Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Calling North Carolina Home. . . (Part #7)

So, I hopped a plane, flew back to Burlington and had that meeting.

As I recall, we talked, argued, laughed and negotiated for about an hour and a half. At the end of which, I’d agreed to become the company’s Vice President of Information Management Systems (VP-MIS).

I remember that one of the first comments I made regarding this possible outcome of our meeting, was “Why would you want to hire me? We argue all the time!” His reply had something to do with that was one of the primary reasons he wanted to hire me. That he could count on me to “Tell him what I thought”….

So, I flew back home that night and broke the news to my wife… I’d taken the job, and we’d need to move. The plan was for me to head down in the next few days, rent from Kent again while I found a place for us to rent, and for her to join me in Burlington a few months later.

The drama started the next day…

I got a call from the ‘boss’ informing me that their RPG/FoxPro guy had quit. It seems someone had told the guy that I’d been hired to replace him (I hadn’t)… and he’d decided a pre-emptive strike was in order. The boss wanted me to call him and get him to change his mind.

Tim Shields and I had actually become pretty good friends during my contracting stint, and I was pretty surprised that he’d bailed. I gave him a call, and convinced him to stay on, at least until I got there, and that after we’d talked, if he still wanted to leave, I’d see to it he was able to do so, but he’d have a job until he decided to leave. No one was going to fire him.

He did stay, for a couple more years actually, but eventually he got a gig up in Boston, and like I’d done… he followed the money.

If I thought the contracting pace was intense, the pace after they’d hired me was beyond anything I’d ever experienced. I dug in though, and went after the ‘prize’ as I’d done most of my life, believing that light I could see, was the end of the tunnel.

It wasn’t, it was the train!

By 1998, I was dangerously close to burnout, my marriage was in trouble and I’d been seeing a therapist for a year to cope with my increasing depression.

In May, I got a call from a contract house in Greensboro with a very attractive gig. I looked the project over, talked to the project manager, accepted the project, and turned n my resignation.
To say, the boss wasn’t happy, would be, at the very least, an understatement.

He accused me of planning to do this from the get… using him, and his company to move to North Carolina… I listened to it all, and calmly told him I was doing what was best for me, that he didn’t see it that way, well… I was sorry about that.

The gig? It was with SABRE, in Winston-Salem. The project was to develop an application that would interface with USAir’s ‘Call Accounting’ system in their various reservation centers around the country. It would gather up the records for a particular center, process the events against a very long list of rules, present the results to the Center manager in the form of a ‘TimeSheet’ that they could approve as is, or adjust as required.

Once all the timesheets had been approved, the application would reformat the data into a specific format and transmit it to the central MainFrame at USAir for payroll processing.

Six months, start to finish, that was the deal. No chance for an extension on this gig, as the entire USAir IS/IT operation in Winston-Salem was being moved to Texas as a result of the transference of those operations to SABRE.

Shortly after I started the project, the old boss called and asked me to have lunch with him the following Saturday. During lunch he offered me 25% of my old salary, and full benefits, if I’d come in and work for them one day a week, and return after the contract was over.

The folks at SABRE were fine with me working four 10’s, so I took the deal. The gig was paying e more than I’d been making, I’d just gotten a 25% raise, and I still wasn’t working as many hours as I had been.

Professionally, things were fine.

Personally, things were deteriorating. I’d taken an apartment in Winston when the project started as the 75 minute drive was just a little too much for a daily commute. We’d been alternating weekends between the house I Burlington, and the place in Winston.

One Saturday, we hadn’t been together an hour and we were already arguing… I remember something inside me just ‘snapped’… what ever it was, it must have been the string that was holding the relationship together, because I looked at her and said “I want a divorce.”

We’d been together close to 22 years… and it just wasn’t working for me any more.

It probably would make a better story if I told you I got “back with the girl” and lost the job, but just the opposite happened… I lost the girl, and got back with the job.

In January of 1999, I returned to the old job, but not my ‘old life’. I was back in an apartment once again… buying a little furniture each payday… and trying to find some common ground, something equitable so I could settle up with my soon to be ex-wife, and start moving forward again.

I’d like to tell you things improved on the ‘job’, and they did, for a year or so… but little by little the timelines shrank, the pressure began to rise and the boss wasn’t buying any of the time estimates.

Some good, incredible things happened outside of work though. I met the woman who is now my wife, we bought and remodeled a home together and are continuing to build a wonderful relationship… There is indeed, life after divorce!

I lasted another four years though on the job… until I blew out that cervical disc and all but lost the use of my left arm (I’m left handed) in early 2003… I had one surgery in March, got through that and the recovery, and then blew out another in July.

That second injury (both just happened, there was no trauma associated with the event) really took the wind out of my sails. I found myself not only dealing with the physical side, but undergoing a pretty severe case of depression along with the pain and incapacity.

The second surgery was a success, as was the first one, and I recovered nearly 100%, physically. Mentally, this was like a wake up call. I started to realize I was not having any fun at work, that nothing I was doing was at all satisfying. All this despite the fact that I’d been promoted not only to Chief Information Officer, but, to Chief Financial Officer as well!!

