Remembering That Time I Was Brave, So That I Can Be Brave Once Again

She Who Is Brave Is Free Last week, I had a breakfast meeting with my friend BL. I hadn't seen her in a while and I wanted to catch up, but I also wanted to pick her brain about business ideas. See, BL is my inspiration for where I want to be - not only does she have a successful corporate career, but she has an equally successful side venture. In short, she's doing what I want to do, so it makes sense to go to someone who is doing what you're looking to do, right?

Over some yummy breakfast food, I walked BL through my ideas, my frustrations, and my fear of putting myself out there and trying something new. She gave me encouragement, some ideas and some advice. She also gave me a bit of a wake-up, when she looked at me and proclaimed, "dude, you married someone from Twitter, you're already brave!" Ha. Yes, to most folks, marrying a person you met on social media seems like a crazy idea, so in that regard, I'm extremely brave. But I get what she meant - I've already conquered a fear and come out on top, so I simply need to do it again.

Later that day, as I was processing the day and everything we talked about, it dawned on me that there was another time in my life when I conquered a fear and came out on top. Ten years ago, I was a PhD student at my dream school. Up until that point, I'd achieved everything I'd set out to do. I'd made a few adjustments to my life plan, but overall I was still on the path that I'd set out for myself as a young teen, when I decided to pursue scientific research as a career. A PhD in chemistry was my last step before I embarked on an academic research and teaching career. There was just one problem - I was miserable! No one truly explained to me that life as a PhD student wasn't as easy as they make it seem. I found myself working all the time, either in the lab, or teaching, or taking my own courses. Once my coursework was completed, my workload grew due to qualifying exams and other commitments. I enjoyed my research, and I learned a lot, but I hated the other parts that came along with research. I hated spending hours running NMR samples, or analyzing GC-MS results, because using industry-standard spectral libraries wasn't allowed. Each Sunday, I got a pit in my stomach, because Monday was coming and that meant it was time for another meeting with my research group. I would sit in those meetings and pray that I had analyzed all my results correctly and prepped adequately, because if I hadn't, I'd be publicly berated by my research adviser.

I didn't realize it at the time, but I hated my PhD program so much that it manifested as physical illness. I already suffered from migraines, but they became more frequent in the second year of my program. I also developed tension headaches, which forced me to abandon my lab in the middle of work and seek a quiet, dark place to recuperate. A visit to the health center diagnosed me, and I was given drugs to help the symptoms, but they did not give much relief. As my headaches got worse, my confidence and self-esteem suffered as well. I'd always felt I was smarter than the average bear, but graduate school made me question my abilities. Almost every day I had an experience with a professor or postdoc that left me wondering if I even belonged there. Of course, it wasn't just me - we all swapped stories of how a professor treated us like garbage for not knowing the answer to a question, or received a bad test grade. My other classmates took it as par for the course, but I internalized a lot of the criticism I received.

The stress, the criticism, my health issues - I couldn't take it anymore. I considered other options, such as transferring to a different school, or changing advisers. In the end, it was clear to me that simply changing schools wouldn't solve my problem, because my problem was rooted in the PhD experience. A change of scenery or a different adviser wouldn't change that. I toyed with switching to a public policy degree, but while I enjoyed the courses and learning something new, but my heart was still in the sciences and laboratory work.

And that's when I pulled the trigger - I applied to graduate with a Master's in chemistry, instead of staying to finish my PhD.

I could have pushed through three more years of research, and late nights in the lab, and writing papers. I could have written a dissertation and defended and graduated as Dr. Tucker. But it wasn't worth it to me anymore. My health was suffering, both physically and mentally, and I realized that a PhD wasn't worth my health. But it was so scary to make that decision. I feared judgement and ridicule from my peers, family and friends. I didn't want to be a quitter. I wanted to make people proud of me. And I wanted to fulfill that childhood dream of an academic research career. Quitting my PhD meant saying goodbye to that.

Looking back, I see now how brave I was to give up the path I'd been on for years, and decide to pursue something new. As much as I wanted a PhD, I learned that it wasn't meant for me. Leaving school and starting my career turned out to be a good decision and a blessing. But in the moment, it was scary and I was unsure it would pay off. Fast forward ten years, and now I feel the same way, only this time I want to walk away from a traditional corporate career. The fear I feel is bigger this time, because I have more riding on it - I'm not a broke PhD student living off ramen noodles, now I have bills and I've gotten very comfortable making good money. But my career is also a gift, and I have the luxury to pursue other passions while I work my day job, until I'm ready to make a move. And I have great friends to give me the push I need to take the first steps towards fulfilling my dreams and passions.

