Friday, October 14, 2011

Track Sitting

Way back when I was a college student and an intramural athlete, I trained on my own at the local track. I jogged for a while and then decided to sprint the last quarter mile. I picked up my pace and really pushed it.

Bad idea. My legs weren't ready for it. They gave out around Turn 4. I fell sprawling, arms and legs out, flat on my chest. It knocked the wind out of me. As I laid there, other joggers hurdled over me.

Yes. You read that right. They jumped over my prone body and let me lay there. Nobody offered me a hand up or checked to make sure I was okay. They didn't even look back. My body had become merely an obstacle to get around.

I remember feeling horribly diminished and alone.

The story came back to me again yesterday during the 6-month review that I had to beg my boss to schedule. I knew something felt wrong when almost every project I handled fell into a black hole and I never saw it again. When I followed up with the project managers and account managers, they wouldn't meet my eye. They mumbled, "It was fine."

In the writing world, nothing is ever fine. You can be a Pulitzer prize-winning author and still have a big, red stain of ink across your smartly written paragraphs. As a lowly copywriter, I had to grow elephant skin in order to avoid feeling like a miserable hack on a daily basis...but never hearing anything back about anything?

Not good. And so I had to beg for a review.

Also, not good.

The meeting was, as predicted, a confirmation of my assumptions: Something was rotten in Denmark.

The synopsis: I wasn't getting it. After 6 months, I should know what to do every day. I rush through things and often overlook details. I missed a disclaimer. I don't have the style down. Nobody has time to go through multiple revisions, and as a senior copywriter, I'm not living up to my job title. I shouldn't need multiple revisions. I'm too blunt. I rub people the wrong way.

I listened carefully to how I failed time and time again with concrete examples of my mistakes, oversights, carelessness and inattention to detail. The team felt uncomfortable coming to me about my lack of performance. They didn't feel it was their place to show me where the problems were. They shouldn't have to mentor me. With my level of experience as a writer, I should "know" what to do and have the skill set that my job title implies.

And yet my heart's in the right place. My boss believes that I want to do a good job. And for the next month, we'll be meeting once a week so we can go over my trouble spots and see where I still need improvement.

I realized that I was back out there on that track and people were jumping over me again.