100 Days and Counting

And the count begins

The reality of my situation is starting to sink in. There is a very good chance that I will be out of this job by mid-June. It occurred to me last night, when I was thinking about the money I just spent on a replacement van — what kind of money I’m going to be making over the next few months, how many hours I’ll be working, etc. It occurred to me that I need to not bank on this job being around, six… no, three… months from now.

Oh, we got a really good van, by the way, for about $2,000 less than book price, because it doesn’t have all the power “bells and whistles” that people come to expect, and it’s been sitting on the lot since September. I really feel like I got lucky, finding that van. It’s smaller than the one we had before, so it’s easier for my spouse to drive. Plus, it’s a 2005 with under 100,000 miles (I know – where did I find that?) and it only had one accident reported on the carfax. Pretty amazing. I managed to cobble together the money to pay for it in full up front, and we even have a couple thousand dollars left to live on.  It’s not much of a safety net — 1/6 of what we had 24 hours ago, and if anything catastrophic happens, we’re pretty much screwed — but I get paid on Thursdays, so there will be money coming in from this contract for at least a little while.

Yep, we got lucky.

And now my luck continues, actually, because I might be out of this job in another 3 months, after my major projects are delivered, and the company switches over to a new technical infrastructure. What makes me think so?

  1. Nobody has added any projects to my docket after my two big projects launch at the end of May/beginning of June,
  2. My boss has been spending an awful lot of time at corporate HQ and has stopped going out of their way to be super nice to me,
  3. My boss’s boss has been dismissive towards me and cancelled the 1-to-1 meeting they scheduled with me when they first came on the job, and
  4. Nobody on the “new technology infrastructure” team is making eye contact with me.

That’s what my keen observational powers are detecting, anyway.

To be honest, it’s a relief to think I’ll be out of there. I’ve really been disliking the work environment, with all the political changes going on, the rumors, the gossip, etc — and the company switching over to an “open” workspace configuration. God, that sucks. Talk about fresh hell. The wild thing is, for all the technical environments I’ve worked with, and all the teams I’ve been part of, this extended team is the one I like the least. They’re okay as people, but they’re not the most inspiring.They’re more interested in feathering their nests and keeping up appearances, than kickin’ it in the technical sense.

And I just don’t relate to that.

But in another few months, it’s probably going to fall into the category of “not my problem“, which will be wonderful.

I’m sure there will be other problems at my next job, but this team and the dynamics will not be one of them.

So, I’m getting proactive and gussying up my resume, updating it on job sites, and also updating my other online profiles. I’ve reached out to folks I used to work with, to see if they can keep an ear open for me. I also have talked to recruiters and put them on notice for June timeframe. Even if I don’t get shown the door, I’m probably going to shift out of there, once my big projects are done. I have no enduring loyalty to this company. I don’t actually like the products they make. I just like the paycheck and the commute. Other than that, I’m fine without them in my life.

It’s funny… I’ve had this nagging suspicion in the back of my head for some time, that the 2-3 year contract they set up was not going to be fulfilled on their end. They’re letting other contractors go, and with a “last in, first out” approach, that puts my head on the chopping block next, because I’m the most junior contractor left.

Now that it feels more definite, I feel like things are freeing up for me.

Ideally, they’ll just tell me what the deal is ahead of time, so I can get a running start. I’m already talking to recruiters… And I’m not waiting for them to come clean, because they generally don’t — and probably can’t. If I hold my breath, waiting for them to do things the right way, I’ll probably suffocate.

So, it’s onward and upward.

100 days to go (max) — then I’m free to go. 🙂

Keeping the compass true

So, I had a really good session with my NP yesterday. We talked about all the things that are going well for me, and my future job prospects. Of all the people I know, they really get the importance of staying positive and moving forward. And they also help keep me headed in that direction.

The one way they really aren’t much help to me, is in dealing with my setbacks and difficulties. When I start to discuss things that are challenges to me that I really need to work on, they have a standard line about how it’s more about my perception of things than anything else. They’re convinced that I don’t have substantial cognitive issues, and that any other issues I do have, I am perfectly capable of overcoming with the right attitude.

