Monday, January 11, 2010

Workin' For a Living

I have a bad case of the Mondays right now.  I'll start by saying that I know I have a really good life and a pretty good job, but what I want to do right now is complain. 

I am an Industrial Engineer (and a Chemical Engineer, but that isn't where my career has been). What I do is called process improvement.  It has a fancy name (Lean Six Sigma) that doesn't mean anything to most people, but what it really is, is fixing things.  When things don't work in companies (besides managerial stuff), it's usually because processes aren't working, sales process, purchase order process, shipping process, etc, etc.  Without being an expert in anything other than improving processes, I can come in and help people make their processes better.  When it works, it can be really satisfying, and really make a difference.

I'm not making my job easier.  I'm helping other people make their jobs easier.  What this means is that I accomplish my job through other people doing things.  In most companies, since their jobs will get better, most people like having me come in and help.  Most people actually do the things that will make their jobs better.  Everybody looks good and the company makes more money.  Not here.

At my current company, people don't answer the phone, they don't answer emails.  They say they're going to do things and then "forget."  For months, even though I ask every week about it.  We have the same conversation over and over and never move forward on anything.  People feel like they can just wait me out and eventually I'll go away.  This isn't just one or even a few people.  It's the whole place!  I've spoken to my boss about it, but he's part of the mindset that the way we are isn't a bad thing.  He's never worked anywhere where process improvement works the way it's supposed to.  It's frustrating.

I come home from work for weeks, even months on end and can honestly say that I accomplished Not. A. Single. Thing.  In the process improvement sense, this is the worst place I've ever worked.  The work by it's nature (even when it's good) isn't often satisfying.  A good day might be one where I lead a meeting and get some groups of people to agree to something.  Woo hoo!  Not very tactile. [I won't even get into my growing ennui about helping corporations make profit.  That can wait for another rant. Suffice it to say that there's not much about my job that fit with my values these days.]

If I was younger, I might care more.  I'm past the part of my life where my career actually means that much to me.  I spent years and years beating my head against various walls (I mean gaining valuable experience) and now I'm over it.  Now I just want a paycheck.  What frustrates me most isn't the job, per se.  It's that I have to waste 11 hours out of every day accomplishing nothing (7am when I leave for work to 6pm when I get home).  I could be spending that 11 hours on real, homestead-y stuff.  I spend most of every day wishing the clock would go faster so that I can get home.  Then when I'm home I wish the clock would go slower, but I'm too tired to do much anyway.  I think it's a cruel twist of fate that means I only get 2 days a week to work on stuff that I really want to do.

I know that many people don't enjoy their work (remember Thoreau saying that most people lead lives of quiet desperation), and most spend years and years disliking their jobs.  The lucky ones have family at home to balance the bad work and share the load of work to be done.  I don't have that outlet and sometimes I feel it keenly.

There are always options.  I'm considering asking for a direct engineering job, where I actually work with the product (that would be my first job actually using the ChemE degree. I'm not sure I'm qualified).  I'm considering asking to go part-time, 4 days a week.  I'm considering pursuing teaching where teachers get 15 weeks a year off.  I've been thinking about starting that goat business.  Right now though, I need to sit tight, keep coming into work and trying to get things done.  I know that.  That's why I'm here, complaining to you.  Thanks for listening.  (end rant)


  1. I'm glad to be here for you. I know you're "there" for me when I need to rant.

    More later . . . just skimming favorite sites before leaving for the morning.

  2. Don't worry...just when you think things can't get any darker...they go completely black.

  3. Thanks Mama Pea, and thanks for the sunny outlook Anon. As if I didn't write this blog entry, I just went to a meeting where I've been trying FOR SEVEN MONTHS to get a really simple change in place (use a different pallet at one location), and yet again, people didn't show up until 15 minutes late, people forgot what they agreed to do and it's like we're starting all over again. It makes me just want to give up and tell everybody that if they want things to stay the same, they're welcome to it. Of course, then it looks like I'm not doing my job, so I'm a little stuck and have to keep trying. Ugh. I'd rather be at home working hard doing real work in the fresh air and sunshine, even if it is 20 degrees!

  4. I think you've put forth a very intelligent, rational, concise rant. You didn't inject a lot of emotionalism but stated things as they are. Plain and simple.

    In the early days of our marriage, we had already started our first homestead (chickens and goats) and I was working a full time job in a huge office building. There were elevators to use but I always took the stairway because it was on an outside wall and completely glassed. The building was in a newly developed area (destruction of more farmland) so the view was gorgeous. As I went up and down the stairs, I can still remember the heart pangs I felt wanting SO badly to be out there in the fresh air and sunshine (heck, even rain!) on our homestead doing something that I felt was REAL.

    So I can relate to you wanting to be home building something that is to you more worthwhile than what you're doing. (Or not being able to do!)

    Time goes by so quickly. None of us knows how much time is allotted to us. Is there any way you could chuck your present job, perhaps find some consulting work to do from home that would bring in some cash, and thereby be able to really, really start putting the time and effort on what is meaningful to you?

    You're smart and willing to work hard. Who knows what markets might open up to you? Being able to start your goat business sooner. Selling your cheese. Spin and sell yarn. Teaching nights while freeing up daylight hours to work on the homestead.

    I don't know. The older you get the more you realize that we all need to find a way of doing more on a day to day basis that feeds our souls. That brings us joy. What is one's life worth if we come to our last hours and think, "Damn, why did I spend all that time leading that life of 'quiet desperation'?" The frustrating feelings you're enduring at your day job now are not good for you. They're sapping your strength to do more on the homestead.

    I KNOW the financial aspect of it all is important. And nobody wants to cut off their nose to spite their face. But maybe there are options out there. Worth some thought?

    Now please feel free to tell ME how to do better in my life. I sure ain't perfect!!!

  5. Oh, Yeah, Jordan-
    Every day in my flexible job, I find myself 1-2 hours later than I intended. I have decided I need to step up my part time a bit to make some financial change. The boss(My FIL) and the foreman are both over 70 and getting a little more forgetful and at each other a bit and I never know which one is the 'guilty' one. I had a small part time job that I liked more, but felt this was where I should spend more time right now. If I could make a big enough difference in a year or 2, I'd be looking for a change. You know the old argument that this is where the insurance is. I feel the need to stay home and get some of my house chores done alone in the morning and then it is hard to leave. So...I hop on the blogs from time to time during the day to be encouraged and inspired and take it as it comes... Learn now, while the money is there. Stock up on supplies, equipment, things for the future, and then you'll be ready for the change...
    Chin up girl...I'm still thinking of a girlfriend raid on you in the spring... I'll bring the girlfriends...

  6. Oh wow, Mama Pea - thanks for the insights! This is so good, I'm going to talk about it more tomorrow!

  7. And Karen Sue - it's true, the blogs are a real inspiration! I can't image how far I'd be without them. It'd definitely be less far than I am now. It's funny how when we get to talking, not many people are thrilled with their ability to balance too many things on too small a plate (to mix metaphors).