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22/30 Things I wish I'd known about work

My supervisor just told me that my annual performance evaluation is due in four days. We usually start sooner on this dreaded, tedious task because it takes hours, but today I finished it in ten minutes.



This year, it doesn't matter what work goals I set, since no future pay raise or boss-approval will depend on whether I achieve them. This year, I can gloss over my "needs improvements" because I'm not going to improve. And I'm suddenly struck by how little any of those things ever mattered.

Why didn't I figure this out sooner?

I've had authority issues my whole career, living in fear of disapproval from my dad the boss. I always tried to do what was dictated by some job description designed around the last person who held the position. I could never get to the blasé attitude that would have let me insist on doing what I was best at, because I might "get in trouble," whatever that means.

Since I decided to retire and stopped caring what Authority thinks of me, I've been organizing my work around my strengths. Amazingly, my supervisor and coworkers, far from hating me or holding me in contempt, have regrouped around me. I've gone from being a middling team member failing to get things done, to a valuable resource who's really good at her work.

Even in my lowliest early jobs (fast-food server, motel-room cleaner, gift-shop cashier) I could have saved myself so much angst if I'd recognized that I'm just not good at some things (people, f'rinstance) and that I'm really very good at others (systems! I remember designing a system for making up motel-room beds that was really speedy).

Only in the last few months have I really understood that work flows to talent. I don't mean that if I'd changed my attitude earlier I could have gotten rich pursuing my hobbies. But there are meta-talents, represented by my hobbies and passions, that should have served as guides to my career. I wish I'd had more confidence in them. I was so afraid to say no to tasks that were wrong for me that I missed a thousand opportunities to ask for work that was right for me.

Ah well. I finally do understand it. Now as I head toward the career sunset, I get to find out where my meta-talents will take me. It's a little scary, but really? It's pretty exciting.

Crossposted from Dreamwidth, where there are comment count unavailable comments.

Comments

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
helenajust
Jun. 27th, 2013 07:32 am (UTC)
You shouldn't be too critical of yourself; it's part of the responsibility of those more senior than you to identify the things at which you excel (and vice versa).

The other thing this post reveals (to me) is that the performance evaluation system used at your work is faulty and should be revised - and with your new-found confidence and lack of concern about getting into trouble (plus of course the fact that your not going to be there for long), together with the fact that you are good at systems, YOU should suggest a revised evaluation.

It should give people scope for identifying the things which they believe that they are good at, and would like to focus on. I do not suggest the traditional "strengths and weaknesses" thing (because most people are understandably wary of identifying a weakness which could be used against them). But it could be designed to help people identify what they're good at.

Perhaps questions such as "what project/aspect of your job did you enjoy most in the past year?" and "which aspect(s) of your job do you think you do best?" and "is there any work/task/project which is carried out within the company which you do not currently work on but think you would do well?" "Why?"

There is no point to this unless the company is flexible and prepared to take the next step, of analysing all the responses from all the employees together and identifying what changes might be made, either on a trial basis or permanently. And they should be prepared to do it, given that it should result in greater productivity as well as a happier workforce: if they can identify two people who would each like to do the other's job, why not try it?

No doubt they would want a caveat that there would be no guarantee that they would act on what was said in the forms, but at least it would give people a structured opportunity to discuss how they'd like to evolve at work, as well as giving the employers valuable information on how they might make the best use of their resources.

Of course there will be some places where a particular jobs will always be very attractive or very unpopular, but that type of thing can be worked around.
emeraldsedai
Jun. 27th, 2013 07:49 pm (UTC)
This is an absolutely wonderful analysis and blueprint! Thank you for giving it so much thought.

I've worked for this organization most of my career and I see very little possibility of its suddenly becoming flexible enough to consider the approach you outline. I'm aware, though, that those 25 years of discouragement have given me a pretty skeptical view.

So! I'm going to spend some time over the remaining months of my career incorporating your excellent ideas into a kind of exit-interview document, because I think some small incremental changes could arise from the effort.

In response to your first point, that the evaluation system and not I am responsible for my ignorance about the nature of work: maybe, and I appreciate the thought. But I've been working since (ack!) 1972, and though both I and the nature of work have changed hugely in these 40+ years, the one constant has been my own fear of censure by authority. Toeing the line, not making waves (etc.) has been my default stance in the work environment, and I consider that tantamount to a character flaw that I wish I'd had the knowledge and guts to correct a long time ago.
helenajust
Jun. 27th, 2013 09:46 pm (UTC)
I'm glad that you're going to prepare an exit-interview document which may well make things better for those who remain. I don't need to suggest that you use examples which won't put anyone on the defensive so that they don't hear what you say, do I?!

As to your final paragraph - I honestly do not regard it as a character flaw. It's a sensible approach which has no doubt ensured that you have kept your job in difficult times. The fact is that most work-places are very hierarchical and that it is not always the best people who end up at the top of the pyramid. Each person on each step feels insecure to some extent, and those who challenge them don't fare well in the long term. Even if the person making waves is right (often *because* the person making waves is right), those above them will feel threatened and will make sure that they leave, sooner or later and directly or indirectly.

Unless you had been ambitious and enjoyed fighting battles, far better to keep your head down and find a way to exist peacefully. It's a shame that your strengths weren't better deployed, but so be it. You can now use your skills and energy on the things you really want to do!
emeraldsedai
Jun. 27th, 2013 10:44 pm (UTC)
I don't need to suggest that you use examples which won't put anyone on the defensive so that they don't hear what you say, do I?!

LOL! No, you don't. I'm way too old a warhorse to get any pleasure out of vindictive finger-pointing. I'm really quite positively excited about presenting some ideas to powers that be.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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