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?


Anonymous said...

Nice post. I find myself in a similar situation and wondering what to do....from my experience being good at your job is not enough - there are politics and games to play as well...and as you say, you have to look out for yourself.

chall said...

yes. And its a little tiresome at times. I'm glad I at least like my job, or maybe that makes it more difficult? I hope things work out for you as well!