Thursday, September 27, 2012

Random Miscellany About My Life Now ... My Job

I've been reading with some interest what other postacademics have been writing about their nonacademic jobs of late - in particular, Currer's problems at SAP and her concerns over being an introvert in an extrovert's job, and WTF's recent frustrations with her job ... not to mention recentPhD's posts about her new job and Lauren's thoughts about working as an advisor.

All of these recent posts got me thinking - I've written a lot about academia and about my previous jobhunting (and ultimate decision to take a promotion at my current job rather than finding something new) ... but I've never really written about what my job and my postacademic life is actually like, on a daily basis.

So I think that "what my life looks like now" will be the theme of the next few posts. I'll write a bit today about what life in my office and at this workplace is like, and follow up with some other posts - perhaps a rundown of how I spend a typical week, or a description of the people I work with and encounter on a daily basis in my postacademic life in Grad U City. Maybe a description of my partner's very different work environment (since nonacademic jobs come in different forms).

My experiences seem to be a bit different than what other bloggers have been describing at their jobs, and I think that it's important for readers to see that there are different work environments out there. And more generally, I think it's probably good for unhappy academics who read here to get a sense that "a postacademic life" can take many different forms - some great, some good, some not-so-good. I know that it can be hard to envision what your life "could" be like if you left academia, and it's easy to buy into the fiction that your life will be all business suits and TPS reports and snotty colleagues ... or alternately, that it will be all rainbows and butterflies and happiness.

Reality's a little more complex than that. And I've sort of dropped the ball thus far on talking about what my day-to-day life is like these days, so I think it's time to do that.

My current life is pretty great, but my job is only "meh." I don't looooooove it, but I certainly don't hate it. I don't dread coming in in the morning. It's reasonably challenging and keeps me busy enough that I'm not bored and don't feel like I'm not using my brains. But at the same time, it's not so challenging or busy that I never have downtime. (Obviously, since I'm blogging at work...ha)

At this point in my life, this is All Good with me. All I want is a decent job that I can tolerate, that pays a living wage and leaves me with free time to think and live and pursue hobbies. Maybe in the future I will want more than this, but for now it's enough.

So for the first post in this "What JC's life is actually like now," let's talk about what this "meh but perfectly okay job" looks like.

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First, an important note about me.

I fall more on the extrovert end of the personality continuum, which possibly sets me apart from some of the other postacademic bloggers. I like being around people, and I like going to social events, and one of the things that drove me craziest about being in academia was all of the time I spent alone. That's probably a major reason why teaching was my favorite part of my academic life.

That being said, Currer's job sounds exhausting. I very much enjoy my alone time and my down time, and sometimes all I want to do is sit quietly and not talk with anyone. I like socializing occasionally, not on a daily basis.

My current job, then, is actually a good fit for someone like me. I work in an office with 10 other people, 8 of whom are full time. Nine of us are women, with two men. We all get along very well, with no "mean girl" crap. (No idea how we managed to accomplish that, but we did.)

Eight of us have our own offices, with three people in a shared office in cubicles. Everyone's office doors shut, if we need some quiet or some privacy. We have a few smokers in our office who will go outside for a break a few times a day, and sometimes a few of us nonsmokers will join them, if the weather is nice or we just need a break. If not, it's no big deal. Some days, we're all really chatty. Some days, we're not. Most of the time, it's a mixture of the two. So on the whole, it suits my "mostly extrovert, but sometimes not" personality very well.

We have official, planned work social events that we're all expected to attend only twice per year - one in the summer, and one around the holidays. Groups of people will occasionally go out for a drink or quick bite to eat after work - maybe once every month or two - but it's never expected that everyone will go. And the people who don't meet up aren't ridiculed or anything like that.

Unsurprisingly, since we're such a small office, we don't have much in the way of constant meetings or endless forms to fill out, like at WTF's work. We have one meeting per month, and once a week or so there might be an informal meeting between 2 or 3 of us if some new issue or situation arises. We're a small office, so our meetings are pretty practical and to-the-point. They have tight agendas that revolve around "what needs to be done and who's going to do it," rather than "jargon jargon corporate bullshit blah blah blah." Sure, there are policies and ideas that get discussed but never actually get implemented, but I think that's typical of most workplaces (including academia), and it doesn't bother me that much since our meetings are typically productive and useful.

