Sunday, May 01, 2005

Change Of Perspective

Change Of Perspective

I used to get angry with my father when he told me that with time, I’d see things differently. His words were a threat to what I considered to be my maturity implying that I was too young to understand the things I already had an opinion about… and yet, the older I grow, the more I agree with him. It isn’t that comprehension isn’t attainable at a certain age; it just means that with time, you tend to understand differently.

At my interview for which would result in working for the company that I currently work for, I recall walking into the room with very low expectations. My language skills weren’t up to the required standard and I knew that I simply didn’t fit in with all the other uniformed people that represented the job I was required to do. So why did I go? Well… why not?! I suppose it couldn’t hurt to see where the end of the road took me.
The two people that interviewed me consisted of the store manager and the department manager, better known today as my boss considering there is no one above him on the island where I work. They dissected me piece by piece, assessing my answers to see whether or not I was capable of answering to the job’s needs.
I knew that my Portuguese would be an obstacle as was my age and work experience so I did my best to answer their questions with sincerity as my only weapon. I wasn’t sure that I’d convinced the store manager who didn’t comment or say much and I was quite annoyed with the gentlemen with hairy fingers who simply could not stop talking. The reason he’d annoyed me is that he asked me repeatedly If I was sure that I’d be able to handle Madeira, as if I’d only last a month or two before packing my bags and running back home.
Already convinced that I wouldn’t be getting the position, I put aside all good sense, looked him straight in the eye and boldly told him the following:
“I don’t expect you to believe me when I tell you that I’m here to stay, after all you don’t know me but consider this: I packed my bags and left the people and friends I love the most because I wanted to make something of myself. Where I come from that’s called courage and there’s no way I’m going back with my tail in between my legs, I came to stay and if I don’t make it in your company then I’ll make it somewhere else but I will succeed.”
Dead On Delivery?.. They told me later on that those words got me my job.

My boss and I have had our differences. He concentrates on the numbers and I concentrate on the human factor. However we both want the same result: satisfied clients. In some strange way, we even manage to complement each other. I’ve had days of great frustration but they are nothing compared to the days of great admiration and respect that I’ve also felt for him. My high regard began in the sense of gratitude and admiration for a man who was intelligent enough to take a risk on a girl that barely spoke the language for a job where speech was crucial to more than 80% of its requirement. I did my best to learn the language and dominate the knowledge of my company’s system and services to make sure that even if my six month contract wasn’t renewed at least I would have paid this man’s faith in me with the effort of trying.
Neither of us was disappointed, and when renewal came to play, I was rewarded with the position I find myself in today.

Stubborn and hard headed, he seems to win by the tactic of exhaustion. No matter how carefully you organise your speech, he’ll talk around you until he has his way implemented in your mind. Without having to raise his voice very loudly, he manages to talk you into submission. It never ceases to amaze me how cleverly he manipulates you into dancing his steps. If he weren’t my boss and this wasn’t his chosen profession, there isn’t a doubt in my mind that he would succeed as either a lawyer or a politician.
However, what he lacks in human management, he makes up for each time he fights for our department’s best interests: most times, even without our knowledge.

I got an e-mail from a good friend in Lisbon letting me know about a vacancy in the marketing department. Without much thought and mostly to honour her efforts, I sent in my Curriculum Vitae and thought no more about the subject. The requirements involved courses that I did not possess and I have long since conformed myself to the simpler life that I’d been living. But then I received that call… and suddenly studying in Portugal’s capital is once again an option in my life. Falling on a day on which I knew I’d be in Lisbon for training purposes, the interview was scheduled.

Human Resources guaranteed secrecy however there is always that risk that my boss should hear it from some idiot who could remark “So I hear one of you girls want to run to our side”. I didn’t want him to hear or understand it that way. I hadn’t expected to get called for an interview involving a position that I have little qualifications for and I wasn’t about to risk eluding myself by putting any enthusiasm into it. In fact, my expectations lie with in: “Thanks for coming, don’t call us, we’ll call you”
Deciding that it was best not to alarm my colleagues with the slim possibility of my permanent absence the only doubt in my mind was whether or not to tell my boss.

It’s usually a bad idea to tell people of a decision that you haven’t made yet. You never know how their reaction will affect the results. By telling my boss of my interview, I could risk a bad reaction resulting in a negative influence or to put it plain and simple: He could make my life a living hell! None of the above reasons are strong enough to make up my mind to tell him, except for the fact that I didn’t want to repay a man’s faith with treachery and I felt that not telling him would be as good as stabbing him in the back.
He has always been the prime supporter of those who wish to study and I knew that once I explained my reasons for wanting the change, he would understand. However, my fear lied in the fact that he might feel betrayed that I’d send in my Curriculum without asking for his help first… most of all, I didn’t want to hurt him with my actions that will most probably lead to no advancement than the interview itself. However, I decided that it was better that he heard it from me than from anybody else and so after lunch, I took in some papers from him to sign and waited for the right moment to tell him.
Time can go by so slowly and simultaneously fast at a moment when you have something difficult to say. Your chest is pounding because it seems like you never get to that moment and at the same time your palms are sweaty because you dread the moment itself. When all was signed and stamped, I closed my eyes and summoned my courage and my revised speech.
My boss is nurturing his sixth sense or I’m transparent for it seemed he knew since the moment he walked into the office that I would hold surprising news. I became even more nervous when he asked me if I was going to ask for a raise or if I was leaving the company. Caught completely off guard I first answered no and then yes and then I was just plain confused as I realised that I had just gotten off to a really bad start in our conversation. Deciding to just get it off my chest before I forgot why I was even there, I explained my motives and told him what I’d done and the interview that awaited me. Taking a deep breath after I’d finished, I searched for a reaction on his face. His first reaction almost provoked a heart attack. Picking up the phone he told me he was going to give the marketing director a piece of his mind and before I could control myself I grabbed the phone from him realising that my fears had come to life.

The deep laugh from his throat told me that my boss still held a sense of humour and I was surprised… if not extremely relieved… to find that not only was my boss supportive but he wanted to put in a good word for me. In fact, if a transfer is what I was looking for, he was more than happy to speak to the chief director of our whole department into arranging me a place within my line of work. I stared at my boss in disbelief. He doesn’t understand our human needs within the office, but tell him that the objective is studying and evolution and he might just bend over backwards to help you. In his office I once again got a clear glimpse of the man before me who speaks little or nothing about his personal life. Studying was the biggest obstacle in his life and I realised that he valued it so that he feels each human being should have access to it. I told my boss that I’d recently discovered that the course I wish to pursue is now available on this island and that it might be possible for me to stay and study. His response to me was overwhelming and the only reason the tears didn’t fall were out of shame:
“As a boss I’ll be more than sorry to see you go, but I’ll give you the advice that I plan on giving my son one day: even if you can stay here and study, I advise you to go. See the world, experience it and always follow the opportunity. One day, if you wish to return than do it but allow yourself the opportunity to expand your mind”

I once saw the man in front of me as a man of great intelligence… with time, I realised that he wasn’t as clever as I thought him to be. Lacking in the human touch, I realised that he possessed vision of the bigger picture but lacked in the finer details, the ones that create the very picture he seeks. Within further time, I saw less of the capable boss and more of the flawed human being. Today I see him differently once more. I see the same man at my interview, the same man that hired me, promoted me, put me through tears and helped make the person that I am today. Should nothing come from this interview, I will be grateful for the admiration and respect I recovered for the man I call my boss.

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