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Friday, February 04, 2005

Thoughts about being Jacob

It’s been a while since I wrote anything about my work. It has not been any better than when I wrote about it before. In fact, it has been worse. I have been reticent to write anything about my situation because of fear of repercussions like others have experienced (call me chicken but I do have a family to whom I owe responsibility), but it is getting to me somewhat, and I need to have a place to share some of my thoughts.

Over the time I have worked for her, my boss has managed to break not one but several promises to me and has changed my salary package three times, each time making it more difficult for me to earn what I want (and frankly, what I deserve). As a sales account manager, I depend on a commission arrangement for most of my earnings. I don’t really have a problem with that (being paid for performance), because I thrive at challenges and I have been in sales for a good part of my life, including a stint at running my own business.

Pay is not the only issue I have over here. My boss often reminds us because she is the “Founder, CEO and President” of the company, she can do whatever she likes, and she can give commands and expect our unquestioning obedience. A case in point: we sell software and consulting services to corporate customers. Recently, a customer asked me to provide a “ball-park” estimate for some computer equipment so that she can take those figures to talk to her internal IT department. My boss instructed me to go to and price out the equipment and then bump the price by 10%. I opined (in an email) that we should probably just price the hardware and then send the customer to Dell to purchase it directly if they wanted, since they are in the business of selling hardware not us. She came back with a terse reply, which reads in part: “I wasn’t asking you. You will add 10% and send it to the customer.” So, you see, she doesn't appreciate and want feedback from her employees. We are just supposed to do as we are told. As I shared with a colleague the other day, the worse part of being treated like a monkey is that eventually you behave like one.

I often arrive at work between 8:15 a.m. and 8:20 a.m. in the morning even though the office starts at 8:00. I leave the office most evenings at 5:30 to 6:00. However, there are evenings when I just have to leave at 5:00 p.m. She has written me up in my appraisal that I need to (a) call my supervisor (her) when I am running late (b) work an “honest eight hours” based on my arrival time and (c) be more consistent with my arrival time. Recently I have received an email asking if I wish to change my working hours from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. It doesn’t matter if I stay till 6 sometimes, or work during weekends, or on the odd occasion when I work late into the night (morning) because according to her, I must give "an honest 8 hours of work."

Partly in response to that email, a couple days ago, I sent an email to request for 2 hours off today for personal reasons, indicating to her that I had stayed till between 5:30 and 6:00 each day the past two weeks. Her reply is "OK, but! If you are coming in at 8:20+ leaving at 5:20+ doesn't mean you are putting in any extra time at all! After all, as an exempt employee you are supposed to work a minimum of 8 hours not a maximum." When I pointed out to her that I come in BEFORE 8:20 and leave AFTER 5:30, she asked, "Why are you arguing with me! After all, you haven't made quota yet, and if our roles were reversed, you would feel the same as me." I didn't reply that email because she demonstrated her inablity or refusal to listen or read my emails anyway, but if I had replied, I would have said this, "If our roles were differentreversed, you will be a much happier person than you are now." I have managed staff and I know my staff have regularly come to me and say that they appreciate my management style, and that they appreciate me, so I think that would have been a fair statement.

I can go on citing examples and anecdotes how crazy things are around here, but I think you can imagine it yourself by now. A few nights ago, my wife reminded me of the story of Jacob and Laban. It is an interesting story and parts of it resonate with me. Have a
read of what it says:
"I have been with you for twenty years now. Your sheep and goats have not miscarried, nor have I eaten rams from your flocks. I did not bring you animals torn by wild beasts; I bore the loss myself. And you demanded payment from me for whatever was stolen by day or night. This was my situation: The heat consumed me in the daytime and the cold at night, and sleep fled from my eyes. It was like this for the twenty years I was in your household. I worked for you fourteen years for your two daughters and six years for your flocks, and you changed my wages ten times. If the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac, had not been with me, you would surely have sent me away empty-handed. But God has seen my hardship and the toil of my hands, and last night he rebuked you."
I remember when we first began this part of our life journey that we felt God unequivocably gave us a promise in Genesis 50:20:
"You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives"
Our subsequent experiences confirmed to us that God has been leading us and most of all, that He cares and looks after us in our adversities. We have time and again experienced His gracious and merciful intervention in our lives so even though things have been quite stressful and life uncertain, we know that God has been there all along walking with us. Yet, sometimes, when I have to face another situation or issue at work, I just have to ask, "Are you with me, God?"

Perhaps that's the wrong question. The story of Jacob reminds me of other Scriptures which tells me that God has already given me all the resources to do well no matter what circumstance I find myself. Even in the hardest of conditions, God has promised to be with me. Jacob had to work 20 years! 14 years in order to get the wife of his dreams and then another 6 more for his livestock. I supposed 2-3 years for me doesn't even compare. What I need to focus on is to allow God's blessings to flow through me. As my wife says, "You will prosper and the company will prosper because God is with you!"

Usually I cringe when I hear such messages, especially if it is from the pulpit. It is dangerously close to the "success gospel" that I think is so rampant in this "me-centered" culture that we live in. Yet, when my wife said that to me, I realized that the most important thing about "prosperity" and the Old Testament notion of "doing well" is not just about material success.

I believe in the Old Testament "prosperity" is a sign of having peace with God, self and neighbors. If that is what is meant by prosperity, I am going to make myself a channel of blessing, and bring prosperity not only to myself, but also to my colleagues at work, and especially to my boss.

In spite of all the belittling and soul-damaging ways that my boss dishes out, I need to rise above and demonstrate the peace of God that is already within me because He has given me the Holy Spirit, and allow God to so infuze me that I can allow Him to turn every upset, every hurt and every harm into a blessing, not just for me but also for everyone around me. I pray that I will have the strength, courage and wisdom so to do and be Jacob in this place.