I had a bad experience with a performance review once and have been scarred ever since.
The year was 2006. My passion may have been writing, but as far as making a career of it went, that was still a distant pipe dream. I had the chops but lacked experience. Instead, I languished in a customer service position for a company that manufactured pressure washers.
When a position for team lead opened up within the company and my coworkers urged me to apply, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to throw my hat in the ring. So I did, and after the longest, most drawn-out internal hiring process ever, got the job.
Yay? Not quite…
My boss and I clashed from the start. He was a taskmaster so obsessed with micro management, at one point he insisted he review all my emails before I hit send, as if I were a third-grader. (No offense to any third-graders reading this. By the way, go clean your room—it looks like a tornado touched down in there!) You can just imagine how offended the guy who aspired to be a writer was over such a petty request.
It didn’t help that I had big shoes to fill. Like, size 24. Eric, my predecessor, had gotten an internal promotion of his own, much to the chagrin of pretty much everybody he ever crossed paths with. The guy was well-respected, nay, beloved by his customers and coworkers and my asshole boss. He was also very knowledgeable about an extremely technical product line I knew little beyond the basics about.
In retrospect, the odds were stacked impossibly high against me. I never should have accepted the job in the first place, but I was stuck in a rut and desperate to do something—anything—that wasn’t customer service. And I’ll admit, I struggled in the new role. Still, I tried. And I thought I was doing an adequate job…until review time rolled around.
I entered my boss’s office, oblivious to the fact that I was a man condemned. I took a seat, and the first thing out of his mouth was, “I think we can both agree that you aren’t doing a very good job.”
Despite the sharp learning curve, I felt I was making good progress. But my boss did not see it that way, which was par for the course as we had butted heads since day one. A few months later, I suffered the humiliation of a demotion back to customer service in another department, while Golden Child Eric was lured back and reclaimed his throne.
Few things in my life have stung more than that.
(Spoiler alert: I scratched and clawed my way into doing what I have always been most passionate about. Sometimes, I feel I became a writer through sheer force of will. If you’re interested in reading about how that came to fruition, lemme know.)
Naturally, ever since, whenever annual review time rolls around—regardless of the company I’m working for or how well I think I’m doing—there is always a nagging fear that I might again be blindsided.
So, when I walked into the conference room at CenturyCo earlier this week for my first performance review, I was understandably nervous.
I told myself that this company is nothing like that company. That I’m in my element now, a bona fide writer churning out quality work that has been met with only praise by my superiors. That I’m a team player, always punctual, have never missed a deadline or called in sick or rear-ended the boss’s car. OK, fine, I once brewed an industrial-sized pot of hot water instead of coffee, but…ahem… I never did ‘fess up, so they can’t even pin that on me! Still, my heart was beating a little more quickly than normal as I took my place across from my supervisor.
And, thank goodness, my fears were unfounded. This is a boss who likes me and a company that respects me. I got a great review. I can breathe a lot easier now!
Until next August, when the dreaded cycle will repeat itself all over again…