I’m Not Here To Make Friends

I spent my 2 hour commute home yesterday obsessing over an email I had sent to a co-worker right before I left the office. It had been a hectic day, and I was a little stressed and noticed something had been sent to a customer that shouldn’t have been, so I shot out an email asking about it and then packed my shit and hit the road. And then commenced a rather unhealthy obsession over whether or not I had come across as a total bitch.

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Which, in reflection 24 hours later, is completely ridiculous because A) I had done nothing wrong in the situation in question with the customer and B) The email itself wasn’t rude. Concise? Sure. To the point? Yes. A little cold? Maybe. But since when is that grounds to lose one’s shit for an entire evening??

Part of me wants to say it’s the struggle of being an assertive, vocal woman in sales who is constantly trying to find the balance between having a voice and wanting to be liked, but that would an unfair, completely oversimplified generalization. Plus in this case, I don’t think it had anything to do with being a woman, but more to do with the fact that I’ve been struggling with anxiety pretty heavily recently, and this was just something I happened to fixate on.

And in case you’re all wondering, the issue was resolved this morning – there was no fall-out. The entire office didn’t start whispering about me, and I wasn’t forced to bear a scarlet “B” to repent for my crimes.

But, it did get me thinking. Well, more accurately it got me talking, and I forced Gil to entertain the fact that people might think I’m a complete monster at work and hate me with the fire of a thousand burning suns. OK, he didn’t really entertain that idea, but he did challenge me to consider what kind of vibe I might be putting out there, and to make changes if that’s something that is important to me.

On a side note, can I just say, it’s INFURIATING sometimes to have a partner who is so calm and rational and logical and exists so solidly in reality. I live on emotions and rainbows and panic attacks and FEELINGS. So. Many. Feelings.

Regardless, his rational response to my wildly irrational meltdown got me thinking about how people perceive me at work, and whether it’s something that really matters to me.

On some level, of course it matters. It matters to all of us who have chosen to enter the professional workforce. We enter into an unspoken agreement to be generally palatable to the rest of the people we interact with and to shower on a fairly regular basis. Beyond that, there is really no obligation to be liked or make friends with those you work with, although countless studies will tell you that a big part of job satisfaction has to do with having friendships at work.

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And I work at a tech company in the Silicon Valley – a place where culture reigns supreme. There’s been countless resources and energy directed towards creating a workplace where people are encouraged to be very social, from lawn game Olympics to regular happy hours and karaoke nights, to company trips.

I think that’s fantastic, and I feel incredibly lucky to work for a company like that. I have realized however, that I’m a bit of an odd man out, as my general feeling when I go to work is that I’m there to make money, not friends.

Some of it has to do with the fact that I work in sales, and I make a good chunk of my salary on commission – which is to say, if I don’t close deals, I don’t get paid. So for me, work has always been more of a hustle, and less focused on the social aspect of it. Sales is not exactly a team sport.

And sales can be brutal, man. I’ve worked in other organizations where they purposely pitted sales people against each other, and we were encouraged to screw each other over. I’ve had managers spread lies to my coworkers about things I never said. Somewhere along the way in my sales career, I was taught that relationships at work were a liability. So I tend to be a bit more reserved and cautious about forming those friendships now.

But it’s also about the fact that I’m in a different place in my life than most of my coworkers (I feel so old just typing that). I’m in my early thirties now, and many of my coworkers are just a year or two out of college. My current company has created this kind of fabulous extension of the same kind of social interactions from college that allow people to blur the lines of their social and professional lives until they don’t really exist anymore. They WANT to go to the bars with the people they spend so much time with,  to cut loose and talk about things they can’t share in the confines of the office. They WANT to catch up on Monday mornings about all the crazy shenanigans they got into over the weekend. Hell, they want to live with each other and commute to work together. I get it. I think when I was in my early twenties I would have wanted all that too.

