This is strange…but good

So a strange thing happened to me.

For the longest time, I didn’t work very hard.  I was in academia and learned very quickly that as a paid employee working in research, it didn’t matter how hard you worked.  No one cared and you’ll still get your pension and your yearly raise.  So I spent a lot of my “work” time on my hobbies, my blogs and learning things that interested me.  It helped when we were getting our blog off the ground, but it sure didn’t help me feel good about my career.

Photo Credit: D Sharon Pruitt via flickr

Photo Credit: D Sharon Pruitt via flickr

I used to go in to my lab job and wonder, “Why am I getting paid for this?  Why did this job require a university degree?  What the hell does this have to do with being a research assistant”  I felt like it was a waste of my time to be there so most of my time was spent on non-work things.  I still got my job done, of course, but my heart wasn’t in it.  While employed, I took every advantage that I could – maxed out my benefits, took sick days whenever I felt even a little bit “off” and went for my full 4 weeks of vacation each year.  Still, it was incredibly unsatisfying.

That was one of the reasons why I started thinking seriously about early retirement.  I couldn’t imagine slogging through another 30 years of mindless, tedious and repetitive scientific experiments and grant writing.  Get me out!

Fast forward a few years: I had my quarter life crisis, went back to school, did some serious freelance writing, and came out with a computer science degree.  It felt so good to use my brain again on problems rather than just repeating an experiment over and over until I got the results that the PI wanted.  A few jobs later and after coming home at 7:30pm after a day’s work 4 days in a row, I realized something… I think I actually enjoy working again.

What!

It’s true though.  My work day usually starts at 8:30am and depending on the workload, I leave anywhere between 5pm and 7pm.  And the funny part is, I don’t mind.  Sometimes, I’ll be working on a coding problem, look up at the clock, and realize that it’s 6:45pm!  It’s a huge change from when I used to arrive at the lab at 8:30am and leave promptly at 4:30pm.

So what makes this job so different?  It’s a combination of many facets, but three things stand out for me:

  • My colleagues are awesome!  I enjoy being around the people I work with.  I like that we can joke around and I even enjoy being needled about my intense hatred of onions.  My technical manager is super smart and great at explaining tasks and projects.  My project manager is an incredible motivator and very supportive of my career.
  • The work is great.  It feels sooooo good to use my brain again.  It’s counter intuitive, but biological science doesn’t really require a lot of thinking.  A lot of the time, you’re just repeating the same experiment until you get results that make your PI happy so that he’ll let you write the paper and/or graduate.  Coding takes a lot more brain power and when things work, I know it’s because I figured something out, not because I repeated the experiments enough times to get a “good” result.
  • My effort is rewarded.  I’ve probably mentioned this before… like at the beginning of this article… but working in an academic institution (with strong ties to unions), it didn’t matter how hard I worked.  I still got the same raise as everyone else.  So why work hard?  This was the mentality at my old job.  Here at my current workplace, working hard feels good because you get recognition and rewards.

This doesn’t mean that Brian and I are giving up on the master plan!  We are still chugging along working on paying off my student loan as quickly as possible while still growing our assets.  But I am feeling more and more OK with working and staying with a job for more than a year or two.  It seems like working a good job is not so bad after all.

Do you enjoy your job or do you dread going into work each day?
Posted in: Career and Work, Philosophy

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