Big steps towards my dreams are coming soon - stay tuned!

I Changed My Definition Of Career Success

Successful career list  

I'm a typical Gen Y'er and if you're a Gen Y'er like me, you probably grew up with the same mantra - do well in school, go to a good college, so you can get a good job. Then work work work so you can get all the promotions and climb to the top of the corporate ladder. Making lots of money, having an executive title - THAT was success, and hence what we all should strive for. This mantra was repeated by our parents, our teachers, our mentors, and reinforced in the media. So I adopted it, and I set my sights on achieving it. I started college as an engineering major and interning at a Fortune 500 company. I switched my major to chemistry but headed to grad school, to further my training, and hopefully make more money after graduation.I had a brief flirtation with the idea of going into academia, but in the end I decided to go the corporate route.

When I started my "grown up" career at 24, I was full of new grad optimism and enthusiasm. I wanted to learn as much as I could, and overachieve so that I could get promoted, because that's what I was expected to do, right? So I volunteered for all these extra projects at work, and did the career development stuff that is pushed to new grads in large corporations. I believed all those stories that said if you work hard and don't be a lazy young person, you'll be rewarded. And I was, at least monetarily. My salary grew by leaps and bounds but that promotion? I had to change companies to get it. Despite my work, networking with allies and mentors and career development, for whatever reason, promotions in role weren't coming my way.

It's been almost ten years since I started my corporate career, and my view of success has changed drastically since I was a new grad. I had a feeling that my priorities and career goals had changed, and last week showed me that  my definition of success has changed as well.

Last week I had my performance review. I wasn't super excited about it and expected the worst, not because of my performance but because of the drastic changes happening within my company. I survived many layoffs in 2015, and the subsequent personnel changes resulted in numerous changes to my chain of command. I've had 5 direct managers, plus many VPs and other executives that I report to. When the review period started, I realized that there was no one left in my department who could reflect and comment on my entire 2015 performance, because everyone was gone. Crazy, right? So I didn't have high expectations for my performance review results. My score was decent, and I received a small raise but once again, I was not promoted. When I started with this company 3.5 years ago, getting a promotion was high on my list, but due to circumstances beyond my control it has yet to happen.

I expected to walk away upset, questioning myself, questioning if this is the place for me - the types of reactions that I've had before. This time I walked away with a #kanyeshrug and went about my business. And then I paused, and I asked myself if I should be upset because I wasn't promoted. Like my initial reaction went something like this:

Me: Still got a job? Getting more money? Cool

My brain: Wait, you're still at the same level you were when you started. Aren't you upset? You should be upset.

Me: Wait, I should be upset? For why?

My brain: You're supposed to get promoted! You're supposed to want to be an executive with a fancy title and a big office! Did you forget?

Me: OH. For real? I'm supposed to want that?

My brain: DUH! Everybody wants that...right?

And that's when I had to have a quick DM chat with a couple of friends, who talked me off the ledge. I was totally fine until I started thinking, and all those rules about success that I was taught as a child started flooding into my brain. I grew up with a message that success meant a fancy title, a big office, the big money, etc. Everyday I see lists about the Top 30 under 30, or see LinkedIn updates from people I went to school with announcing their promotions and fancy jobs and whatnot. I've been conditioned to want a specific type of success but I have not been able to achieve that, at least not yet.

I'm OK with where I am in my career. During these ten years I've worked, I see what it takes to get to those high levels, and nothing about it is appealing to me. I don't want to spend my nights and weekends working. I don't want to have a company cell phone and spend every waking moment being available for work. I don't want to go on vacation but still log into work each day (that's not a vacation). I don't want to work 60+ hours a week, and not have time to do anything other than work and sleep. None of that is appealing to me. I love my work-life balance and I love that I can leave work at work and pursue other things in my free time. I don't love that my hard work doesn't directly benefit my bottom line, but I love that my direct deposit hits my account on a regular schedule.

I've arrived at a state of peace in my view of my career. I've realized that my passions lie elsewhere and that I value different things than I did when I was 24. I've learned that a successful career doesn't look the same for everyone, and that I have the ability to define success for myself. After a moment of angst, I realize that not getting a promotion is a blessing as well, as it gives me time to focus on the things I enjoy, and less pressure in the office. If I do climb a ladder, it's going to be my ladder, not a predetermined corporate ladder. I probably will never have an executive title, unless it's a title for my own endeavor. And honestly, I like the sound of CEO of My Thing better than VP of Corporate Whatever.

