What should I do with my career
December 11, 2012 6:27 PM   Subscribe

I have a pretty successful career but still feel like a fraud. I would like to change that, NOW.

I have a pretty successful career as a tech worker in the smartphone industry. I joined it way before it was cool, so I rode all the growth wave and found myself sitting at a Sr. Manager position at 33 years old, with a nice salary and benefits. So far, nothing wrong, right? Wrong.

Despite being able to save some money and have a decently comfortable lifestyle, I feel like a massive fraud. Why? Well, let's say I'm a Jack of all Trades, first and foremost. I can code, manage people (glowing reviews from my former employees), projects, stick to a budget, save the company money, make the company (some) money. But the raw truth is that when I look at the big picture, I don't think the work I do matters.

I work in a support, "nice-to-have" area. It does not have to make a profit, and even when it does, it is minimum. I run the area well, but every day I look at other people on the same salary level, and they are working their asses off, and their work directly affects the company's bottom line. I envy them; I feel like they look at me and think "look at the cute guy, playing manager of a fluffy area!"; I feel ashamed. Currently, my work is essentially organize events for software developers so they develop on my company's software platform. That has been successful, and I have the numbers to prove it, but it is far from being a critical area for the company.

"So what?", you may think. "It's a good job with great pay and regular hours. What are you talking about?". I am not an idealist, I know that if companies could pay me minimum wage and have me work 80hs/week they would. I am concerned about myself here. By leading a "fluff" area I am constantly afraid I'm going to be exposed as a fraud, as someone with no special skills, and when the time comes that I have to look for another job, I will be joining the ranks of unemployment for a long time.

I constantly think about specializing in one hard skill area so I can escape the trap, but I can't make up my mind. An MSc in Comp-Sci would give the tools to fallback to being a coder if everything goes to hell; an MBA could help me become more of a business guy.

Being able to solve complex problems is what will guarantee me a job when I get older. What I cannot seem to do is decide what I should do next. I read site after site on the Internet and apparently every job market is shit, so I feel any decision I make will be just as bad.

I'm not looking for a surefire "solution" here, just a few pointers. I need to do something relevant, complex, and important. How to break out of the comfort zone, do a job that matters, and stay relevant in such a competitive job market keep awake every single night.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (11 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
32 year-old Director of Communications here.

Communications of all sorts is hard to quantify as "critical" but there's a reason why every company bigger than a handful of people has a communications department. What you are doing definitely falls under communications and it sounds like it's actually pretty important in terms of ensuring that your company continues to be able to grow. Sure, if the belt needed to tighten dramatically, your department might not survive. But that sort of belt-tightening is generally the death knell for a company anyhow.

It's possible that some of the people in other departments look at you and think that your job is easy. But that's fine, don't worry about them. People tend to think that any people-skill is easy until they have to perform it in a professional capacity.

And as for feeling like a fraud, I think that everyone goes through that from time to time, especially in new jobs. I suspect that people who never do are either delusional or aren't challenging themselves. It will pass.

Finally, yes, the job market sucks. But people who can "manage people (glowing reviews from my former employees), projects, stick to a budget, save the company money, make the company (some) money" will never be without prospects. You say these things like they're nothing, but they're among the most sought after skills in the business world.
posted by 256 at 6:49 PM on December 11, 2012 [3 favorites]

Why don't you apply to both the MSC and MBA? if you only get into one, decision made. If you get into both, you will have learned a bit more about what they offer and where they go, and can talk to the admissions people/advisors at the college to help you make your decision. But I suspect that the amount of thinking you'd have to do to write your applications would help you figure it out before then anyway.

Constructive answers aside, you have heard of imposter syndrome, right?
posted by jacalata at 6:59 PM on December 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

Your whole industry is built on sand--consider Palm, RIM, etc. You have skills and successes that will help you to handle change, and although it's always a good idea to keep on learning, there's no credential or skill you can acquire that's going to make change trivial.

It sounds like you're doing a good job and could probably enumerate many ways in which you make the world a tiny bit better by doing it. If those other folks you admire really are building a great platform, as you think, then getting people to use it is helpful. You've got to realize that's not nothing and be proud of making the world a little better--have faith that you are, even if the outcomes are not always clear or the impact is somewhat rarefied.

Yeah, when change comes--and it will--you need some things to make it easier. Savings would be number one, IMO. But in addition to making yourself a lifelong learner, figuring out how to be flexible with your role, your location, your remuneration, etc. will all make handling job market issues much easier. Helping your partner (if you have one) get into a similarly flexible state would also be worthwhile.

But this 'keep awake every single night' anxiety stuff? That's not cured by taking classes or whatever. That might be more of an attitudinal or possibly biochemical issue you might consider working on with a professional who can assess it more completely and figure out how to help in ways we probably can't.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 6:59 PM on December 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you have excellent reviews in your current position, you are very well placed to make a lateral move, and that's probably the fastest and easiest way to pick up new skills.

