Let me tell what I wish I’d known
When I was young and dreamed of glory
You have no control
Who lives who dies who tells your story
I was not-quite-twenty-four when I walked in the doors of The Vanguard Group in March 0f 2000. A year out of college with a degree in English, I’d spent 9 months working in the warehouse basement for a department store chain, providing Unix support to their servers, being miserable. Vanguard’s offer of a telephone technical support position included stability, no travel, a significant raise, and windows.
Windows. Sunshine. The ability to see the world as it is – don’t underestimate it.
I joined Vanguard in March. My husband and I married in July. We came home from our honeymoon to find a message on the answering machine telling my husband his employer was shutting down. (Note to managers: don’t do that.) It would be close to a year before he had regular employment again. In November of 2000, we watched what we thought would be the craziest election of our lifetimes. In September of the following year, two planes hit the towers of the World Trade Center.
That was a lot for a 24-year-old to take in, frankly.
There’s a structure at my current employer, a rhythm to the culture. We’ve applied our principles to investing success to the running of the company in general. The stock market will go down; the market will go up. We set solid goals for where we want to be five years out, or ten, or twenty, and we aim toward them even when the waters get choppy.
They were hard lessons to learn when your personal world had done its best to collapse in less than two years. I resisted, often loudly. But the management team was firm. You come in, you do your best to make things better than what they were yesterday, you go home. You do it professionally. You do it ethically. You do it again tomorrow. You keep doing it, in big ways and little ways, because that’s what we expect. That’s who we are. That’s why we’re different.
On September 11, 2001 my office watched the news on an antenna tv between phone calls from people too rattled to remember their passwords. They weren’t really calling to check their accounts. They were calling because they were scared. In times of volatility, phone volumes go up. People want to hear someone friendly on the other side of the phone say “I understand.” To a person, we didn’t want to be there answering those phones, but that was our job. Support each other. Support our clients. Pick reasonable goals. Diversify. Stay the course.
The market went down; the market went up.
In 2008 I became an Information Architect, and my perspective shifted from helping this client on this phone right now to guiding all of our clients toward success through whatever channel they chose to contact us. How do we make complex goals clear and effective? How do we encourage incremental improvements?
At the end of the year Lehman Brothers and the housing bubble collapse rocked everything — again . In the short term, those of us with the skills volunteered to serve shifts on the phones; the rest opened mail and processed paperwork. In the long term, we designed the site for 5 years out, not today’s trends, and tried to make doing the right things easier for our clients.
The market went down; the market went up. We stayed the course.
The last eight years have made “stay the course” much easier than the previous eight, both personally and professionally. It’s easy to believe in a system when things are going well, and easier even to abandon it. We didn’t. I’m glad I was there for the bad times early, so that I could appreciate and enjoy the better ones.
Yesterday, two notable events occurred. First, America elected a man who, in my personal opinion, is antithetical to the idea of long-term incremental improvements of the country and the world as a whole. He’s certainly not backing any changes that will help me locally. The twenty four year old I was would have voted for him in a heartbeat. The woman I am now? Not even a little.
And the market went down. At Vanguard, we’re braced for high call volumes and high web volumes and we’ll be saying “I understand” a lot today — both to our clients, and to each other. The stock market will go back up. The political market will as well.
The other event is a little less than national news: I gave two weeks’ notice at Vanguard. The reasons are my own. They do not change either my opinion of the company or the long-term do-it-right perspective that is now a core part of who I am.
In a few weeks I’ll be a Senior UX Designer at Boomi learning a new culture and a new rhythm. I’m anxious. I’m frightened that I won’t measure up. I’m pretty sure I’m going to make a lot of mistakes, both short-term and long-term. And I’m doing it anyway. One step at a time, incremental change for the better. I hope I measure up.
As for the rest, we’re going to mourn if we need to, get angry if we need to, then do what’s expected of great people in dangerous times: wake up, do our best, do it professionally, do it ethically, do it with love for ourselves as much as everyone else, and get some sleep. Then do it again.
I know that we can win
I know that greatness lies in you
But remember from here on in
History has its eyes on you