Aggravated, crazy, sick to my stomach – TGIF

Probably the title should read “Ms. Crankypants has taken over the blog.” But that might be more negative than is actually necessary? Maybe, maybe not. It’s just been a very long week and some irritation must be vented and bled off.

Aggravated

Tuesday brought acquiring firm people into the office to kick-off the transition with introductions and reassurance all around about how thrilled and excited they are to assimilate us into the collective. Lots and meetings as a firm, in groups, and individually over the course of Tuesday and Wednesday. The administrative partner – she was a corporate suit with a resting bitch face that never seemed to fade even when she smiled and spoke. Had she been nicer, less dismissive and condescending I would not be so harsh in my assessment, but reality bites.

In truth, I am a hopeful person; I want a positive spin on everything, particularly work when such big and upsetting changes are in the works. This woman, though, was my worst corporate nightmare in very expensive shoes. She heads up human resources and is an employment law partner, so I suppose her credentials are impressive. However, her people skills, for those of us without a Juris Doctor degree, are horrendous. Going forward, I will simply refer to her as Hellbeast. The rest of the non-attorney staff in my office have far worse monikers for her, but I am trying to strike a balance here. Yes, I get that I am biased and failing miserably. But oh well.

The way she spoke at me, I thought at first she was just not good with women, or not good with people in general. Then I observed her talking to my bosses and the rest of the attorneys, and while her tone and demeanor changed depending on the staff level, she was still essentially civil and somewhat engaging. Professional snob, yes, but I have worked with worse.

Dismissive, condescending, and even mean – she is probably demanding of service staff and tips poorly. And I have a really hard time with that. Poor service, sure. But to brush off and actually speak sharply to my receptionist for doing his job – inexcusable. My receptionist is the lowest paid staffer among us and will gladly, happily do just about anything we ask him to do. One of the partners had sent an email that he was expecting a high priority phone call and to find and interrupt him no matter what he was doing, which is what my receptionist did in a respectful way, knocking at the open door, waiting until she finished speaking, and then starting to tell the boss about his call – only to be barked at by Hellbeast that he was interrupting when she was not finished talking. My receptionist immediately apologized, but she got up and closed the door in his face.

Hellbeast. I think I am being kind.

My receptionist was understandably upset. He’s young, this is his first position in a professional office setting, and he’s done a terrific job for us. My horror at her actions was written all over my face, and if there was any doubt it was erased when I stood up, excused myself, and left the very informal meeting we were in, ostensibly so my boss could take his call in private, but really so I could (1) regain my composure and diffuse my own flash of anger, and (2) check in with my receptionist to ensure he knew he’d done nothing wrong. He can be a little sensitive about making mistakes.

Things went downhill from there.

When it was my turn to have a one-on-one with her, we went over the things that needed to be done in the transition and how my accounting functions would be moving to the centralized headquarters office and all my office/business management responsibilities for contracts, leases, and purchasing as well. Reporting relationships would be changing – attorneys assuming more of an administrative and supervisory load. Essentially, everything I expected to happen would be happening.

We went over my employment letter for the balance of 2017 because of the firm change, and where our present document is 3.5 pages long, the new one runs 12 pages. There was also the temporary portal to view their employee handbook and office policies, of which I was expect to read and document having reviewed these documents. None of this was a surprise; new firm, we are essentially being absorbed as new employees and have to get set-up in their systems.

I told her I needed a few days to review all those documents, but would likely have it back to her next week. She pressed, wanted to have as much of this done this week, preferably before she left on Tuesday. I pushed back, pointing out that as an attorney, she should not want me signing anything I had not read and understood thoroughly. Did not stop her from asking again before she left the office later that day.

