Where have you people been?! Oh, right. I haven’t been around not because of a deficiency in coaching or desire, but more a consequence of conflict between what I should do, what is actually going on here at work, and what I feel capable of or interested in doing on my own. It’s given me writing paralysis.
I went to St Petersburg, Russia in July. It’s been a dream of mine for thirty years and it. was. divine! Because of this I
spent all my money missed a month of coaching. Returning to Saudi Arabia during Ramadan just encouraged more flaky behavior and avoidance of pushing through and doing something, but not without a few nagging reasons. One of them is the situation in my current job which I really felt I needed to resolve (you’ll see) before I could move on, then there is thinking about what comes after here since I’ve resigned, and also what I should be doing about this career change process.
After sending out two exploratory emails regarding my interest in Design Strategy, my coach suggested I follow them up within a week. I didn’t. It feels nagging and pushy to me and it’s taken me 2 months to start feeling like I’m ready to follow up. So this weekend I WILL make the resume video I’ve been pondering for ages, and simply apply to them for a job, just to see what response I get.
And then there’s work. My nightmare. I have found myself in the same position I was in with private practice, where I continued trying to FORCE it to work (financially), trying to FORCE Medicare to be ethical and pay me, trying to FORCE the system to be smooth so I and the people I worked with and loved could be happy. I’m doing the exact same thing now, because I am so psychologically not able to turn my back from something that SHOULD be working but won’t. (The answer, if you’re thinking “is force her only setting?” is No. Force is my last resort, as you’ll see.)
When we resign here, we are allowed an exit interview with our hospital head office. When I felt I had a clear and concrete message to send I called and asked for my meeting. What I did is simple. I took my resume and under the header for my current job I listed everything that should have been on it by now, after five years here. I ended up with a couple dozen bullets. I gave it to our General Directress and asked her to read it. When she was done she was visibly impressed with all my responsibilities and accomplishments. In hindsight I realize that this is because doing all of that and liking it is the norm in my culture but “why would you work so hard” in hers.
I thanked her for the compliment and then handed her another copy of the same document, with only 4 items highlighted and told her they were the 4 things out of all that list that I was actually allowed to do in the last 5 years. What were they? I was hired to be the supervisor of my section. I highlighted half that bullet, since I never actually was once I came here. I treated patients. I gave continuing education presentations. And I personally paid for and shipped 2 dozen text books here from the states so our department would have something resembling resources since most are not allowed internet. Basically I was allowed my job description, and what I was willing to pay for myself.
The look on her face. Priceless.
I told her when I came here I thought this was a “real job” and a good career move, but it’s not. I informed her that if she doesn’t hear the exact same complaint from all other resignees, it’s because we’re conditioned from when we start working here to believe we’ll be fired without our final pay if we’re too honest with her office or offend her. I told her whether that’s true or not, people are often afraid to tell her office the real reason they’re going and instead say something innane like “I have a new job”, and that I was going to tell her how it really is because she needs to hear it if she really wants staff to stop resigning in droves.
I explained that everything on my fake resume list is real, in that they had been brought up and were mostly my ideas, but that every one of them was summarily rejected at the lowest or middle levels of leadership. I told her that in my five years here I had accomplished virtually nothing, had nothing to show for my time, learned virtually nothing of value and could not leave here feeling any gratitude for my experience. I could have seen twice as many patients, or more, if allowed to modify the physical setup, but again was discouraged. And not because I didn’t try, I’ve been a broken record trying to effect change. And I’ve always been the “canary in the coalmine” type who see’s problems long before others accept them. In a “real job” I’d be appreciated as an asset. Unlike many westerners I did not come here to coast just “for the money”, something yet another westerner said to me just yesterday.
I told her I resented consistently pushing for better professional development and standards for employee engagement on a small scale within our department but simply being disregarded usually instant one, without anybody ever asking what my suggestions or input was. I pointed out that as a westerner and an assertive woman with tons of experience if I am unable to get anybody to listen or give me and other staff opportunities, then what happens to all the more junior or shy staff? I also expressed our departments disappointment in its marked decline over the last 18 months (not only my opinion, but based on the majority of our staff) because of the outside decision to replace our manager with an outsider instead of somebody within the department who was qualified and understood our needs.
I really thought she got it. I knew that her expectation was that I’d ask for more money or another benefit. People here are that predictable. So I told her the one thing that would make me stay (knowing it could get me fired immediately).
I told her that I am the most comprehensively qualified person in the entire department to Manage the department, and that I want the job I should have had by now. That I would not remain here subordinate to inexperienced, self serving and under-qualified (but well connected) men who are not capable of improving the lot of the staff. That I do not want more money, or a new villa, or to stop seeing patients…just the authority to implement the work and internal professional development, engagement and teambuilding I am most qualified to oversee, the work I should have been allowed to do by this point.
cue record scratch (and that was just my own brain protesting this unusual burst of confidence). And I wasn’t asking for more money? I could literally hear her brain shut down in confusion and try to reboot. What? Has she never heard a real proposal that didn’t involve some financial benefit to the employee? Sad.
