Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Importance of Doing Something Important

It wasn't hard to figure out that my present job was going south (sign #1: your immediate boss says exactly three words to you in the course of an entire day: "Good Morning" [a conditioned response, no doubt, to your own "Good Morning"] and "Bye" [another conditioned response to your own "See 'ya tomorrow!"]).

So my dismissal was not a complete shock, despite being a complete disappointment. 

I had had ill feelings about my work for some time. Most of it stemming from the overwhelming evidence that what I was doing may have been important to someone else (my immediate boss, her immediate boss, and, I suppose, my colleagues and internal clients), but it didn't feel very important to me.

Underpinning this discontent was a number of factors, including the thought that I couldn't shake. That at almost 50 years old, with 20+ years' experience, I should have been further along in my professional life than I was.

For example, at 50, my father was in a very different place.

My father, who passed away in 2006, was an engineer for the U.S. Department of the Navy, a job he held for his entire career. His projects mainly centered around designing aircraft carriers. It was a perfect fit for him, as he excelled in math and science and was very left-brained.

Case in point: In August 1973, shortly after it opened, our family drove from our suburban Philadelphia home to the newly minted Walt Disney World. While there, we enjoyed the rides and parades and shows. But Dad's attention was often focused on the design elements of the layout of the park. Why, you could see him calculating, does this queue bend this way rather than that way? What was the thinking behind this ride being positioned next to that ride?

Walt Disney World became one giant puzzle for him, and although he enjoyed himself immensely, it was interesting for us to watch an engineer adrift in an environment where everything was engineered. 

At any rate, Dad's work was important. People's lives depended on it, on a daily basis.

The same was the case for my mother. Mom was an R.N. So her work was clearly important. And people's lives certainly depended on her skill, accuracy, knowledge, experience, and yes, heart.

Interestingly, Mom was an R.N. 24/7. So growing up, it was never a surprise to see her leap into action and offer medical assistance. I've seen her instantaneously toss aside her suburban motherhood role in seconds and offer medical help to supermarket shoppers who experience a sudden onset of shortness of breath. And little league players who were beaned by an errant curve ball. And car accident victims she just happened to pass on the highway.

As a writer in a marketing department, it was difficult for me to feel the same kind of passion for my work. I suppose in a roundabout way, it is possible to believe that the work mattered; after all, my family was dependent on my doing it successfully. But to think of it terms of lives on the line is a stretch.

Which may go to the point that I chose the wrong career in the first place. And believe me, at 50 years old, after a series of jobs that often left me feeling burnt out and spent, it is something I have considered. But with three kids, a wife, and a Labrador Retriever depending on me, it's tough to chuck the English Major background and move onto something else at this point.

So I shouldered on. Despite my position becoming less and less about communications and more and more about what I considered to be some really crummy tasks:

  • Transcribing meeting recordings, capturing -- by hand -- what was said and by whom, a task that literally took hours
  • Copying and binding of hundreds of pages of printed materials, again representing a huge commitment of time
  • Mail duties, including stuffing envelopes, affixing addresses, and sealing them, which, in addition to being deadly dull, was also a gigantic time-suck

Not exactly what I went to college for. In fact, these are among the very tasks I went to college to avoid.

But truthfully, even the above tasks -- as distasteful as they were -- would have been palatable had they ended with a sincere expression of gratitude from those for whom I did them.

But often, the responses comprised one of three reactions:

  1. Utter silence, meaning neither praise nor condemnation
  2. The assignation of yet another task ("Here, now do this, please...")
  3. Criticism

My sincere hope is that I can find importance in whatever position is next for me.

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