Hi Meghan and Her Dad,
I hope you can provide a little perspective on a career move for me.
I’ve worked for eight years at a job that I’ve mostly loved. In the past three years I’ve learned an enormous amount from my supervisor, and have grown tremendously in the position. This supervisor is moving on to another position, and the people above will most likely replace her with someone who’s vision I don’t share. She’s done an incredible job in the past three years of shielding me and her other employees from the powers that be, who don’t seem to understand the realities of our work. For the first time in eight years I’m looking very seriously at new positions. I have interviews, but I don’t have any offers yet. I’m pretty hopeful about one position in particular coming through. Here’s the dilemma that I face: If I leave the job, I would be one of the four people in leadership positions to leave all at once. The thought of what that would do to the organization, and how it will be managed after we leave, is quite devastating to me. But is that enough to stay? To complicate matters a bit more, I’m a very new mom and I worry about how the stress of a new job will make parenting in the first year that much harder. Help!
Meghan’s dad says:
Let’s tackle the loyalty issue first.
There was a time, in the not distant past, when loyalty to one’s job was rewarded. It was a time when young people were trained carefully and mentored; it was a time of a five-day workweek with reasonable hours; it was a time of gold watches; it was a time of white picket fences; it was a time of Leave it to Beaver. Well folks, the Beav has up and left town; hell, he’s probably dead (sorry Jerry Mathers).
Many people blame “the younger generation” (whatever that is, it is, at a minimum, a moving target; in the dark recesses of time, I counted myself a member of that club) for this change, but I don’t buy that. Years ago companies started to shut down their training groups, outsourced their HR functions and ditched pension plans, all in the name of corporate efficiency. Shareholders of companies, particularly public companies, demanded higher returns which could only be created through cutting costs. There is an argument that an increased lack of loyalty among employees occasioned this shift but there is an equal and compelling argument that the writing was on the wall and employees were simply reacting to those scribblings. That said, it matters not which is the correct view; corporate loyalty, if not dead, appears to be on increasingly malfunctioning life support (although I do have to acknowledge that folks like Apple, Google and Microsoft appear to be starting to shift the paradigm).
As for the “they will miss me when I’m gone” goes—I hate to break it to you, but you can be replaced. (For that matter, everyone can, except me; I’m the only dad Meg’s got so this gig is mine until the title changes. Hot job security tip: get your name or role in life baked into the job title and description.) My suspicion is that organizations came to that conclusion decades ago and that helped fuel the shift, from a corporate perspective, to viewing employees as a fungible asset. I will admit that I have found myself on several occasions worrying about how an organization will replace someone that we thought irreplaceable when—BINGO—we end up with someone even better than the last guy. It happens all the time. Sure some corporate memory is lost in the process but life goes on and often improves, for everyone involved.
So forget the loyalty concern.
The second issue—will it stress you out when you are a new mother—is tougher. By definition, I don’t know what that is like. I can tell you what it was like to be a new stressed out father of a particularly cranky baby (who will remain nameless) but the new mother thing is largely a mystery to me. What I can say is that working in a job you don’t like brings its own kind of stress. If you hate going to work during the day and you come home to a cranky or even a normal baby or young child, wouldn’t you think that would make you miserable? On the other hand, coming home from a job you like, even if stressful, would probably let you walk through the door at home with a much more positive attitude about the parenting challenges that will face you once you step into your front hall.
As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve spent the entirety of my adult working life (until now) in nonprofits. I’m not sure if your organization is one, but the way you speak about being “devastated” by the thought of leaving them in the lurch indicates that it is at least intimate enough that a change in leadership could threaten to dismantle much of the good work you’ve done. I get it. Part of what attracted me to that work was the thrall of being so vital, so instrumental to the place, and to something larger, to a cause I truly cared about. It’s intoxicating, right? So naturally it feels like if you were to leave, something fundamental, core-strengthening, would collapse.
But here’s the unfortunate, un-swallowable truth: your departure? Won’t make a goddamn bit of difference.
I am in NO WAY trying to demean the eight evidently hardworking, heart-wrenching years you put into that place, all the blood, sweat, and tears with which you painted the floors, but this is a lesson I learned the hard way. When, at my old organization—an organization about whose mission I felt passionately, so much so that I was willing to work for very little in a very hostile climate—we experienced a mesmerizingly horrific change in management, I was unceremoniously shoved out. And I felt that same loss you’re hinting at: the feeling that this intangible thing I had helped to build would now be corrupted. The people whom I loved and who worked alongside me were also ejected or left, and were replaced by people who didn’t share our values or hopes. And there was a part of me that was convinced—CONVINCED—that the place would crumble without us. I waited for it. I actually wanted it. If it fell apart, wouldn’t that at least prove that I had made a difference, had value, had worth?
And you know what?
Nothing happened. As it turned out, the organization owed me nothing. The cause did not care about me. That place is still there, existing, albeit not with the same PURITY OF HEART I so valued. Because, as it turns out, purity of heart means basically squat. Yes, the place has become an ugly shell of a thing that once did good and beautiful work. And while I may be able to taste the viciousness that now thrums under all they do, no one gives a shit about that. The work gets done, the pages turn, and those of us who put our whole selves into those machines have to live with knowing that we are nothing but alarmingly replaceable cogs.
Does that matter? I’m not sure. I’m still grappling with that. What I do know is that I am able to catalogue the ways in which I grew in that job, all that I learned and have brought with me into my new environment, a much healthier, safer, and more productive one than the one I left. So I can tell you this: what will survive is the way it changed you, and not the way you changed it.
(Also wow, this column is making me realize that work is bullshit! Down with capitalism! Vive la revolution!)
I think you want to leave, and I think you know that. I don’t think you would have written this letter if you didn’t. I think maybe you want us to tell you it is okay—and it is! It is more than okay! Find something new. Throw your whole self into that. Be grateful for what you created and what you learnt. And move on.
As for being a new parent: I have no idea. But I can say that I would assume coming home every night beaten down and bullied, under the strain of watching a place you love go to pot, would probably not enable you to be the best version of the loving and generous mother I’m sure you are.
Update: guess what I did last week? That’s right, opened my 401(k). Thanks for the support and shaming, kids. Keep sending questions (and shame) to firstname.lastname@example.org.