Tara Vox

@taravox

My greatest failure led to my greatest accomplishment

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When I was 22, I found myself working as a customer experience specialist for a software company in the midwest.

A few months later, at 23, I was promoted.

A little more than a year after that, at 24, I quit.

This is the story of how I went from a well-respected employee to burnt bridges.

Note: names have been changed.

I quickly made a home for myself at the company. My coworkers were all great people and we clicked instantly — we’d often go out for happy hours after work and we celebrated each others birthday in the office. We ate almost daily lunches together and in general, had fun while working.

I also made a name for myself within the organization. I picked up on my job relatively quickly and that, along with my enthusiasm for solving problems and desire to help people, caught the eye of my boss, her boss, and the customer success team who worked directly with our customers. It even got up the grapevine to Tim, the co-founder who ran my side of the company — the customer-facing side.

All of this, as well as my initiative in strengthening the areas I was weakest in, and my willingness to help, earned me a promotion five months in.

For awhile, my new job was great. I got to improve the process and try out new things. I worked more directly with customers, something I’d specifically stated as one of my reasons for applying for the promotion in the first place.

A few months after that, things became stagnant. As our customers got larger, their need for my specific role fell away, which left me with a lot of time on my hands.

Unable to sit around the office for hours on end with nothing to do, I sought out additional work.

Turns out that while the shift in our customers’ needs left me with nothing to do, it left some of my coworkers — especially those in QA, product, and dev — with an abundance of work. So, I increased the amount of time I spent testing the software, took on some project management roles managing more technical needs of customers , and even took on some product management roles in coming up with new features and leading planning meetings with developers.

Eventually, I realized there was an opportunity to turn what I was doing into a job of it’s own.

So, I did some research. I looked up jobs with responsibilities similar to those that I was taking on and within a few weeks, I had compiled a document of what I felt the opportunity was. I outlined the opportunity and gap in resources, how a new, dedicated position could fix this, and what someone in this position would do.

When I presented my ideas to my supervisor, Nadine, she was thrilled. Not only had what I shown her covered some problem areas she’d seen too, but she was happy to see someone taking initiative to try to solve them. After we got her supervisor on board, it was agreed that the last person to talk to was Nick. Though he wasn’t one of the co-founders, he ran things on the other side of the company.

As luck would have it, Nick and I had conflicting schedules. If I was in office, he was on vacation. If he was in the office, I was on vacation. It was like that for about three weeks.

So, one day after talking with my friends who reported to Nick, I decided to go speak to the other co-founder of the company — Nick’s boss, Geoff— to get some feedback.

I was curious if, from his perspective, my ideas were worth pursuing.

He was completely on board with everything I said and thought the new position I outlined was right on target for what we needed given the changes our customers were undergoing.

He told me he couldn’t tell Nick to hire me into this role but he gave me some tips on how approach him on the subject. His support was the last boost of confidence I needed so when Nick returned, I flagged him down.

As with everyone else, he was on board with my ideas and he had a few of his own he wanted to try out. For a few months, we experimented with my ideas and his, seeing which ones went well and made sense in this new role we were trying to create.

Things were going incredibly well.

At least, that’s what I thought.

One day during one of our weekly 1:1, Nadine mentioned that I spent too much time away from my desk and it made my fellow support colleagues question if I was even part of the team anymore. She requested I spend at least half the day at my desk. It hadn’t occurred to me that anyone would take issue with me being away from my desk since I didn’t sit at it all that much to begin with. But I agreed anyway.

As time passed and my responsibilities increased, I started to wonder what the status was on the new position I was trying to create. I’d bring it up during my weekly 1:1 meetings with Nadine but each time I brought it up she said that there were no plans to create a position.

After a few weeks hearing there were no plans, I decided to ask Nick.

Ultimately, I knew if this position was going to exist he’d have to be the one to create it because the responsibilities of the job fell on his side of the company.

I flat out asked him if this role was going to exist and if I could have it. He said that it was; that that’s what we’d been working toward, so we laid out some definitive responsibilities that would later be sent to the company explaining my new job, we just had to talk to Nadine and her boss to cement it.

Since I still had a good relationship with them, I wanted to be the one to tell them. When I asked Nick if I could tell them first, he said yes, and to let him know when I had.

I found them later that day and told them what Nick and I had worked on, explaining that we should all meet — or at least the three of them should meet — to discuss next steps.

That’s when things really began to fall apart.

Shortly after that, during another one of our weekly 1:1’s, my supervisor told me I shouldn’t have spoken to Geoff. She told me he pulled her aside one day and asked her why I had nothing to do, which made her look bad. I was confused and explained to her as much — all I did was explain to him what I’d explained to her. She said that it didn’t matter what I’d done or intended to do; what mattered was how I’d been perceived.

She said “perception is reality” and he perceived it as me saying I have no work to do. I was shocked about it but didn’t let it get to me; it had all just been some weird miscommunication.

