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? 

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.


I Received The Gift Of Feedback And I Want To Return To Sender

I’ve worked in the corporate world for my entire career, and it can be a strange and challenging place. It’s had its ups and downs, but I’ve always been able to manage the corporate lifestyle without much struggle. Part of corporate life is feedback, and the 360 review. It comes in many forms and is called many things, but essentially they all involve various people you work with providing anonymous feedback about you. I had mine recently and it was…eye-opening.

On my team, I’m the only person of color. I’m also one of 2 people on my team who doesn’t have direct experience in our project area, out of a team of 12. I was hired specifically because I didn’t have the direct experience, to bring new ideas and perspectives as we improve processes. I jumped in, learned a ton, and made some impressive contributions in my first six months on the team. I even received an award from my VP! I thought I was doing great…until I received my 360 feedback. For positives I was listed as a strong problem solver with out of the box ideas who could relate well to others. Cool, I agree with all that.

Then I got my negative feedback and that’s where my assessment went way left. I was listed as very opinionated, and intimating in large meetings when I ask lots of questions and am vocal with ideas, and I’m only relatable in 1-on-1 settings. Apparently I should also stop asking so many questions and having so many ideas, until I know more. And finally, I should stop making old jokes with a teammate because I make other people feel uncomfortable…even though the person I’m joking with thinks it’s hilarious.

I can’t even lie, when I heard this, I was both pissed off and hurt at the same time. To date, no one has said any of this to my face. Not my manager, teammates, or partners on projects. So where is all this new feedback coming from? Why is it only shared in an anonymous survey instead of coming to me? And why am I still waiting for the person for the strongest comments to come talk to me in person, as they were encouraged to do by my manager?

Cause I live and work in passive aggressive Minnesota, that’s why. And nothing says passive aggressive like waiting until you have an anonymous venue to share all the stuff you don’t like about someone. What this really comes down is I am too opinionated, too assertive, and much about business. I am too damn good at my job, especially to be a Black woman who doesn’t have any direct experience in the subject area. And I’m a Black woman who refuses to kiss anyone’s ass or break my neck to play the corporate game to get ahead. I take care of my business and I don’t allow folks to walk all over me the way they want to in the office. Well boo hoo kids, cause it’s only going to get worse for you.

It stung at first, but my assessment was eye-opening for me. It showed me that no matter how great I am, I will always be less than to folks, because of my race and my gender. I can be excellent at what I do, and it won’t matter, because I’m an outsider and different. They want me to sit back and be quiet but that’s not what I’m about. I’ll keep on being who I am in the office…until it’s time for me to move on to my own business. Until then I’ll just be the opinionated Black woman in the office.

Playing The Game When My Heart Isn’t In It

I wrote a few months ago about how my relatively new job took a turn for the worst, after getting both a new boss and a new project. Both suck a ridiculous amount. I mean suck like a Hoover vacuum. New boss is a classic micromanager who is a great project manager but has zero ability to lead and develop a team. New project was bad bad bad bad bad – so bad that there was no fixing, it really needed to be burned to the ground and started all the way over. But of course that wasn’t going to happen.

In the beginning I was pissed off and angry and I hated going to work. Everyday was a struggle and I began to doubt myself and my abilities. I wanted to just say fuck it and jump ship…but it was the holidays and no one was biting. And slowly, over time, things started to get a bit better. Everyone on my team hates my boss and higher-ups have begun to catch wind of it, so now he’s attempting to treat some of us better.  Notice I said some though – there’s some folks he hates and some folks he loves. I seem to be in the middle, which I suppose is ok. The project that has been a hot mess since Day 1, well it’s not quite as shitty as it was before. It’s still incredibly frustrating though because they keep repeating the same mistakes as last year.

While my project and working relationship with my manager have gotten better, I know I don’t want to stay in this role another year. The great thing about my company is that they encourage employees to move around to different areas, and in some areas it’s frowned upon if you stay in your role too long. I’m trying to maximize my connections to move into a role that’s a better fit for me and with what I want to do long-term. My manager may be an obstacle to that, but I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.

This morning my division had an all-hands meeting, where they present financials, company initiatives, and awards. My manager, my teammates and I were all recognized for our efforts working on this difficult project for months. I must admit, it felt good to FINALLY be recognized for all the hard work we’d put in on this difficult project. My team was handling things that really shouldn’t have been on our plates, but our team had the technical ability to do things others couldn’t. The recognition was cool, but while I sat in the meeting, I had a thought – I’m still wasting my talent in this job. I’m wasting my talent staying in a corporate role and working for someone else’s bottom line. 

I’ve mentally checked out of the corporate game. My heart hasn’t been in it for a long time. I’ve become jaded and cynically when it comes to corporate life for myself. I see people who work really hard, to give up their free time, their time with their family and friends, to do work stuff. And those same people don’t get rewarded for that hard work, especially at my company. This place rewards the popular people and that’s it. If you work hard and keep your head down, you’ll never get anywhere; but those who spend more time talking to people than producing get promotions. At least at my previous companies, work product was what got you promoted. Every day I people who produce nothing but are great at talking and making friends get ahead. There’s no incentive to do well, other than one’s own standards and work ethic.

I see the life I want and I see others living it. I have so much passion for what I truly want to do. I have a desire to help people get to where they want to be professionally. I have the knowledge and experience to make it happen. What I don’t have is a crystal ball to tell me that I will be successful at it. Instead I have a big dose of fear that I will fall flat on my face. A corporate job is a comfy safety net – I know that I can come to work, put in my time, and get these bills paid every 2 weeks. But I also have all the other things that come with the corporate life – a rigid schedule, a lack of time to myself, and the knowledge that at any time they can get rid of me, even if I’m producing. Seeing my company lay off high performers let’s me know that I will never be completely safe if I’m at the mercy of a corporation.

I have the plan. I have the vision. I just need more confidence to make my dream a reality.

Send me some good vibes and a bunch of “you can do it!” energy…..I’m ready to start going after this thing…