Is this real life?
April 2, 2013 7:00 AM   Subscribe

About 6 or 7 months ago, I started my first post-academic job in a corporate environment. (I had been an adjunct.) I've now reached the point where the honeymoon's over, and I'm deeply concerned that I'm unlikely to find any satisfaction in work. Am I expecting too much of my working life, or is there something more?

I was frustrated as an (humanities) adjunct because the pay was not good and, worse yet, unreliable from one semester to the next. When I first stepped out the door, I was immensely relieved to have found work, and at a company that I will admit treats me very well. I have a decent salary, good benefits, and I like the people I work with. These things are still true, but lately I've been feeling just completely dissatisfied with my working life.

I just find it very hard to care. Whenever anybody talks about working in line with the company's mission or goals, I find it hard not to roll my eyes. I work on the tasks I am assigned to but I basically go through the motions, doing what's required of me, but I don't really care about it. This is very strange for me; when I was at the university, I was a bit of a perfectionist and extremely passionate about my work and just doing a good job in general.

I'm not sure if it is the corporate environment (I cringe at half the verbs that get thrown around around the office) or what, but it's just hard to muster any enthusiasm for anything. It doesn't help that most people around me seem to be big boosters of the company at large, and deeply invested in the work they're doing. I feel like there's something wrong with me that I'm not.

When I took the job, I told myself it was fine, that no matter what I did I could just work for the weekend and pursue my other interests in the evenings and during my time off. I thought that working 9-5 would free me up to write and research topics that I wanted to write and research about, without worrying about how they'd look on an academic job application or on my CV, or even whether they'd get published anywhere beyond my blog. I've found that to be very difficult to do, though--I just don't really have the energy for it. I just want to come home on and turn off and watch TV.

I appreciate and rely on the salary and benefits. Having steady employment like this helped me and my family get on with our lives in a way we weren't able to do when I was on the adjunct merry-go-round. And it is by no means a bad job. Not at all. As I said, I like the people I work with, my salary is reasonable, I get good benefits. But that almost makes my frustration worse. I'm honestly a bit scared that this is all there is: that this is just what the real world is like, and I should just deal with it. That sounds horrible.

I guess my question is: is this normal? Is this what life post-university is like? Should I just try to figure out a way to deal with it, or what? Did I just choose the wrong path, or is this just what the path is like?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (29 answers total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
Do you believe in the work your company does?

I've never worked in the corporate world, so I might be way off base here. But I find that I'm much happier in my work when I can find some way to respect the overall goals and purpose of the company I'm working for.

I don't mean you have to be super gung ho about it, but can you find some aspect of the company's mission that you agree with? Can you find a way to feel like your work has purpose?

The ability to do that might make it easier to remind yourself of why you're there.
posted by Sara C. at 7:10 AM on April 2, 2013

This doesn't sound to me like you don't care; it sounds like you actively dislike it. That's a big energy-suck. I've had jobs where I didn't much care, and they were fine - they didn't leave me feeling drained or resentful or existentially angsty. The job I have now is one in which some of the things I do are really not very interesting in and of themselves, but the tasks are important to my colleagues, whom I like and respect, and so I get satisfaction (mostly, anyway) out of doing them as well as I can.

It really helps to work with people you like and respect. This doesn't get the emphasis it deserves, I think.

So, is this All There Is? Not necessarily. But it does depend more than a little on you and how you frame your needs and desires. If you've really given this job and its environment a shot, and it's just not working for you, it's okay to go off and find something else that, while it may not meet all your emotional and psychological (and financial!) needs, doesn't suck you dry, either.
posted by rtha at 7:12 AM on April 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

My last job was at a company who didn't have any mission or values beyond MAKE MORE MONEY! I now work for a company who has a mission and values that I appreciate and who actually works hard to live those values rather than just hang them on the wall. Pretty much everything else is the same (actually my job now is much less challenging). I wanted to die at my last company, at this one I enjoy going to work every day.

I have much more energy for my out of work stuff because I'm energized at work. I come home if not totally happy every day then at least content.

I would suggest finding a company you believe in or at least feel good about because it does make a huge difference.
posted by magnetsphere at 7:13 AM on April 2, 2013

That's what its like doing a job you don't love. I made sure I went into a field I like doing. The only part of my job I do not like is the drive in and the parking (I am an IT admin at a library and the library itself doesn't have its own parking lot).