But here’s the thing. I don’t want that now. I want to come home and take my pants off. I want to come home after work and hang out with my boyfriend. I want to have dinner with my friends and meet their their new baby. I want to come home and ice my ankle because I am an old busted down lady now who has permanent arthritis due to an injury.

Is there anything wrong with this? Nope, not at all. Is it actually pretty common in most professional situations? Probably. Am I acutely aware of how I am perceived, in such a culture-focused Silicon Valley tech company? You betcha. I struggle with it.

And I don’t think I’m alone. Especially here in the Valley, your assimilation into the culture is a huge part of your success at work and something you are formally evaluated on in many cases.

And last night, Gil very logically, objectively, and INFURIATINGLY, forced me to look at things a little closer and strive to find a better balance. The last thing I want is to be like the cliche girl on “The Biggest Bachelorette Survivor Housewives of Whatever” defiantly shouting at the camera, “I didn’t come here to make friends, bitches!!”

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That One Time A VP Threw Up In My Hand

She threw up in my hand. SHE THREW UP IN MY HAND. I had to look down again to make sure… was this real life? Yup, that was vomit, in my hand. I wasn’t babysitting one of my friends’ new babies (I don’t think I’ll ever be on the top of the list for that favor) or helping out a friend with food poisoning – I was in the hotel room of a forty-something senior vice president of a large national advertising firm, putting her to bed after she consumed her body weight in red wine.

OK, let me back up. This was a few years ago, but it’s one of those moments in your life you just don’t forget – no matter how hard you try, you can’t forget it. And honestly, the story is great party fodder so I don’t know that I’d really want to forget it anyway.

But to put this story in context, you need to know a few things first. One, I work in tech sales. I have for most of my adult career. Two, I am a pretty good go-to person in high stress situations. Typically I can get things done and have been told I can be a bulldozer, which I choose to take as a compliment, whether it was meant that way or not. And three (and most importantly), alcohol and sales go together like peanut butter and jelly.  If peanut butter could embarrass you in front of your co-workers and make you vomit on your shoes without noticing.

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And I think there is a lot of boozing that happens in the human resources industry in particular. Maybe it’s because they have to put up with so much shit during the day that they just need something to take the edge off – kind of like how I imagine most moms must just have a constant supply of wine on hand. In either case, you can’t really blame them. Anyway, I’ve worked for a few different companies that sold into HR, and the conferences were crazier that most of the frat parties I attended in college. You have to know what you’re getting into. You have to be prepared.

In my first tech sales job in the Bay Area, I was not. I wasn’t prepared guys. I worked in the coffee and tea industry in my early twenties, selling high end teapots and mugs. There were six of us. We had no money. We couldn’t even afford Diet Coke, let alone alcohol. We never hosted any customer events. There was no “culture” to speak of. It was a different world.

But in my first real sales job in the Silicon Valley, I learned very quickly part of the deal was socializing with the entire sales organization and knocking back a few drinks with them. Team events, kickoff meetings, happy hours, customer dinners. There was always something. But the most debauchery I ever witnessed was at the HR industry conferences, which we would attend with one primary goal: schmoozing our customers.  It was at just such a conference where our story really begins my friends.

I was in Las Vegas with a group of co-workers for a large HR conference. Most of the attendees at the conference were married with kids, and this was an event they looked forward to all year. Not only were they in Vegas without their kids or spouses, but they were there on their company’s dime, usually in a hotel full of other people in exactly the same situation. It’s basically freshman year of college in the dorm, where kids are finally away from their parents for the first time and have easy access to booze and each other – it’s a shit show.

One of the nights we were there, we hosted a VERY fancy cocktail hour and dinner for some of our larger customers and partners. We had a private room in a 5 star restaurant and an open bar. It was a formal dinner, and actually the first time in my 25 years I’d been to a place with a choreographed wait staff – one waiter for every person at the table, all working in unison to create a beautiful display, like that scene from Beauty and the Beast where all the plates come to life. I didn’t even know that was a thing. It was fancy as fuck and a little intimidating. I was doing my best to sound sophisticated while talking shop with our customers but little did I know, sophistication was not the theme that night.

