Friday the 13th X 8 = Friday the 104th!!
Fuzzy math? Perhaps, but there had been no Friday the 104th - so I created it...
I was working with a large pharmaceutical firm where I had begun my tenure in the home office, based in New Jersey, in July of 2000. With an MA in Industrial/Organizational Psychology I had been a Compensation Consultant, which lead to my job with 'the bonus team' in Sales Operations. It was a pretty good place to be. I worked with sales Vice Presidents in helping them to make sense of the sales performance numbers and I really liked working with those folks.
In the pharmaceutical industry it's difficult to climb the corporate ladder if you've never been in sales. I'd never been in sales before and hated the very notion of being a salesman but the VP's I worked with were encouraging me to try it out so I took a job marketing a diabetes drug that was clearly the best in its class. I saw the job as more of an educational type of opportunity than one of selling; it would be more about teaching medical practitioners about how to use the drug than aggressively selling an unnecessary or inferior drug. I figured that if I hated it I could still make it work for a couple of years, then return to the home office with many more options than before; but I liked the job.
Most "drug reps" have to market some kind of pill that does the exact same thing as other pills; allergies, blood pressure and cholesterol reduction, depression and many other chronic conditions with pharmaceutically duplicated therapies. It's usually hard sales but I chose well; marketing my diabetes product actually did turn out to be more like educating than selling. Everyone knew it was the best drug of its kind but needed information on how to start patients, titrate the drug, choose appropriate drugs to use it with, etc. Other drug reps were envious and would tell me how lucky I was to be selling that drug, which helped confirm that I'd chosen well.
After a year or so I chose the management development path, so the next couple of years involved lots of extra work in training new reps and other development tasks. In about 6 months I could start applying for management jobs. But a problem was growing; we had been bought by a French drug company and as the two large companies came together it became very clear that the change was for the worse. Many respected leaders in the organization fled or were forced out as the new French company seemed to take every opportunity to throw its proverbial middle finger up at us Yankees. Last minute schedule changes for out of town meetings in the middle of the summer with mandated adherence to the new dates, regardless of vacation plans, and a new no vacation policy for the week before Christmas, were two of the many examples.
The sales force was not getting the tools needed to do our job. Our customers, physicians and other health care practitioners, many of whom were nationally revered experts in their field, were getting very frustrated and refused to work with us. And I was beginning to question whether I wanted to continue with all the extra work with the management development program; then I created Friday, The 104th...
Drug reps often receive voice mails from their Vice Presidents. Our new VP was a very nice guy but was very bad at leaving voice mails. He would have been great in the department of redundancy department but as a motivational leader he was lacking - I was one of the geeky few that listened to his messages in their entirety. We had gotten a new message and I hadn't listened to the whole thing yet and another rep had heard there was some actual really real information on this particular voice mail and asked me to forward it.
It was Friday afternoon, May 13th, 2005, the end of a very long and frustrating week. The other rep and I joked about the paucity of actual information on these voice mails. I accessed the voice mail system to forward this particular voice mail, with my comments, to the other rep. My comments? No, my rant. My loud, angry, very cathartic rant that was an extremely energetic venting of all my frustrations with the new company. Harnessing the energy of this rant could have powered a small town for a week. Here is, as well as I can recall, what I said:
"Blah blah blah blah blah [sort of yelling]. This f*&%ing guy can go on forever without saying a goddam f*&%ing thing. This five minute voice mail is going to take you fifteen goddam minutes to listen to [yelling louder now]. The first five minutes you're going to slit your f*&%ing wrists [yelling even louder]. The second five minutes you'll want to stab yourself in the f*&%ing forehead [even louder now, spittle starting to fly]. And the third five minutes, you're going to have to poke your eyes with little sticks [even louder now, vocal chords shredding] just to stay awake long enough to hear the five f*&%ing SECONDS of information contained somewhere in this FIVE MINUTE F*&%ing VOICE MAIL!!!"