Its up to you if you want to go back to school to do something you like doing for a living. IF you do something you like doing then work does not seem like work.
posted by majortom1981 at 7:14 AM on April 2, 2013

Once you've been there a year or so, you'll probably start to have some more intellectual energy - or at least, I've found that to be the case. It definitely is a trade-off, though. Sometimes I really regret not becoming an academic, because whenever I do get to teach or research, I am really happy.

I'd suggest that in the long term you aim for a job somewhere you can sort of get behind the mission. If you're the type of person skeptical about capitalism, buzzwords, corporate ideology, etc and the type of person who places a lot of value on autonomy and ethics, it can be very destructive to be submerged in your average corporate culture - it just about drove me crazy when I tried it, since I oscillated back and forth between needing to pretend to believe in order to be a team player (which led to moments when I did believe, which were terrifying - watching my beliefs erode under the daily pressure to believe in the mission was pretty terrible) and a feeling of alienation and cynicism that isolated me from my coworkers and everything about work. I felt (and occasionally still do feel) like a spy or an alien because my life and beliefs were so different from those of my coworkers. (And they genuinely are - this isn't some kind of "Frowner thinks they're a special snowflake because they watch Portlandia and their co-workers watch Scandal".)

Working at Large Land Grant University, I've found two things: one, I genuinely do support many aspects of what we do here, which helps a lot; two, I have a union gig and a scattering of weirdos and radicals amongst my coworkers. Plus I could add three: the general culture here is such that even the people who are not much like me in values and lifestyle are more like me - and more likely to be cool with our differences - than in my previous places of employ.

(Although actually, in some ways the neatest job I ever had was working with an R&D guy in a small industrial plastics place. The pay was mediocre, the job was a bit insecure, my coworkers were very very different from me, I have some ethical concerns about industrial plastics anyway....but it was a unique little place with its own culture and everyone was, like me, upper working class/lower middle class.)

It's possible to square the circle. Every time I wish I was teaching, I remember all my friends who are precariously adjuncting, don't have any health insurance, etc, and remind myself that it's not like I gave up a situation where I would be 100% happy anyway.
posted by Frowner at 7:17 AM on April 2, 2013 [8 favorites]

Hats off to people who love their jobs--man, that's great for you.

I like my job--it's a great gig--but it's just a job for me, and I'm totally cool with that. A few of my colleagues are just passionate about the interesting questions and novel challenges--again, I doff my hat to you, sir! But I like to show up, do a bit of work, come on to MetaFilter, eat some snacks, do some more work, and then go home.

I would literally never think about the things I do in my off time. It never even occurs to me to think about the work I do. At work, I work, and I do my best (and I think I'm pretty good). I even think my company is doing pretty cool stuff--I "believe" in its mission. But the work is not a part of my being at all.

I don't think there's anything wrong with you. Whether you can live with a job that is not some great Calling and is instead just That Thing You Do to Eat and Pay for Netflix is your call. Personally, I think the people who really believe in their work are the vanishingly small minority.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 7:28 AM on April 2, 2013 [39 favorites]

This is not the end of the world. I've worked at large corporations most of my adult life. I started out at MCI, which was probably one of the first places with a "start-up" culture. It was great. I worked there before the Bell Corporation was broken up, and MCI was the company that changed the world of telecommunications. We were forging a new road, and I was there for all of it.

Then, like all things, I got older, the company employed people who pissed me off, it happens.

I stayed in Telecommunications for 25 years. Then I left and I'm now an analyst.

I like it fine, but I've never re-captured the gung-ho, total immersion of my early working days.

It may have to do with being more of an adult, and not having that expectation, or having outside interests that are more compelling than my job. I may have burned out.

I'm not unhappy. I don't find my work unpleasant. I like my co-workers, but I'm not living for my work, I'm not absorbed by it.

I've made my peace with this. I exchange 8 hours of my energy per day, and the company pays me. Then I take the money and do fun stuff with it.

Not everyone can be lit up by their job. It would be nice if that were the case, but it's just not possible. We can't all be Cowboy, Firemen and Animal Doctors. Someone has to do the Excel spreadsheets.

If you believe that your happiness can be found in outside research and writing, then make the time for that. Commit to spending an hour a day on it (to start) it may be that you're in a new phase of your life where things just aren't as involving as they were when you were in your 20's. That happens.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:32 AM on April 2, 2013 [4 favorites]

To answer your question, it sounds very normal/typical to me. What you describe is extremely close to my own experience, right down to having to fake enthusiasm for the company's goals and wondering why so many people seem so into it all.