I work 9-5, Monday through Friday. Unlike others who feel stifled by a set schedule and love the freedom of academia, I'm the opposite. A set schedule suits me much better ... particularly when I'm allowed some flexibility (which is the case with this job). Some of my coworkers come in at 8 and take an hour lunch every day. I prefer to eat at my desk while taking a brief internet break, in exchange for an extra hour of sleep in the morning. :) I get three paid weeks off per year, plus an additional five paid holidays per year.

Most of my work is done on a computer at my desk. It can get boring, but no more or less so than any other job. And since we consult with about 11 different client offices and I manage the whole office, there are enough different projects that come up for 11 different client offices (not to mention our own little office) that I'm not usually stuck doing a monotonous task for too long. In fact, sometimes I'm downright overworked and have to start writing to-do lists and strategizing for how to get everything done - which also gives my workday some variety.

Most interaction I have with people other than my coworkers happens over the phone and email. This has its ups and downs - on one hand, I don't "see" other people in the flesh very often. On the other hand, I do have nice working relationships with our client offices over the phone, so talking with them does often feel like talking with casual friends. 

I'm salaried, so my comings and goings are pretty flexible as long as I put in about 40-45 hours in the office and at home. I take work home about twice per month, and it's usually no more than 2-3 hours' worth and can be done in front of the TV or while I'm talking to my partner. I could do more if I wanted or substitute more "in office" hours for "out of office" hours ... but after my years in academia, I have little desire to bring more work home than is absolutely necessary. I'm sure some of you can relate. :)

The hourly employees have to put in 40 hours and no more (unless overtime is explicitly authorized), but once they're past their 90 day probationary period they are given a key to the building and can start taking flextime (staying late, coming in early, or making up some hours on the weekends), with no question as long as they let us know ahead of time and maintain a 40 hour average.

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Do I looooove this work environment? Nah, I don't love it. But I like it just fine. It's casual, laid-back, flexible, and it allows me to be as social or as antisocial as I'm feeling on a particular day. We socialize enough so that I feel like my coworkers are casual friends of mine, but not so much that I feel overwhelmed, like Currer has described.

I'm not passionate about the work, but I feel like I'm contributing a net positive effect to the world, because the work we do not only helps our client offices, but also helps "regular people" quite a bit. I may not be doing groundbreakingly "important" work like academic research, but I do think that my job contributes a net positive to the world that we live in.

Like recentPhD wrote yesterday, though - I don't think that I care about being passionate about something anymore. Others' mileage may vary, but at this point I'm just happy to be in a tolerable work situation with reasonable hours and nice people that pays me a living wage and gives me enough free time to enjoy the rest of my life with the people I love. That's enough for me right now, because it's the stuff that I didn't get from academia.

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Two years ago, I was frantically writing job applications and trying to work on my dissertation. I was scrambling to make appointments with my advisor and fretting over cover letters, working late into the night perfecting every word of everything I was doing. I was nervous and stressed and anxious and overworked, and I snapped at my partner and my family on a regular basis when they got in the way of the work that I "had to do." I had no free time to do anything I liked to do - unwatched TV piled up on my DVR, unread books piled up on my nightstand, and I was feeling unhealthy because I couldn't find time to go to the gym.

And I didn't feel good at all about the work I was doing. In fact, I found it pointless and frustrating.

Now, I come to an office every morning with my coffee cup in hand. I work for 8 or maybe 8.5 hours. I leave at a little after 5, and the evenings are mine. Very rarely do I have to do anything at home, and no one expects me to respond to emails until I'm back in the office the next morning. I'm exercising again, and cooking healthy meals. I'm reading again, and watching movies, and running errands on Sunday afternoons without the constant nagging fear of "what I should be doing instead for work" hanging over my head.

