I’ve had a rough time at work lately. In fact, there was one day in particular where there was one really bad meeting that had the effect of destroying the morale of my entire team. As we left the meeting, shell-shocked, someone turned to me and asked if this was the worst day of my professional life. This is a tough question, because after all, I’ve been working at the same company for over 30 years.
I took a second, thought about it, and responded no.
Let me tell you about the worst day of my professional life. Before I start, there is one fact that seems random but will ultimately prove to be relevant. My father died when I was a child. Like probably about ninety percent of all Christian burials, the song Amazing Grace was played at his funeral. Even now, forty years later, hearing it takes me right back to the time when my father died and my feelings of shock, loss, and grief.
Back to the story…
This was about ten years ago. I was working on a very large military program. It was so large in fact that it was being run by two companies, my company (Boeing) and SAIC.
At this time, I was working insanely hard. I was serving as the team lead for a critical system integration team. This team was responsible for getting all of the defense contractors (and this was a large military program, so nearly all of the big players were involved) to integrate into one platform. If anyone has worked with large companies before, you can only imagine how challenging it is to get all of these behemoth defense companies to work together seamlessly on anything. Imagine trying to get a herd of elephants to dance in the same Conga line. That itself was more then a full time job.
On top of that, I was working on supporting another program. This program involved me traveling several times a month to such lovely locations as St Louis, Philadelphia, Dallas, and Albuquerque. This was just ramping up and so was making huge demands upon my time as well.
After doing this for a couple of months, I was frazzled. I was trying to do both jobs, each of which was more then full time. I was working 70+ hours a week, I was losing sleep and I was probably suffering from depression. In the midst of this, my then wife was also working extremely hard and traveling a lot for her job, so my marriage was under pretty severe stress as well.
In short, I was not a happy person.
On top of this, some more drama enters my professional life. The main program was so large that it had its own CIO, a man named Rich. Rich was a very controversial leader. My opinion of him was that eighty percent of the time he was actually a talented, visionary, charismatic leader that I enjoyed working for. The other twenty percent of the time he was an asshole. Also, it could at best be charitably said that he was occasionally ethically challenged. This was a problem.
Reporting to him was a person named Rick (I know, confusing). Rick had been by Rich’s side (as his protege) for probably ten years. This had, on the one hand, worked out well for Rick, because over the last years, as Rich advanced, so had Rick. Rick was now a team leader reporting directly to Rich, the CIO.
However, remember Rich’s twenty percent asshole component. For ten years, Rick had basically been Rich’s go-fer. Although Rick had advanced as a result, eating that much shit from Rich over the years must have been galling. Rick had been open to me regarding the basic contempt that he felt for Rich, but had no way of expressing it or venting it.
At one point, Rich decided that it would be a good idea to hire his son, Dom for the program. Now, if you think about this for one second, big corporations kind of frown on overt nepotism (covert nepotism is a different story), so he couldn’t do it directly. Instead, he had the other company running the program, SAIC, hire Dom.
Shockingly enough, Dom lands in Rich’s organization, and even more shocking, Dom gets almost immediately promoted to manager. What were the odds?
So, Dom is a manager that is reporting to Rick (the team leader) who reports to Rich. So, a son is directly in a reporting relationship to his father, but there is the fig leaf that they’re actually working for separate companies. I don’t know how Boeing buys off on this, but it does.
What does this have to do with me? Dom is the manager of the systems integration team, the very team that I am the lead of. Yes, I’m a Boeing employee reporting to an SAIC manager, who happens to be the son of my CIO.
As I’ve mentioned, I’m already unhappy and stressed. This does not alleviate either of these two conditions.
And then it gets worse. Rick, who has ten years of pent-up frustration built up against Rich, upon whom he really can’t vent (being his boss and all), has struck upon an idea. Sure he can’t go after Rich, but as his direct report, he can sure as hell go after Dom.
So, Rick proceeds to harass Dom and to make him miserable. Dom’s not the kind of person to take this lying down, and after all, his father is the CIO, so Dom begins to plot to take over Rick’s job.
In all of this, they both try to pull me into their respective Machiavellian plans. Rick would regularly call me on the phone and ask me to formally tell him that I have a problem with Dom, which would give him enough justification that Rick could remove Dom. I’m like seriously, you’re asking me to drop a dime on the CIO’s son? Is that the career advice you’re giving me?
Both men are trying to pull me into their little byzantine plots, but I’m actively trying to stay neutral. So, not only am I stressed and unhappy, but I’m also having to actively fight to somehow stay out of some serious Game of Thrones type shit.
While all of this is happening, I’m still working my two full time jobs. For my lead job, I’m being immeasurably helped by a young woman named Jennifer. She’s hardworking and whip smart. The kind of person you look at and realize that you’ll probably be working for her some day. She is handling the business part of the systems integration job, and is doing a stellar job. I basically don’t even have to worry about that part. I let her run it and she only comes to me when there’re questions or problems.
One night, Jennifer and I were working late. She calls me into an empty conference room. I sit down and I notice that she’s crying. In a halting voice, she tells me that, for the past year or so, she and Dom have been secretly dating. They’re now in love, want to go public, which means that she can no longer work on the team anymore, since Dom’s the manager, and apparently that’s the conflict of interest straw that breaks the camel’s back.
I’m speechless and stunned. She was the one irreplaceable member of the team. Once she leaves, there is no one that can perform that business part of the team. I’ll have to somehow find time to do it, and I have no idea how to even start adding that into my work schedule. Not only that, but over the last year or two, as we’ve worked more and more closely together, she’s become a close friend and a confidant, so not only professionally but I’m also losing even more on the personal front.
I don’t know what to do. I’m lost. I’m forlorn.
Knowing no more work is possible that night, I decide to go home. It’s late because, well, it’s always late when I go home. I pack up and head outside. My car is the only car in the parking lot. The building is empty. The parking lot is empty. The entire environment appears as desolate as my soul now feels.
Shoulders slumped, head down, I start walking towards my car. Lifting my head, I see a man. A man standing next to my car. A man wearing motherfucking kilts. A man playing a motherfucking bagpipe.
And the song that he’s playing is…Amazing Grace.
And that’s the worst business day of my life. Things have to get a lot worse before they can even come close to that day, and I very sincerely hope that they never do.