Monday, September 10, 2012

A View on Quitting

With apologizes for being a couple of days late, here is my latest blog entry.  I was thinking about not finishing it, skipping this week and posting a new entry this coming Saturday.  But I didn't want to give up like that.  
I heard an interesting story at the end of WorldCon in Chicago.  I was chatting with a couple, the man was a few years older than me I believe.  We got to talking about baseball.  He told me about his father, a man that had been born and raised in New York.  Had never left the city his entire life.  When his father died and they were going through this things, they discovered something that shocked them.  
He was a closet Boston Red Sox fan.  
In his father's possessions, they found hand-written journals, going back to when his father had been about 13 years old, detailing the fortunes of the team.  Player stats and game scores, decades of information written down by hand and kept in secret. 
For the uninitiated, the Red Sox are the most hated rivals of the New York Yankees, the team that has owned the cities for about a century.  The fact that he kept his support of the Red Sox a secret isn't really a surprise.  He was, in baseball terms, was an American living in an Al Queda controlled neighborhood in Afghanistan.  What is harder to understand is what kept him going for all those years?  Why didn't he just...  Quit.  Give up.  Join his neighbors in cheering on the Bronx Bombers.  The Red Sox did not win a single championship from 1918 until 2004.  During that same stretch, the Yankees won 26 of the their 27 titles.  
But quitting isn't always about not being successful.  
In my adult working career, I quit my job one time.  It was eighteen years ago.  I was working for the company where I started in the field I'm currently working in, Legal Photocopy.  I had been working in the customer service department, but had switched to the Collections Department for the opportunity for a promotion.  
I had been recruited by the Manager of the Collections Department, a woman named Sharon, to collect for the services provided to our clients in Texas.  The problem at the time was that the Texas clients had been more or less left to themselves.  No one was following up on their unpaid invoices, and the accounts were in disarray.  
One stat that I remember was this: At the time I was transferred to collections, the Texas accounts had a past due percentage (invoices not paid after 60 days or more) of 36 percent.  The company's target for past due percentage was 12.5 percent.  Remember this number, it will be important later on.  
The idea was, Sharon told me, was to have someone permanently oversee the Texas accounts.  They would start off by making me a Collections Representative.  As the volume of work grew, they would create a unit, then a section, and ultimately create a Texas Collections Department.  I would, if successful, be promoted to Team Leader, Supervisor and even Manager as the Texas accounts grew.  