Okay, fine. That working relationship has been extremely productive in terms of helping me get my self-confidence back and figuring out what excites and moves and motivates me. But when it comes to the things I need to overcome and things that are going wrong, it’s a bit “fair weather” and the discussions start to fall apart, because we have completely different perceptions of how people and the world work. I believe that human beings are driven by biochemistry and internal wiring and instincts which kick in long before conscious thought gets a chance to step in, and they believe that the whole of the material world (including the human body) must necessarily bend to the will of an enlightened and highly trained mind. I believe in recognizing issues, understanding them, and either fixing them or learning to live with them and manage them, while my NP seems to believe that you can drive out all perceptions of problems through the power of the mind. They’re a bit “command and control” in that respect, while I have are more inclusive and — I think — accepting outlook on what goes wrong, and why.

When things are going great, and I have good things to report, then our discussions go well. At the same time, I don’t really have anyone to use as a sounding board when things are going poorly or my issues are catching up with me.

Oh, well. It’s pretty much standard fare for me. Most of my relationships and friendships offer me something significant and unique, but they’re limited in that way. Like any of the situations or relationships in my life, I have to accept that it can’t provide everything to me, and I have to figure out if what it does provide makes it worth it to continue. In this case, yes — with the understanding that I’ve got to fill in an awful lot of blanks, and I have to seek help in other arenas, when the going gets tough.

This is where the books come in, I guess. And Give Back LA. I really need to break out those reading materials again and get back into studying them. I also need to do a check-in about where I am, today, compared to where I was back in 2005, 2007, and 2009. I figure two-year checkpoints could be good. Lord knows, I’ve got notes. Have I ever got notes. I’ve got big three-ring binders in my storage closet filled with notes from 2007-2008, when I first realized that my fall in 2004 had screwed me up.

Should be interesting. I’ve actually avoided looking at those notes, for the past several years. I just wanted to get on with my life. And I have. I think looking at the notes can give me an appreciation of how far I’ve come, how much I’ve progressed. I don’t want to get lost in it, just check it out. I’ve got vacation coming up in September (after 3 years), so I’ll have some time to review and pay attention to this stuff.

All in all, I really have a lot to be thankful and grateful for. And I have made a huge amount of progress. In many ways, I’m even more functional now, than I was before, because even with the limitations on my energy levels and my working memory and my processing speed, I’m still functioning at a pretty good level. I’m talking quality level, not quantity — I’m talking quality of life, presence of mind, awareness, and a real sense of purpose. I’m talking about finding what moves me, what matters to me, and staying true to that direction, keeping my compass directed towards that and not getting pulled off in all different directions.

It’s like improving distractability at a meta level — the concept of fractality is about patterns that repeat themselves time and time again, on different levels and in different sizes, throughout a situation or picture. In a way, my distractability, my attention deficit, ballooned up to a whole-life scale, and it kept me constantly on the go, flitting from one shiny object to another,  distracting and diverting me from what meant most to me, my core values, my deepest priorities, and the actual foundation of my life. People talk about having a moral compass, and I think that’s important. Perhaps even more important is having a compass that is true to your innermost values that aren’t dictated by an outside individual or belief system. I guess it’s an “ethical compass” I’m talking about — our own personal ethics, versus the morality of the culture you live in. It’s great to have a moral compass, but if your own inner compass is not true to what you yourself believe, then you can get really lost and do things for reasons that may not be the best or most true.

After I fell in 2004, my own inner compass went haywire. And I got lost. I got pulled off in a thousand different directions, and I’m really feeling that burn as I look for another job, and people ask me why I moved from one job to the next from 2006-2010. A year here, a year there… three months here, six months there… it adds up, and when you’ve had 6 jobs in 4 years, potential employers are going to take notice. Of course, I can’t tell them that my irritability, distractability, and rage were out of control. That’s no way to present yourself well 😉 But I’m figuring out how to frame those moves in positive ways, and have them work in my favor, which is the best that anyone can do, really.

And I’m not getting hung up on it, because ultimately, if one thing doesn’t work out, something else will. It’s fine. Because my job is presently not in extreme danger (that I know of – could be wrong, who knows?) and I have a regular paycheck coming in. I also work with people who love me — and I love them, too. I just can’t stand the work environment and what our employer is foisting on us, and that’s a shame. But again — no hang-ups about this. As my neuropsych reminded me yesterday, working memory is a limited capacity resource, and if I spend a lot of time getting hung up on things, then I don’t have room for the good and productive stuff.