The tasks I do at work are sometimes boring, sometimes less so. But I don't feel that overwhelming sense of dread and frustration and obsession over every detail of everything I'm doing ... because there's no longer a sense that my entire career and well-being is riding upon the wording of every email I send or every conversation I have with my boss.

So while it does sometimes suck to have 40 hours per week where I need to be at my desk, and it sometimes gets me down that I am no longer chasing my perceived "passion" ... I really don't care. I'm just happy to be fully in my life and my family again. I was missing for too long.

So for now, at this point in my life? This boring little office job is exactly what I want and need.

7 comments:

  1. Thanks for this! Really useful to see how your days break down and oh, to be reading for pleasure again. I love the distinction of 'like' versus 'passion'; I think I will need some degree of love or passion in whatever work comes next, but a period of 'like' would be just fine in the mean time.

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  2. Now that I'm on a leave, I was focusing on building towards a new career that I'm passionate about. After starting my recent internship a couple weeks ago, however, I'm realizing that the career field I was considering I don't love at all. I need the time and space to reflect, and I want to find a job that I "like." I have to admit that I'm worried that I won't sell myself effectively enough to convince an employer that I want to work as an administrator (I did before grad school, but that was 4 years ago). I'm thinking I might start with temp agencies and most importantly, keep hope!

    I'm just trying to say that I feel assured that I'm going in the right direction, partly from reading your entry.

    I also saw this video today. I think you'd appreciate it :). http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kWoQWoRjfGs

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  3. The 2 Year Life of the MindSeptember 28, 2012 at 8:25 AM

    Well said, J.C. My next career move will be exactly like you described. Right now, my ultimate goal is to find something that allows me to live the life I can't in academia. I found a blog post online that talked about how the whole notion of loving a job is total B.S. and a LOT of pressure to put on yourself. Rather, you should go with your strengths instead. Ultimately, I believe that no job can fulfill your dreams. It's the people in your life that make it what it is. A job just supplements that.

    I REALLY appreciate the glimpse into your day. I find myself exploring the business world like a cultural anthropologist. I will have to figure out the culture of this new "country" (or as Rainer Maria Rilke said, "the country they call life")and learn the language and their mysterious ways. Your blog posts have been SO helpful in this regard. I am preparing to venture out to temp agencies to test the waters so keep 'em coming!

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  4. You won't know how much I appreciate your blog and fellow students. I am a phd student in one of subfields of psychology and I have been disgusted lately with school/fellows/programs/academia. I feel like "am I wrong? why do I feel this way?" because I think it's total crap. Well, ok, there are things that I enjoy, but..teaching students how to do therapy while they haven't seen therapist since their phd? and doing research that has almost, almost i didn't say no, almost nothing to do with real life, basically research for research, academic for academic,

    at least other disciplines, you don't explicitely say you help human being..etc etc those bullshits.

    including myself, psychologists are the crazies, I wonder how "some" of us are even daring to help other human being. seriously. mind your own business first

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  5. edit" .teaching students how to do therapy while they haven't seen patients(not therapists) since their phd?"

    Also, I have questions for fellow students. Am I wrong? why do I have program/cohorts..etc? (well not everyone, but some for sure) I know people can't like everyone, but am I socially doomed? but I do have friends outside of program, so I try to justify that I am not too crazy or wrong..but finding myself disgusted by fellow students/profs....i wonder...
    please help.

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  6. Don't feel crazy, Anonymous. I am in exactly your shoes. I'm in a more researchy psych field but I hate it too. I'm finishing my dissertation and have no interest at all in any of the projects we do in my lab anymore, not even my own work (and maybe especially not my own work). In my program there are a handful of people who love research and the faculty and everything, and the rest of us are absolutely miserable. But we don't talk about it or really support each other through it. Instead we just end up dragging each other down into the misery pit. I worked in the "real world" for awhile before academia and was so excited about getting back into academia land. But if I'd known what I was getting into, I would have gladly chosen my decently-paying, life-affording 9-5 job and taken more time to figure out what I really wanted to do with my life before tackling grad school (if I even decided to go to grad school at all). And I advise all my research assistants and students accordingly...

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  7. Your job sounds just like mine, down to office size and the attitude towards hours. I really like it too.

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