I started working the accounts in March.  By September, six months later, I would be reviewed on my progress.  
I have to say that I didn't much care for the work.  I very quickly came to see that collections did not suit me.  I much preferred the things I did in customer service, where I took on client problems and solved them.  Most of the time, when I followed up on some unpaid invoice, I would be told of problems that had taken place that made the client believe they hadn't received the service they were expecting.  I would do what I could to help them, but it wasn't the same.  
But, I had made a decision to switch to the department and so I gave it my best.  And the feedback I got from Sharon, the manager, was positive.  She once showed me a chart, about four months into the job, showing that revenue collected from the Texas accounts was tracking about 15 percent higher than projected.  "This is because of you," she proclaimed, pointing at the lines on the graph looking like a mountain range.  She seemed excited by the lines.  I smiled and tried to convey a sense of appreciation.  
At the end of August, Andrew, my direct supervisor, gave me a Review Packet.  It was the policy of the Collections Department that the employees review themselves before getting their official review.  Both Andrew and Sharon touted the fact that the Collections Department gave reviews that were "Objective."  It didn't matter how the supervisors felt about an employee, whether they "liked" you or not.  The review was based solely on performance criteria.  It was fair and "objective."   I could tell they liked that word, "objective," by the number of times they repeated it.  I took the review packet from Andrew.  I planned on taking it home that weekend and turning it in next Monday.  
It was while working on my self review that I started to get worried.  
The Review was pretty straightforward.  It listed the criteria the company wanted the accounts a representative was handling to meet and gave you a score based on those criteria.  I mentioned the one I remember above: The over 60 days past due percentage was to be no higher than 12.5%.  Having exactly that percentage gave you a score of 2, the equivalent of a "D" if you were getting a letter grade, passing but just passing.  
In the five months since taking over the Texas accounts, which no one had worked on before I had started on them, I had taken the Past Due percentage from 36% to 15%.  Since 15% was higher than the 12.5% target, according to what I was reading in the review packet, I gave myself a "1."  
The rest of the review went like that.  Even though there had been marked improvement in the accounts since I had taken over, on each of the criteria I kept giving myself 1's and 2's.  My final score, and average of all the scores put together, was something like 1.42.  
1.42.  About an F+.  According to the company's handbook, anyone scoring below 2 on one of their reviews could be summarily dismissed.  Thinking I had made a mistake, I wrote in the comment box my opinion that my score should be somewhat higher, based on the condition of the accounts when I had taken over.  I sealed the envelope.  On Monday, I left it in Sharon the Manager's incoming.  
A couple of days later, Sharon and Andrew gave me my official review.  They opened the conversation in Sharon's office by telling me I had been too hard on myself during my self-review.  I nodded, feeling a bit relieved, and said I had hoped that was the case.  They slid the office review across the desk for me to read.  
My official score was 1.48.  
I listened as they told me about the improvements I had made in the Texas account.  I kept wondering, "Where in my review does it say that?"  Sharon talked some more.  I nodded.  Andrew talked.  I nodded some more.  Sharon shook my hand.  Andrew shook my hand.  I got up and left her office.  I got back to my desk and immediately took my break.  I started walking the halls of the office, not really heading anywhere in particular.  
Heading back toward my desk after my first lap, I ran into a friend of mine at the company, a guy named Tony.  He nodded at me as he approached.  
"Hey, Erick.  How's it going?"  
Like a soda from a can shaken too much, the words spewed out of my mouth at maximum volume.  They sprayed the walls, they poured up and down the halls, they seeped under the cracks of the closed doors.  When I paused to take a breath Tony, still smiling, said...
"Not so good, huh?  Wanna go outside for a walk?"  
He took me to a patio area behind our office building where I vented about the review.  Tony didn't give me much advice as I recall.  He just listened, told me to hang in there, etc.  I went back to my desk and continued my work, wondering what I was going to do next.  
The answer came to me a couple of days later.  To wrap up this tale, I got a call from Tony's wife, Lill.  She used to work at the same company as Tony and I did, but had moved on to work for a newly formed competitor.  Would I want to drive up after work on Friday and talk to the owner of the new company, who hear about my review and wanted to talk to me.  
Yes.  I would very much like to do that.  The following Monday, after that conversation, I gave Sharon and Andrew my two week notice.  
 In life, I think I'm like one of those people that come to a party and don't know when it's time to leave.  I have to be pushed out and told to leave.  I probably hold on to things far longer than I should.  Maybe.  
Leaving LAX after returning from my recent trip to Chicago, I spotted a young, athletic looking black guy talking to a couple of pilots leaving the terminal.  They were shaking his hand.  One of the pilots was saying something to the guy as I walked by, "...Used to fly out of Albuquerque, I'd catch the games..."  
Just as I reached the door, I heard something go "clank" behind me.  The sound of a bunch of wood hitting the ground.  
I turned around and saw the guy had dropped a bright blue bag.  In bold white letters, the word "Dodgers" was printed across its surface.  As he picked up the bag, I recognized the sound of baseball bats banging against each other.  
I looked at the guy again.  The bag slung over his back was just as blue.  He caught me looking at him.  He smiled and nodded back.  He looked really happy to be coming to Los Angeles.  
I checked the Dodgers website, but couldn't spot any news about someone being called up from the minors.  I've not seen the guy in the games I've watched since then.  I wish him the best and hope things turn out well for him.  It's hard to stay someplace you openly want to be.  
Good luck to us all hanging in wherever we are right now.  


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