So, today I’m making room for the good and productive stuff. I’ve got another interview this afternoon with a recruiter, and I’m looking forward to it. Things are lining up. The big project that I’ve got going on is going to roll out in less than two weeks, and I have a handful of things I’m going to be able to get accomplished before I go. Every time I talk with people I work with, who are in other parts of the world, I’m reminded that this could be one of the last times I talk with them, so I make the most of it. It’s a good way to go out, and I’m sure that I will keep in touch with a lot of these folks — maybe even see them again in my future travels.

There’s a lot to look forward to. My compass is true, I know where I’m going, and I’m holding my own. That’s the best that I could ever ask for, right here, right now.

Things are looking up on the job front!

Things are really looking up! I’ve been away from this blog for a really long time… about eight months, in fact. And it’s been a really busy eight months.

When I last posted, I was in the process of looking for a job. Or had I just started a contract? I think I was on the cusp of re-entering the workforce, trying to get my ducks in a row, trying to make sure that my resume was in fact a work of fact (and not fiction ;), just working like crazy, trying to keep my head on straight and not freak out, realizing that my brain has changed and is not going to return to how it was anytime soon… if ever… and realizing that my brain actually had changed numerous times, over the course of my life, and a lot of the assumptions I fondly held about myself might have been “off” — if not flat-out wrong.

It was a lot to process, considering I also had to keep my head above water, find a job, pay the mortgage, and try to maintain some semblance of normalcy in my life. It was a lot! But then, when I really sat down and thought about it, I had been wrangling with these types of challenges almost my entire life… I just didn’t realize it, till the end of 2007. And once I realized it, and I took a long, hard look at how well I’ve actually done in life, well, that made things a little bit easier.

A little bit…

But some things still were pretty much of a challenge for me, and since I’m given the option between laughing and crying, I think I’ll see if I can keep my sense of humor as I recount what’s been going on for most of the past year.

In January (I’m pretty sure), I started a web developer contract position at a major multinational technology company that has its headquarters cleverly built into the side of a hillside with a commanding view of the rolling countryside below it, about 20 minutes from my home. It was actually a really great gig, as the money was pretty good, the hours were flexible, and it’s the kind of work I’ve been doing since 1996, so it’s almost second nature to me. Actually, it is second nature to me.

(Note to those who think that computer programming is “beyond” the ability of a TBI survivor: Computer programming/web development is perhaps the best employment I could possibly find because A) it’s very binary, as in, you either get it right or you get it wrong — either what you type in works, or it doesn’t, B) the only person who ever needs to know how badly you screw up, is the computer, and it will never call you idiot! imbecile! stupid! space case! (at least to your face ;), so you always have time to fix your errors before some human comes along and notices your screw-up, and C) this line of work tends to be heavily project managed, at least in corporate environments, so I always have someone looking over my shoulder who can help keep me on track).

But back to our regularly-scheduled programming…

Anyway, I had this great gig going on at a huge company in a huge building with a huge employee population, and I was working on projects that were being used in countries like Latin America and Europe, and I was making pretty good money. The only problem was, I wasn’t paying close enough attention to my stressors, and I wasn’t getting enough rest, and my “issues” started to kick in. I found myself becoming increasingly stressed over my work — there was some takeover bid being considered, and people were nervous about their jobs, and the environment was actually too big for me — the space itself was cavernous and I found it disorienting to walk down hallways that were not only BIG, but were also very sterile and, well, hard. I have certain sensory issues that make me really sensitive to sounds and light, and the actual sound of walking down those corridors… the echoing in my ears, was actually a stressor.

Plus, I was having communication issues… having trouble understanding what I needed from the work situation — what worked for me, what didn’t. I wasn’t able to articulate very well about the things that got to me, like not having a properly configured computer that was hooked into the main system the way it should be (I was essentially doing network work on a “standalone” computer, so I never knew if my work would come out right). And the guy I was working with was also not very communicative. I could never tell if I was doing an okay job or not, and I didn’t know how to ask in a way that didn’t sound stupid to me. I tend to be the kind of person who doesn’t like to call attention to themself, anyway, so I didn’t want to highlight the fact that I felt like I was falling behind in my work. I didn’t want to give anyone the wrong impression and seem like I didn’t have confidence in my own abilities. If I did that, I was afraid I’d set off the alarms and people would start to look for problems with my work, and then I’d lose what little control I had over my situation.

Well, long story short, I actually did lose control of the situation, and by the end of the 2-1/2 months I was there, I had successfully alienated my recruiter who’d placed me there — no, alienated is not the right word — more like, infuriated, pissed off and completely distanced (I can still smell the bridge burning behind me) — had pushed everyone in the group away from me, and I’d gone off to a permanent position that suffered a similar fate to the one I had just left.

