Saturday, July 15, 2017

ambition and the difference between contentment and complacency

The difference between contentment and complacency, and how they relate to ambition - this is something on my mind more the last couple of months. Why? It's pretty simple. All through life, especially when going through undergraduate and later graduate school, it has been about striving for more, getting that degree, getting that position to say that "I made it through grad school and got my PhD. Now, what's next?".

It's one of those days I will never forget, partly because it was a clear saying at the time "this, this degree, is something that noone will take away from you". That the degree will be there, as a mile marker through my life. Something I have accomplished.

After the grad school came a couple of years in the post doc life when I was striving for papers, making abstracts, giving talks, moving towards the next step. What that was changed over time. When I started I thought it was going to be TT and a coveted professor chair. After a couple of years I landed (settled?) on the idea of "being in management in pharma, working with science but not always at the bench".

Said and done, I got myself a non-academic job as a scientist, yet no publications but rather bench work and some supervisor tasks. I remember clearly a family friend asking about my new title in my job and the comments afterwards. "It's QC specialist. -Well, I thought you were going to be a manager".

I drove the ambition train on the pharma tour towards a "better title". Worked for a few year, got more responsibilities. Working, as many does, for a few years in the job that you later [think] you will be promoted to. You're showing that you can do the job before getting the official job title. Well, after a few more years I got tired of waiting and went in search of greener pastures. There was a lot of other mitigating factors but one big one were the idea that there was no upward trajectory so all the newfound responsibilities that I took on didn't make a change for title or money or resources, so the difference when comparing to my fellow colleagues in the same position was that I had to work more, get rated on more things but according to HR or anyone else from the outside, we did the same work. Well, for a few years that was ok for me since I liked the job but it was better to leave before getting bitter about it.

I received a nice offer to become a project coordinator and started my new job. One of my colleagues in my old job got that promotion we had talked about for years, a few months after I left. Good for them and me. I was happy in my new job, they got some recognition for the future career. My new job toggled along. I did the same thing as I've done now in my previous jobs.... getting more responsibilities, broader work assignments. Rumour spread that I know what I'm doing so people came and asked for help and suggestions, outside of "my team". I was getting job satsifaction and the ego was getting paid; "I'm good at what I do and others appreciate and recognize it". For quite a while that is all I want and I am content with my job.

Sometimes the ego reared its head to ponder "well, shouldn't you go for a better job - a job with a higher title, more money, more power.... you deserve it". It's what I've always thought and dreamed of. Having a job where I'm important.

I know how this reads, very arrogant. Or maybe sad. Or maybe it's because I've seen so many managers, directors and bosses who aren't that qualified or competent having jobs that give them way more power and money (and autonomy) and I don't really see why I couldn't do that too (while being qualified and competent for the job). Oh the arrogance of a PhD who wants to be more.

A while back another colleague left from my PM job. They got a better offer to become program manager in pharma. Since there wasn't a career trajectory in the old job, which I knew when I took it, they jumped on it. I started a smaller conversation with a few of the bosses since I wanted to let them know what I said in my job interview still held true. "I don't see myself working in this job with the same title after 4-5 years since I'm likely to have grown with the job and made something else out of the job. If you want to keep me in the organisation then, there would have to be a career ladder option".

Of course things happen, the lives of bosses are busy ones and they didn't really pay too much attention to the hungry ambitious youngsters working for them. It's also true that no one cares about your career but you, so you got to be proactive about it. No use getting stagnant in a job and getting bitter - there is too much going on around for that.

I kept doing what I do best, work hard and not say no to opportunities that arose. I accepted a lot of responsibility and the new things took me away from the job description. However, I had fun, felt like a valued member of the team, got my ego stroked with some publications and mentionings by important people in meetings and presentations. Acknowledgement is always good and nice. However, that little sliver of doubt grew bigger for every new thing that got added to the plate. Where was I going with this? And what, if anything, was going to change in the future? Was this the idea for the rest of my time in this job? Getting new obligations, responsibilities but not ever a title change, nor salary increase? I mean, I'm not saying I think you should get a promotion every year, but when the job is so very changed from when you started, somethings got to give eventually. Or you end up there after a decade with the same title and salary but doing something that is so far off the origianl job that when you leave, the company hires two people to keep all those things done (true story for a colleague of mine).

It's a fine balance between feeling happy that you're "important and good at what you do" and feeling used for "being there and working above your paygrade yet not getting compensated for it". And one day, the scale tips the other way and you start feeling just a little less content and a little more ambitious.

Needless to say, if you've managed to read this far, the scale is tipping. I'm more unsure now than I was before since complacency is tempting me with "you know this job, you can scale back and do it without trouble. don't ask for more or change. Enjoy this and be content". Ambition, or rather my "fairness indicator",  is putting up the fight since "if you look at what you do, where your responsibilities lie, you are already working on another level and you should be compensated for it".

I guess the question is if the balance will tip back and forth and then settle on one side?

Sunday, July 09, 2017

energy draining things (and people)

I had thought to write a happier post, and something regarding how lovely it is when things come together and enjoying vacation and happy things.

