I’m on the flight home from the 2011 Reaching Out MBA conference, and for the fourth time, ROMBA has me in a contemplative mood. This time, though, I feel I’m at something of a crossroads, and I don’t know which way to go.
As with every other year, the conference was a great experience. Seeing old ROMBA friends was great, meeting new job candidates and telling them about my employer’s commitment to diversity was rewarding, and making new personal friends was fantastic. But I leave ROMBA this year with an unusual sense of professional longing.
I look at these MBA students, in the midst of life-changing academic and professional journeys, on the brink of monumental changes in their lives, and I’m nostalgic. Many are about to make huge leaps in their careers, and most have great success ahead of them. Quite simply, they’re pursuing their dreams.
I look at them, with their potential and their future, and I’m happy for them. But part of me is jealous, and I find myself feeling a little jaded.
Friends tease me about having “drank the Kool-Aid” at my company, and they’re right — I think it’s a great place to work, and I’m proud to be there for quite a few reasons. The company took a chance on me after business school, offered me a great job, and gave me the opportunity to really prove myself as a leader.
The problem is, I feel like I haven’t lived up to that opportunity over the last few years. I think of my professional career, and I realize that the last time I was truly happy in my “day job” was years ago. Even worse, I haven’t been truly proud of my work in a long time.
I say “day job” explicitly because I feel like I’ve done a lot of great work in my “gay job” as a leader in my company’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) employee group. I’m very proud of the strides that our group has made over the past few years, and I feel like I’ve made a meaningful contribution there.
Certainly there are any number of other people in the group who have done as much as me, if not more… But I unabashedly feel that the group has been successful in part because I’ve been a part of the team. Some of that may stem from me finding talented people and helping to steer their passion, but that’s what a good leader does, right?
I’m not making that kind of contribution in my “day job.” It honestly feels like I do my “day job” so that I’ll have the continuing opportunity to do my “gay job.” And since my “day job” is the one that pays the bills, that’s an alarming perspective.
It’s not that I don’t want to do a good job with my “real job” (which is a more accurate description of how it should be prioritized.) I’ve just honestly struggled to find the right opportunity to make a meaningful impact since I left my Associate Readiness role in April of 2009.
If you’re doing math in your head, let me confirm: for more than two and a half years, I’ve been working hard but overall haven’t been proud of what I’ve contributed. I’ve done good work, but nothing that feels inspired or significant. I feel like I’ve done a decent, though unremarkable, job of meeting expectations.
I see these young MBAs who are full of passion, enthusiasm, and optimism, and I’m sad that I don’t have that feeling anymore… Not for the work I’m doing in my “real job” anyway. And frankly, I don’t know what to do about it.
I started a new job a few months ago that I excitedly thought was going to be a fresh start, but I’m finding myself deflated. The job changed not long after I was hired, as we had expected me to be one of a team of three, but the other two never got hired and so my job function was changed. A few weeks later, our team had unexpected layoffs and my job changed AGAIN.
The work I’m doing now (at least until it changes again) is good work, and I’m certainly relieved to have a stable job with a good paycheck. But I’m concerned that I don’t know if this new-new set of job responsibilities will allow me to really shine, to really make an impact, to really make a difference.
Because ultimately, that’s what drives my professional passion: making a difference in other people’s jobs and careers, helping others to be happier and more successful in their work. I’d expected to have that opportunity when I accepted this new job a few months back, but after two reorgs, I’m not so sure. It sort of feels like my manager is trying to find SOMETHING for me to do, as opposed to having a natural “fit” between talent/skill and job need.
And as I said, I’m really not sure what to do about it.
I’ve got some great “gay job” opportunities coming up over the next few weeks, and that’s something I can be happy about, but clearly I need to find a way to develop that same passion for my “real job” responsibilities… That, or I’ll need to find some new responsibilities.
I have a lot to offer, and I’m not going to continue letting myself be mediocre. Failing to live up to my potential isn’t doing anyway any good, or making anyone (myself included) happy.