Not many workin' folks find a lot of personal value in what they do at their jobs, but those jobs are what puts food on their kids' plates every day. It's why phrases like "golden handcuffs" exist, and songs like "working for the weekend" were written! And why people take pleasure in hobbies. See, now aren't those things starting to make more sense? : )

And the more people or things that come to depend on your continued employment (I myself have a wife, two kids in school, a mortgage, two car payments, and innumerable pets, all counting on my biweekly paycheck), you'll really come to appreciate the phrase, "don't quit your day job!"
posted by see_change at 7:37 AM on April 2, 2013 [5 favorites]

Yes, in my experience corporate life is usually alienating and draining.

Now, part of my experience comes from being forced to work far below my skill level and/or in the most inefficient way possible. A lot of people in the corporate world are not intellectually very bright, and will require you to work in a way that they understand. A process improvement that they can't understand isn't going to be any good to them. This isn't something that can be held against them as individuals - it takes all sorts to make a world, and whoever is in charge, gets to run their show as they see fit. But it's still frustrating to be on the underling side of this.

But if the corporation is well run, then yeah, a lot of work in the commercial sector is not interesting or fulfilling, and that's the way it is.

What I would suggest is that you build up a few years' industry experience and then re-enter academia in a full-time paid post, even if it's a fixed term contract. That increases your chances of doing meaningful work and getting acceptable pay for it. Grad work at the level you've been doing, and at your age, can be very cultish, in that the infinitely expendable employee sacrifices to provide for the employer and is continually resentful and desperate about finding ways to dig up more opportunities to sacrifice. Academic work isn't all like that, it just seems that way at your stage of cult indoctrination.
posted by tel3path at 7:43 AM on April 2, 2013 [4 favorites]

It sounds normal to me too.

I was actively repulsed by my first career; switched to something that I don't hate, but certainly would never give a thought to in my off hours. There are occasional bright spots but in general I work because I like being financially secure more than I dislike having to work... (this wasn't true in my previous career, which I did up and quit with nothing lined up.)

There is usually a massive disconnect between how I actually feel about the relative importance of things and how I comport myself at my jobs. Less so in my current one; but in my last one there would literally be team meetings with chanting slogans and cheering for the company, and for me it was like being on Mars.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:49 AM on April 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Not really sure if this will help or will relate to you, but I left an academic job several years ago. I will share this because I think that you could do the same things at other corporate jobs, but it depends on where your interests lie, would a workplace give you a certain amount of freedom,etc.

My first job outside academia was hell, in my opinion. I tried to find a job that was a better match in the next place of employment, which was a corporate job.

I would consider the subsequent job that I took a corporate jobs (job A) and I had similar thoughts (who cares about this project, their client, and surely there are more efficient ways to accomplish task X.Why sit in a meeting for 5 hours and discuss how to do the work,with gant charts, when you can just *do* the damn task in half the time?). I probably could have written parts of your question during my time at that corporate job..

I was able to find a bit more happiness in the next corporate job that I found (job B), and mentioning some of the things that I did, which made me tolerate and sometimes enjoy the next job.I think that this could apply to you, too, but it would depend on your workplace environment.

So what did you enjoy about academia, OP? Was it because you pursued interest and did everything to learn about it,whether it be going to a lecture, seminar, reading a journal article? Probably freedom to do so, too, right?

You can do the same thing in a corporate job. So in my last corporate job, I entered with a plan (I did not share it with the was to acquire everything that I needed for freelance in my industry, such as samples, contacts, and learning how to do A,B, C, etc.). So make a list of those things that you want to learn and make a plan as to how to get there. Now look at your workplace. If Bob or Jane are specialists in one of your desired to learn skill lets, talk to them at lunch (or hang out in their office from time to time and learn what they do). Would any of your desired to learn interests align with the company's interests in terms of career development? Try to see if your workplace will let you do a "lunch and learn" for all people in your department. But by using this approach, the workplace became a place that a person could learn skills that were desired, along with interact with some great people (it sounds like you like your coworkers?). So OP if you now pick another job that you want to transition into, your workplace may be able to train you for some of those skills, or give you projects that will be samples for the next job, whatever.

I will be honest that I found more happiness and acquired more independence,which is what I needed, by leaving the workplace and working for myself as a freelancer/contractor for these same companies/agencies a year later. But I was able to achieve more 'happiness' at a corporate workplace by adopting the "what can you learn" especially when it was limited to a year or two.
posted by Wolfster at 7:54 AM on April 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

> I have a decent salary, good benefits, and I like the people I work with.

