How did I go from being the youngest girl in the office to the oldest – overnight?
In 1979, in my early twenties, I moved to the big city and launched into corporate America. I had worked since I was twelve when I started babysitting, washed dishes in a bowling alley restaurant, and then worked in a chain department store all through high school. I then had a military tenure and furthered my education, but this was now the real deal in the big town. The Royals were hot and so was I. I was confident in my abilities but not aggressive or overbearing, and certainly I avoided conflict. Above all else, I wanted to be cooperative and easy to work with. I wanted to please everyone and hear those words “Well done!”
After a brief orientation in the HR Department on my first day, the recruiter escorted me to the fifth floor and down the Treasury Department hall to the Tax Division’s office on the left side of the corridor. It was a small seven-member division – sort of like a small office with its own system/rules within a large company. There was one other lady, much older nearing retirement, in the group who was to be my trainer and mentor. The first thing I noticed on my desk was a large green glass dish with four grooves for cigarettes – an ashtray that I suggested could be removed. But I wasn’t special. There was an ashtray on everyone’s desk, and I soon learned that I was the only nonsmoker in the group. Marie said that although I didn’t smoke, the ashtray was needed for others as they interacted with me. Boy did I find this to be true as the ashes grew at the end of her cigarette and eventually fell like a slinky toppling end-over-end onto my desktop. No worries, however, she quickly blew them away into the open air; and they scattered onto the floor.
Marie wanted to mold me. She wanted me to dress like her, work like her, eat with her, act like her. But I certainly had no intention of becoming like her. Although professional and well dressed, for goodness sake, she couldn’t even apply her make-up properly. Eyeliner smudged and dots of mascara speckled beneath her lower lashes on many days. Her hair dresser teased up her thin, fine hair colored the perfect shade of red to where you could see straight through it. Not to mention that I would NEVER EVER force my way of doing things on someone else. No, I would NEVER become Marie. After a couple of years, I moved on to another position in the company – a very good place to be, good for my career, and out of the reach of bossy Marie. Over the next few years, I saw her in the hallways, on the elevator, and in the cafeteria. I was respectful and gave her a retirement gift on her last day. I could not hold a grudge and always wished her well, but I would NEVER be like her. I never regretted my decision to move on. I had the world at my fingertips, or so I thought.
After a decade with that fabulous company, they announced plans to consolidate offices in another city. It was a sad time for the employees and the city to lose such a good company. I elected not to relocate. Instead, I embarked on those childbearing years of bottles, diapers, Disney movies, and minivans.
It was scary re-entering the workforce in my mid-thirties. During the days of my job search after I had the boys tucked in bed, I stepped into the shower and let the water wash down over my head along with the tears – the fear of change overwhelmed me. So much had changed in the workforce, and I was comfortable with my place as a mom. I thanked God for that time at home with my sons as the tears washed down the drain. I mustered up the courage, sharpened my skills, and felt really fortunate that someone took a chance on me after being a stay-at-home mom for five years. It didn’t take long to get back into the swing of things, and I moved on up in that corporation for yet another decade … until the company spiraled into bankruptcy.
Change?? Not again! At least this time I still had skills, had built on my experience, and the boys were older. They were busy with school and sports. I’m not sure they cared if I was home or not. I thought maybe someone would still hire an old lady in her forties.
Well, someone did. I had never worked for a start-up, entrepreneurial company. My two previous employers were established, large corporations when I started. This was something new and different. I was shocked to see the phone list – a modest two-page listing by first name. But I endured that worthless feeling the first six months and settled into my third corporate career in as many decades. I feel like I helped build the company. I watched the company go public in three different entities, watched it expand and make a ton of money while winning many awards in the city and industry. I ran the office, oversaw several building projects as we expanded, and hired a full administrative staff. My plate was overfull. No longer the youngest one in the office, I wanted things done my way for good reason. Having had to operate with limited staffing, I could not afford many hiccups – had no time for that. I knew what worked, and I knew what didn’t. I still wore and liked pantyhose with my business suits, although I did wonder if some of the girls thought it was a bit frumpy. I hoped most of them liked me and respected me even though I wanted things done a certain way. By this time, my nearsightedness had turned into farsightedness. I didn’t want to admit that I needed bifocals, but I did. (Thank God for blended lenses.) I resorted to a 5x makeup mirror to apply my eyeliner to those lids that were folding down closer to my eyes. I cut my long locks to give myself a free face lift; used various products to give my fine, short strands some texture and raise up off my scalp; and hoped the scalp wasn’t visible. One morning after much work on that short stuff, I reached for the hairspray to hold it all in place and, after spraying generously, realized I had the styling mousse instead. OMG!! Then reality kicked in. The thing I feared the most had come upon me. I had turned into Marie!!
Two years ago, I learned what entrepreneurs do – they build businesses, and they sell them. The company I helped build merged with another. And after yet another decade with another company, another change was about to take place. But this time it was different. I felt what many do as they approach the twilight of their career. I was a bit tired. I didn’t want to be grouchy and wondered exactly how many years I had left. I watched a coworker at 64, desperately trying to make it to 65 in order to retire, succumb to the strangest thing to attack a body I had ever heard of. She didn’t make it. I thought of my dad who died when he was just 67. I wanted time to write more, to bring those other book projects in my head from a dream or an idea into reality. I didn’t want to crack the whip any longer and climb the ladder, but I was – what??? – 50 something???? How can this be? It’s too much and yet not enough.
So it was and so it is. Finally, after thirty years, the Royals are hot again. But what about me? I moved to something interim and realize that many covet my seat. So I am thankful. I hope that someone sees the wisdom beneath the folds in my eyelids. I still want to please. I remember Marie and realize that she genuinely wanted to help me. And I hope that those writing dreams survive until the stories are told. It is here that I abide a little bit longer … as life continues on …
There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.
What does the worker gain from his toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on men. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end. Ecclesiastes 3:1-11 (NIV)
So well written and such a delightful piece. But you didn’t fool me. I knew by the second paragraph that we–at least, I–had become Marie.
Debra Irene says
As I read this over and over, I also realize how important it is to enjoy the journey as we’re striving for something different or better. I need to do better at that! Thanks for reading and your comments!
And what a good life it has been, and will continue to be!! Love you!! Loved this!!
Cathy Elliott says
I’m saying maybe 10% Marie, the good part. And besides, your new “do” makes you look 10 years younger! Good post.