Thursday, October 24, 2013

Boxed In

This post may be unnecessarily cranky. My asthma is acting up, so I have the irritable feeling I get when I'm not breathing well. And yes, I'm taking my meds this time. Petunia's had a fever for the past few days, and I suspect I'm fighting off whatever that was, and it is messing with my lungs.

So anyway, you've been warned about the crankiness.

I do not think, however, that the underlying feelings I'm about to discuss are due to the irritable, not breathing well thing, because I've been feeling this way for awhile. I'm just choosing now to rant about it because of the irritable, not breathing well thing.

I'm feeling boxed in. And boy, do I hate it. Turns out, I really do just want to be closer to free.

First of all, there are a bunch of things about my current workplace that leave me feeling unable to be the kind of manager I'd like to be. I keep trying to remove the constraints so that I can solve my management problems (or just keep new problems from cropping up), and I keep running into roadblocks. This is annoying me greatly. I take management seriously. I care about it. I want to do it well. I think it is important to do it well- bad management causes so much unhappiness in people's lives, and I think being happy* is one of the most important things in life. I am starting to think that I have chosen my industry poorly in this regard, but that is a rant for another day. For now, let's just say that biotech tends to glorify "scientific genius" and gloss over the ability to actually manage a team to get shit done.

Second of all, I'd like to change how I live my life. Maybe spend more time on my projects. Maybe spend more time in Auckland. Maybe write more. Maybe travel more. Definitely spend less time going to work to feel constrained into doing a shitty job at management. I can almost see how to get there, but not quite. I've got too many other constraints on my life right now, and I haven't figured out which are real, which are imagined, which can be maneuvered around, which are absolutely non-negotiable. The end result, is I feel trapped. I hate feeling trapped. I am fighting the urge to gnaw my own arm off to get untrapped, because I'm pretty sure that would be counter-productive. (Gnawing my own arm off in this context would be doing something like rage-quitting my job, which while annoying in parts (see point 1, above), is quite good in other parts and pays a significant portion of our bills.)

Third, I am completely, utterly done with the way the world wants to put me in a box. Am I a scientist? Or a techie? Or a writer? Or a mother? Or a website builder? Or.... Damn it, I'm all those things and more, and I don't see why I should have to choose. Sorry it is messing with your organizational scheme, world. You should have designed the schema better. As any good database designer can tell you, there are really only three numbers: zero, one and many. People are many-dimensional. Deal with it.

How free are you feeling these days? Are you a "gnaw your own arm off to escape captivity" person?


*Or at least content. My definition of "happy" doesn't necessarily mean "giggling deliriously." Happy to me means enjoying life as best as your circumstances will allow. This post may help explain. Or it may not.


  1. Anonymous4:54 AM

    You're not trapped! I definitely think you should leave this company sooner rather than later, even if it means working at a different firm while you plan your next big thing.

    1. The problem is, I am coming to the conclusion that the issues in my first point are an industry thing, not a company thing! I am working on finding a solution for how it is affecting me, though.

    2. Anonymous7:38 AM

      That might be true, but have you always been this miserable? It seems to me like there are a lot of bio-tech companies in SD of various sizes and it's unlikely that they're all going to be quite as awful as your current job. Regression to the mean suggests that you should get out now because even if the next job is bad it will be less bad (and it will be easier to plan your next move without the excessive emotional upheaval in the current job).

      One upper-level manager can make a tremendous impact on company culture for better or worse. We were talking to one of our (biotech) friends in Mountain View last month who is the only one who has worked for the same company since graduation (13 years with the same company!) and he's been interviewing to leave because one upper-level manager recruited from [big name old company] has single-handedly destroyed the company culture and made it an unpleasant place to work. At the other end, my boss here is well educated in the challenges facing women and minorities (his wife is an expert in the topic) and he's changed the culture of my department from a good old boy's network to a much more inclusive and supportive environment.

      So even if the problems are an industry thing, it seems like you've hit a really bad situation. Even if you're planning on making a different move, why wait until you have the perfect next step before getting out of this situation? Why not cut your losses now?

  2. It is interesting that you post this now, as I'm slowly inching my way towards the PhD finish line (I'm getting there...they've pushed the 6-months till you're done button) and feeling trapped because opting out of a PhD early seems like shooting yourself in the foot. I'm stuck with this until it is done, and longing for the future where I will have a job that I'm allowed to quit without then feeling like I've wasted all the time spent at that job. But now you're saying that the feeling doesn't just go away when they hand you the piece of paper!

    Good luck. I'm sure you'll figure this one out eventually, and I'm looking forward to seeing what you wind up doing.

    1. It is definitely easier to quit a job than quit your PhD. I am not staying because I think quitting now would close off future opportunities or the like, but because I am still learning useful things at this job. and I genuinely like most of my colleagues. This means that I can put up with the nonsense long enough to find the right way to leave.

  3. Good luck with this. I don't know that there ever is the perfect job, but some are definitely better than others, and for me, they do involve having enough control over my situation to do things the way I want to do them.

    I've realised that I have always deliberately sought out teams with a few women at my level on them (not often true in my field) so that I am not the only one and I think it makes a difference.

    Anyway, not sure that I have any useful advice, just wanted to comment because this really post really resonated with me, and I did get out the other side without gnawing my arm off.

  4. Hmm, just read an article that suggests it's not the workload that depresses us, but the work environment, and our sense of justice in particular.

    1. Thanks for the link! That finding actually doesn't surprise me. I know I don't mind a big workload- I rather like having a lot to do, actually, as long as I can negotiate reasonable deadlines for everything. But yes, the sense of being treated unfairly really rankles. Also the sense of being unable to do my job in the way I'd like to do it- a sense of helplessness, I guess?

      The fairness thing reminds me of one of my favorite primate studies ever, the grapes vs. cucumbers one, which I summarize here:

  5. Cloud, I thought my workplace issues were an industry thing... until I found my current job.
    It just so happens to be the same job I dreamed of one day having when I came to this city. And i got here in the end.
    It is coincidentally one of the most family-friendly places I've ever worked - no matter what your family or other-life-commitments may actually look like.
    So don't write off the industry entirely, yet.
    Also, when it comes to being allowed to wear a range of professional hats, I find google plus to be an excellent environment to play.

  6. Sorry that you are feeling so trapped right now. We all have constraints--good luck to you on, as you said, figuring out which ones are imaginary, which non-negotiable, and maneuvering around them!

    As for me. . . having left/been-kicked-out-of my previous field and having a supportive spouse. . . I now have almost complete freedom to work on the personal projects I choose when I choose. Which, paradoxically, is resulting in my getting much less done than I would have thought. Self-discipline is a bitch.


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