Isn’t it funny how some things fix permanently into your memory, like a leech that attaches itself to your leg in the water: You don’t necessarily even feel it, feel the pain or the damage until you happen to look down and see it there? I was sitting in my office at the university. I was an Assistant Director! And my boss, who lived out of state, came by to see me. “It seems that with me out of town, you have been reporting to three or four different people,” he told me. I nodded. This was true: He lived out of town and relied heavily on our administrative assistant. Meanwhile, there were three or four people within our office all trying to supervise me and give me tasks that had nothing to do with my job description. Add to that the fact that I was pretty sure that none of those people liked me, and I was basically miserable. It was February, grey. I looked out my office window: the sky was entirely featureless. Not a cloud or splash of color to add any dimension or depth. “So,” my boss continued, “We have decided to make Ann your new immediate supervisor.” I turned from the window to look at him. It was that day that I knew I was going to be fired.
Ann didn’t like me. We had butted heads on more than one occasion in which she had tried to tell me what to do or what not to do, and I had responded, unwisely, by reminding her that she was not my boss. Now, suddenly, she was. Unsurprisingly, she was also assigned to supervise three other people. In order to “get to know our strengths and weaknesses better,” she ordered a 360 degree performance review, which basically includes soliciting feedback from everyone in the organization you have ever worked with. I would sometimes walk into her office and catch snippets of conversation she would be having with someone about my reviews, which she would follow-up with emails to all of us. I couldn’t help but wonder about the discrepancies between those phone calls and those emails. How much behind-the-scenes work is involved in guaranteeing that someone has a bad enough review that you can lay the groundwork to eliminate their position?
After I had first been hired to work at the university, my own boss had been fired. I should have known that the very things she had liked about me would be the things my other co-workers didn’t like: After all, they had fired her. How long could it really be before I was next?
The first weekend after Ann became my supervisor, I went home and told my husband, “This is it!” He tried to reassure me that that wasn’t the case. However, Ann was doing exactly what I would do if I wanted to get rid of someone. I knew it deep in my bones. I remember crawling into bed that weekend and curling into a tight ball under the covers. My hands wouldn’t stop sweating. I mentioned later to my friend Amy that I was incredibly anxious, so she asked me to meet her at the grocery store, and we just walked up and down the aisles looking at food and talking and she calmed me down. She agreed that my demise at that position was inevitable. It was now just a matter of time. And what did I want to do about it in the meantime? Did I just sit there and wait for it to happen? Or did I take matters into my own hands?