What say you readers - what does a successful career look like to you? Have you achieved it? 

Things I'd Rather Do Instead Of Working A Traditional Job

I've reached the point in my career where I fantasize about all the other things I'd rather be doing instead of going to work everyday. Here's the list, in no particular order:

  • Knitting fun things - hats, scarfs, coffee mug sleeves, fingerless gloves, mittens, etc.
  • Going to yoga practice
  • Writing
  • Researching wedding stuff - trends, cool vendors, interesting traditions
  • Writing about things found during previously mentioned wedding research
  • Completing yoga teacher training
  • Opening an Etsy shop to sell all those cool knitting projects I want to do
  • International travel
  • Going to movie screenings
  • Writing reviews of said movies seen during screenings
  • Domestic travel
  • Writing about the cool things I saw during all this travel
  • Continuing to knit cool things
  • Maybe teach some folks how to knit some of the cool things I've made
  • Teaching people how to do Six Sigma
  • Teaching people project management methodology
  • Advising college students - specifically Black college students in STEM fields
  • Presenting workshops
  • Still more knitting
  • Some more travel - I need more passport stamps
  • Throw some more yoga in there - more classes both as a student and a teacher
  • Doing wedding research for busy brides or brides who don't know what they want and where to start

Any idea how I can make a career or at least make some money doing these things? Cause this corporate game has me pretty down. 

Career Stagnation To Career Progression

career chart In my life, I have been blessed with both a gift and a curse. I have above-average intelligence and a strong desire to learn and understand new things. I also am both lazy and a procrastinator. Remember when we were all taught in school that hard work pays off? I was that kid who things either came easy to, or I was looking for way to cut the amount of hard work I had to do. I think it was my father who clued me in on an important lesson – it’s more important to work hard, than to work smart. Time and experience taught me that he was right. People say you need to work hard, but working hard without having some sense behind it can be wasted effort.

I grew up with the type of parents who wanted me to have what they had and even more. That meant that college was not an option, it was an expectation. It was never explicitly said, but I assumed that I’d follow the path everyone else does: go to college, graduate, get a corporate job and kill it. 17-year-old Jubi just knew she would be a VP of R&D for a Fortune 100 company one day, it was just a matter of time. I mean, it’s super easy to make it up the corporate ladder, right?

After college and grad school, I jumped into the corporate world full force. I’d read the books and the articles, I’d attended the career office sessions, and I was armed with lots of advice from my mentors. I had lofty goals to make my mark and zoom up the ladder to success. My first job was with a defense contractor, and I was the first new hire in the labs in 15+ years. I was also the only woman, the only person of color, and the youngest by at least 30 years. I jumped in with both feet, and I worked hard. I volunteered for everything I could, from community volunteer events to the corporate recruiting team. I asked for stretch assignments and my eagerness and desire to learn was rewarded with challenging assignments that a new grad probably shouldn’t have handled. I mapped out a career progression plan with my manager, and I set my sights on becoming the lab group supervisor in 3-5 years, knowing that the current supervisor was soon to retire. What I didn’t know was coming was the housing crisis in 2006. Central Florida was hurt hard, and that meant there was no movement – people who planned to retire were staying at work, given the uncertain outlook of their retirement accounts.

I took all of that experience and excitement and moved to a new company in a new industry. In that role, I had to work hard AND work smart. It was a very challenging role, in an industry I was learning, and I was expected to perform as if I’d been working there all my life. The standards were high, and I felt as if I’d be thrown into the deep end of the pool when I’d barely mastered treading water. When you’re drowning (or you think you’re drowning), you’re trying to not panic but inside you’re freaking out and trying not to die. The first 12-18 months in that role was a perpetual feeling of drowning. I tried to act like I had it all together and I knew what I was doing, but inside I wanted to cry every day. Some days, I did cry in the lab, or at home after work. I worried that I was failing, and that I couldn’t cut it. But somewhere in there, I realized that I learned a lot. I realized that I had learned to swim, and I was doing more than just treading water. I was providing value! I was learning and growing and figuring things out! But…I was not enjoying what I was doing. My company was not known for work/life balance, and it would only get worse with each promotion. That’s not the life I wanted, and I was also tired of life in the lab. I wanted change and so when the opportunity presented itself, I took it.

I changed careers and industries three years ago. In that time I’ve gone from loving my job, to hating my job, to wanting to walk out and never come back to my job, to loving it again, to now. At the present moment, I’ve settled on indifference, both towards my company and my career. I come to work, I do a few things, but the passion is gone. My attitude as of late has been “well, I’ll just keep showing up until they tell me to stop coming.”