Yes, I went from the frying pan into the fire, but this time, in March, I was driving twice as far and dealing with a company that was a fraction of the size of the one I’d just ejected out of.

I took a job doing more heavy-duty development work with a little start-up that made big promises and sounded like a great thing… like a cyber-tribe of sorts, with a close-knit group of people who liked to play as hard as they worked. And my decision to sign on with them was both ill-informed and ill-advised. I mean, I asked all the right questions… I even wrote them down ahead of time and checked them off on my list. But the answers I got did not “correlate with the truth” — in other words, they told me what they thought I wanted to hear, and I took the bait, hook, line and sinker.

That tale is a sad and tragic one — even more sad and tragic than my ill-fated stint at the MegaCompany. The long drive fatigued me, but the frenzied pace and the lack of structure is what really took its toll on me. Plus, it turned out that the technology they built was NOT as ready for prime-time as they said it was. It was, to my systematic and logic-seeking mind, a total friggin’ nightmare.

And I really screwed up with my exit from there, too. I wasn’t able to keep up with things that were happening around me, I ended up making stupid comments and drifting way off base in meetings, I wasn’t able to concentrate, I wasn’t able to deal. Plus, the building was situated in a place that was very remote — I couldn’t get away from the office without considerable effort, and I just got so turned around and freaked out… it was very sad. And I started having serious issues with memory and logic and being able to interact with other people. By the time I left there, I’d really alienated everyone in the place, and my excuse that I was leaving for health reasons (which was quite true, tho’ not the entire truth) barely got me out the door without being attacked by the CEO and the President, who both had a terrible reputation for tempers and verbal abuse. It’s not that I couldn’t have survived their vitriol, but what worries me is what I might have said in return. I have a real skill for going off on people and venting inappropriately.

It was bad enough that I had to bail on them after three months. I didn’t want a full-on TBI-exacerbated confrontation on my conscience, too.

So, I did the humiliating but necessary thing — I made excuses and snuck out the back door. ’nuff said about that adventure. For now, anyway… there are lots of juicy tidbits that are very educational in hindsight, so I’ll write about them later.

Anyway, somewhat demoralized and downtrodden, I started another job a little over three months ago with another multinational corporation, doing web development work. The team I’m working with is small and close-knit, and between the ADHD and other personality quirks and old sports head injuries, we all manage to reach agreements about how to deal with each other well. So far, so good. They know there’s something “different” about me, but they don’t hold it against me. And frankly, there’s plenty about them that’s different, too, so I’m in my element.

For now…

When I look back on my work history, I have to say it’s a little disconcerting to see how short a time I’ve spent at so many companies. The longest I’ve ever been in any one group, is 2-3 years. I include my 9-year stint at a multinational corporation in that, since I jumped around a bit, and I moved from group to group — I was in 5 different groups in the 9 years I was there, having made a deliberate decision to move on, myself. So, while my resume says “Such-and-such-A-Company” (1997-2005), the fact of the matter is, I had five different jobs there, in five different groups:

1. 1997-1999 — web developer

2. 1999-2000 — software engineer (yes, it’s different from being a web developer)

3. 2000-20002 — technology integrator

4. 2002-8/2005 — software engineer/architect

5. 8/2005-12/2005 — technical writer

And because all these were done at the same company, they don’t “count” as career shiftlessness. So, I can get away with it and camouflage my issues and still look great in the process. Which is great for my resume and career.

The only problem is that now I’m out on my own and I’m not doing this at the same company, so my resume is starting to look a little more sketchy. Which isn’t good for applying for financing, and it isn’t good for finding other jobs.

Fortunately, for the time being, I’m in a good place at a good company that’s in the healthcare industry, so there’s not bound to be any decline in business anytime soon.

And despite the fact that the last two attempts I made at finding and keeping gainful employment were sad chapters in the book of my life, the fact is, I didn’t get fired, I left on terms that were my own, and although I truly regret the fallout and consequences to the people I “bailed on”, the fact is, no animals were harmed in my experiment, and everyone is still standing. So, it’s not a
total loss, and I did learn a lot! (I simply must write about this later!)

Things are indeed looking up!

But the next job interview did go well

The second interview I had with the next recruiter went completely differently, and so much better, it was like night and day. Everything that went wrong, the first time out, went right the second time… in part because of things I did differently, in part because of how the recruiter was handling things.