This is 80–90% of the definition of a good job. You've been there just over six months, which is pretty much where you start getting real projects and real teams to work with. You won't have had any responsibility yet, but it'll come. Ask if your work is satisfactory; one is seldom a very good judge of what is required. Find tiny delights in completing administrivia correctly and quickly. For instance, I've seen more people been fired over minuscule oversights and liberties taken in expense claims than anything else.

If you think the next 35-45 years will be just being paid to be at your desk, that's not the worst. It's the base you build the rest of your time and activities upon.
posted by scruss at 8:06 AM on April 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

WRT the "big boosters," enthusiasm, and company goals, I once read a comment on Metafilter (that naturally I cannot find now) which went something like:

"Both employers and employee play a game. The rules are:
- Employers pretend you will work for them forever and ever until the day they fire/lay you off.
- Employees pretend they will work at the company forever and ever until the day they quit."

In other words, there are probably a lot of other people who at least feel similarly to you. I'm 100% certain you are not alone; you're not the only one who isn't drinking the company Kool-Aid. But there's usually very little upside -- and a lot of downside -- to not pretending to be largely in agreement with company values and to not pretending that you will work there for a long time. It's just part of the game, and many people separate their work lives and personal lives for a reason.
posted by andrewesque at 8:08 AM on April 2, 2013 [4 favorites]

Is this normal? Yes. Not everyone has the life-affirming career that our culture grooms us into expecting. Do you have to settle for it? Well no, but first you have to work out what you want. Many people put up with dull jobs for the benefits -- the money, flexible hours, a good pension, good colleagues, whatever floats your boat. If the thought of such a mundane future fills you with dread then perhaps you need to branch out and find something more rewarding, but that's the far scarier prospect for many. It might come down to a choice between salary and job security versus risk and personal fulfillment.
posted by londonmark at 8:13 AM on April 2, 2013

I guess my question is: is this normal? Is this what life post-university is like? Should I just try to figure out a way to deal with it, or what?


But it is often possible to work a corporate job and still do some of that stuff you were extremely passionate about on the side. If you loved teaching, for example, or loved teaching a certain subject, find one or two individual students or one weekend class that you can teach at the local community college or adult education center. If there is no such course already, develop a course and get them to let you teach it. And you can still devote a few minutes a day to writing that book you've always wanted to write.
posted by pracowity at 8:15 AM on April 2, 2013

I experienced a lot of dissonance when I transitioned from graduate school and an adjunct position to a full-time, professional job. I still work in higher education and my job involves using the skills I developed while in school, but I was completely and utterly miserable at first. I am not sure if it is "normal", but I think there is always an adjustment period between two very different types of employment. For example, I had to adjust to the fact that, unlike an adjunct, I didn't have to bring my work home. I also had to adjust to the fact that, unlike a graduate student, I didn't need to constantly work on independent research projects. I still experience a bit of panic when I believe I should be contributing to the field I devoted 3 years of my time to, but it comes and goes.

I think my dissatisfaction is due to my feeling mismatched in the field I am attached to currently (academic support/education, whereas my research in graduate school focused primarily on social cognition). So although I get to conduct research for a living without the pressure of a publish or perish environment or the misery of working for a corporate jail I don't really CARE about the research I am conducting, and I feel this is problematic for me in the area of self-actualization. Is this the case for you?
posted by Young Kullervo at 8:19 AM on April 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

I haven't had a straight job in about 20 years, so my take might not be as helpful, but--whynot write your blog stuff before you go to work? I think it's hard to do anything really profound after a long day of work and I love my job. And you can research and get involved in activities that have nothing to do with your academic career--you don't have to be super-scholarly in your free time as if to atone for your job. Maybe you might think about re-tooling your interests--gardening, kayaking, something physical. You also might see if you company has volunteer activities that you would feel good about supporting.
It's not the same world as academia, and trying to compare the two will just make you unhappy.
posted by Ideefixe at 8:27 AM on April 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

I want to second what Frowner said about how it takes awhile to recover your intellectual energy. After working part time through my PhD, my first 9-5 wore me out. Part of it was recovering from the academic work, and letting my brain rest til it really got that it didn't HAVE to work on those papers anymore. Part of it is how big of a change it is to be around people in a structured environment that long, every day. I'm a year and a half out, and it's only been the last few months that I've really wanted to work on intellectual side projects. The first few months, I was exhausted every day, but then I at least found the energy to go to exercise classes and be social.

