Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Not a Team Player

I've been fortunate throughout my life that I only had to work for a large corporation for a very short period of time because I've discovered, over the years, that I am a lousy team player.

Ned, on the other hand, started his adult working life working for a corporation and has been dealing with "the man" for all of his adult life. We share the same feelings about corporate mentalities, only I was luckier.

My very first job as an adult was a summer job at a tool company. We sold 99-cent tool that were all lumped together in a big bin in hardware stores and other outlets. It is my recollection that the man I worked for was probably just a distributor, because I swear we worked out of his garage and I don't remember there being a lot of tools around. There were only three of us, the guy who hired us, my high school big sister Joycie, and me. I remember very little about that job except that I was a biller clerk and that Joycie and I used to meet every morning before work and go to a cafe and have pastries warmed with a big pat of butter on them and hot chocolate piled high with whipped cream.

(It's amazing how most of the most special memories of my life are connected, in some way, with food!)

My next adult job for six months was as the secretary in the school from which I had just graduated. Then I had a part-time job working for the fund-raiser for Newman Hall on the UC Berkeley campus, in the days when they were getting funding together to build a fancy new church ("Sell Memorials!" was one of the motivational posters on the walls).

And then I got my first "real" adult job with the Physics Department at Berkeley. While it might be true that the University of California is a big corporation, my little corner of it was not. I had my own office from day one and I pretty much did my own thing on my own schedule without much interference from anybody, as long as the work got done. It still is my favorite job. I worked there for four years and only quit because I was pregnant with Jeri.

When I went back to work after the kids were in school, it was for first one and then another typing service. I kept no regular hours and though I had bosses in both places, I pretty much did what I wanted, again on my own schedule.

Then for awhile I was a roaming transcriptionist, filling in for transcriptionists who were sick or on vacation in every medical office in town. I was never part of the office friendships or office politics. I was the anonymous person who slipped in, sat at the typewriter and pounded the keys for a few hours a day and then left. (In the case of a pathology office, I went to work in a basement at about 6 a.m. and sat there until the work was finished. Nobody saw me arrive and nobody saw me leave!)

Finally I ended up in an office where I was hired for that office, but again as a transcriptionist and though I was part of the team, it was a small, usually congenial team. We were noted for being the best medical office in town and our working conditions were pretty amazing (who gives a year of housecleaning to every clerical employee as a Christmas bonus?).

But eventually the Big Bad Corporation came and bought us out, us and 9 other medical offices. I was in my 50s and I was encountering corporate politics for the first time. I was used to being my own boss, doing what I wanted, saying what I wanted. Now I had to watch what I said and had to do things that were against my principles. In very short order, the Big Bad Corporation and I came to the mutual decision that we were not meant for each other (my only real consolation is that 8 other medical office managers came to the same understanding with the Big Bad Corporation in that first year!)

I worked for Dr. G for a year, but again it was just himself and me and I was on my own again.

My life as a volunteer has pretty much followed the same path, though I've begun to see a pattern forming with regard to my ability to follow the rules and be a team player, even on a very small team.

I headed up a group of mothers in Oakland and started the same group when we moved to Davis. I also wrote the newsletter for three states but when the powers that be determined that the perks of the job should go to someone who hadn't lifted a finger in the job for two years, I quit.

I was part of a nation-wide council of people who ran different parts of the organization in their home state. I really enjoyed the work until the policies of the corporation began to change and I began to challenge the things that were happening. In short order I was called to the office of the high and mighty without being given a chance to make any explanation at all, and was dumped.

I took over the newsletter for a local organization when the woman who had been doing it for many years just got tired. I had been doing newsletters for just about every group with which I'd been involved all of my life and this was no challenge, but I enjoyed giving it new life. But the woman I replaced still wanted to hang on to the control. She complained that my newsletter was "riddled with errors" and demanded that she be given the final say on anything I wrote before it was published. A careful scrutiny of the "riddled with errors" newsletter found ONE typo in five pages. But I now had to run everything by the former editor, who went over things with a fine tooth comb. It was demeaning. It drove me nuts and I quit.

I was involved with another newsletter here as well, but this one has a dozen or so people who go through everything with a fine tooth comb before it is approved for print and the process again drove me nuts and I quit.

(Are we seeing a pattern here?)

See, the problem with my not being a team player is that I think that the rules are silly. Maybe I've been listening to Ned too long. I think there are people who take their jobs entirely too seriously, who feel that their company is far more important than it really is. I can't get excited about a lot of the lingo and the rules that go along with it. I have always gone with the "close enough for government work" philosophy (and seeing how our government works these days, that gives me a LOT of leeway!)

I can't stand nit-picking everything to death. My idea of a nightmare is going on a club retreat to discuss the image the organization wants to convey. I don't really care if our official color is royal blue, dark royal blue or light royal blue...or pink, for that matter.

So I'm not your team player. I'd love to work for what got me interested in the organization to begin with, be it dogs or breastfeeding, or collecting kumquats. But when the job focuses so closely on things that just, in the long run, aren't that important to me, I'm outta there. There are enough people who just love all that nit-picky stuff and, trust me, you really don't want me on your team!


Anonymous said...

This is an excellent, refreshing post. I think so many of us (myself included) go to school for or dream about a certain career, only to find, upon getting there, that it's not like what you thought. As for myself as a nurse, I looked forward to caring for the sick (or in my case, the newborn/post partum/laboring), having compassion, etc. However, I go to work and, while I DO enjoy the patient care and giving compassion, I am, in addition, forced to attend copious amounts of pointless mandatory meetings, and deal with healthcare politics. Definitely NOT what I thought I was signing up for!

Sorry that was a rambling comment! lol Thanks so much for this post.

Jennie said...

Sweet -- I'm not a team player either, and pretty much for the same reasons. Frustrating, isn't it?