When it was my turn to voice questions or concerns, I asked very directly what my role in the firm would be for the next 6 months? Essentially, my day-to-day workload was being transferred to corporate. I am not a paralegal, and I would be the most well-paid office clerk if that was what they envisioned. She hemmed, hawed, gave me the canned “we are still figuring out your skills and how to put them to use” type answer, but in such a way that was vague and about as clear as mud. So I reframed and asked again, and she finally admitted she was not sure how they could use me. She also pointed out with her creepy smile that my base salary was higher than their highest ranking non-attorney staffer, and I responded that was likely because I have superior skills and experiences and am paid a competitive wage to manage a firm professionally and efficiently. She did not like that, at all.

But oh well. In her words, we are here to do a job, not necessarily make friends.

Before meeting her and knowing most firms do not allow their employees to moonlight or have other forms of paid employment, I already knew I would be having my personal attorney review any employment agreements and the documents referenced therein. To protect myself and my self-employment clients, I have a waiver from my present bosses on file, and every time I acquire a new client that may present a conflict with the firm, I let them know and they sign off. My doing accounting work for other firms, including 2 other sole practitioner attorneys, has never been an issue. But we are a small firm. I have daily, direct contact and interaction with the principals. They know me, I know them. The new situation is big law firm, and I did not imagine them being so flexible about this typical clause in employment agreements. Hence the review by my personal lawyer. I wanted no unpleasant surprises.

Hellbeast is not amused or happy that I took this step. Wednesday we had occasion to talk about a couple of things by phone, and both times she asked me about my documents. On the second call, I said that the acquisition was effective July 1, so she would have my documents on or before June 30. That was “unacceptable” to her, because they need to get me and everyone else set-up in their system. Having done payroll and knowing the time and billing system both firms use inside and out, it does not take up to 3 weeks to get 25 people set-up. Maybe a day, if they are working at a leisurely pace. But I refused to back down or budge. What I didn’t say – you’re not my boss, yet, and if my existing bosses tell me I need to get this done this week, then I might be inclined to try harder. But my existing bosses? Take my time, read and review the documents, ask questions, let’s just shoot for June 25 to be courteous to the new firm. Done.

My attorney said not to sign anything without getting a solid waiver on my self-employment. He wrote an email to Hellbeast, the BLF partner moving in to our offices July 1, and my bosses as well outlining his concerns and changes he wanted before he would allow me to sign the document. That was Wednesday evening. My bosses here are fine with it, even applaud me for being proactive and protecting my interests, said the changes requested are actually quite minor and other than the waiver for my business, they did not see it as a big deal.

Crickets from Hellbeast and BLF. Which is fine. I can wait.

This morning I come in to 6 different emails from her about various documents I submitted, letters I wrote to various vendors and holders of office equipment leases with our firm – all at the direction of my partners here and with their review and approval of the missives prior to release. Her “dressing down” tone was in my view quite inappropriate, but I admit my bias. I replied, with cc’s to my bosses (who along with the rest of the attorneys are out of the office today) and consider the matter closed until they return on Monday.

Crazy

Crazy is my catch-all term for anxiety and apprehension about things inside and outside my sphere of influence and control. The decision about the merger is reality and I believe I am doing my best to take care of business and serve both our clients and the partners and staff through the transition. I am also doing my best to take care of myself, and in truth that is the primary source of my present job crazy.

I have a plan B, because I have little stomach or desire for a role in a large corporate organization. Been there, done that, learned it does not make me a happier, better, or even more balanced a human being. Now that I have this much time invested in my ability to help, influence, steer a business to success, I am reluctant to become another tiny worker bee in the a corporate hive. That’s my personal preference.

However, I also have a good understanding of the parachute and severance package negotiated as terms of the merger. I will protect my rights to that and not allow anyone to try and remove it from my grasp. If I have to spend the next 6 months counting paperclips because that’s my new role, I will be the best damn paperclip counter anyone has ever met and continue to collect my salary and have my health insurance paid. However, I am unwilling to relinquish my self-employment clients. It was not a problem for my existing bosses and does not seem like it should be an issue for the new firm, particularly since all aspects of my employment agreement now in place should transfer to the new firm. How far they want to push it remains to be seen.