Right after that, my supervisor and I met with Nick and talked about plans going forward for me. My manager said that I could take on these new roles that Nick and I had outlined but that there was no change in my job, title, or who I reported to.

Nick didn’t disagree with her.

But… what about the responsibilities we laid out? The email announcement to the company we planned?

I was confused. I didn’t know what to think or say so I stayed silent.

I felt what I wanted slipping away but I was too afraid to say anything. So I nodded in agreement.

A couple days later, I did the most unprofessional things I’ve done to date: I blatantly called out a coworker for not doing his job. My supervisor saw it and made a point to immediately pull me aside.

Except… we barely talked about that.

After a quick slap on the wrist for I said, she took the opportunity to tell me again about how I shouldn’t have spoken to Geoff. She said she couldn’t trust me anymore because I’d had too many solo meetings with Nick.

Lastly, she told me that ever since my mom had died, I’d had an attitude problem. My mom had died at the end of the previous year and, despite my efforts to avoid having conversations with Nadine about that, she kept bringing it up.

And now it was like she was throwing that in my face.

I was baffled.

I knew she didn’t approve of my conversation with Geoff, she made that clear before, but this was the first time she about my meetings with Nick. And this was the first time she’d said anything about my attitude, too.

We’d always gotten along; our desks were right by each other and we’d crack jokes and help each other out. She was the one who groomed me for my earlier promotion.

But by bringing up my mom, she’d crossed a line.

That’s when I lost trust in her.

We tried for awhile to get it back. I hardly left my desk at work, I mentored my coworkers more. I did everything she asked, while still balancing the workload of my additional responsibilities.

Things went on like that for weeks. We agreed to bury the hatchet but our relationship never got back to what it had been.

Then, one Friday in October, I got blind-sided.

I was testing a story before lunch when HR Slacked me. She asked me to come upstairs to talk with her, my supervisor, and Tim, the co-founder of the company who ran the support side of things.

Except, it wasn’t a conversation.

Instead, it felt like Tim was rehashing everything Nadine had confronted me about a few weeks prior.

He told me I should’ve never spoken to Geoff or Nick, that it would be best if I went back to only performing my support duties to try to “build some trust,” and that the job I wanted was “never going to happen.”

He also told me that I “needed to remember where [my] loyalties lie.”

Nadine sat silently on the couch next to me. She didn’t say a word.

When it was all said and done, I felt ambushed and ready to cry.

So that’s what I did.

I left the office, went home for my lunch break, and cried. I felt intimidated and manipulated, and like this was a threat that if I didn’t get in line, I’d lose my job.

I called a coworker (and friend). After I was calm enough to explain what happened, he told me that he’d seen this before. Others had tried to move past support, only to get knocked down by management on my side of the company. He also said that I was right, this was Tim’s way of telling me to get in line.

With that in mind, and a vacation just a few days away, I went back to the office to try to get an understanding of what happened. When I asked my supervisor about it, she said that Tim just wanted to have his say because it was his company and ultimately, I reported to him. My meeting with my Nadine did nothing to make me feel better, so I decided to write an email to Nick.

I wanted to know if what Nadine and Tim had been telling me was true — that the job I wanted wasn’t going to happen. I would be out on vacation for a few days so that would give him time to respond, and give me plenty of time to de-stress following my uncomfortable meeting with Tim and Nadine.

Nick never replied.

But when I got back from vacation, I saw Nick, my boss and her boss, Tim, and Geoff all holed up in Geoff’s office, talking. My stomach practically dropped to my knees; I was certain the conversation was about me.

Ultimately, nothing much came of it.

I had one last meeting with Tim, Nick, and Nadine and together, the three of them had agreed on my responsibilities. I nodded along because what else could I do? The new responsibilities came with no announcement to the company that I was taking on new roles, no change in job, no raise, and most importantly, no change in whom I reported to.

Though I’d been considering it for months, that meeting gave me the last push I needed to quit.

When I gave my two weeks notice, my supervisor wasn’t surprised. She told me not to tell anyone — that she wanted to wait to formally announce it — but said I could tell Nick.

When I went to tell him about it a few days later, he said he already knew. It had gone through the management grapevine over the weekend and gotten to him. He told me that he and Geoff were shocked — something I couldn’t believe given the email I’d sent him just a few weeks prior — but I let it go. He told me he was happy to act as a reference if I needed it.

I thanked him.

Then he dropped the bomb.

The position I’d been working toward would open up come the new year.

The position that ended up being created was a hybrid project manager/product manager role.

Although things didn’t end well, I don’t regret it. That experience got me the job I really wanted a few weeks following my resignation: product manager.

I spend a lot of time thinking about books, writing about life, and learning to code. If you’re interested in following my journey to become a programmer, you can follow me on Medium. If you’re a woman in tech who feels like an imposter: I can relate. Feel free to reach out to me, we can talk tech and help shed our imposter syndrome together.

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