Career anxiety

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, June 2, 2010, 9:38 PM | comments: 0

As we get close to the end of the fiscal year, the performance review and all of that stuff is ramping up at work. (I've never taken more HR-related surveys or filled out evaluations and mountains of other documents as I have at this gig, by the way. The volume is so high that I wonder how much of it is actually valuable.) This process doesn't cause me anxiety, because I'm fortunate enough to have a manager who is very proactive in keeping expectations obvious and letting you know where you stand. In fact, this company has a surprisingly positive culture for making sure that its people are successful. It can't bait people with the million dollar stock paydays that it did in its early history, obviously, but at least within our group, there's a pretty solid emphasis on work-life balance and advancement. I think in the long run, I'd have to be a real screw off to not be successful there.

Obviously, this year, nothing really happens. I haven't been there that long, and my ramp up time was slow given the move, the holidays, the baby, the houses... it has not been easy to engage. Even now, I don't feel like I'm operating at the level I should be, but again, my boss is working to help me figure that out. The opportunities are there, and I'm working them. The point is, I know where I stand, and there aren't any surprises.

The anxiety is rooted in the slightly backward step I took in terms of my career progress to get into the company, and the review process is kind of a reminder of that. While you can certainly make more money there than you would in the Midwest or other areas (which is also a function of cost of living in Seattle to some degree), people tend to enter the company one title or level below where they might have been elsewhere in the industry. The company has its justification for that, and it makes sense to a degree.

Prior to this job, I was guiding processes and teams of people. I don't like to say "manage" because I genuinely believe that while you can set vision for people (and evolve it as the needs of business change), you don't have to tell them what to do in the classic factory worker sense. From teenagers to people 20 years older than me, I find that giving them the means and trust to execute just works. ICOM aside, I've come to realize that nearly all of my jobs in my entire professional career have put me in a "management" position. In my first real job after leaving radio, I had an employee and a half, and a budget of $100k. Since then, I've had a track record of creating things. Seeing tangible results that come out of these situations is gratifying. It's like conducting an orchestra, where you might not have written the music, and you don't have the same skills as the players, but under your guidance you get amazing music. There's an enormous high that comes from that.

So instead of being a lead/manager/sensei, as in previous jobs, my position is that of a senior dev. I dig that, especially at this company because you're in such good company of people who make you better every day. In fact, with a company this enormous, you'll never run out of people who can make you better (unless you wake up one day smarter than Ray Ozzie, which is not likely to ever happen). I've also been in that stuck position, at ICOM, and perhaps I still have some lingering feelings of not knowing where to go when I was there. I need to get over that, because as I mentioned, those limitations don't exist in a huge company.

But I'm still anxious to get back to that point, not just because I enjoy it more, but also because I feel like I have to make up for lost time. Something about this whole experience of moving, along with the birth of my own child, has made me acutely aware of the passage of time. It's not that I fear death or anything morbid like that. I'm also not one of those crazy work-until-you-burnout types who know no satisfying level of achievement. My motivation is more simple: Provide for my family with a very high level of comfort, don't make the same financial mistakes as the rest of my family and satisfy my deepest desire to create things and have meaningful impact on the lives of others. I believe that the next level at work gets me a lot closer to those goals, and frankly, I'm better in that level-up role than I am in my current position.

I'm not entirely sure where that will lead me. Maybe it'll be a discipline change from dev to program management. Maybe it'll be in an entirely different group. I'm starting to get a real feeling for the company in terms of what's hot (or not) and where the action is. I feel like I have the support to figure it out. It's just the time that causes anxiety. It feels like Simon starts college next year. :)


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