I dislike conflict. I am open to discussion of divergent points of view and trying to find an acceptable compromise. But I’m not feeling anything by contentious conflict from the Hellbeast and it’s stressing me out. I dislike being bullied myself, but professionally, I have enough self-confidence (and self-control) to manage the situation. However, when it comes to bullying someone who lacks standing or experience, I tend to get very angry very quickly. Concerns about my receptionist and the paralegals in my firm are genuine. The paralegals are professionals and will land well whatever happens – they are good at their jobs and will find another position if it comes to that – but my receptionist is a good kid and still quite green when it comes to big corporate politics. Perhaps I will be around to help, perhaps not. But whatever happens, I will be around outside the office if he needs help or resources to find something else.

I feel sucked into the type of toxic environment once more that I left years and years ago and allowing it to make me crazy. Which upsets me even more; I am allowing it to get to me. On the one hand it has been really great for my gym workouts and daily 300 kettlebell swings; the emotional aggravation tends to get drilled down to massive focus on whatever it is I am doing with the weights or form with the swings. On the other hand, gym and kettlebell swing takes up only about 2 hours per day. The rest of the time I have this “oh shit” sense of dealing with merger-related matters.

I hate that “oh shit” sense of anything, especially when it stretches out in front of me for at least the rest of the month, possibly the rest of the year.

Sick to my Stomach

This morning, woke up with a mild stomach ache and feeling not quite right. I thought it might simply be hunger – small dinner last night. Drank my protein shake and did not feel better. Went to the gym for my practice and found my stomach starting to roil, so I finished the slo-mo huffy-puffy and called it a day.

Now, I blame Hellbeast, just because I can. My temporary stomach ailment has nothing to do with the questionable lettuce I ate for dinner last night and everything to do with my aggravation with Hellbeast and her bullshit. I so rarely have any sort of upset stomach that is irritates me more that just about every other sort of sickness. Especially since we’re going out to lunch today and I will have to limit myself to even blander food than usual. We’re doing Japanese, and I figure plain white rice and miso soup should be fine. I can box up the rest for dinner or tomorrow.

But oh well. It’s the company that counts, and my peeps – the company is excellent.

TGIF

Glad it’s Friday. Busy weekend ahead with client events tomorrow night and Sunday, plus lunch and furniture shopping/browsing with K tomorrow.

Happy weekending everyone!

Crazy week – mentoring, bullying client, balanced responses

I used to think that parenting was the most terrifying job in the whole world, because the consequences of failure impacted others outside of me. I could easily imagine screwing up so spectacularly that my children would suffer dramatically and their hatred of me would be a defining energy source for the entirety of their adult lives.

At this point, I am comfortable that my mostly irrational fears had no basis in reality. I did make at least my fair share of mistakes, but perhaps in my imperfection I did a better job of preparing my kids for successful independence and living life under their own means and power.

While I mostly enjoyed being a parent, especially the part where the kids grow up into people I genuinely like as well as love because they are my kids, I have always been open about anticipating the launch point, where I am no longer primarily responsible for their well being and making all the decisions for them and their lives. I know a lot of parents cannot fathom my feelings – and probably judge me as unfit for feeling that way – but I believe a big part of being a mom is preparing kids for functional independence as they mature and are capable of assuming it. To me this is a very natural, organic transition.

In work, I have been a worker bee; I have been a supervisor; I have been a boss; and I have been part of a firm’s policy-making and enforcing management body. In my current law firm position, I actually wear all those hats and more. Here, I am also considered a mentor for not just my direct report, but also for other administrative and newer/junior staffers.

The mentor role – it’s disquieting for me in the same ways it is sometimes hard to be a flawed human being and a parent.

Yet, I think I probably do okay, so I should probably quit squirming internally at the title and wincing and physically trying to shrink into my chair whenever the word surfaces in relation to me and my place in the firm. There are ladies in my business network and social circles that I trained and supervised 20+ years ago that have gone on to their own careers as managers or more that still keep in touch and occasionally even ask for help or advice with their own thorny business problems.

