On being happy (or not) in your job

The other day I wrote about being a disgruntled post-doc and how that becoming disgruntled as a post-doc seems to serve the purpose of forcing you to move to another job, which is exactly what you’re supposed to do after x years of being a post-doc.

However, after finding what I thought was my dreamjob, this past year I felt the same kind of disgruntle on some days that I did when I was in the last phase of my post-doc. With the difference that this is not a temporary job, it could be my job for the rest of my life if I wanted it to be. And, for those of you thinking: “what a whiny post!” keep in mind that our HR department reminds us on a frequent basis of the fact that they believe there is a job for everyone in which you will feel satisfied and ecstatic with happiness. I think I can admit that I don’t feel like that every day. Some of the reasons for this feeling, in order of importance:

- comparing myself to others and feeling that I should be appreciated more, either in terms of money or in terms of praise. This –to me- is really the key reason for being disgruntled and a really annoying one, both to others and to myself. When I think about it in a rational way, I realize that I don’t see everything others do: it is impossible to compare yourself to others in an objective way. But on the other hand, I have been discussing a promotion for 2 years now, since after I good a really good evaluation when I had been there for a relatively short period of time, but for some reason it just doesn’t happen.

-having very little influence on decisions. In this big company, I am a microscopically tiny little wheel in a gigantic scheme. Unlike as a postdoc, where there were a few people who needed to agree with things like where and when to publish a paper, here there is a huge decision tree before something can get done. It took me a while to understand that however much energy I would spend convincing people, there would always be decisions outside of my circle of influence.

- having to do work that I don’t like. Obviously, every job has aspects that you dislike (I assume ). For me, they are filling out administrative forms. However, my job does involve setting up contracts with people and being the in-between person between the legal department and the external partner, which involves administrative stuff. At some point this year, it seemed like ALL I was doing was filling out forms and that whenever I had completed one, 2 would pop up somewhere else.

And as I said, at the same time HR makes us believe that for every single person there is a job that makes them run/cycle/drive to work in excitement every single day. Is that really true? Or instead of frantically trying to figure out what makes you most happy and excited is it better to be satisfied with a job you don’t hate and that even pays pretty well? And most importantly: nobody likes someone who whines and complains all day, and it will definitely not lead to favors and promotions and things like that (I have actually witnessed that happening to a colleague quite literally recently). More on how I think I deal with that soon, first more forms and powerpoints here!

10 responses so far

  • Morgan Price says:

    "I have been discussing a promotion for 2 years now" could be a sign that it would be better for your career (i.e. pay and status) to move on. On the other hand, promotions often lead to more administrative stuff and more powerpoint. Perhaps they are overrated.

  • qaz says:

    I think that what people need is a "job" that has some aspect that makes it worthwhile to them. You need to fjnd that aspect. For example, I'm a PI and I love the moments when I discover a new thing about the world, particularly if that thing is something that I was deeply wtong about. I will put up with a lot of scut work to have those opportunities.

    I put "job" in quotes, because if you see it as a job then you will spend your days wanting to go home. That's fine if you want to work so you can do other things (kids, travel, whatever), but then you have to recognize that it is only about the money and not satisfaction with the job. (In other words, the job becomes the scut work.)

    Rather than looking for a job where things are not frustrating, I recommend looking for a job where something about it makes it worthwhile to you.

  • Doctor_PMS says:

    I am not sure if there is a job in which you're excited about everything all the time. But I do believe that when going everyday to work feels like a burden, it is time to think about alternatives! Good luck and let me know if I can help somehow.

  • David says:

    I agree with the other posters, but want to mention a different aspect - you (the royal you). I think a good chunk of the HR ecstatic stuff, besides being 90% BS, is the individual. I don't think I will ever have a job where I'm ecstatic, it's just not part of my personality. My current job checks 9 out of 10 boxes, is amazing, and challenging (in a good way), pays well, blah blah blah. But I still don't jump out of bed and sprint to work. I still have afternoons where I seek the distractions of blogs instead of the work tasks that I should be doing (even the tasks I like). My best friend is the opposite. He jumps out of bed to go to work brimming with motivation.

    You have some external aspects that limit you job satisfaction, specifically your promotion issue, but it is also possible that your personality doesn't lend itself to meeting the HR tag line. And I will disagree a bit with qaz, in that I think its possible to like your job and be rewarded by it, but also think of it as a "job", something that you wouldn't do if you weren't paid and that has days where you can't wait to get home and do some other thing that is rewarding. There's a continuum and there is nothing wrong with being mostly happy with your job. Whether your current job makes you happy enough is the real question (in my mind). It's a question I often ask myself (I have friends with a 70% rule, as long as they are glad to be in a situation at least 70% of the time, they won't change - this applies to their job, where they live, and their relationships. I find myself using it a fair amount).

  • babyattachmode says:

    Thanks for your comments everyone, and interesting to see the different perspectives. Right now, with a geographic restriction and not too much industry R&D in this region it definitely feels like a privilege to have this job and be mostly happy doing it, but I do feel it is important to stay aware of my disgruntle feeling...

  • Kix says:

    Try to not compare yourself to others. I know that this is natural and frequent for most of us but you would be much happier if you stop comparing yourself to others.
    Comparison can only bring you dissatisfaction. There will always be someone who earns more than you do, who is better than you are, etc. And we are really biased in the selection of the person men compares oneself with.
    Look at yourself, your own strengths, your own weaknesses. Look at your salary and realize that this is probably more than what 90% of your fellows earn. Do you really need more? I know that I might read strange here but this is really what I believe inside me.
    And I agree that sometimes promotion comes with more administrative work and less interesting science. Do you really want to be promoted at that cost? Just for the money?

    There is a lot of thinking to do here I think. There is no good answer. Only your answer.

    • babyattachmode says:

      Interesting article, on different levels. Some thoughts: I think that a lot of the 'recovering academic' feelings stem from having a job that IS you identity as an academic scientist. It is taking me some time to figure out to what extend my new job is my identity. Also because I've experienced what it is like to loose a part of that identity when finding a different job. The other thought is that I have been realizing that I should focus less on my career plans and more on what I'm doing on a day to day basis and especially the parts that I like, for example thinking of experiments, reading literature and playing with data. Thanks for sharing this article here!

  • […] talked a little about how I had some doubts about whether I was enjoying my job and when I should worry about when to make a next step in my career. One of the older women […]

  • sweetscience says:

    A relationship counselor once told me that he thought a 'good relationship' was one where both people were "mostly happy, most of the time." I think the same goes for your job. And for both, it is a good idea to stay aware of the things that bother you, as you say, and certainly consider ways you can change them for the better!

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