Six years, two months, and five days later…

5 minute read

September 24, 2019, 8:26 AM

September 24 marks the day that I have been a former employee of Food & Water Watch for the same amount of time that I had been an active employee there.  Since leaving, I have given plenty of thought to my tenure there, and nowadays, I tend to give it a mixed review.  On one hand, that job was what got me up to the Washington DC area in the first place, and it was good for me for a period of time.  I grew both personally and professionally because of my experience there, and I certainly benefitted from that.  I also certainly had lots of good times while there.  However, I probably stayed there for much longer than I should have, as most people spent two or three years there and then moved on.  I was there for just over six years, was ninth in seniority by the time that I left, and was no longer all that interested in the issues that the organization was working on by the time that I left.

One thing that I have come to realize with the passage of time is that my position ultimately came to its logical conclusion.  When I was hired, the organization had about twenty people, with most people based in DC.  By the time that I left, the organization was somewhere around 100 people spread across many offices.  In my role as office manager, I was that “jack of all trades, master of none” person.  I had no direct involvement with the program content, but rather, I was the guy behind the scenes who made sure that the people handling the program content had what they needed to do their thing.  I was tasked with fixing stuff, working with outside vendors, making sure that the office had all of the necessary supplies, doing all of the shipping and receiving, handling matters related to the building, and so on.  In other words, I served in a very generalist role.  I knew a bit about a lot of things, and it suited me well for a time.  What happened was that over the years, as the organization grew, they would carve specialist roles out of my responsibilities.  It made enough sense, because a bigger organization justified creating more specialized roles.  My job gradually evolved over the years as my responsibilities shifted with the growth of the organization.  The view of my generalist role also evolved, with the focus of my role’s shifting from the “jack of all trades” part to the “master of none” part, as, with the hiring of more specialized roles, I went from being the guy who knew a lot about a lot of stuff to “what does he know?”  And eventually, my role was whittled down to a very low-level role that I was overqualified for, and probably overpaid for as well.

Looking back, I can’t imagine its having gone any other way, as the generalist’s role in the small organization is superseded by many specialist roles in the larger organization.  However, it’s not like I didn’t try to change the course.  I knew by the end of 2011 that I was starting to outgrow my role, and that I was not getting the respect that I knew that I deserved.  I had asked for more opportunities for growth, and got denied for upward movement, and was only offered additional responsibilities that would have led to other low-level positions within the organization, i.e. nothing that would have translated to more money.  After all, none of us really do our jobs solely because we’re passionate about the work that we do.  No.  The hell with that.  None of us would do our jobs for free.  We do our jobs because they pay money, which we use to support our lifestyles.  If my job stopped paying me, the trains would stop moving, because none of us would do it for free.  Not a chance.

The turning point with Food & Water Watch was when my boss decided to take my suggestions for additional responsibilities and hire it out as a new position.  I made my case for why I should have the role, but I was unsuccessful in convincing him.  Instead, after six years of employment there, I ended up in a role with fewer responsibilities than I had when I started back in 2007.

I ended up making a meme out of it the week that it all happened:

"Scumbag Steve" style meme about my situation

Yep… I gave my old boss, Lane Brooks, the “Scumbag Steve” treatment.  And that certainly was a scumbag move on his part.  Obviously, I didn’t share this meme around at the time except amongst a few close friends because I needed to find another job, and was initially looking in the same industry.  But in any case, this made me feel a little better about things.  I also realized that this was the spineless way that Lane got rid of people that he didn’t want around anymore, as he did the same thing to another person in our department at the same time as me.  That other employee and I both quit within a week of each other.

Starting my work in public transportation, after a longer-than-intended sabbatical, I was delighted to be back in the saddle again, and I was much changed from who I was when I left Food & Water Watch.  During my time off, I focused on more creative endeavors, and began to view Schumin Web as more of a side business than a hobby, even though the content was still just as quirky as ever.  In other words, even though I was living off of savings, I was growing again, and that was the best feeling ever.  I also stopped pulling punches around this time when it came to taking crap from people.  When someone called looking for pizza, I let them have it, and presented the evidence completely unredacted.  Since then, and in that same vein, I’ve also settled a few scores with people from my past via this website, again completely unredacted, and that’s been very helpful for me.

During my first six months as a bus driver, I often ran into my old colleagues because of the areas that I was driving in, and I realized how much I had changed, and how much they hadn’t.  One particular encounter in Petworth with a group of my old coworkers really drove that home.  I was between assignments, walking from my street relief point on one route, and going back to the bus garage in order to start my next route.  I was wearing a complete bus operator’s uniform.  While so dressed, they invited me to come with them and go out for drinks.  My first thought was, do you not see this uniform?  I can’t just go into a bar on a Friday evening wearing that uniform, even if I’m just going in to get a hamburger and a soda.  A healthy respect for things that begin with the word “Unsuck” should keep most people wearing that uniform on their best behavior.  I invited them to come ride my bus if they wanted to see me, and told them when and where to meet me in order to do that, but they were clearly more interested in drinking than about actually spending time with me.  The encounter, while amicable, really made me feel distant from them.  It made me realize that they were part of my past, and that they had stopped being part of my present long ago.  I realized that I was not the same person that I was when I left Food & Water Watch, and that I also liked the person that I had become since our paths diverged.  I didn’t miss my old life.

All in all, I suppose that my time at Food & Water Watch was a learning experience, but I’m glad that it’s over.  I have become a much better and wiser person in the time since I left the organization, and I hope that growth trajectory continues.

Categories: Myself, Work