I’m getting my first performance review at work. This is the first time I’ve gone through a review in over ten years, and I’m feeling about it pretty much like anyone would.
I took this job because I wanted something to do during the pandemic and I stopped being able to work on my book when my husband started working from home. I was quite certain we would still be fighting this thing through the end of the year, even back in April 2020. It is disappointing to be proved right about that, but what do you do.
I was right, this new job has given me plenty to do. I’m so busy all day that I rarely give the pandemic much of a thought at all, unless we’ve gotten an email update about the “return to work” plan. I’ve made friends, and sometimes we chat and crack jokes and laugh. All of this is a huge improvement over where I was emotionally in March, sitting glumly on the couch and staring into the middle distance.
It is weird, though, that the review process is getting under my skin so much.
There’s the part of me that is cheerfully ready to work away the next couple of years while the world is turned upside down, no problem. This part of me is having a good time hanging out (and of course earning money) while the clock runs down, leaving me only a couple of hours at the end of each day to fret about COVID-19 statistics.
Then there’s the part of me that likes puzzles, that enjoys solving problems or noticing things that maybe someone else didn’t. That’s the part of me that likes work for its own sake. Doing something that needs to be done, maybe even doing it more quickly or putting a nice little spin on it.
Then there’s the part of me that wants to hide quivering in the closet rather than face my review.
What is going on there?
It’s not that we need the money; we were already living on half our income. The premise has been that I could earn significantly more if I ever get a book deal. (Or, especially, sell a screenplay). In that sense, if I left, it would not impact our lifestyle materially. Same tiny apartment, same car-free household.
It’s not that I have any particular innate desire to do what I’m doing forever. It’s the industry that I like, not necessarily my role within it, although it’s fine and I have no complaints. I appreciate the culture and the mission and I like working with all these brilliant, courteous people. I like helping out in the way that I can, but it’s not like any of my specific tasks are wildly fascinating in their own right. I imagine that if I left, it would be the place and the people I would miss, not the daily details of my role.
The only thing that’s hanging on my performance review, then, is my pride.
What I’ve done is to make myself vulnerable to criticism in a way that I wasn’t when I worked for myself. I took on the odd client, picked up the occasional freelance gig, and it made sense that these arrangements came and went on a temporary basis.
My relationship with external feedback doesn’t always make any sense, and I’m working on that.
I remember how terrible I felt, how drained and sad, after I won my election as division director. Objectively I had done well. In point of fact, I had won my position by a large margin. I tried to talk myself into something else; maybe I couldn’t make myself feel proud or excited, but at least I deserved to feel flat or neutral? I couldn’t figure out what was so depressing about the reality of winning.
Something about competition is demotivating to me. I don’t like being held up against others, even when the comparison works to my advantage.
That proved out again just this weekend, when I was invited to an online party and we played some games. I won a game, and I shrank inside.
I’m not even completely sure. I think it’s a mix of feeling like other people will be disappointed because it’s a zero-sum game, and if one person “wins,” then by definition others have not won. That feeling, plus perhaps a sense that another person might be annoyed or feel envy or jealousy about that supposed “win.” All the celebration and anticipation is over at the end of the game. The goal has been reached, and now what? And furthermore, so what?
The performance review process doesn’t seem to serve many people all that well. It intimidates everyone and it’s a huge time suck for management. The top performers are probably intrinsically motivated anyway, which is the reason that they do so well - but is the review process a way to somehow collect their focus and energy and figuratively inject it into others? Does this process indeed help people suss out exactly how to improve? Does it actually get the results that it’s meant to get?
I’m very lucky that I can talk directly with my boss every day, and he is pretty good about giving clear feedback and asking for exactly what he wants. Every morning, I clock in knowing what I need to get done, and why, and who benefits.
In fact, I’ve already read my review, and it was quite nice, and I have no reason to be as anxious about it as I am. I have really thrown myself into this job, seeing it as a form of rescue from the intense boredom and stress of isolating from the pandemic. I’ve learned a lot and I’ve done a few things that make me proud already, in only six months.
What I’m trying to figure out is why, objectively, the better I do, the more I freak out about being evaluated on my performance. I doubt I’m alone in this. It’s certainly something I need to get my head around if years go by and I somehow mysteriously find myself facing a promotion.
Stranger things could happen. I do like this place. As far as my review, if this sort of thing is in any way reciprocal, my job itself exceeds expectations.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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