As someone who loved sinking their teeth into projects and seeing things through from beginning to end, moving into a career in project management seemed like a natural progression.
But I was pretty much dumped into the job at a time when lots of other team members were on leave, had quit or were incredibly busy. The only woman in a male-dominated business unit who really had no idea what she was doing, I was in over my head from the minute I started.
All of the projects were IT based, and I had to teach myself about project management and all things IP (including IP routing protocol and all things Cisco). Dealing with large-scaled enterprise and government customers and implementation of their IP networks which seemed to always go wrong due to convoluted processes and a lack of resources, as well as dealing with network migrations whereby 10 seconds of downtime could result in the loss of millions of dollars and the risk to lives whilst bashing your head against the wall of internal company politics, people, sitting in a phone queue waiting to talk to someone in your own company, and endless system issues… I don’t know if there was a more stressful career I could have chosen? A surgeon perhaps?
With no room for failure I read lots, stuffed up heaps, and asked for help from a great team of specialists who treated me kindly, drawing me network diagrams and attempting to educate me on all things IT. I even ended up in a data centre connecting routers for a customer myself at one stage. Seriously wasn’t my job, but you couldn’t rely on anyone else to do their job (don’t get me wrong, there were great workers there, it’s just there was so much in the way to get your day-to-day job done!). It all fell to us superhuman Project Managers to work our magic and pull things together seemingly seamlessly.
After working on some large-scale projects involving product trials and establishing disaster recovery networks for some high-profile customers – one of which created so much stress that someone dropped dead from a brain aneurism, as well as managing network migration projects, among others (average project workload of 8), and ending up with average scorecards of 10/10, I was given the Executive Director Award for Excellence in Project Management. I knew I was good at my job, and – now I think about it – those who counted knew. The others created speculation I was sleeping my way to the top or at least with every man within the business unit, and just generally bitched about and treated me like utter shite. It was horrible, no matter how much I tried to not let it get to me ESPECIALLY since most of them I had classified as work friends at one time or another.
There were other awards given for excellence in Customer Service and so forth, with the winners in the running to win the eXtreme Award for their group/state at the annual celebration dinner.
As awards night came round, I was not expecting to win anything. I had never been a ‘winner‘ even though I was an incredibly hard worker and high performer at work, so I was just stoked to be in the running. Also, the joke in the past (and in the future) was that the people who really ‘deserved’ the awards never won…the story of life hey!
As the night kicked off – wine, beer and food flowing – the first ED Award winners were presented with a congratulatory presents. For me, being called up onto stage was enough. After all, I was still shy and lacking confidence. And then it was down to business – the announcement of the winners for their respective categories.
“And the winner for the eXtreme Project Management Excellence Award for WA was…”
From recollection I was presented with a certificate and a travel voucher, the PERFECT prize for the avid traveller 🙂 I was shocked (again – can’t you tell?) and graciously yet clumsily accepted the award.
You would think that was the culmination of the night. No, the culmination of the night was ‘the’ eXtreme award, the highest award someone could win in the company (there were multiple winners), with all the winners being flown somewhere – in 2008 it was Hawaii – to meet up with the other award winners to take part in workshops, listen to inspiring speakers, and so forth.
And this is where someone hit the slow-mo button, because as the winner was announced I vaguely heard:
‘J – a – n – i – n – n – e ‘
It was a surreal moment. Legs (actually – whole body) shaking, sweat dripping, I made my way from the back of the hall to the front to receive the award, once again – in shock. Unexpectedly, as I walked up to accept the award, people stood and cheered and clapped. It was lovely looking around at people I had worked with since leaving uni clapping, and the sales staff whose projects I had busted my ass over. I had worked so hard I had jeopardised my health and was in the midst of depression – again. I had really deserved that award, and people knew it.
There’s a lot of speculation in the media and among naysayers about the eXtreme award, but I see it as the companies way of ‘thanking you’ for your efforts, a payback for the blood, sweat and tears – and stress, and a way of inspiring their top achievers. Sure, I resigned a few months later, with some thinking I was incredibly ungrateful as the award was supposed to inspire me to give ‘more’ but I seriously didn’t have anything more to give. I was burnt out and in need of a break. Riddled with anxiety, panic attacks, and sleeping poorly, I was a mess, and the one thing I knew for certain was that I didn’t want to end up like the guy who died. If his death achieved anything, it was showing me that working that hard was simply not worth it.
No job is worth dying over.
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