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Trending Downward.

28 June 2016

I’m not feeling great. My relationship is good, and my fitness is going reasonably well. Other than that, I’m not feeling good. I am selling a house, living in another I don’t like, my half-brother was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, and my father with congestive heart failure. My job is going middlingly at best. For three years I was the golden boy. Now I’m an underperformer. I’m not good at management. And I don’t like it.

My department is changing in a way that makes me not enjoy working here as much. Our new engineer, starting in August, is better than I am. More accomplished and further in his career. I will not be the natural person to lead an engineering group anymore. And that’s probably wise, institutionally: I am not a good leader in this environment.

I’ve capped out, I think. And I’m ok with that, I guess. I don’t like watching peers get promoted while I stay stagnant. But maybe I need to let go of that ego and settle into a place where I’m good at what I do. Maybe I need some other kind of change. I just don’t know.

Before changing jobs, and moving to ECC, I had settled in to a position where I felt I could accumulate prestige and satisfaction simply by getting new grants and writing papers and eventually I’d become an important researcher. It might have been true too. The VA liked my work, and I was doing a decent job getting funding. But life changes. I had to move on.

Now I’m doing a halfway decent job doing the things I need to do to advance, but I’m not sure I like what I’m advancing towards. It makes me tired and unmotivated. Lots of meetings and agendas and not much actual work. I don’t value the things I’m being asked to do to advance my career. If this is what a promotion looks like, I’m not sure I want one.

But staying still isn’t an option for anyone for very long either. Get pigeon-holed in a place, and you get stagnant. The organization moves beyond you. You become redundant, unnecessary. I feel like that right now. I’m not contributing in a way I like to contribute. I’m sludgy and dull and pointless.

I’m ready for something else. But I don’t know what else to go looking for.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. 28 June 2016 10:32

    I don’t know why the natural “progression” is for a good or even great scientist to become a “manager.” They are completely different skill sets requiring different types of people. I hope you can progress in life without having to become a “manager,” which I think are a dime a dozen. Seriously, every Burger King has a manager, and some of them are very good. But they aren’t brilliant course-changing scientists like you.

    I’m one of your biggest fans and I hate to see you struggling with this stuff.

  2. 29 June 2016 08:58

    In my career I did the typical thing of moving regularly, about once every two years in most of my twenties. Each job brought either increased pay or better prospects etc. At the end of my twenties I found myself in a company that I believed in its mission – it was a pharmaceutical company and I worked supporting R&D. It gave me purpose – it was better than supporting financial services companies or working in defence building essentially killing machines. For me I liked it. The company was growing, there was opportunity. In the next 10 years I rose rapidly to a position just beneath the big ceiling. If I went through that I’d be made for life – I see those folks now retired and very comfortable, more than one with a yacht that they simply sail about in all the time. However I never broke through, no doubt my drinking had something to do with that. Even when I sobered up and they supported me through that I ended up the last 12 years or so there never getting that golden ticket. My current employment is part time at a similar level and unlike my fortunate fellows retirement is still for me a very distant option – at least 10 years more like 15 I suspect. However… Once through that line I’d have had to become part of the collective responsibility of a cabinet as such like the UK cabinets in parliament. I could have been vocal in the meetings internally but collective responsibility would have limited me and created a divide with the teams I brought together to work on problems and projects. Also being just that bit under the radar I could take risks my more wealthy friends couldn’t. I could speak at a conference with an agenda slightly off the party line etc. Looking back the answer is for me that sitting at that level for much of my career now I’ve achieved and continue to achieve far more than if I went up one level. I’m more personally fulfilled as a result. In a few days time a large three year plus project will deliver with a new system going live – it is a step change in how my organisation works. That project was frankly something I spotted as missing in my first months here 5 years ago. I could challenge that status quo as the new boy and again I didn’t need to appear to be toeing the party line. Whilst others have worked to deliver it and many others will take a lot of the credit I remember the conversation with my then director about my vision and him puffing his cheeks out and saying something like “I couldn’t push that through. What’s your view on how you can do it?” It is one of my biggest professional achievements frankly.
    Long ramble – sorry… you know me! But what I’m trying to exemplify is that my resentment at not being promoted to the executive washroom brigade I have actually achieved more impact – in my view anyway

  3. Syd permalink
    2 July 2016 11:04

    I agree with Mary. I did not want to become one of the Director’s at the research institute. I was content to be a Chair of the department. I still did research, had a crack team and brought in a lot of grant money. Going higher would have meant more money but would have been a killer for me intellectually. I am way too much the introvert and non BS’er to deal with all the crap being floated about at the Director level. If you are feeling marginalized, then perhaps there is something else going on. Not sure. Inventory is good.

  4. pyrope permalink
    6 July 2016 11:15

    Sorry to hear that things have been less than optimal at work – that definitely affects general outlook on life. I am in a faculty career and am already feeling the ebbs and flows of research and project management. I don’t think it’s unusual to have career slumps though and it’s pretty reasonable to expect that things will come around again. Anyway, I think moving on or changing your job description is a better long-term option than trying to accept being capped out. As a reader of your blog for a while, it’s pretty clear you’ve got lots to contribute.

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