So. Friday was my last day at NASA. And I'm already regretting the decision to leave.
What a great group of people I worked with. I have enjoyed most of the people I worked with all along, but the last day really brought it home for me. And it seems the feelings are mutual.
A project manager with Lockheed Martin (who used to be my sort-of supervisor and who is the only other person who stayed after Lockheed bought INS) called in the morning with his well-wishes, and said that he felt he had "made a friend for life" and that we should have lunch sometime soon. He's much more politically adept than I am (aka schmoozy), but I felt he was sincere and not just workin' me.
At my goodbye lunch, three people stood up and sang my praises in front of the group. One of my main business customers talked about my patience working with non-technical folks on the requirements for their major application, how helpful I was in support of the app, how much I would be missed and that she hoped I would change my mind about leaving. She even seemed to get a little teary. My functional supervisor talked about how I had always been considered a full member of the team (I believe this is a reference to the fact that some execs in upper management consider contractors expendable peons). His supervisor talked about how I had surpassed his expectations, which were already very high. References were offered. Hugs were exchanged. Many other kind words were said, the specifics of which I have failed to retain. Everyone was so complimentary that I felt like blurting out a confession of all my inadequacies, to counterbalance the praise that I didn't quite feel I earned. But I tried to remind myself that I have certainly been under-appreciated in the past, and to just enjoy the over-appreciation.
I received similarly complimentary emails from several people who could not attend the lunch because they worked at a different location or would not be there that day. A business customer with whom I worked closely wrote a touching email. Another business customer, whom I didn't think liked me (perhaps because, as I do, he tends to focus on aspects of a project that aren't perfect rather than spending much time talking about what's right), wrote me a goodbye email that was too detailed and enthusiastic to be considered perfunctory. And a developer whom I respect immensely wrote about how he thinks *I'm* a good developer.
When we met that afternoon in my office for a final discussion of the applications I was bequeathing to them, a newly hired developer and DBA launched into impromptu praise of my database design skills, my helpful documentation, and my organized, logical, well-commented code.
At the end of my exit interview, I even got to dispense HTML advice as a parting gift to my Lockheed Martin supervisor, who was trying to update a company web page while her normal web guru was away on vacation. The information I conveyed to her was basic, but timely, and much appreciated.
I later felt bad that I had not stood up at lunch and made a statement about how much I in turn appreciated my coworkers. But I did attempt to do so in our individual goodbyes, though it felt awkward and insufficient.
Apparently there are other people who are sheepish about announcing their warm feelings, especially in front of a group of people. A network guy who had been totally silent at lunch came to say goodbye to me that evening before he left. He's one of my favorites, because of his quirky, reserved yet stubborn personality. On Wednesday, he had said he would miss me, with a wistful tone in his voice. And on Friday, we talked, as we had on prior occasions, about his plans for the future and how he might maneuver himself into application development since he was unhappy with network administration (especially in Windows). I actually care about what happens to him. I've often had the experience of feigning interest in such stuff in a work setting. It's nice to have the opportunity to be genuine.
I didn't get a chance to say goodbye to my functional supervisor, because he had to leave early when I was still in my exit interview. I wrote a few quick words to him in an email, but I plan to send a more thought-out and lengthy statement about how much I appreciated him and his management style. People who know me well know that I can be pretty damn fluent when it comes to expressing negative feelings. But I feel bashful when it comes to telling a coworker just how much they meant to me.
I exchanged personal contact info with quite a few people, and I hope to stay in touch with some of these folks. I didn't maintain contact with anyone I worked with at previous jobs for more than a year after leaving, and my impression is that it's a fairly rare occurence for former coworkers to continue meaningful contact with each other long-term. I hope to experience the exception.
I feel inadequate as a programmer and as a work-place politician, but receiving all this praise lately has made me acknowledge that there are some things I do well. Can that many people be that wrong about me? For once, I am taking the optimistic view and answering, no they can't.
Can I continue being a curmudgeonly negativist, after experiencing all these warm fuzzy feelings? Of course I can. In fact, my mood was dampened as soon as I came home from work to find a rejection letter from The Millay Colony
(one of two writing residencies I applied for back in October). Kind of ironic, since one of the reasons I quit was to have the time and freedom to concentrate seriously on writing.
I have to steel myself for the possibility that I won't get into Hedgebrook
either. They received 424 "qualified applications" this year, for something like 40 spots. And who knows if the people who are evaluating this year's applications will happen to resonate to my frequency.
Also waiting for me when I returned from work was a painting my jailbird penpal, M, had done of my mother with various family members' pet parrots (Sammie the Eclectus, Cazoob the Mini-Macaw, and Winston the lovebird) perched around her. It was a flawed piece: M got my mom's skin tone wrong, painted her hair black instead of dark brown, and made her nose too wide and too sculpted. He missed the little dotted lines of dark feathers that look like stitching around Cazoob's eyes. Winston's back end is a little too chunky, and his persona doesn't come through. But M captured Sammie's typical "on alert" body position perfectly: you can feel the tension in his anxious crouch. He portrayed the goofy, wide-eyed expression on Cazoob's face, and his casually splayed feet. And he even conveyed a bit of the sparkle of my mother's smile. Not bad for someone who necessarily worked from pictures rather than in-person (and in-bird) models. The piece is propped up on my living room couch right now, and it gives me a smile every time I pass it. There's a message in it too, the same message encoded in much of the rest of my Friday: Something can be worthy without being perfect.
I have ideas about what I would like to accomplish with my time off, but one of the primary benefits of not working for pay is that you don't HAVE to accomplish anything. I don't want to replace one set of shoulds and musts for another.
Some of the things I originally wanted to do have to be nixed or modified now, since my feet and ankles are still far from healed. I can't exercise much. The hiking I had planned to do is definitely out, and even just walking slowly is a chore. I'll probably be healed enough to swim in a little while, but don't know if I can tolerate the humiliation of appearing in public in a bathing suit.
I'd still like to go to a gun range and become competent at shooting my .357.
I'd like to write, and to publish more of what I've written.
I'd like to get involved in more social activities and maybe find some more good local friends. I'm renewing my membership in Mensa and will force myself to attend some of the events. I'm thinking of finding someone who would allow me to ride on their motorcycle when the weather becomes warmer.
I'd like to complete some house projects that have been on my list for quite a while.
And of course, I will hang out with parrots. Maybe even find a parrot charity to volunteer with.
But thus far, all I've done is slept and read. I haven't enjoyed myself much yet. I'm worried I made the wrong decision. I'm wondering if the drain on my finances will be worth it. When I worked, I always used to bemoan the stress of commuting and the infuriating politics and the lack of time for extracurricular pursuits. The thought occurs that a depressive will find something to be depressed about. But I *cannot* allow myself to now spend my time off bemoaning a new set of problems.
I'm backing off from the idea of selling my house and taking a few years
off with the proceeds, and of the idea of moving to the west coast. I think it's likely I'll take the originally-planned 5 or 6 months off, and then return to work at a closer, hopefully non-contract job. I don't think my parents will be alive for too many more years, and frankly, as their only child, I don't want to spend their remaining years 3,000 miles away. I told this to my mother a couple of weeks ago and she actually cried. I thought she was crying because we were discussing her mortality, but she said that she was crying both because she did not want to feel she was standing in the way of my dreams and because she did not like to think of me without a mother.
And on that cheerful note... it's time for bed.