I recently hired a new receptionist, and it is on the surface a risky hire. Even my bosses were kind of tepid on my selection at first. She is young – only turned 20 this week – and had no real office experience, much less law firm experience. However, she has a steady, stable work history, good test scores on the Office suite programs she uses as part of the job, and positive entry-level references. In our interview she was poised, thoughtful, and had a restrained sort of eagerness to prove herself. I saw her as a blank slate – no bad habits to break immediately – and someone bright enough I could train to the job.

Thus far, it has gone very smoothly. The reception and basic admin functions she’s doing well, learning quickly. I am finding it’s the smaller details that I am having to provide more training, correction, feedback, but she is learning and adapting. Things like dress codes. *sigh* I have a love-hate relationship with my firm’s dress code, which is essentially law firm level professional, i.e., suits and ties for male attorneys, skirted suits or more tailored dresses and jackets for female attorneys . Administrative staff have a slightly relaxed version of that – slacks, dress shirt, ties for the men, slacks/skirts/nice tops or dresses for the ladies. Fridays are considered casual days, unless in court or in meetings with clients outside the office. And then there is a mostly unspoken standard understanding of casual if you have any meetings in the office, i.e., khakis and buttondown shirt equivalent of business casual. For the rest of us, jeans and tailored t-shirts are fine, except they cannot be ripped jeans or screened t-shirts for favorite things, etc. And no gym-like attire, as in no tank tops, board shorts, flip flops, yoga pants. Believe it or not it was a question posed when we announced relaxing the casual Friday standard.

It seems the more you have a dress code, the more you have to talk about what it means to have a dress code. And I admit being kind of surprised that I have to be so specific and break it down into what not to wear for some of the staff, or had a female staffer bring in a new dress or outfit and ask if it’s okay for the office. I remind myself I’m older and can remember working for firms where I had to wear a dress or skirt and pantyhose every single day, including the 100+ degree days of summer. I am so glad professional dress has eased back from that point.

For my receptionist, there are also things like taking notes, writing down instructions, asking questions if she does not understand something. Where I am very old school and tend to walk around with a notebook and pen in my hand, she is just learning the habit and constantly trying to find something to write with, write on, but improving. She is adopting my post-it note habit of sticky-ing every document that comes across her desk and writing down what it’s for, what needs to be done with it, any deadlines associated, etc. I have had decades to hone these skills, figure out what works best for me and the way my brain works. She is just starting out and adopting/adapting new habits for her workstyle. There are far worse people to learn from; trust me, I have worked for a lot of them at some point.

Overall, she is doing quite well and I am very pleased. The risk seems to be paying off.

Until today, and now I worry that she might be thinking of running away screaming and never coming back.

My least favorite client came in for a meeting. Usually I review the meeting schedule and advise her if there are any high maintenance clients coming in, but this morning I was handling another issue and had not had an opportunity to look at today’s schedule. But when I saw him in the conference room and the expression on her face as he was speaking, I knew it was going to be a rough introduction.

In an odd coincidence, M knows him quite well and has since his very earliest running days. And once client figured out that M and I were related, actually married, he has taken that as license to be very observant about my physique, trying to fat shame me, and stating how I am not capable of running on M’s level. At first I just stated the obvious – I had no desire to be a runner – but he was undeterred. Last time he was in the office for a meeting he tried to fat shame me again, this time saying if I lost X amount of fat I would do better with my exercise efforts, and in his professional opinion I might want to join an obesity therapy group program to work on my lifestyle habits.

To say I had had it at that point is to put it very mildly. I looked him squarely in the eye and said I was not paying for his analysis and would like him to stop sharing his unsolicited opinions with me or anyone else. He started to tell me how getting angry was good, but being defensive was not going to get me anywhere, and I just put my hand out in a “talk to the hand” type gesture and left the room, seething with anger but maintaining my basic professionalism and not throwing the cup of coffee at him instead of setting it on the table. He told my boss that I was resistant to change and inflexible. When my boss asked me what that was about, I told what was said and that I showed admirable restraint in my response. Boss was aghast. Hostile workplace and harassment laws apply to clients and vendors as well as other employees.