I am not someone who can see injustice and not sound off. I am not someone who can see errors and not try to fix them. I am not someone who can be asked a question and not offer four different possible solutions. I cannot walk away from the under-represented people I work with, who I’ve grown to care for and worry about, without making whatever effort I can to help them.
I’ve been here long enough to know who here will help them, who doesn’t want to and who doesn’t know how. More importantly I am one of a bare score of people in the hospital who would make that assessment not from a self-serving or political standpoint.
I knew going in that I’d likely still be leaving here in October, because heaven forbid I insult anyone, but I had to try. I would NEVER have been put in a position where this was my last resort, in any other job, and believe me I would never have done this without being pushed to my limit. And not if I didn’t care about my coworkers because, frankly, I would love to leave here. Like yesterday. But walk away knowing how things will be here in the future while the progress of the past continues to be disregarded? That bugs me professionally. That the staff will continue to lack the attention and growth they deserve infuriates me.
Reading that to myself it sounds so arrogant, but if there’s anybody else pushing for this I have no idea who they are. I work in a department that varies from 60 to 100 people and I had no idea until a few months ago that four or five of our physiotherapists have Master’s degrees, instead of Bachelors. Apparently it’s not important enough for them to be recognized. Everything here is “need to know” and that is usually based on nationality or popularity.
“Need to know?” Ugh. I understand and value the customs of this region. I think it would be fantastic to marry the work-culture and customs here with more democratic and personal-growth-based philosophies from the west. To utilize the strengths of each and adapt their weaknesses. It would also be healthier for the workers no matter where they’re from, to know that what is second nature to them is still valued and isn’t being ignored, like now. It would make us more powerful as a department, but it won’t happen with nobody in leadership who ever challenges the status quo. It’s asinine but outside of having a leadership title here, few are willing to act on anything outside of their box and nobody acts until they have “permission.”
I’ve been wishing more and more that I didn’t care. That I could just chalk this awful place up to ignorance and mismanagement and ‘not my problem’ and walk away. I feel physically sick at the things I’ve had to do outside my habit and comfort zone just to be heard here. I desperately want a detox. I’m weary of being called “negative” because I don’t conform and because I am not afraid of the elephants in the room. I’m weary of being labelled as the opposite of who I know I am. I’m weary of being under the influence of a few people so shockingly dysfunctional that when when I do right – I’m “wrong”, when I help – I’m “interfering”, when I tell the truth – I’m “lying” when I suggest a solution – they roll their eyes, when they are toxic and use personal attacks – they tell me I make things “personal” because I dare to speak out. Why would I stay here?
My culture, whose self serving ways irk me just as much, would say there’s something wrong with me for caring. “Who cares about them, just walk away.” I care. The world doesn’t get better by only taking care of #1.
I know I will forget this place (but not the people) the minute my plane takes off, and good riddance, but I didn’t want to feel guilty that I didn’t at least take the last step and try to FORCE it to be better so I opened my big mouth and spoke the truth.
Why bother. I wish I wasn’t that way, because it makes me sad and depressed and worried. Then again, everything going on in the world right now is making me want to curl up in a ball in a cave and hide from
my dreams of becoming a vigilante all the crazy. Really all this tells me is that that’s who I am and the best thing for me is to find a home and career where I have none of these worries and no reason to feel guilt if I can’t make things better. Or better yet, to work with people who also care about making things work, making things better and appreciate that in me too.
That exit interview? I thought it went well, but what I persist in forgetting here in the Middle East is that courtesy is more important than honesty and people will smile, agree with you and try their best to make you happy, up until you walk away and then like amnesiacs, all that evaporates. (And don’t call it what it is – “lying” – because people lose their minds when you hold mirrors up in front of them) And what I insist on disregarding here is the overwhelming egos and insecurities of people who cannot handle any level of professional criticism (never admit they’re wrong) and will not ever lose their positions no matter how much they screw up, and no matter who else could do the job better.
After the evaporation of understanding and good will, then the lack of critical thinking skills rears it’s head, any personal or cultural contempt (deserved or not) for you surfaces, and out comes the utter disregard for you as a (usually far more experienced and qualified) professional. Our leaders simply forge ahead and do what their culture thinks is best, and damn the consequences. What this adds up to is promoting the titles, wishes and egos of the most “senior” (highest influence) local males, and deliberate and systematic undercutting of any professional stability more qualified leaders might have eked out in spite of all if it, over the years. Harsh? No. Believe me, I’m being vague and diplomatic… I could bring you an entire horror story anthology of what’s gone on here.
The response I received from my interview after waiting almost 4 weeks was “please don’t resign” and being referred BACK to my manager so he could “find a position that would make me happy.” Ugh. In one ear, out the other. There is no other position. What the hell? Why not just pat my head, throw me a bone and remind me that my job is to just sit here silently and look pretty?
So, yeah, I’m leaving in October.
