Wednesday, May 04, 2016


I have something on my mind that's interfering with my concentration, and since today is a work from home day, I think I'll try to write it out. Then I'll go for a run, and hopefully come back able to focus on the rest of my day.

I've tweeted a couple of times this week about having an epiphany or two about what made me take a sudden left turn off of my original career path. I want to write about those, but first, I need to set the stage.

I'm currently splitting my time between contracting and starting a business. The current focus of the business is short ebooks, but I have other (related) plans for the medium and long term. I am committed to this business and don't forsee abandoning it, even though it is the sort of business that grows slowly.

However, I am also committed to paying my bills, and don't forsee deciding to drastrically downsize them, either (for instance, by selling our house and moving some place cheaper). We don't need my full former income to pay our bills, but we need a sizeable percentage of it.

My contract work is what makes this possible. My current main contract will be winding down over the next few months. With it, goes my main source of income. This is not at all an unexpected event. In fact, I'm surprised the contract has run this long. I have been working to diversify my sources of income in anticipation of this. Unfortunately for me, I haven't managed to make anything else pay well enough to replace this income.  Fortunately for me, the money I'll book before the contract ends should cover me for this calendar year, even though the actual work will probably finish earlier.

This gives me time to figure out what to do next. My current plan is to continue hustling to make my other projects pay more, and to ramp up my efforts to find another contract. My fallback plan is to go back to a full time job.

To be clear, I don't intend to shut down my corporation if I go back to fulltime work. My understanding of California labor law is that my employer couldn't really force me to do that (they can require that I not compete with them, but that's easy enough to ensure). But if push comes to shove, I'll take a full time job over running out of money. I'd probably just scale back the number of books I publish next year, and work on a strategy to grow that business slowly while I continue to work.

Also, if I sign up to work somewhere fulltime, it will be under the same assumptions I have always had: I'll stay and give the job my all for as long as the work is interesting and rewarding, and I don't count on them keeping me employed past the next paycheck. Fifteen years in biotech has taught me not to expect anything more from an employer, and my own code of ethics means I won't give an employer anything less.

So anyway, my main focus right now is on building my business and looking for more contracts, but I've started looking at job ads, mostly to get an idea of what sort of fulltime jobs I might look for if/when I decide to do that.

And the crappy thing is, everytime I looked at a job ad, I just wanted to cry. Not because of the possibility that I might need to go back to being a fulltime employee, but because reading the job descriptions I would always find two or three items that made me think "and that is how this job will suck." I couldn't see myself in those jobs, being treated with full respect. I could see myself in those jobs, constantly fighting for respect and recognition for what I do, because that is what I've mostly known. I wondered how I could possibly make a compelling application for a job, because the thought of actually doing any of the jobs I was looking at filled me with dread.

I'd pretty much resigned myself to the idea that if I go back to being a fulltime employee, I will be going back to feeling like every day is a bit of a battle, to feeling underappreciated and taken for granted.

But then, I went to look something up on a website for an email I was sending, and on a whim, I clicked on that site's "jobs" tab. I saw a job that I thought I could possibly be a good candidate for that didn't make me think "and that is how this job will suck." I was actually excited reading it, and even though I'm not actively searching for a fulltime job yet, I may apply for this job. We'll see.

That triggered epiphany #1: the problem wasn't with the idea of getting a job, it was with the specific jobs I was looking at.  There are jobs out there that wouldn't fill me with dread, that I might actually be excited about.

The next day, I was answering a question from someone about one of my previous jobs, and I suddenly realized: all but one of my promotions came from a woman boss. I've had more male bosses than female bosses, and frankly, I've really liked almost all of them. But only one promotion has ever come from a man. It was my first promotion, and even in giving me it, he told me that I couldn't go higher until I "demonstrated I could build consensus."

(That wasn't bad advice, by the way, and damn, can I build consensus now... but it hasn't been a 100% good thing. I can often build consensus so unobtrusively that I think sometimes people don't even know what I've contributed. But that is perhaps a topic for another post.)

That triggered epiphany #2: I've spent my career watching male colleagues out-pace me. I've watched men who are objectively junior to me in experience be brought in and given the same title. I've watched men who know less than me be brought in and hailed as So Smart and The Best Thing Ever, even while they suggested things I'd argued for earlier.