One of our partners, a senior vice president of a national advertising agency, had already clearly had a few before we all gathered at the restaurant. And before we go any further in this little adventure, keep in mind some of the customers at dinner were her customers too.

I watched her go through multiple glasses of red wine over appetizers. I didn’t think too much of it though – like I said, there is always quite a bit of booze flowing at these things. She was flirting with the VP of a major hospital to her right, who was clearly uninterested in anything but business with this woman. Not only were they both married, but the hospital was a customer of this advertising agency. Frankly, I was kind of enjoying the show and only marginally trying to run interference – he was our customer too so I didn’t want him to be uncomfortable.

I turned to talk to my own VP across the table when out of my periphery, I saw her lean over to him and in slow motion, like a car crash with smeared lipstick, she shoved her tongue into his ear. At the dinner table. In front of everyone. Holy shit. He must have had some experience with hammered 45 year old women, because he handled it like a champ. He disentangled her and immediately engaged the rest of the table in conversation to distract her. She was a persistent little beaver though, and eventually he excused himself to the other end of the table. Dinner hadn’t even been served yet.

When it was, she immediately spilled red wine all over her $60 steak and her white pants and got into a tug of war with the waiter trying to clear it. “I can eat it out of the wine!!” she protested. I really didn’t know whether to laugh or leap up to try and help her poor waiter.

This VP wasn’t actually my customer and I had no prior relationship with her, but luckily our advertising rep who did was at the dinner as well and she finally took Drunky McTongue to the bathroom to compose herself and clean up. The rest of us politely pretended it hadn’t happened and continued on with dinner. Until I felt a frantic tapping on my shoulder and my co-worker desperately whispering that she needed my assistance in the bathroom. Fuck.

Once I got into the bathroom I saw that she had locked herself in a stall and was refusing to come out. I could see through the crack that she was practically passed out. I immediately started trying to put together a game plan. I couldn’t crawl under the stall door because A) I’m not a small girl and B) Those fancy 5 star bathroom doors went all the way to the ground. The only way in was up. I took off my heels and stood on the toilet in the next stall so I could see her and thought, You have got to be kidding me… I am going to have to scale this wall in a cocktail dress. They do not pay me enough for this shit. 

Suddenly I had an idea though – I told her McDreamy from the hospital was still at dinner and was waiting to go get a drink with her. BAM! Door unlocked. I’m a genius. I led her out to a table in the back room and pulled my own VP into the mix. We had to figure out how to get her out – we could NOT take her through the main part of the restaurant. So while he went to talk to the kitchen staff about dragging her out the back way, I tried to get her to drink some water and eat some bread. She was face down on the linen table cloth.

When I finally got her to look at me, she stared at me blankly and then slurred, “You drugged me!” Awesome. I should have just left her there. But I found her purse, and dug through for her room key. She was staying a hotel down the strip. Myself, my VP and my coworker essentially carried her out and caught a cab to her hotel. Once we got there, my VP looked at me and said he didn’t think it was a good idea for him to be in her hotel room. Based on her behavior at dinner and her apparent propensity for making wild accusations, I agreed. But that just left me and my coworker who, frankly, was completely overwhelmed with the situation.

We got her to her room and I sat her on the bed and forced her to drink some water. Once I could establish she wasn’t going to hurt herself or try to go find the bar, I planned to put her to bed in her clothes and get the hell out of there. Her eyes started to clear up a bit and she told us she was feeling better. I grabbed the trash can from the bathroom just for good measure. As I walked up with the trash can and gestured to my coworker for something, the senior VP of a national advertising agency chose that moment to throw up. In. My. Hand.

I never got an apology from her, and somehow, she didn’t lose her job. But a couple weeks later, I did get a gift and a note thanking me for helping her when she had a “bad reaction to something at dinner.”

It was a pink Las Vegas shot glass with the $3.99 price tag still attached.