What sort of internal networking opportunities are there at your company? Make friends with people at your level, or one above, with direct P&L impact, and start talking to them about their jobs. Find out in what ways your skills would transfer, where you might need to shore them up, and most of all get plugged into the office scuttlebutt.

Then, when an opening comes up in an area more central to revenue, apply! Most large companies love to hire from within, and your application will at least be at the top of the pile. If you are as good at managing people and projects as you say you are, your company will definitely want you managing more critical people and projects. And if you're not, the internal application process may well generate some very honest and helpful feedback about where specifically you need to improve, and then you can put together a plan of attack.

Finally, can I point out that the 100k+ you could spend on the graduate degree, not counting the income you'll miss while you're studying, could support you through a very long period of unemployment? Unless your company has very generous tuition benefits, I would think very, very, very long and hard about getting a graduate degree as an insurance policy.
posted by psycheslamp at 7:38 PM on December 11, 2012

What about seeing which skills you think you lack and then using opportunities in your current position to gain (or demonstrate) those skills? Are there any training opportunities or periodic chances to work with other departments in a committee or planning capacity?
posted by ramenopres at 7:38 PM on December 11, 2012

If your company didn't think what you are doing is important, they wouldn't be paying you to do it. Sometimes people slip through the cracks at big companies, but you don't sound like that kind of person – you keep receiving glowing reviews, and you've been promoted to the top of the food chain. So despite your internal evaluations of yourself, evidence would seem to indicate that, on the contrary, you are doing a good job and contributing to your company. Especially in this job market, employers are happy to cut employees who aren't pulling their weight. So rest assured that you are at least meeting expectations in your present position.

I don't know if this will gibe with your experience, but sometimes the way we see ourselves privately is completely different from how other people perceive us, and that cognitive dissonance can be painful. For example, let's say you're a quite capable handyman but you'd rather be a physicist. You might privately think, "I am a lousy handyman because I should be a physicist, and people who are destined to be physicists are not good at other things." After a while, you might start to resent your handyman skills, or even feel that they are holding you back from pursuing your dream of being a physicist. People might praise you for your skills in your career, and you might feel like a total fraud because you're not really a handyman and you're also not quite the other thing that you want to be. Even though, objectively, you are a competent handyman who just happens to want to become a physicist and is having trouble processing that ambition.

I guess what I'm saying is, you might be writing off your skills in management because you have unmet (or perhaps unstated) goals that you feel you're stalled on.
posted by deathpanels at 8:41 PM on December 11, 2012 [4 favorites]

I agree with deathpanels.

manage people (glowing reviews from my former employees), projects, stick to a budget

Seriously, this is a desirable and uncommon skill set. You seem to be applying it well, which is why they ask you to keep doing it, probably.

Your attitude to your other goals is something to think about - do you feel you need new challenges, for example? But you are definitely not a fraud at what you do.
posted by carter at 10:17 PM on December 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's more common than you'd think.
posted by khites at 6:27 AM on December 12, 2012

Dude, I feel you. I do my job in about 20 straight hours a month.

It's like that old joke, a guy comes into a mechanics shop and tells the mechanic, "the car doesn't work, it stops in the middle of the road, it's giving me all kinds of issues." The mechanic raises the hood, looks around and says, "Oh, here's the problem." Then he takes a hammer and gives something in the engine a good whack. The car starts up fine and appears to run like a top. "What do I owe you?" asks the owner. "$105.00," says the mechanic. "$105? What for?" The mechanic takes one of his receipts and itemizes it for him:

Whacking the engine: $5
Knowing where to whack: $100

My point is, if you're really good at what you do, it's effortless. There's no strum und drang, no renting of garments, no drama. You come in, things happen, you go home. You're not a fraud, you have your shit together. Those other people? They're just not as process oriented as we are.

Now, knowing a bit about everything has kept me in awesome jobs for quite some time.

As for advanced schooling, only if the company will pay. Personally, I have an MBA and it was only marginally useful. It's basically a survey of business classes, punctuated by some really frightening math. (Econ, Finance, Accounting.)

What I find keeps me interesting to employers is learning new software. I'm sort of a Salesforce.com Guru now. I'm self-taught and the stuff is so intuitive I almost feel guilty about it. Almost.

I'm also pretty snazzy with Excel.

In the past all you had to do to succeed was be a white, man. There's still very little more to it than that.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:28 PM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

We're all posers. Don't sweat it.
posted by Doohickie at 1:58 PM on December 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

"Fake it till you make it" is common advice for a reason. Most professions are 80% "uh, I have no idea how to solve this problem but here's my best guess based on my experience." Everybody is winging it and bullshitting to some extent. So the flip side of that is that, yeah, you kind of are a fraud, but you're a better fraud than most people and that's what counts. Don't compare your insides to other people's outsides.
posted by deathpanels at 4:09 PM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

« Older Can I talk like a sailor at the happiest place on...   |   Think I can solve this privacy issue of mine? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.