My new receptionist was not so fortunate this morning and got snagged by his very cutting tongue. She was nearly in tears by the time she got back to her desk, and I sent her on a coffee run – hers was on me – to calm her nerves and then had her working in the file room when the meeting concluded to avoid further confrontation.

When I came home and told M about my first run-in with this old acquaintance, M remarked that this is his specialty – confrontive analysis – and he is quite brilliant and effective at it. Totally lost my shit on M that night. I maintain that since I have not engaged him professionally for such services, he’s just a big, mean bully and that I cannot effectively defend myself against it since he is effectively assaulting me in my workplace and professional environment.

Which elevated it up to the boss. To boss’ credit, he initiated a telephone conversation prior to this meeting and told client to not engage any staff in any discussions unrelated to his current consultation.

Except as I almost expected, he completely disregarded the advisement. My receptionist is today’s cannon fodder. And I feel badly about not shielding her better, yet at the same time understand and accept this is a teachable moment for her from the way we, her management team, handle the situation. Boss is writing a strongly-worded email and we will be withdrawing as counsel should it happen again.

And I find myself irrationally angry with M for indirectly defending this jerk. Intellectually I know M is mostly horrified at the behavior of this client of my firm and his old acquaintance, because M’s acquaintance has had a direct, negative impact on M’s wife, but emotionally I know this man is someone M has known for decades, followed his career, and actually admires his methods and successes with patients. It’s the “admires his methods” that enrages me. Irrationally, I know, and I am working on finding my way to letting go of it. The situation would be completely different if this had happened in a non-business situation, because my honest reaction would carry no consequences. But in my professional office environment, I am completely hamstrung between how I would like to respond and how I am professionally able to respond.

F**king asshole. The client/acquaintance, not M. Just to clarify, because I am kind of irritated to different degrees with both at the moment. But it far better, healthier for my marriage to sort out my shit here rather than going home and picking a fight with M because this guy put me into a very pissy mood. Hopefully I’ll be completely over it by the time I get home tonight.

And while I am speaking of my personal irrationality, let us transition to the crazy portion of this post.

Monday I had a conversation with another member and found him odd. Our conversation seemed a bit disjointed and weird, and I had already decided to keep my distance and avoiding getting drawn into another chat-fest with him. Yesterday J remarked that he’d seen the guy doing weird stuff and talking to himself, which reinforced that it would be far better to me to be really busy and focused on my own List of the day should our paths cross and he try to engage me in conversation again.

So this morning this same guy shows up as I am finishing the first block of my List of the day. He said hello, I said hello back, and then promptly turned my back and started mentally projecting “I am very engrossed in my exercise” vibes while actually being very engrossed in my List. Thankfully he did not talk to me further, but instead sprinted around the room several times (in his bare feet), climbed onto the TRX structure, shadowboxed, all while carrying on a very animated conversation with himself or an invisible friend. I avoided making eye contact and kept reminding myself I had an exit strategy in place and knew exactly where I would go to finish my List should the need arise.

I believe he is a mostly harmless nutball, but still. From the animated conversation I observed (had headphones in my ears and music turned up and could not hear what was being said), he could be quite a time suck if encouraged to chat.

And I am not the only one having brushes with nutty people. M is out on the trail running before dawn every morning, and last night he told me about passing a homeless couple whose dog had gotten sprayed by a skunk and they were trying to find the dog and wildly shining their flashlight up at the homes above the trail while trying to find their dog in the bushes. The noise, the light shining in the windows woke a homeowner who threatened to alert the authorities if they did not move along. Rather than moving along, homeless guy yells back at the homeowner to “shut the f**k up, we are on public property.” At 4 in the morning. State parks are close at dark, and technically neither they or even M should have been on the trail at that hour. M warned them about it and continued on with his run. By the time he returned a couple of hours later, stinky, skunk-smelly dog was the only one left on the trail. Poor dog.

It is turning into even more of an eventful week than I had anticipated.