I hung in there though, although I know I was becoming increasingly vocal about the fact I was unhappy with the way things were.… until June of 2004, when the company and I parted ways… We worked out a severance agreement that covered a three month period where I’d be available to them as a consultant if needed.

I went home that day, struggling with a variety of emotions. On one hand I was glad to be ‘free’ of that job, yet at the same time I was feeling like a loved one had died… add to that the anxiety of not having a job… Hell I hadn’t even looked around for one…

I did have options though. I’d been talking with AIG about a small application and now I could just go after it. I made a couple of phone calls, and it was set up to start the following Monday. I know it gave me a great deal of satisfaction, that when that next week the old job called and my wife was able to tell them I was onsite with a client all week!!

I did that job, and several other small ones, but nothing sweet came my way.

Then, a week or so before Thanksgiving in 2004, I got a call from ITI in Morrisville, NC.

They had a small, six week contract with a firm in Cary (about 50 miles from my home), I remember the recruiter asked me “Are you sure you’re Ok with a contract this short?”

My response was “There are worse things than knowing I’ll be earning over the holidays”.

That six week contract, has been extended several times, and is, in fact, the gig I’m still working on.

So, there was a short period of reduced income, some struggles, but not really too many, and as I look back making that change was the very best thing that could have happened to me. My wife comments at least once a week how much happier I seem now, how much less stressed I am…

I think about it every time she says it too… You see the work, and the pressure is even higher now than it was. The difference though, and I think this is a critical difference, is that I’m having fun again. Yes, there’s pressure, tight deadlines and scope issues… but, now when I deliver... it’s appreciated. The other big component is that I’m ‘creating’ again as well. I don’t even know where to begin to attempt to quantify the importance of that to a ‘developer type’ like myself.

Well, that’s the story, for now.

The entire time I’ve been writing this, that one line “What a long strange trip it’s been” kept creeping into my head… I couldn’t escape it.

It has been a long strange trip. One thing is for sure though, I wouldn’t change a second of it. Every single step I’ve taken along the way has me exactly where I am, right now.

I know this has been a long series… and I’ve enjoyed remembering, and writing it down. I hope reading it has been at least amusing, sometimes thought provoking, and maybe just once or twice has shown you something that will help you avoid a costly mistake!

I hope your life is one “Long strange trip” as well!!

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Dizzy Ms. Lizzy said...

Yes, life definitely IS a "long srange trip". Mine has been just that, including the discovery that there actually IS life after divorce!

And not just 'single' life, either, although I would have been fine with that, and was what I was planning for. HOWEVER - - fate does tend to take strange turns when you least expect them, and you never know when (or WHERE) it will happen. My 'strange turn' happened on a Tuesday night in a small neighborhood bar, nearly 22 years ago . . . but that sounds like a post for my blog, doesn't it? May have to consider that . . . :-)

Bill said...

Liz - I was planning on the 'single life' too.. more like the I was hoping for the "la vida loca" ... heh-heh...

But like you said, life tosses stuff in our lap... what we do with it, is up to us. I was pretty relationship 'gun-shy' when I met Maryan.. one afternoon with her changed all that pretty quickly.

We'll have been together 7 years in June, married 5 next Sunday... and it's been a great time.

RealLady said...

"We'll have been together 7 years in June, married 5 next Sunday... and it's been a great time."

Yes it has! purely incredible! thank you! :}{;

Dizzy Ms. Lizzy said...

I had my share of "la vida loca" - - enough to leave some good memories! ha ha

Steve and I have been together 22 years as of July, and married 20 years next month (May 24th).

It's amazing what can happen on a Tuesday night, in a small local bar, thanks to a drunk roommate and a very nice young man who had gotten stood up . . . but that's another story; one I'll have to post soon - - maybe on our Anniversary? :-)

Our life together has had its ups and downs, but we stayed on track and got through the rough times, and here we are. It's been a 'long strange trip' - - but a WONDERFUL one. I wouldn't have missed this ride for anything in the world! :-)

Jay said...

I'm sorry you were in such a tough spot before you got your wakeup call. People need to realize that money isn't everything in a job. We have a need for happiness and stability, too.

Lorna said...

Lately, every time I go to say something wise and profound, I find Miss Jay has just said it before me. That's pretty good company, actually.

I'm happy for you, the stops on your journey have really made you special.

Bill said...

RealLady - Thanks darlin! We do manage to have a little fun 'eh? :)

Jay Thanks.. But sometimes, you just have to ride the ride until it's over... Money isn't everything, but, it sure made me reluctant to take the next step!

Lorna I hear ya! Truth be told, all I've ever really done, is take the opportunities I've been offered and done what I could to make the most of them... with varying degrees of success!


As for the money... interestingly enough, I'm making about the same money now, with about a third of the actual responsibilities... Most importantly though, I'm having fun again!!

Comfort Addict said...


Another great story! There has to be a book in this for you somewhere. Better still, make a movie. Who would you cast as yourself? I'm thinking Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Bill said...

CA - That would be something... a book deal, well it's been a life long dream, time will tell I guess.

"Philip Seymour Hoffman", that's the guy who just did 'Capote' right, and about a hundred others?

I'd definitely be cool with him as *me*... although RL would have to make the final approval! :)