When I was a young mid-career manager I was very engaged with my job. I was competitive, and wanted to be in the middle – or better still, front and center- of projects as they appeared on our horizon. I really wanted to be in the know. Sitting back and waiting to be told what to do did not appeal to me at all. I wanted to be in with the decision makers, and as I rose up in the ranks there were times when I got to do just that.
I worked on a lot of proposals and the constant listing of our team’s credentials and kudos made me internalize the feeling of competency and excellence. I was very self-confident and that’s almost a credential in and of itself in that world. A ‘can-do’ attitude could carry one a long way. I had a voice, perhaps not at the highest level, but I was listened to.
It has come as something of a shock, if I’m honest, to realize that as I’ve changed careers, and, I sincerely believe this has something to do with it, grown older, I’m not viewed the same way as I was at the height of my career. I should say it’s humbling but it’s really annoying and a bit frightening. The STEM Coordinator position did not go to me, but to a younger, frantically energetic, intermediate school teacher. And she does not necessarily include me in meetings or decisions. Instead I’m now one of those people who are expected to wait and be told what to do. Although I still speak up and speak confidently in meetings no one automatically turns to me to see what I have to say. My voice has been muted and I’m no longer in the loop.
For instance, a new lucrative opportunity has arisen in relation to a grant for which we are applying and it’s just assumed that this colleague is a shoo-in for it. A decade ago, before the collapse, I would have been doing some heavy lobbying and positioning for it myself. But not now.
I deeply resent what I view as a dismissal of my skills and talents and experience and as a result I feel less engaged and attached to my work. At the same time, though, I don’t always feel I have the level of energy that is required to fight my way back up the ladder. I’m working 2 jobs and still don’t make as much money as my younger colleague (who also has a husband to share financial and parenting resources) and honestly I can see the horizon from where I’m standing. I’m closer in age to the retiring teachers and administrators at our school than I am to my young go-getting colleague. It takes an inordinate amount of energy to stay on top of everything in my life – the myriad and various demands of the education job, the stress and physical demands of the late nights at the grocery store, the various health-related issues that continue to pop up and the joys and trials of parenting teenagers.
In my most reflective, as opposed to knee-jerk, competitive/reactive, moments I try to view this as a changing of the guard. I have had my day in the sun and my ambitious, hard-working colleague does deserve hers. She will find that climbing the ladder comes with sacrifices, such as foregoing family obligations (or dragging your kid along with you to those evening meetings), and burdens along with the improved pay.
Maybe it would be easier to adopt that reflective attitude if I could rest on my laurels and enjoy some relaxing retrospection but that possibility has been washed away and as Dory says, I need to keep on swimming.