Birthdays are often a good time to reflect. So I did just that on Monday when I turned a year older!
A year ago today, I was equally happy but overwhelmed. I was overwhelmed by what seemed to be the impossible task ahead of me. I had returned to work, at that time, only three weeks before my birthday and I was just finding my feet literally. Trying and succeeding sometimes, but failing in other ways. Looking for the right balance.
I remember a week or so after I went back to work, I had my first goal setting meeting with my new appraisal manager. He asked me what my career goals for the year was and I told him it was to get promoted by the end of the year. The way he looked at me and his response made me doubt myself momentarily. He tried to manage my expectations saying the team I have just joined is a hard team to work for and I was new to the department as well, which meant the chances were slim. I will however applaud him as he didn’t make me change my goals or try to change my mind, he just told not to be disappointed if it did not happen, but we will work towards my goal.
I don’t think he ever forgot that conversation because every subsequent appraisal conversation he teased me about it. He told me he wondered who this woman that had just come back to work full time from maternity leave, to a new and highly technical team was, aiming for promotion within a year. It was unheard of, at least for him. Thinking back, I am not sure where I got the ‘balls’ from, but it was my genuine wish. So, I set ahead with this goal at the front of my mind, trying to do my best, praying for strength, favour and wisdom to work effectively and efficiently. As time passed, I started doubting whether this goal would be achievable.
For starters, the team was truly a hard team to break into. I like to say they have trust issues! I didn’t get my first big project until three good months into my new job despite being so eager to get my hands dirty. However, for me to get the project, I had to demonstrate I was there to stay and do my best in the little bits and bobs that was thrown my way. I landed my first project and it was a huge shock from what I was used to. In my previous office, it was not that we did not work on big projects, we did, but I was not involved in a lot of them. Now, here I was, working on FTSE100 clients who demanded over and above what I was used to. For starters, these companies often already have tax managers and directors (and so on), so by the time they come to you for advise, they must have pondered on the issue and realised it was not straightforward, so they pay you to go into the details of legislation and work out any complexity. As such, they did not want you telling them things they already knew, they actually wanted you to be the tax specialists.
The first shocker was when I prepared my first draft of the report and it went to the senior manager for review. The amount of review points that came back to me made me wonder if I was in the right job! However, I had to teach myself not to take it personal and instead see this as a huge learning opportunity and constructive criticism. So I soaked it all in as much as I could and the report was finally ready to be reviewed by the tax director before we issue it to the client. This, was when I got my second shocker!
This director in particular is a genius, for lack of a better word to describe him and now that I know him better, he has his select few he enjoys working with because they are used to his style of working and know what he wants. Anyway, on this faithful day, I was asked to sit with him during the review and about a couple of pages in, he found one typo and questioned one of the facts. I explained to him the fact was correct as it is a direct quote from the information provided by the client. However, I guess as I was new to the team and an assistant manager, he couldn’t take my word for gospel and pretty much had a huge go at me. He mentioned how it should be the senior manager sitting with him and going through the report and not me and clearly the senior manager had not reviewed the work properly and so he is wondering whether it is worth his time reviewing the work. He went on to say he will go on for a few more pages to decide if the rest of the report was that bad. At this point, I was just speechless! Thankfully, I made a telephone note of the call so I quickly referred back to my notes to check that I was right, I emailed the senior manager to give her heads up and just kept silent for the rest of his review. About 50 pages later, he looks at me and smiles, saying the report wasn’t as bad as he thought, it is actually very good. What do you say in such a situation?
I had various options to approach his display. I could have responded to him in the same note he spoke at me in, I could have kept quiet like I did or I could have taken it personal, sulked and then avoid working with him. I really don’t know how I had the courage to do what I did but it seemed to have been the best course of action at that stage. I eventually discussed this with my people manager and we discussed ways to manage this if it happened again going forward. The point I am trying to highlight is that in my first few weeks at my new job, I came to realise that in my current team, I am working with highly intelligent people who do not have time for mediocrity! This was a huge challenge for me and added the extra pressure to make sure my deliverables were up to par. It was and is stressful but at the same time, the learning curve is steep.
After that experience, and a few others (not as bad as the first) and one equally as bad that I will spare you the details of, I have questioned my ability to do my job, I have questioned my motive and even questioned whether this is for me. However, until I get a clear answer that prompts me otherwise, I have endeavoured to press on. On the really tough days, I have traded tears of frustration for prayers and listening to gospel music, this works for me. This has really kept me going and now that I look back, I realise that those hard days that I thought were the worst days of my life were only but for a moment and now, in the grand scheme of the past, they have helped mould me and build my character. What works for you?
On reflection, I can truly look back and say I’m grateful for the lessons I learnt in those hard times.
To be continued…