Any time I've tried to address this (which frankly, wasn't that often), I've been brushed off.  So, I've told myself to be humble, and work hard, and demonstrate that I'm good at my job and valuable... and it hasn't really worked. I've been paid well, but not treated well. No wonder I feel like I have to fight for respect and recognition. I DO have to fight for respect and recognition, and I'm apparently not very good at that.

What this epiphany told me is that in my current type of job, women can see my contributions clearly, and reward me for them. Men, not so much. I am falling off the tightrope, and I am consistently landing on the "doormat" side.

(The irony of this is that there are relationships I have with other women that I know are strained because the other woman thinks I'm too assertive. And I probably am, in that environment. I think I needed to have different personalities for work and non-work, and instead I tried to have one, integrated personality, and that failed in both places. That is a sobering realization, and I don't really know yet what I'm going to do with it.)

So, given these epiphanies, what do I do? I'm still figuring that out. Here are my options, as I see them:

1. Find another contract so I can keep things how they are. Work hard, build my company, and never have to worry about what a boss thinks of me again.

I really like this option, but I'm not having a lot of luck finding sizeable contracts. I've picked up several small things, but nothing big. So I'm also thinking about whether I could piece a bunch of small contracts together to make this a feasible option.

2. Get some coaching to figure out how to stay on the tightrope a bit better, so that I can go for jobs in my current field with some expectation of being able to command enough respect to avoid having the job suck.

I think I might also need some counseling to get over my past hurts in this regard, too.

3. Figure out how to make a lateral-type move to a different field, where the challenge of learning something completely new will compensate for any other issues. I love learning new things, and that can keep me happy through a lot- and is probably why it has taken me so long to figure out what was happening in my career.

I'd probably also get some coaching to get better at the tightrope walking, etc., but it wouldn't be so urgent.

I like this option, because I'd get to learn new things! But making a lateral-type move can be hard.

4. Figure out how to not care about getting respect/recognition in the workplace.

This would be a pretty good option, if I could just figure out how to do it.

And now I'm going to go for that run. Tell me any options you see that I've missed (or anything else) in the comments.


  1. When you figure out how to do #4, could you let me know?

  2. If I figure out how to do #4, I'll write a book and then maybe I can do #1....

  3. I will enjoy watching your journey, especially since I know it will turn out well no matter what you end up doing.

  4. Figure out how to not care about getting respect/recognition in the workplace.

    I think it would be sad if you ended up not caring. Every time I successfully make myself not care about something I used to, it's really a defeat; like a little part of me was forced to shrivel and die. I know it helps with survival... But I think the price is too high, basically closing off, muting parts of yourself to be able to just breathe...

  5. Anonymous7:01 PM

    I've also had many experiences where my ideas are ignored and when a guy makes the same suggestions they are viewed as smart. I would like good way of handling this.

  6. This- just, so much, these things. And heck, if *you* got that much blowback for "not demonstrating you can build consensus", it would be pretty shocking if I *didn't* have a hard time with things like that (I think I'm about a standard deviation out from you on "inclinations toward confrontation", though that may just be a random bit of biased sample from internet land).

  7. Anonymous5:29 PM

    So, I could be reading into this too much, but you may want to consider getting yourself screened for depression. I am sensing a lot of sadness when you talk about your previous career, even though some time has passed. Also, you seem to indicate that you are easily upset, which can be a sign of depression.


  8. I can't really add anything here, but I can relate to some of your thoughts. I love to learn new things, too, and I'm bummed that I seem to be stuck in a managerial role now. Anything I can think of that may be more interesting would pay me less, and since I support myself (and provide a bit of money for my mom's care, too) I can't take a pay cut. I'm clipping this so I can get back to it easily and am looking forward to reading more on what you decided to do.

  9. Anonymous8:29 PM

    I've been following your adventures for awhile now, and it never occurred to me that you'd go back to a full-time job, though it makes logical sense as a fallback. Reading this, gave me my own epiphany as I'm in the other boat, in that I am treated well, I and my ideas are respected by my male boss (and colleagues), but I am paid below what I should be. I'm 2nd in command in a growing company, which means I'm also tasked with creating and keeping a great work culture, which helps immensely in weeding out the dismissive types.

    However I'm paid less. Right now I see the respect and flexibility (with 2 young kids), easily worth $10-15k in salary somewhere else. But I don't know if that's going to be true a year or two from now give the level of responsibility is growing.

    Where I was really going before I got side-tracked on my own analysis (thanks!), is have you looked into start-ups or smaller companies? You might feel more valued, thought the $$$ differential might be too higher for you....


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