Ego in the Workplace
I have been with my company for 13 years and this past week was the hardest I can remember. I found out on Monday that my position was being downsized and I am being moved to a different work group, the same work group I left four years ago, taking a slight step backward in my career. I am very fortunate that my company has a large footprint in the Louisville area and they were able to find a lateral position for me, so no loss of pay or any other benefits. In this economy that is a blessing I recognize. Still, it was unexpected and a body blow I am still recovering from. I have never been prone to depression or anxiety but nevertheless a dark cloud has hung over me since I received the news. Thankfully I have a wife that is an excellent listener and she has allowed me to vent and has given me just the right amount of feedback.
My career plan was much different from how it has turned out. I wanted to be an archaeologist since I was young. I majored in history and then picked up a second major in anthropology. I interned first and was then hired as a field archaeologist. I loved the work we did, but the pay was peanuts. Any hope of making a life for myself would mean graduate school and several years of paying my dues. Meanwhile, my ‘day job’ in corporate America provided advancement opportunity, excellent pay and benefits. I met the love of my life right before graduation and we were married a year later. A mortgage, car payments, summer camp for the kids and vacations all re-ordered my priorities. As a child of divorce I realized that what I really wanted to be when I grew up was a husband.
So I told myself that my career was just a way to fund my personal life. My pay meant opportunities for doing the things we enjoyed and protection for my family in the form of stability, health and life insurance. My work brought me moments of satisfaction and it was (mostly) tolerable, but professional satisfaction was something I suppressed. I told myself I was living for other things. I found joy in hobbies, writing for this site included. Everyone knows about my obsession with the outdoors. My wife and I built a marriage we are both proud of and have raised two daughters that are good kids. As the years went by and my work as an archaeologist was farther and farther behind me I became resigned to my career. I made the most of it, with professional successes and a job performance I was proud of.
The company I work for pays me well for the work I do. The benefits are fantastic and they are generous with vacation time. I really have no complaints about working for them. As much as this latest event stings, I understand the business rationale behind it. My group is shrinking, the other group is growing and it’s a logical move. What has been hard to deal with is how it has affected my ego. Even though it bothers me, my status at work does play a role in my self-worth. There is a large amount of unknown for me at this point. I don’t know if I will like the new position or be good at it. While my coworkers are not family, they are least familiar. What I have also learned is that I don’t like change very much.
For Ash Wednesday I attended the service at the Methodist church my wife belongs to. Lent is about imposing discipline on our lives, spending 40 days in reflection and sacrifice. In the Catholic church we give up meat on Fridays and also traditionally give up something else important to us for the season. This is timely and helpful given my crisis of faith concerning my career.
One of the prayers we recited contained the phrase, “Give up unhappiness – Take up gratitude; Give up worrying – Take up trust in God” What I have decided for myself is to find enjoyment in the new position I will start soon. In her book The Happiness Project, author Gretchen Rubin talks about how acting happy can actually begin to make us feel happy. We’ve all seen the man or woman who works in what appears to be an boring or unfulfilling job and seems to be filled with happiness. Just the other day I watched a young man putting a new tire on my truck and he seemed to be in great spirits. He was whistling while he worked, joking with his coworkers and smiled proudly when I thanked him afterwards. It made me ashamed. I haven’t felt that way about my job in years.
So here is to the future, to new opportunities and wake-up calls to action. This has made me realize I need to be more proactive in my career, less passive. I need to be more mobile. My wife and I have developed a code phrase which is that I need to leave positions on top, like Seinfeld, instead of hanging around too long like ER. I’m going to explore what else my company has to offer and maybe take a peak at the job market outside our walls. It certainly can’t hurt. But my main goal is simply happiness. After 13 years of tolerating my job, it’s time for a change.