Friday, May 19, 2017

Climbing the Ladder

I meant to do a post like this a few weeks back, but at the time it didn't really have a "hook" beyond stuff I've probably already talked about here before, so I never really got around to it.  But now I do, so here goes.

Many weeks ago, a lot of things seemed to be in transition, at least work realm.  Craig applied for a job in another part of the University, a couple people from my department moved on, we were interviewing new people for those positions, and there were some internal promotions or job changes at work that caught my attention.  I guess it just seemed like everyone was moving up to bigger and better things.

Now, when I came to my current job, it was a literal Godsend.  I lost my job and the perfect job had just come available, and I had the connection to get an extra little boost in the hiring process.  I got a comparatively large salary upgrade upon taking the job, and there are so many things about this job that are better than the one I had.  I still miss the people and some of the innovation aspects of that job, but overall this is probably a much better fit.  I have no complaints, but it definitely became apparent over these last weeks that if you want a good boost in salary and/or prestige, a new position (and often a new company) is the way to do it.  Unfortunately for me, I am a creature of habit and I don't like change very much.  Even with this job being a great fit, it probably took me a good year before I felt like I had a good sense of the majority of the job, and I seriously still learn new things almost every day.  I hate limbo and I hate being uncomfortable, so that transition period was really tough for me. 

Anyway, with so much job movement going on around me--and a lot of random bills coming in the mail--I started to get a little antsy and wonder if I was missing out on something.  No one else seems to shy away from job hopping, so maybe I shouldn't either.  I mean, it's not something I seriously considered, even through all of this recent stuff, but I guess maybe I just got to wondering if there was something wrong with me that I didn't want to do it.  The money would be nice, sure, but the stress...ugh.  The thing is, I know I'm a good spot for my lifestyle.  I don't have a lot of take-home stress, I have the freedom to go to doctor's appointments and kid stuff without a lot of hassle, I don't have my work email tied to my phone, and most of the time there is no expectation of having to check in when I am on vacation.  Those are pretty big things right there, and I know that if I were to move up or change positions, that could all change.

The biggest catalyst to all of this overthinking was the position in our department that opened up.  The person who left it was a fellow mom of a toddler, and she'd been there for a few years.  She was moving up to a better position in a competing medical system.  I was sorry to see her go, but certainly I could understand the upgrade and her need for a new challenge.  Her old position is one notch above mine.  It is on the medical side of the University, as opposed to the academic side where I am, but it actually isn't that far off from what I do.  And honestly, I didn't think much of it for myself--probably because not long after it was announced, I went to lunch with my former co-workers and one mentioned that her job (a different company now) was on slightly shaky ground due to an acquisition.  So immediately I mentioned the job to her, and pretty quickly she applied and got an interview.  And yet all along I'm thinking, "Geez, she's about 10 years younger than me and she'd be in a higher position than me if she got it!"  But I loved working with her, so I could get over it just to have her around.  Then, right around the time she interviewed, someone else announced they were leaving, which opened up some additional opportunities for our department to shuffle things a bit.  Then I found out that someone in our department who started at the same time as me in the same position level had applied for the original open job.  Internal candidates have the best shot at getting positions, so if she got the one job, her job would now be open...which actually could be good news for my friend, because as it turned out, she didn't really have enough experience for the one she interviewed for, but could be a good fit for the one that could open up because everyone really liked her.

In the meantime, we interviewed a handful of applicants and one really stood out.  But he seemed to be a better fit for the newer open position, and that left my current co-worker and another internal candidate from another department as the main prospects for the original one.  And about five minutes after I got that update from the "boss" for that position, I got an email from her asking me to come into her office for a few minutes. At that point I sort of figured what might be coming.

"I have to ask...Why didn't you apply for the position?"  Long story short, she thinks I'd be perfect for it, she'd love to work with me, she thinks I have a good knack for this stuff, and I am much stronger with data than either of the other applicants.  I got the feeling that if I applied, I'd get it, hands down.  So...someone pretty much offers you a higher position and a raise and you turn it down...but why?

