I’ve spent my entire career working in an office setting where you have your analysts, specialists, team leaders, managers, and directors. When I first started my career as a management trainee with a government department, I had high ambition. I wanted to go into the workforce, learn my way around, and climb, climb, climb. Management—the ultimate goal. At this point, I believed I had no barriers except the fact I couldn’t carry a conversation on the phone the normal way (I discovered the relay service not long after joining the government).
While in the year-long training program, we attended many courses related to leadership including public speaking, dealing with difficult people, and policies. At the end of the year, the program placed us with one of the agencies. I worked in the Federal government for three years and then we moved back home to Texas.
I landed a job with an IT consulting company and did contract work for a teleco. I thought I could be a big cheese with the consulting company (not the teleco) since it had team leaders and field managers. No matter what I did, it wasn’t good enough to get me in the zone as I watched new employees come on board getting such roles. My background was comparable to theirs. I was the kind of person who read books about leadership and becoming a star employee.
Nevertheless, I kept pushing. I continuously took grad-level courses as I believe in learning for life. I actually went into SMU’s MBA program for one semester, but then I dropped out. At the time, I had one child and a big heartburn / severe reflux problems. I spent most evenings and weekends doing school work. It probably didn’t help the first class I took was accounting and the professor was from South Africa (try reading lips with that accent). Hated it, but I enjoyed the global business class. The minute I quit the program, my stomach problems went away.
I feared by the time I turned 30 that I would regret not getting my MBA, but 30 came and went without a hitch (at least, on the MBA side of things). Over time, I realized that management won’t work for me. I’ve watched many managers over the years and see them spending time in meetings, conference calls, phone calls… mainly 99 percent involves interacting with people.
Now, I’m not shy, but I struggle understanding plenty of folks. It could be a problem of accents or they’re a mumbler like Paul was when I first met him. Furthermore, lipreaders have been said to catch only 33 percent of what’s said. It wouldn’t be fair to a direct report if I can’t understand him and get his side of the story. A good manager is a good listener. I’m a good listener… but understanding is a whole ‘nother issue.
I completed my certificate in Internet Technologies from New York University. It was great, done completely online. I also entered another leadership program with a nonprofit organization of which I’m a lifetime member that lasted two-years plus an internship in the third year.
When I started freelancing in 2000, I didn’t expect to make much of it. It was a fun sideline as I loved the work, but couldn’t handle the thought of managing the bookkeeping and finding clients (there’s that communication with strangers thing again). I discovered I’m not a natural leader. Of course, it doesn’t help that people often see those with disabilities as inferior no matter what we’ve accomplished.
I never come up with new trends and ideas. Heck, I connected to the Internet in 1993 and yet I didn’t do anything to take advantage of it from a business perspective. I’m not an idea girl. I’m not an entrepreneur. It’s frustrating. I believe part of the challenge comes from my working extra hard to understand what’s going on and keeping up that it blocks out any room for my own ideas and thoughts.
Despite the pains of keeping the books and searching for new clients, I found the freelance work worth it. Word of mouth helps a lot. So I’ve accepted I can’t be a manager. Well, I could, but I’d be miserable. Myers-Briggs says I’m an introvert. This doesn’t mean your shy, but being around a lot of people quickly drains your energy. Very true. When I go to conferences, I’m exhausted within a day or two.
The fact that management isn’t in my dreams doesn’t mean my ambition went away, too. I yearn for a promotion. Not for money, but for title. I’m sick of watching people get them when I know I’m as good or better than they are. I’m sure there are people out there that know me who disagree, but look at the bigger picture. My knowledge goes beyond my specific area. Such folks become good at one thing and get recognized for the projects in that area and eventually get a promotion. Promotions are political, too.
I ain’t perfect. I have many flaws. But I owe up to them and try to learn from them. I’m an honest and ethical person. Maybe that’s a problem, too.