Yeah. What a relief. I felt a bit funny because I had never even sworn on company voice mail before and now this outrageous rant, but it was a great release and I knew the person who asked me to forward the voice mail would find it hilarious. I even marked the message 'private' and 'urgent' to ensure that they'd receive it right away. Feeling very relieved I proceeded with my day, until I got a call from my manager about 40 minutes later...
"Doug, did you get your voice mail from the VP?" she asked. "Yeah, the one earlier today that mentioned some of the organizational changes and stuff?" "No", she said, "the one he left you, in response to your voice mail to him".
Eight. That was the only thing in my head at that moment. I pressed eight instead of six. Pressing six enables you to forward a voice mail, while eight enables you to respond to the person who SENT you the voice mail. 888888888. I used to respond to voice mails all day every day but almost never used to forward them, so it was just a quick reflex to hit eight instead of six. 88. I hadn't forwarded my rant but, instead, simply responded directly to the Vice President! 88888888. AND I marked it PRIVATE and URGENT to ensure that he got it immediately!! 8.
So there's the fuzzy math equation. The number 8 times Friday the 13th = Friday the 104th.
This all consuming moment of realization with my manager's phone call was enhanced by a Volkswagen sized lump in my throat and the feeling that everything between my neck and butt turned into some sort of very painful lava muck. "This is very bad" I said to my manager. She's always very positive and encouraging and there was a pause as she tried to think of something positive and encouraging to say. "It might not be that bad" she said. "It's very very bad" I said. "Yeah, it's pretty bad" she said.
The rest of the short conversation was me saying things like how I would have to look for a new job immediately and her saying things like how we might be able to work through this. I tried to apologize to her. She'd been a great advocate for me to the leadership team, promoting me as a viable management development candidate and had supported every step. She told me not to worry about her - she was always too nice to let people worry about her - I still feel like apologizing to her.
I went home and wrote a very short email to my manager, the Regional Director (her boss) and the Vice President (recipient of the aforementioned rant) apologizing and saying I hope we can work through this thing. Then I started calling real estate agents to find out how much my house was worth because my initial worst fear was that I could be fired over this. I would sell my house, get on my piece of crap, rebuilt Kawasaki Vulcan 750 motorcycle and see if it would take me to Costa Rica, or somewhere else really nice; I needed to go somewhere nice.
The painful lava muck feeling stuck around for two and a half days. Somewhere in the middle of the night, before work on Monday morning, I woke up feeling very good! Maybe even elated! I realized that they probably wouldn't fire me and that this could be the beginning of something that otherwise would have been missed. If I had not left that voice mail I would have just become a manager, worked very hard and been very frustrated working so hard for a pharmaceutical firm that I had grown to dislike very much. My feelings through the next couple of weeks alternated somewhere between elation and lava muck.
Three weeks after the 104th my manager and I flew to the regional office to meet with the Regional Director. I wore a suit and tie; I didn't know if the meeting would be more of a trial or an interview of some kind, but you wear a tie at both of those things. The short meeting resulted in my removal from the management development program - no surprise there. I told the RD that I didn't expect him to believe me but not only have I never left a message like that rant, but I had never even sworn on company voice mail. I don't think he believed me.
I had not been fired. The lava muck feeling changed to a focus toward my new future. I had plenty of time to prepare my house for selling and figure out what to do. I continued working hard at my job but focused more on my future outside the pharmaceutical firm than any progression within the firm. My house sold in March, 2006 and my last day on the job was April 1, 2006. I moved to Seattle to play for a few months and plan my trip. I was originally going to fly to Argentina and live for 6 months to a year; learning Spanish and Tango was the mission. But one day I was looking at motorcycles and saw a Suzuki Bandit - a used motorcycle that the previous owner had taken good care of and had prepared it for distance touring; it could take me to Argentina.
Now it's August 19th, 2006. I'm sitting at the Rusty Pelican Cafe on North 45th in Wallingford, a Seattle neighborhood. I've prepped for the trip and I'm ready to leave as soon as I get my updated motorcycle title.
That's my story and I'm sticking to it. Or adding to it starting very soon...