The other thing that has helped me get into side project stuff is having a hack day/coder's night/study group to hang out with. It's hard to find the energy home alone, but it's totally different being around other people who are excited about their projects and think your project is cool too.

(Yes, there are probably better jobs out there too, but that you like the benefits and people really is most of it as far as I can tell. Hope this helps!)
posted by ansate at 9:07 AM on April 2, 2013

I think if you can be like some of the people in this thread who can appreciate work for what it is -- a way to be productive and make some money -- that's ideal. I'm not really like that, and also have a hard time when I don't find meaning in what I do all day. In fact, I remember feeling the same way as you in one particular job, when it was baffling to me how others were so loyal to the company that they wouldn't use competing products. I think you can be more engaged in your job if you feel like you're really doing something worthwhile, whatever that means to you. Is there another company whose mission you believe in and you'd be excited to work for? Is there a different role you could play where you would feel like you were doing something meaningful? Is there a group of people you really respect and want to help? All of these things could help point you in the direction of something you care about more, either at your current company or at a different one.
posted by chickenmagazine at 9:28 AM on April 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Hey, there's always somethin' good on TV. Cut yourself a break. I have had a similar career path, and here are my two cents.

Part of what you're going through is a massive identity shift. You've gone from having publishable insights about big, important ideas within a community that understands and appreciates them [okay, that last part was never true but it was fun to pretend], to one where it's frightening to chit-chat with someone about their favorite book. (In my current situation, the answer is almost always what is universally popular AT THIS SECOND.)

So now, no one gives a shit what you think, about anything beyond what the current meeting is about. Yet you still have the interests and curiosity that led you to your degree in the first place.

You need to respond to this identity change. You either need to find ways to remain connected to your academic passions as a civilian, which will take discipline and effort. Or you let it go, and begin to accept your new circumstances. And this latter choice doesn't have to be a horrible concession. Remember all those times in grad school when you joked with your peers about how much you'd love to read trashy fiction for a week? Well, now you can, if you want. You can also find a balance between the two, one that fits you.

I like reading much of the same stuff I read in academia. And by discipline and effort I just mean something like this: after I come home from work, I take a nap. A short one. But it recharges my batteries enough so that once the kids and wife are asleep, I can easily read for 90 minutes or two hours before going to bed, just about any night of the week. (I've arranged household duties with my wife such that this is possible, in my case.)

Put books and reading material on your mobile device. You're in line, you're taking a break, pull that out of your pocket and do some reading. You don't have to settle for the routine of Commute > Work > Commute > TV > Sleep.
posted by Philemon at 9:38 AM on April 2, 2013 [4 favorites]

What department are you in? In my experience, if you are actually making or selling the product there is less bullshit. But if you are in the "strategy" department or anything to do with internal communications or initiatives, God help you. I couldn't take it and now am self-employed, and I am magnitudes happier. BTW, after years and years in those environments, I never did figure out whether my coworkers genuinely were believers or if everyone was faking it.
posted by Wordwoman at 9:44 AM on April 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

It's really hard to find a job that will reward you handsomely to do things you find fun and intellectually engaging. Sometimes you need to settle for what Admiral Haddock described, and that's why they pay you so nicely to be there: because no one in their right mind would want to do the job for fun.
posted by wolfnote at 10:53 AM on April 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

Whenever anybody talks about working in line with the company's mission or goals, I find it hard not to roll my eyes.

I have worked corporate jobs for years and years (frowny emoticon), but I have never once heard anyone talk about the "mission" unless they were making a joke for us to roll our eyes at. But then I've worked in tech and people tend to be younger.

I work on the tasks I am assigned to but I basically go through the motions, doing what's required of me, but I don't really care about it.

In my experience almost everyone is doing some version of this, especially at larger corporations. It might be that you work in an exceptionally "Ned Flanders" type of environment where people really worship the "mission statement." Not every corporate job is like that, but there is always a trade-off of your own interests for security and a paycheck.
posted by drjimmy11 at 11:28 AM on April 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

Others have mentioned alienation, but you might want to go to the source and read up on Karl Marx's theories of alienation. It explains so much about why the modern corporate office is the way it is.
posted by 2bucksplus at 11:51 AM on April 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Whenever anybody talks about working in line with the company's mission or goals, I find it hard not to roll my eyes

Could you be working for the wrong organization? When I left academia for a full-time job, I experienced the same relief. But because I worked for a non-profit organization whose mission I cared about, I never experienced the eye-rolling you describe. (I could also work at a for-profit company if I cared about their product or service.) Here, discussions about mission, vision and efficiency are fundamentally about how to best advance certain changes in the world, which motivates me. Put generically, trying to change the world is what motivates me, and I quit academia because at the time I didn't believe I could work for change effectively there.