I’m still not sure if the leap was a good move. After three years, I’m still at the same level in my company, despite my attempts at promotions. I survived some less-than stellar managers, including one who refused to promote any of the women on his team. I also survived several layoffs and three reorganizations, and 4 different managers in one year. I look at a few of my former teammates who also started around the time I did, and they have made more progression in their careers at our company. Some of it is strictly “right place, right time” but I wonder how much of it is me. Is this truly the right place for me?

Looking back, I’ve learned a lot about how the working world works. I know that my career progression isn’t going to be a straight line. I also don’t want to wake up and see another 5 years have passed, and I’m still stuck at the same level. Even if I do stay at the same level, I’d be happy if I found a challenge in my work, and I felt that my work added value. Right now, I feel neither.  I feel “stuck” and I worry that I will wake up five years from now, still in the same position, at the same level, in the same company. That is my greatest fear and so, all my energy is devoted to preventing that from happening.

Any tips for me?

 

 

Somehow I've Become A Contestant On Corporate Survivor

Three years ago, I received a job offer from my current company. Back then, I was so excited! After much contemplation, I made the decision to take a break from life in the chemistry lab, and try something new. I loved my time as a lab chemist, but my last laboratory role left me burnt out and bitter. It was stressful working for a rigorous company, and I was overworked. I envied the work-life balance that other people had, and I wanted that for myself.

Making the leap to a new company and a new career seemed like a no-brainer. I traded my lab coats and safety glasses for heels and dresses. Instead of commuting to a manufacturing site in the suburbs, I began working downtown, enjoying both the easier commute and the after-work happy hours. No more spending my days running samples, or dealing with unreasonable requests data, or taking apart chromatography equipment. I traded all that in for a new career in supply chain, and I was so excited to start my new career journey.

As with most experiences, the beginning of my career journey was all sunshine and roses. I was so excited when I wore my first dress and pair of heels to work - seriously, I'd never done it before. That sort of attire isn't really practical for the lab. Along with my new wardrobe, I also enjoyed learning a new industry, and I found that I had an aptitude for it. Spoiler alert: supply chain operations is similar to manufacturing operations. I met lots of new people and even got paid to spend 30 minutes at a time talking to people I already knew. And my pay was better. With all that, what's not to like?

After the first year, I ended up with a new manager, a new project and my work life went from sugar to shit. It's amazing how much your manager can make or break your work experience. I spent 15 months on a challenging assignment, that taught me a lot but also tested me hard. At the lowest moments, I contemplated taking my now-husband's offer to quit my job and move to DC. But I stuck it out - partly because I knew it wouldn't be bad forever and partially because I refused to let my then-manager have the satisfaction of chasing me out of the company.

I survived that horrible manager, and that horrible project, and I moved to a new role in a new area. Things started looking up again. I was beginning to feel encouraged...and then the bottom fell out of the whole thing. My company executed a massive layoff, slashing a large chunk of the workforce in a day. I call that day Bloody Tuesday and it actually fell the same week as our wedding. Talk about timing. That day was so tough, seeing so many people who I knew, worked with, my friends, walked out of the building with their belongings in a white box. It was so brutal. And that wasn't the end of the layoffs - we've had an additional two more rounds. The gossip mill says there will be yet another this year, a large one to rival the layoffs we experienced this spring.

Is it bad that I'm hoping that I would be laid off?

I realized recently that my corporate life feels like a season of the game show Survivor. Each one of us is hoping to make it another week, another month, and hopefully be the last one standing on the island when the game is over. We know that hard decisions will have to be made and that everyone won't end up on the island when the game is over. And it's stressful to live this way. It's stressful to try to produce meaningful work in this situation.

How can you plan your career when you don't know if you'll be around?

How can you do your best work, meaningful work, when you don't know if you'll be around tomorrow to finish it?

How can you put your faith and trust in a company when you saw them blind side people and leave them without a livelihood?

My coworkers and I all walk on eggshells each day. We talk to each other in hushed tones, whispering about the latest rumors we've heard. We don't speak it, but each of us wonders if we'll be able to survive. We congratulate the people who resign, as they move on to what are hopefully more stable pastures. We hope that one day that will be us, that we'll be able to make it off the island.

So much has happened in three years. Things have changed, I've grown, and it feels like it's time to move to the next opportunity. I hope to move to it voluntarily but who knows how this game of Corporate Survivor will turn out.