I have been in something of a mid-career crisis this last year. Some of the things leading up to it were my turning 40 the year prior, one of my close coworkers being laid-off that prior year as well, my closest co-worker quitting and successfully finding “greener pastures” and my position at work straddling the engineering I’ve been doing and dipping my toes more into management and sales. The last two have been particularly stressful. As I am without a true peer and feeling alone and the inability of “upper” management to help me make a more complete transition.
I think our CEO, who I sit near, has the impression that we are like Marine’s where “everyone is a rifleman”. Instead, it’s more like “everyone can do everything and if they can’t, they’re not valuable”. I have come to disagree and lament this idea. While it is good to have some diversity in work tasks to keep things interesting and moving, there is such a thing as too much.
My real hope was to be promoted into more of a manager/directorship role that had been vacated two years prior. Having stated these intentions, I was passed over on account of the person leaving the job favoring an amateur of an electrical engineer. Perhaps there was some strategic importance to keep developing new products, but I do like outside facing interactions and the challenge of generating new business. Regardless, I became very disenfranchised.
Not surprisingly that lesser experienced and lesser invested engineer, then made sales manager, left for Duluth and to be a kept boy by his wife’s dental practice and the office left vacant. To both force the issue and use the opportunity to give some physical space between my direct report and I, I moved into that office.
All I’ve gained is the ability to see our CEO scowl as he walks in and out of his office, directly facing my desk. I’ve also noted how he talks to himself more like a kid with OCD than a put together man of industry. I’m convinced that he’d rather be locked in his office building plastic models as he spends an inordinate amount of time working on demonstration setups for our products and filming some of the worst product videos ever conceived.
The new impression of the CEO has resulted in a mix of pity for an old man who is a cross between Mr. Burns and Dilbert’s pointy haired boss and frustration that this is the captain of the “ship”; a small ship with no room for promotion and no respect beyond the deck I recently scrubbed.
To add to the feeling of not being valued as a leader a sales rep was hired. Only they went cheap on the person, resulting in a less than capable hire. after a couple fledgling months he was sent packing. I feel bad for the guy, but he was a little too much “bro” culture with minimal mental capacity. He created quite a mess with the customer orders and even screwed up some pricing considerably. At least he survived the holidays, but not much more.
Indeed, it has become time to look for something new. Given the sales guy blunder and the lack of leadership skills, not leaving is becoming risky as I feel the company slowly sinking. Ultimately, I need to take care of my family and myself. The stress, sadness and fear needs to end and this is the only effective way I see that happening. Some mornings over the last month I’ve even wondered if the stress was starting to have some physical effects like depression and even mild chest discomfort. It’s a weird sensation to think that your work, coal miners aside, could be killing you literally.
Over the holidays I applied for four industry jobs and one faculty position. On Tuesday I had an email from one of the company’s requesting a quick phone interview. It was exciting, but also scary that the prospect of a job change after 12 years in the same spot was becoming very real.
Such excitement has an interesting effect. Similar to the freshness of a breakup from a dulled relationship, there’s usually a new burst of energy and optimism, as though dark clouds have moved off and the sun is allowed to shine for a moment.
After an annoying communication issue yesterday where the pre-screening call never happened on account of the screener not being available at the agreed upon time, I was able to connect with her today. Despite the mildly rude blunder the job sounds very promising. The job would cut my already short commute in half and include a fairly substantial pay increase.
The compensation package would also include some incentive-based perks including a revenue bonus and some stock. This is at the heart of one of the main problems at my current company, there is nothing like that. Management believes a simple check is adequate. The reality is that scheme for technical fields is way outdated. There’s nothing encouraging people to work harder and to create success. There’s no incentive to hang around and nothing to lose to leave. That’s not to say that “golden handcuffs” are an ideal solution, but at least there’s something to look forward to. In the new gig, according to my former work bff, there’s also smaller bonuses for doing good work on particular tasks; $100 here and there.
Lastly, there’s a team/peer environment that I am currently missing. I guess being in position limbo is a lonely place. I’m social enough of a worker that I need some people to bounce ideas off of, inspire and challenge me. Perhaps there’s a titch of fantasy/illusion in my thinking now, but I haven’t had something to dream on work-wise in a while so this feels good.
At a minimum, this will put my utility in my current job in the spotlight. An offer would also mean leverage for change. Perhaps an even better offer at my current company. However, I feel there’s a point to be made in my leaving. That point is both that the current company should get with the times in terms of HR policy as well as make more than a minimal effort to make its employees feel cared for and necessary.
If I do end up moving forward with this new job I’ll likely need to set some goals and self expectations. I still have a desire to eventually transition to a professorship-type role. Perhaps that’s on the five to eight year horizon. Also, despite some of my gripes there is a lot of good in my current position. I am at least respected as an expert in my field and have made some significant progress on introducing new products. I get to travel and have some flexibility in my work schedule as well. I even get to do some coaching. The hours have gotten longer though and there’s a sense of ominous hopelessness sinking in.
It’s time to breathe and let life take me where I need to go. Regardless, things will be okay.