I already dug into reason #1 a little bit above, where I appreciate that my work life does not intrude too much upon my home life.  I don't think that would change significantly in this case, but there are some reasons why I just don't think now is the right time.  There may be a point where things change and I'd feel better about it, but much like when I was approached the first time about coming here (three years before it happened), it just didn't feel right.  Fast-forward to today, and once again I just feel in my gut that I can't do it right now.  The truth is, I am pretty fiercely loyal if you treat me right (hence why I cried more for my co-workers' stress levels than my own when I lost my last job).  And certainly people could argue that I'm loyal to a fault and I should take the opportunity when it comes because another chance may not (though in this business, change is a constant).  And as ridiculous as it sounds, respect for my boss is one of my hold-ups.  Literally the same day as the above conversation (a couple hours later) she gave me a glowing review and gushed about how grateful she is to have me as her data partner.  We do make a great team, and I'm so thankful for all of the patience and time she put into getting me to this point.  I know that getting me trained was not easy for her, as it's a very tedious process.  And past a certain point it takes an awful lot of faith to let someone loose on our data, as any little mistake can brew up a world of trouble.  But she taught me and dealt with my dumb questions and now it's paying dividends in the form of not worrying when she passes something off to me.  She's under an incredible amount of pressure as her plate is constantly full, and it's frequently being piled on by higher-ups who have a last-minute meeting and need a report or some data analysis urgently.  I can't even imagine if she had to go through hiring and training again.  And of course, I'd have to watch it from a cubicle across the way, which would be pretty awkward in itself.  I don't think she'd begrudge me the opportunity to move up, but I do think she'd inevitably be personally hurt by the whole thing.  And that wouldn't sit well with me.

Lest you think I'm just doing this for someone else, there's more.  When I changed jobs, it took me quite a while to get used to what I'm doing each day.  There are a lot of quirks and a lot of "layers" of stuff to learn here because it's such a large organization.  Everything impacts something else, so sometimes there is a clear-cut, time-tested way to do things to make sure that something doesn't get inadvertently impacted.  It probably took me a year before I had a really solid understanding of most things, and like I said, I still learn new things almost every day.  After two years, I feel like I'm in a good place.  This was the first year that I managed the direct mail fundraising for actual units, and that was a learning process itself.  In the other position I'd be managing quite a few more units in a totally different part of the organization, so it would be a lot to take on and a lot more to learn.  And while learning is a good thing, I'm feeling like I'm finally at the point in my current position where I'm comfortable with all of the base stuff and I can now start delving into the more complex stuff.  Instead of just doing what's been done, I have a better feel for where things can improve and how I might be able to do that.  Simply put, I feel like I've just scratched the surface of this position and feel like I can do more within it before I jump to the next thing.

I feel like a lot of people don't develop properly in their careers because they are so eager to get that promotion and jump to the next level, even if they don't really have the depth of knowledge that would serve them better there.  They're qualified enough--maybe just better than any other candidate--so they get the job, but they may not have spent long enough in their prior position to fully understand the next one.  I think that happens with bad managers, for example.  They're so eager to climb up the ranks that suddenly they're thrust into a position to manage people, yet they don't have a complete picture of what those people really do on a daily basis.  Without that, it's hard to manage realistically or efficiently.  I thrive when I feel like I have a comprehensive knowledge of a subject.  I don't have great self-confidence and hate making decisions, but when I feel like I've experienced something enough to have some evidence that my decision is a good one, I am much more self-assured and willing to assert myself.  Translate that to the office, then, and you can see my issue.  I'd much rather fully enhance my knowledge to the point that I feel like I have serious command over it, than to jump into something new and be almost back to square one.  And yes, that's a new realm to learn more about, which serves me well in the long run, but like I said, the timing just doesn't seem right to make that leap just yet.  Someday I'll feel trapped or bored, and hopefully at some point then, an opportunity will present itself.  Or heck, maybe I'll just get good enough at what I'm doing that they'll have no choice but to reward that.  Because, if I haven't mentioned it, my current position plays into my strengths really well.  The other position would, too--to some degree--but again, I'd rather get better at the stuff I don't consider to be strengths (i.e., major decision-making) before I go jumping into a job that demands that on a daily basis.  (And yes, I know, practice makes perfect...but if "practice" doesn't go well, guess what--I might not be here for long.)

So, now I'll sit at my desk every day knowing that I probably could have had that position and that I'm considered well-qualified to move up, but I'm not really able to tell anyone about it.  I don't want the applicants to feel like they weren't enough, or for my boss to feel like anyone was trying to poach me. Yes, she'd probably appreciate that I stayed, but trust me, this is one of those need-to-know-basis things, and right now, no one needs to know.  It's not a bad thing to keep in my back pocket, though.  It's nice to be appreciated and recognized for the work you do and know that others think highly of you.  But this experience has definitely taught me that there's a fine line between living to your full potential and knowing when something just has to be "good enough" for now.  In a world of working moms just trying to show their kids a successful woman, what I'm doing seems a bit contrary to that, but I still feel like there's a lesson to be learned from it.  Whether it's "follow your gut" or "know your limits" or "finish what you started", they're all good...but only time will tell which lesson is the most applicable here...

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