What was motivating you in academia, and can you find it in the corporate or non-profit sector?
posted by slidell at 2:09 PM on April 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

is this normal? Yes, for a the vast majority of people and their jobs. Yes, deal with it while you try and find something better.

And the thing that makes it livable is......Always be looking for something better. If that includes furthering your education down the be it.
posted by couchdive at 2:49 PM on April 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

After 25+ years of being a student (including kindergarten!) I found the adjustment to the non-academic world very difficult. In fact, about 6 months into my first non-academic job post-doctorate, I left for many of the same reasons you seem dissatisfied. Now, 12 years later, I look back on that job a bit wistfully, because it was a fine job, really! I just didn't know how to be fine with it. I think this is extremely common for people leaving academia, because the graduate school experience doesn't really prepare us or necessarily even value the non-academic path. So take philemon's advice--accept your new identity and try to find a way to balance your intellectual/academic needs--and don't give up just yet.
posted by gubenuj at 6:10 PM on April 2, 2013

I know exactly what you're talking about.

I was an adjunct prof for 23 years. And, in a period of 1 1/2 years I lived in four cities from the West Coast to the East Coast. I had to live off of my adjunct teaching so I would often go to great lengths to make sure I got enough enrollment for my class to go. Summer school: I'd stand in the registration line with flyers. Starvation was my motivator. Of course, I was always looking for that tenured job. So, I never psychologically set down roots wherever I was. And slowly but surely I was getting older. I didn't want to end up being an itinerant teacher at 65. I first taught photography and then migrated to computer graphics

One day I got an email from a headhunter wanting to know if I wanted to apply for a new media job. Considering that for every teaching job I applied for there were 300 applicants I wasn't used to being in a seller's market and, in fact, told her "if this was spam, I wasn't interested. So, I know the state of adjunct teaching as a "career."

Long story short: I actually did get a new media job and have been out of academia for 15 years. I often lament my place in the workplace. I'm an iconoclast living in a Dilbert world. Despite that I've had my moments of glory. BUT I have outside interests that keep me connected. That's a key for me. I love having the security. I've worked hard to make this job interesting to me. In fact, at one point I took a lateral move away from being a supervisor to being "just" a designer. It was the best move I ever made.

The security has allowed me to move from a "survival mode" to a more secure one. If you have outside interests that will keep you engaged and if you compare your sense of security, you may be able to move forward. The way I look at it, all organizations are basically the same. There are good and bad things and, most importantly, inexplicable dysfunctionality. But weighing the pros and cons, I'm glad I'm in my job. It frees me to do other creative things.
posted by Taken Outtacontext at 9:00 AM on April 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have a Ph.D. in the humanities, but I've been working in software engineering for 20 years now. In a recent MeFi discussion about the terrible job market in academia, someone said something about identity that clicked with me. I have been able to make peace with my career path because my primary identity is not my job or my academic pursuits. I have a very strong identity as a provider for my family (two kids, my wife was an adjunct forever, now disabled and not working), and my career satisfies that identity to a great extent.

Having said that, rest assured that I'm completely disgusted by much of corporate culture, sneer at rah-rahing the company, etc. Fortunately, a lot of software engineers share similar distrust of the system. If I were in, say, marketing, I'm sure I would slit my throat in days.

I have found job satisfaction in process improvement. Working in a place where constantly trying to do things smarter is a core value keeps me sane.

Right now, I'm torn between my provider instinct and what gives me day-to-day satisfaction: I'm working for a relatively big company. I'm very well compensated and I enjoy my work and my direct coworkers. However, I despise the executives who set the tone for the culture. It's completely clear that they do not care at all for the people doing the work and have zero interest in making the work environment better.

It's so frustrating to know that process changes that would make the work environment better would also help the company to achieve its goals better, and to know what those specific changes are and how to implement them. I spent my first couple of years here throwing myself against brick walls in regard to offering my knowledge and experiences with process improvements. It's clear to me now that the only way to survive here is to do my job well and not worry about the bigger issues. But that would make me unhappy and would be a long-term bad career choice for me (lose my desire to make things better).

Fortunately, I work in an industry where jobs are plentiful. Eventually, I'll find another job that compensates me equally and is more committed to working smarter.
posted by tippiedog at 7:22 AM on April 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

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