likes to cook and that Sunday she’d prepared, portioned out and frozen 3 kinds of soup for her family’s meals. She said she and her family decide on each week’s menu together. She showed me a picture on her phone of 3 pages of meals. The next day, she informed me that by the second trimester of her first pregnancy, she realized she had better prepare all her family’s meals in advance, since her husband didn’t cook. Evidently, she has stuck to the plan ever since, and they are now in year 26! She has worked full-time during all that time.
Well, after hearing all this I felt anxious about forging a workable relationship with this culinary and executive marvel who excels in both the domestic and work worlds. I estimate that she is in her mid-forties and at the top of her game. In contrast, I’m 20 years older and have become less ambitious with the passing years.
I spent a sleepless night trying to think of how to get started on the right foot with her. I decided I would suggest that we swap a few recipes. I picked 3 favorites and sent them to my work email address so I could forward them to her. (Personally, at this time in my life I’m perfectly happy with dinners of frozen veggie burgers or chicken sausages and a sweet potato, but I have in the past enjoyed making meals from scratch.) The next day, I approached her with my idea, leading off with “I was just thinking…” She acknowledged my idea with a nod and replied “I’ve been thinking, too”—about the fact that I had next Friday off and she wanted me to write up a job description including all my duties. Melinda had never provided me with such a list or required one from me.
Right away, I thought “Oh, great. It’s just as I feared. She’s going to be a hard taskmaster. As at home, so at work. She’s going to micromanage me and want every minute of my day accounted for.” I’m something of a perfectionist myself, so I understand that attitude, I just don’t need to have it drilled into me by a rigid control freak. I immediately wrote up a job description. It was all of one page long. To be fair, I didn’t indulge my penchant for detail and stuck to the big picture, but it felt pitifully short and unimpressive.
My anxiety about Susan began to affect my stomach, causing cramping and upsets. How was I to find my way with this splendidly talented paragon of efficiency? My confidence quailed at the thought. Having worked previously in banking operations and loan servicing, being a receptionist is a new career for me. I made the change less than a year ago and was only hired for my current job 4 months ago. I made the career change for 2 reasons: 1) I was striking out finding work in loan servicing, and 2) I wanted something less demanding than banking operations. I am still finding my feet in the administrative hierarchy. I’m not an expert receptionist by any means.
But after a few weeks of this consternation, light dawned on me and I started to relax a little. I thought “Wait a minute! I myself have over 20 years’ job experience, albeit in loan servicing. I have carefully honed skills and multiple abilities, too!” There’s no reason to feel so intimidated by the longevity of Susan’s career. And frankly, titles have never really impressed me. I also realized that being the new kid on the block, she might be as anxious to impress me as I was to impress her. So all her “bragging” may not be her usual manner, she’s just putting her best foot forward. It could also be that I’ll find the job more rewarding if it does become more challenging.
I’ve gotten along with all kinds of coworkers over the years. Time will tell if I find happiness, or at least tolerance, alongside this new manager. I’ll use all my social and practical skills toward that end and give it my best shot. I have 6 months to adapt to her before the guard changes. Wish me luck!