A Short Story on "The Career Mystery"

You often find that to motivate people to take action, you need to tell a short and engaging story. Transforming experiences and knowledge into a story forces you to be succinct. It’s not a dissertation that explores every possible interpretation of the same facts and every insignificant detail to ensure factual accuracy. You’ll need to oversimplify reality and yet convey the same meaning to an audience. What I mean by “oversimplify reality” is that you’ll need to skip, re-order and dramatize events into a new and shorter version of chronological events.

In addition, a story does not “analyze” for the audience. That would be a documentary. Instead of explaining why something happened, you design your story with enough hints so that the audience can work this out themselves.

Lastly, a story provides an outlet to share your experiences without treading on sensitive territory, e.g. if you’re working on a top-secret project, you can turn it into a fictional story without breaching non-disclosure agreements.

Here’s my attempt at a short story in first person. The plot is not intended as an depiction of real-life events, i.e. it’s entirely fictional. However, it is influenced by my own experiences.

The Story Begins…

It was in June 2014, that marked a turning point in my career. I’ve stayed with Veriance Networks Limited (Veriance) since 2008 as a Finance Analyst. I worked under a new boss every 1-2 years and… I had to train up my last 3 bosses. I was so busy I’ve never had a holiday.

I’m not sure what happened with the last 3 bosses who were hired. They were hired by Darcy – the boss of my boss. Perhaps there was a shortage of suitable candidates and Darcy was desperate to hire someone. The third boss I had to train up, was named Fred.

Fred went on holidays for a month. It turned out to be the busiest month and he was not around. I was working evenings and weekends. I discovered that Fred was struggling with simple Excel formulas and doing things very manually. I thought, “Why didn’t he ask me for help? He asked me to help with everything else that was less-than-glamorous.” The spreadsheet models were prone to errors, and yet they were used to advise on billion dollar financing transactions. I had to correct a number of errors, prevent a crisis, and redesigned some of the models so they were less error-prone and less time-consuming to update.

Fred returned the next month. I explained all the changes I had to make while he was away, and how it would save both of us time and cover all the bases going forward. He tried feigning a smile on his face. He didn’t seem to care that I had wrestled a couple of issues and averted a crisis while he was on holiday.

The next day, Fred sat down with me in private, and said – “I’ve resigned from my role as Finance Manager, and moving to a higher-paid position within Veriance. I’ve already informed Darcy of my decision.” I was hiding my frustration. We were in the middle of some big projects which were excellent learning opportunities. Now, we may need to delay some projects while Darcy hires another inexperienced candidate to be my manager. I was determined to prevent a similar situation.

I asked, “do you think I should apply for your job now that it’s available?” Fred replied, with a frown on his face, “No. You won’t like doing it. The job is less interesting than the one you’re doing now. You’ll need to work longer hours than you are now.” I thought to myself, “The job can be interesting if I make it so. I’ll get paid more, and I’ll have more say in how something is done so I don’t work long hours.” I ignored his barrage of discouraging advice, and I secretly applied for his job anyway.

After a week, I saw Fred and Darcy in a meeting room interviewing external candidates. Then it was my turn for an interview. I was the lucky last candidate. They asked me the most difficult and unexpected questions.

Eventually, Darcy broke me the news – “you’re the most qualified out of all the candidates, but… didn’t have the right personality so I’ve hired an external candidate”. I was shocked and angry. I wanted to say “f*** this I quit”, but I kept my silence, thinking to myself – “6 years to finally get a chance to be promoted, and… I missed it because of Darcy’s opinion held back until the last moment”. I just knew I had no future if I continued working in Veriance’s Finance Team.

The next day, something unprecedented happened. The universe began conspiring in my favour. A number of job vacancies became available in other parts of Veriance, so I applied for those jobs. The CFO, who was Darcy’s boss, even spoke highly of me to my prospective bosses. I had colleagues rooting for me, insisting that I deserved a promotion. Soon after, I was hired into a manager role under a different boss, John. I felt a great sense of relief. I was now “making my way out of the labyrinth”.

A year passed, and I asked John to give me feedback to help me become more effective. He said, “one area could be to think about how you can replace yourself. If you own a complicated process, your manager will resist you moving as they become overly dependent on you and will try to limit your growth. Unlike your previous boss, I don’t give you so much work non-stop that you never find the time to document and simplify your processes”. If only I knew this a couple of years ago, I wouldn’t have been puzzled for so long. I didn’t expect someone from the “outside” to be capable of discerning what happened. If he secretly knew all along, then what did other people know?

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