My Search For Rewarding Work

The switch happened shortly after graduating from college. Until then, jobs I held were centered on completing tasks. I cleaned pools, entered data into computers, and delivered janitorial supplies around the Salt Lake valley. 

But at some point, if you’re good at getting things done, someone in management notices and you’re promoted to a position where you’re no longer directly involved in getting things done. I don’t recall anyone telling me that’s what earning a college degree was about but it was certainly implied.

My uncle is one of those guys you see when boarding a plane who’s tossing suitcases onto the cargo chute. As fun as it might be to zip around the tarmac playing tag with 747s, I didn’t like the idea of schlepping luggage in the sweltering summers or frigid winters of Salt Lake.

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I told myself over and over that I would skip right past the demanding labor of my uncle and head right into a job with an office, computer, and brass name plate.

As if going to college would magically activate a switch in my brain that would allow me to earn a living using it instead of my legs, hands, and back. Yet now, as my no-longer-21-year-old body is beginning to feel it’s share of aches and pains, I find myself drawn to challenging and unpredictable work.

My current job feels like work. But it’s challenging and frustrating and rewarding. Not everyday, but most days, and that’s a change for the better. I’m learning and being pushed into uncomfortable situations I’ve not experienced in my career.  I’m alert instead of checking ESPN during a recurring all-hands. Most of all, I actually care about our customers because they aren’t buried beneath a dozen layers or corporate insulation.

The corporate world is full of planning, off-sites, 1x1s, status reports,  budgeting and brainstorming sessions. I feel like that’s all I’ve done for the past fifteen years. When I worked for Microsoft, it wasn’t uncommon to spend 20 to 25 hours a week in meetings. When I’d arrive home and Kim asked me what I did that day, I had no answer. Not all meetings are a waste of time. Just most of them.

The notion that working with your mind instead of your hands is a more important contribution to society is incorrect. I’m starting to doubt my own education given how long it’s taken me to realize that.

At least now I return home from work each day I have an answer when Kim asks what I did.

Comments

  1. Wait, did you only work a typical 40 hour week during your days at Microsoft? :) I can say that for those of us in engineering, 20-25 hours in meetings was only 1/3 or 1/4 of our work week back then. Now days for anyone not in management to be saddled with 20+ hours of meetings would be ridiculous….at least in my group.

    • Brett Nordquist says:

      Brandon, you’ve probably seen the changes as you’ve been there longer than I have. I’ve heard second hand that some groups are more friendly towards those with family but many still require endless meetings and long hours. I understand why people do it because the benefits and pay are very good. I did it years ago before I had children, but it’s not worth the trade-offs at this point in my life with four young children.

      • Yeah things are much different now overall. Sure we all have big product pushes towards major milestones, but in general things are far far more family friendly these days. I have friends in product teams such as XBOX, where the holiday season is far crazier than it is for me, and even they do pretty well on work/life balance. Again, in general. There are certainly some that I’m sure continue to give blood 20 hours a day, 7 days a week.

        As I think about it, I cannot recall the last weekend I worked (beyond a little email etc) – and this includes milestone crunch times.

  2. Excellent post. At this point in my life, I really think I’d rather mow lawns than return to the corporate world.

    The pay might even be better!

    • Brett Nordquist says:

      Idaho Dad, I’d much rather mow lawns that sit through another year end team building exercise. I still can’t believe how much time I spent doing tasks that looked like working but didn’t result in anything but a year-end Powerpoint slide.

  3. Agree with your insight. In the last year I started managing a team that does what I used to do. I am in a lot more meetings now and actually “producing” less in a tangible way. Sometimes, I go home, and wonder what I accomplished that day, other than talking or making work for others. This past week, the office has been quiet for the holidays, and I’ve had the opportunity to sit and produce, even if it is just helping out with some mundane projects. It’s rewarding, and a great reminder to respect all forms of work. Sometimes the nitty gritty stuff is what makes the most difference!

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