There are a whole lotta reasons I don't write much about work. Most of them have to do with not getting fired for writing about work. Because, you know, you hear the horror stories. And because for the past decade, I've worked for a large Swiss pharmaceutical company who is in any number of ways a terrific company, but can sometimes be a little rigid about these things, I've just developed the habit of ignoring the hours of 7am to 6pm. At least when it comes to writing. But I think I'm going to make an exception.
For the first time in more than ten years, I'm preparing to leave my job. Back in the heady San Francisco dot-com days, this was common. I averaged less than a year at a gig at one point. It's what you did. For better pay. For better benefits. To learn new things. To go new places. Because your buddy went to a cool new company. and they had a foosball table in the datacenter. Because you could do that. Eventually, I moved to a biotech company that made drugs to treat cancer, and blood tests to prevent the spread of hepatitis and HIV, and vaccines to keep kids and families healthy. And I figured out that what I did could matter. Not just a little bit, and not just to my paycheck, but significantly and to other people. Even as an IT guy. And that was pretty thrilling. Add to that the chance to learn something new pretty much every day, meet cool people, and to move across the world. Not once, but a couple of times. This has been a good gig.
Somewhere along the course of that decade, I worked for a guy who gave me perhaps the best piece of advice I have received in my years of earning a pay check. In the middle of some particularly busy time, he was listening to me prattle on about the dozen or so things I had in progress with an accompanying multi-faceted slide show, because the corporate world eats PowerPoint like the fat kid eats Skittles.
After I finished my spiel, he leaned back, folded his hands across his stomach, and said, "I think you're a little too comfortable. It's time to push."
Given that I had just spent 80 hours or so finely crafting a presentation detailing a roadmap of activity that represented months of cumulative effort and the endless hours of overtime I was prepared to commit myself to, my response was a spluttering objection. Clearly, he had lost his ever-loving Swiss marbles. But on reflection (which meant mulling it over for several weeks over a few pints and the occasional rum-based cocktail) he was right.
I was confusing working hard with being stretched.
In the past few months, I've been lucky enough to find and talk with another great company in the same life sciences industry. A company that does extremely interesting things to further science & our understanding of the basic building blocks of life. I prefaced my conversation with their hiring team with, 'Um.. You might be looking for the other Grady that I live with. I'm not the scientist. That'd be my Bride. I play with "computers"...' Fortunately for me, it seems like the skills and experience I have managed to accumulate do fill a need, and I'll be joining their team next week as their head of IT & CIO.
But before we got to that point, there was a lot of deep thinking on my part about the next part of my career. Since the bank and the IRS still won't accept bacon in trade, I'll be maintaining one of those for a while longer. And as this 'blog is a combination of both my opportunity to reflect in black & white and the eventual primary evidence in my children's future therapy sessions, I thought I'd summarize the few simple things that it's taken me more than 20 years to figure out about what brings me fulfillment in my career.
- I always want to work with people who are smarter than me. They make me try harder.
- Being uncomfortable is a welcome thing. It means you're not dead.
- Knowing when and how to take a risk, and why you're doing it, is a valued & marketable skill.
I've been lucky enough to have the first thing for most of my career. (Some people might tell me that means the majority of people are smarter than me. Some people might be right.) That last thing - knowing how & why to take a risk - is surprisingly rare, at least in my experience. Which means that even being a little bit good at it can make you successful.
But the truly hard one - the one that goes contrary to almost every instinct of the human existence - is in seeking out things that make you uncomfortable. Things that make you work harder to keep up. Things that push you beyond what you thought you knew, or could do, or could enjoy.
Because I'm human, given the choice between doing something difficult but worthy or curling up on the couch with a ratty warm blanket and a bowl of cheeze doodles is to opt for the latter. I have to remind myself that as much as I love fromage-flavored crispy bits, I need the awkward, clammy feeling of pressure & expectation to keep me moving forward.
I've still got a few years to work on them, but if I can launch my kids out the front door of our house with a more fully developed appetite for challenge (and help them skip my decades-long learning curve), I'll declare victory.
I will comfort them by letting them know that you still also get to eat the cheeze doodles.