As a result, I came away from the interview not only energized and excited, but actually willing to work with this guy. And I had a lot more confidence that he’d actually find me work.

Here’s what made the difference:

  1. The first big difference had to do with the working style of the recruiter. The guy actually took his time talking with me and getting to know me and my working style and understanding what my priorities are.
  2. The second, was that he actually followed up with me in a timely manner, kept in touch, and confirmed everything in writing. He confirmed not only by email, but also by phone, which was huge. And it helped.
  3. I got there on time — 20 minutes ahead of time, actually. That gave me time to get my act together, find a bathroom to make sure I wasn’t completely falling apart, and get to the office with 10 minutes to spare. I showed up relaxed and calm and in command of myself.
  4. We actually had an office to sit in — private, behind closed doors, where I could just settle in and talk, without worrying about others listening.
  5. The guy actually told me about himself and we had a lot in common, including that technology is a second career for each of us — both of us had been out in the world as bohemian artiste types for years, before we got pulled into technology.
  6. The guy actually knew about the kind of work I do. Unlike the recent college grads I spoke with last week, he could actually hold a conversation about the kind of work I do, ask intelligent questions and get an actual “read” on what it is I do for a living.
  7. The conversation didn’t take too long, and it didn’t get cut too short. It took almost exactly an hour, and it ended up with me feeling confident in myself and in the recruiter, and feeling hopeful about my future, which is a lot more than I can say for my experience last week.

I suppose in all fairness to the folks last week, I wasn’t particularly well prepared for the meeting. It was my “first time out” in many, many years… after having been hunkered down at a permanent job with the same company for nearly a decade. It’s a little like leaving a doomed, long-term marriage that you tried to salvage, year after year, only to find it collapsing around you… and then getting back into the dating scene. It’s very much like it, in fact.

So, my first foray into the world of recruiters was bound to be a rocky one. And I suspect that I chose those folks last week as my “test run” so I wouldn’t completely screw up a connection with people I actually cared about.

That’s something I’m constantly wary of — screwing things up with people I care about. I tend to “fall behind” and not pick up important clues and cues in how people act/think/behave, and then I say/do the wrong thing which really pisses them off. And if the people I piss off are people I care about, I descend into a morass of self-recrimination and blame.

I just don’t want to have to do that anymore. I need to protect my relationships with the people and connections who mean most to me, not just “wing it” and hope they’ll understand.

So, all in all, I think I’ve handled this job search business brilliantly. Doing a test run with people I don’t have an investment in. Figuring out what went wrong the first time, before my second time “out”. Making sure I follow up and am very clear about everything. And just holding my sh*t…

Yes, this week was much better than last week.

Bottom line is, I need to really pick and choose the people I work with. I also need

Now it’s starting to sink in… avoiding the trap of extremes

I’m starting to get really bummed out about that job interview yesterday. It really set me back, in a way. Or did I set me back? One of the issues I have with the TBI is “intrusive thoughts” — the constant replaying of scenes from an event (or series of events) that I don’t feel like I have resolved properly. I keep thinking back to all those individual instances where I might have said, done, or thought something different than I did, and therefore salvaged the interview.

Or could I have, given the environment I was in? I think it was a lost cause, from the moment I showed up (late).

I have to be careful that I don’t fall into the trap of extremes — either blaming others for my shortcomings, or blaming myself for things beyond my control

On the one hand, I’m tempted to blame the firm for their environment that wasn’t conducive to me being clear. I have to be careful of that thinking pattern, as I tend to find fault with others, when actually their way of doing business is probably quite common (which is why so many boutique recruiting firms pitch themselves as not a bullpen filled with anonymous headhunters). I have a tendency to start blaming everyone except myself for what went wrong.

On the other hand, after I give things more thought, I’m usually tempted to beat myself up for what I didn’t do right. In this case, for not speaking up on my own behalf, not confirming the time and date with the firm, and – frankly – not walking out, when I saw the bullpen they had going. I tend to ride myself pretty hard, once I figure out what went wrong, blaming myself, in place of the others.

A guilt and blame/shame fest, all around.

But there are other interviews and other firms and other jobs. If I’m going to get back in the game and do my utter best, I need to avoid this trap of extremes, be really easy on myself, and just take things as they come. And learn from each experience.

Learning from each experience salvages otherwise hopeless causes. It redeems even the most wretched blunders. Learning is everything. At least I can do that!

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