Helping the Chronically Overworked Find Life Balance

Disruptive Technology Plus Rapid Growth Equals Excess Devotion, For the Newbie

Chapter 5: The Role of Circumstance Part 11

In the last post, we met Mary, who enthusiastically embraced the corporate life after graduate school and was shocked when the first layoffs hit.  It is perfectly understandable that early in her career, Mary did not understand the business realities, especially coming from a different set of realities.

As a science graduate student, she worked independently on her project, with a large peer group of fellow grad students to commiserate with.  There was no overall institutional loyalty – a graduate student is part of a scientist’s lab, who in many cases could care less about what you think of them or the institution.  In fact, many a graduate advisor hates the institution for all the bureaucracy.  Personal identity does not become intertwined with the institution.

A corporation is a completely different environment.  It’s about making money for the company, and working with other people towards a common goal.  At work Mary was surrounded by signals that re-enforced her attachment to the company, and she was caught up in the gung-ho attitude of trying to change the world.

The customers were almost all of the top twenty pharmaceutical companies, which reinforced her perception that the company was helping to revolutionize drug discovery.  (See this post on the illusion of control.) And, these companies were a very lucrative source of revenue.  At one point, the stock price was going up 20 to 30 points a day, and everyone was talking about it.  You could literally hear people screaming out numbers and cheering from their cubes.   One of the founders, whose major contribution at the time was surfing porn sites, was once seen dancing down the hall chanting the company name.

The core of Mary’s devotion, though, came from the company President, who was energetic and visionary.

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Thirty, Single, and Killing Herself For the Company

Busting Your Corporate Idol.  Chapter 5, Part 10

Mary is tall, with curly dark hair and a serious expression when you first meet her.  After a while her bubbly side emerges, a pleasant balance to her focus and determination.  She spoke to me with great sincerity and emotion, and she tells her story better than I ever could:

[At] my first job out of grad school, I was excited and wanted to do well.  The culture was a small company feel, everybody knows each other, familyish.  Everyone was trying to do the right thing to make the company successful. You wanted to go the extra mile, [because] you were working with your friends. You felt this camaraderie. I was traveling for the first time, yeah! I’ll go anywhere yeah! Just all the perks of being in a company vs. academia: the money, the bonuses, the 401k it was so exciting.  I felt so successful compared with my Ph.D. Writing email at night, fixing customer problems, writing customer requirements, it[work] fulfilled me to a certain amount. Even now, ten years later I still feel a connection to many of the people I worked with. 

So when the layoffs hit, it was such a slap in the face. It was really hard. I have very vivid images of the layoffs. I wasn’t part of it, but it was a mess.  I remember the CSO was crying. Everyone had to get in a room. I remember being up high, looking down and seeing everyone scrambling around in the corridor to see if they were on the list.  It was awful.” 

The layoffs were a wake up call for Mary.  

I was 30 and still single. I though ‘I’m killing myself for the company, and not getting anywhere in my personal life.’  You don’t realize that at first, except for Friday nights when you grab movie, Thai noodles and sit by yourself.  It started to be ‘wait a minute, I want to get married, have kids, and I’m getting older.  I have an awesome apartment downtown and no one to share it with’. I traveled a lot and gained weight, which made it hard to be single.  Even if I looked fine, I didn’t feel good about myself. 

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