Day #6 – How Do You Overcome Setbacks?

In 2000 the actor and writer unions were on strike, which meant there were no jobs to audition for, so instead I got a “real job” in the office property management industry.  Basically I was a glorified receptionist taking work orders (“it’s too hot/too cold/the sink is dripping, etc.”) It was something I did as a temp job in New York City the year prior.

My first day on the job I tried to introduce myself to the Assistant Chief Engineer and he said, “No offense, but I’m not going to learn your name.  You’re the fifth receptionist in as many weeks and you look like you won’t last past today.”

Well, hello to you too.  Game on.

In LA, people calling my desk sounded like this: “We seem to have a bit of a workers’ comp issue here.  Genni is too cold and doesn’t want to wear a sweater over her tank top.”

Is that the toughest you got for me Los Angeles?  Genni’s worker’s comp issue?

This is what I had to deal with in New York: “It’s so motherf***ing cold in here I’m ready to set the f***ing office furniture on fire!  Fix it!  NOW!!!

Needless to say I made it through my first setback and a year later not only was I still around but had been promoted to contracts administrator and had a Wall of Fame with 50+ customer satisfaction letters.  Yet…

I didn’t get the assistant manager position.  Setback!  My boss’ boss told me, “Lisa, you’re a smart girl but you know nothing about this industry plus you don’t have a real estate license.”

I complained loudly to my then boyfriend, Henri, about the unfairness of it all.  He told me, “Steel is strong because it’s forged in fire.”  hmph.

So I had a baptism by fire.  I was the first person at my desk in the morning and the last employee to leave at night;  I volunteered for every crap job no one wanted to do if I thought it would look good on my resume; when I wasn’t working overtime or at my second job at a bar I was studying for my real estate license.

I passed the exam the first try, got employee recognition awards and every manager wanted me to work on their projects.  Yet…

They passed on me whenever an assistant property manager position came up.  Setback.  At first I could explain it away due to lack of experience, but apparently one client didn’t like me and was blocking my advancement and after the third pass over I sat on a park bench by Library Tower and just sobbed in frustration.

Sometimes too many blocks in the road can mean you’re on the wrong road.  Henri told me to apply to other companies but by that point I began to believe that no one would ever hire me for a management position.  “I know you’re scared to leave, but you really can do this,” he said.

Secretly I applied for a job waaaay out of my league – a Property Manager position (not even assistant manager) at a 48 story highrise.  My first interview was confusing.  Everyone seemed to like me except the boss’s boss (we’ll pretend his name was Mr. Takai.)  I didn’t hear anything for a week and then Mr. Takai’s assistant called and said he wanted to meet with me that day at 4pm.  Fortunately, I was dressed in a nice business suit and made some excuse to my boss about going home early.

I entered his office and after the briefest of pleasantries he said, “You’re not qualified for this job.  The only reason you’re even sitting here is because you’re the only candidate who rearranged their schedule to meet with me.”  He sat comfortably on his couch overlooking the downtown city lights  in his expensive suit, expensive cologne filling the room.  He was holding a drink in his hand.  It looked like ginger ale but maybe it was a real drink.

My heart was racing but my anger steadied my voice.  “Maybe I don’t have the strongest resume, but I’m a quick study and clearly I’m hungrier than your other candidates.  My first day on the job at my current company someone told me I wouldn’t last a day.  Three years and 50 customer satisfaction letters later he reports to me.  I’m nothing if not tenacious.”

His face was a wall but his eyes studied my face, my posture, my shoes.  Thank God I polished them this morning!  “You’re too young.  No one will respect you,” he said taking a drink.

“People don’t respect an age, they respect competence.  If I do a good job and know what I’m talking about, they’ll trust me soon enough,” I smiled, hoping lipstick was not present on my teeth.

“What are your plans for Christmas?”  Was this a job offer or polite conversation?

“It’s the first Christmas since my father passed, so I’m flying home next week to be with my family.”

“The job starts Friday.”  Job offer!?! Or just factual information he’s giving me?

“Well, I would need to give two weeks notice.  My company has been good to me and that’s the professional thing to do.  Plus, I need to be with my mother.  But I can start after Christmas,” I added quickly.  My palms were sweating.  I was calculating how quickly my student loans would be paid off with this Management position.

The job starts FridayIf you really want it.  This is the position of a lifetime.  These highrise management jobs don’t open often.”  I got the job!!!  But wait…

Setback!  Why did it have to start Friday????  God, I wanted the job!  $65,000 base pay plus bonus.  I would have practically a corner office with two mahogany desks plus a secretary.  It was everything I told myself I wanted, which is why I surprised myself when I said, “This is a great opportunity, and I’d love to fill the position, but if you can’t wait two weeks for me to give proper notice and spend time with my mother after my father just died then this isn’t the kind of company I want to work for.  I hope you’ll reconsider.”  I stood up and he scrambled out of his seat completely nonplussed.  I shook his hand.  “It was nice meeting you,” I said, cursing myself silently for being so stupid.

I got the job.

And started after Christmas.

But honestly if it weren’t for all those other setbacks I wouldn’t have pushed myself so hard to learn the business and had the confidence to know that I didn’t have to sacrifice my morals for a job, which ultimately landed me my dream job in the end.

Setbacks make you stronger.  And when you finally do reach your destination, the victory tastes so much sweeter.

How about you?  What setbacks have you overcome?

Lisa (c) 2012 Lisa Traugott.  All rights reserved.  No portion of this blog, including any text, photographs, and artwork, may be reproduced or copied without written permission.

8 responses to “Day #6 – How Do You Overcome Setbacks?

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