Then this morning happened and I can't help but revert into a little more of an old school "venting" post. What happened? This morning I opened my old computer to start skype, it's Sunday and I'm home which equals "family call day". Lo and behold skype told me I needed to download the newest application since mine was out of date. I had a a sneaky suspicion when I pressed "download" that this wasn't going to work since my computer is old, the OS is old but since the application I was using didn't open I really had no choice.

As suspected the new application doesn't work on my old OS. I had to log into the "skype for web". And at that application (or whatever you call it) none of my contacts are added. Fascinating in itself to me. I have an app on my computer, my iphone and now on the web with the same log in and the various places don't have the same contact list. I don't even know how this is going to sort out and needless to say I felt a little tired since obviously my easy "family call Sunday" isn't going to be so easy now.

And I know that I have to go and purchase a new computer - and with it comes all the details to fix. How to store the photos that I currently have on the harddrive. The new laptop doesn't have as much memory since everything now is build to save on the cloud.... I have it all on a hard drive since I'm not online all the time. And again, hard drives aren't 200 GB anymore. This is even before me thinking about all the other small programs that I use that either will have to be updated and losing information, or starting to use something new.

Again, I know that this is a _me_ problem. I am not the best with learning new things. And especially not when it comes to things that I rely on to keep my family relationships intact. Of course, anyone who reads between the lines (or has read this blog before) knows that family and relationships are a thing for me anyway. The stress is there always. As previously stated, some of us have accepted a larger than good responsibility for maintaining these relationships. If I would've had a choice back in the day, I wouldn't had made it this way. Alas, no use crying over spilled milk. I've decided to handle it and as long as skype, phone, email and vacations work - there is less friction and sometimes less stress.

I wrote on twitter a few weeks ago; "if you want to soften me up for an interrogation, leave me at a car service place". That happens to be my number two stressor, the Car. Or rather, if something happens with the car. Why? because I live in a city where there is very little public transport and I am depending on a reliable car to even get to work. Of course, I thought that was going to work out fine when I purchased a new car last year. Completely new and warranty. Go figure, when you run into a pothole and then get a flat tire - things can mess up. Of course it wasn't too bad, but it took thrww trips to the service place to fix things. And with every time going there, the insight that I have to be the one on top of things. That's the drainage for me. That I have to be on top of the game, on the look out for someone trying to trick/scam/make a buck. That I have to ask control questions to check up if everything was done correctly, if nothing was forgotten. And that I have to do that when it comes to a car - I know little about cars. It's not my line of work. I guess a lot of this mess stems from an underlying feeling I have that I shouldn't have to know all of this, these are the professional people whom I'm paying to fix this. Yeah, I know. Life doesn't work that way.

And then as a kicker on top of this. I forgot that some of these family and friendly calls are mainly for others to vent and complain about how things aren't great for them. I know, I really do, that getting older is hard and that there are a lot of things rearing its head once you hit 70 or 40 for that matter. That there are a lot of us not having the lives that we thought we deserved or wanted. However, and it's probably the good thing for me here (since I'm in a little bit of an age related crisis), you have to look at your own life and if you want changes -you have to be open to change and also open to asking for help about it. There is little to gain of just complaining about how unfair and bad things are and then when getting some realistic suggestions on what can be done, scoff them off and then continue to complain.

Of course, I am aware that a lot of the complaining and venting isn't because people want to change. Neither themselves nor the situation. They just want to make sure that you hear the injustice that is happening to them. Or gain sympathy since their life isn't as good as others' lives seem to be. While I understand the urge, and trust me I go down that rabbit hole every so often as well (hello facebook and why we take breaks every once in a while), I am starting to have less energy to listen and care since I know now that it's never about solving the problem. It's about complaining and sharing the hurt and sometimes also getting support that "yes, you are quite right it's terribly unfair that this happens to you and you are so in the right of being angry and lashing out on them". Too bad that I've stopped handing out the last part but rather have acquiesced to a simple "hm" or "aha, I'm sorry". (Have to keep some of the relationships so radical honesty isn't in the cards, but rather some minimal sympathy.)

Where I am going with this venting rant? Apart from that I want a bunch of comments stating "aww you poor thing. Apple really is a bad evil company and surely you should be able to keep your computer for over 10 years without an issue" [just kidding - I'm fully aware that in today's society this is a pipe dream and I've put off the purchase of computer for many years so... no worries]

I really mainly wanted to write it here to rationalize that it's important for my sanity (and quite possibly for some of you dear readers who might be in similar situations at times) to remember that
a) I can't fix other people
b) I can't help other people who doesn't want to be helped
c) with age comes some insight or feelings that maybe there are some less than stellar decisions back in the day that now will haunt you a little
d) guilt is not a great feeling. There is however, most often forgiveness and possibility of repenting
e) friendships are not one sided. (or at least they shouldn't be in my opinion) You need to take care of the other person and let them have time from you, if you want time from them

What I'm going to do now? Try and sync my contacts from my phone and the "web app" to see if I can at least get something to work so I can call my family. And I'll try to keep a good energy in these calls even if I'm very tempted to never mind the whole thing and go outside into the sun and take a hike in the forest. As one wants to do in the summer time....

Happy summer