This sounds like a very intolerant indictment of an entire culture, and I do feel badly about that. I feel badly because it will make others angry with me despite being an accurate assessment, and because working this way – based on gender, influence and who “gets” to dominate others – is acceptable and normal in this culture. Look at Egypt. After working here for five years you could never convince me that 85% of that mess is not secondary to Morsi, Brotherhood, Sissi and Mubarak having NO self-awareness, no control of their egos, no interest in what anybody else really wants and always the reflexive knee jerk reactions to criticism. It’s not wrong in this culture, to marginalize the qualified and promote the ego-maniacal.
And therefore I am wrong in many ways to struggle against it, while I’m here.
In the west these sorts of behaviors do happen, but are widely frowned upon. Here if you frown on the unfairness of it, you’re being “rude” and many are baffled by why you would be so.
Here many new huge businesses will, or have in the past, hired westerners to get things up and running. Partially because we have experience, but mostly because we’re experienced by leaps and bounds beyond other here. At 23 years old I had 4x the work experience of each of the most senior males in charge now. After a time every business here is expected to transition the vast majority of the workers to locals. The labor law even says we are responsible for hiring locals and mentoring them to work like we do. And this is a good thing. But do we (and by “we” I mean those who give themselves the positions of authority to do so)? No.
The time always comes when your place of work reaches that point in it’s evolution, the staffing tipping point that this one has, that awkward growing-out-a-haircut phase where there’s just nothing you can do to stop the entropy, all you can do is grit your teeth and ride it out until you’re gone and don’t have to see the undoing of the years of work that went in to making things perfect. Or see the frustrations of the more highly functioning local staff when they realize they’ll be the ones carrying all the slack in the future. And you wait to be bullied out, because even the Middle Eastern staff have told me you can work for a company for 15 years here but when they decide to ditch you they often won’t even bother to do so with a thank you. It’s never a personal rejection, it’s just tolerated professional behavior. If you remark on it, you’re being “rude.”
Most leadership positions here have been transitioned to Arab men and women, and from our perspective as professional most are not qualified for the work, which means all the sweat and hard work of the last decade is disintegrating and being called “better.” When I say not qualified I’m not saying they don’t have degrees and smarts. I’m remarking on the fact that most have never had a job before, have never had to work or take direction before, and have never considered much of any task to be urgent before or policies to be more than an ignorable inconvenience. The term “work ethic” isn’t widely valued, not from a lack of good intentions, but because being *serious* about work and choosing to be personally accountable for ones actions are such foreign concepts. This is understandable, of course, with people raised from birth to believe everything that happens is God’s will, so there’s no point trying to influence the outcome by doing things like…wearing seatbelts or pursuing punitive action against doctors who consistently cause harm to patients without being corrected or reprimanded. That would be “mean”…
So since it’s so easy to get major leadership positions in this culture without qualifications, there’s a widespread and frustrating laissez faire “shrug-laugh-I CAN ORDER YOU ABOUT-whatever-whenever” attitude that is then inflicted on those of us unfortunate enough to be in subordinate positions.
So, yeah. October. 😉
I waited to write this, because I wanted to know the final outcome of my interview. Part of me was still anticipating a miracle. (You so funny, Andrea) (No, she’s clearly insane, says the other pair of parenthesis) Now I don’t care, because they’ve made it clear legitimate concerns won’t be addressed. I also have buckets of suggestions and solutions, plans for an ideal future…not just complaints. But nobody wants to hear them. The day I will be asked for them will be the day before I leave. Because they would never have been allowed to be implemented by me or credited to me anyway, and it’s just easier here to steal your ideas, push you out, then try to implement them later. I was going to share all of this here anyway eventually. I’m writing it today because I’m sick of telling the story. I’m over hearing myself harp on it because, as you can imagine, I’ve discussed all of this a thousand times with a thousand sounding boards. That’s how we get when we’re really passionate about an issue right? Or is it just me?
My intention is for this to be the last time I bother. Since it’s out and posted, I’m done with it and don’t have to say it or even think it again. Thank God.
3527 words. I should stop now.
**A shit-load of Disclaimers: Yes, I know that using all or nothing words is supposedly indicative of a personality disorder but to be honest since when is it wrong to know or believe something should or shouldn’t, always or never is how it is? And who doesn’t know that talking like that isn’t a gross generalization used for effect? Also I’m very conscious of using “I” too much because apparently it sounds arrogant, but I’m writing in the first person on my own blog so…. And finally, please don’t assume by my comments that I’m anti-anybody. (Okay, I’ll confess I am rabidly anti-willful-stupidity) The people I’ve met here, from every country, are uniformly lovely and kind no matter what horrid people who are anti-muslim/Arab like to think. It’s just that at work many who have stumbled into positions of power just don’t know any better (None of this is merely my opinion, ask virtually anybody who has worked here). To describe something that is what it is isn’t an insult, especially since if what it is is the accepted norm then nobody should have a reason to be insulted because the norm is set by choice. If you’re insulted and don’t believe how it is, is how it is…you’re delusional and need to be medicated. My only intention was to try to illustrate the professional difference between cultures work-cultures, never to insult an entire culture. Except the People of Walmart. Them, I’m comfortable insulting en masse.