This blog has been silent for nearly two weeks, and during that time the standard drama of life has played on. An unexpected but quite welcome guest stayed longer due to recovery from surgery, which changed up the routine enough to add stress. Two less than perfectly scheduled work trips popped up. Other projects at work have ground on, and will grind on, and little by little I’m grinding or being ground down right along with them. I’ve found myself exhausted on a routine basis lately.
Recently I took a standard yellow Post-It note and wrote the words, “This is your reality, accept it. There is no alternative.” and placed it on the computer monitor bezel, as a reminder that I am where I am, doing the work that I’m tasked, and that there are no real alternatives left for me. For the previous three years I’ve been considered for promotion, obviously that hasn’t happened and this year has no indications of being any different, and so the potential options of different work in a different setting are equally minuscule.
Through reflection I discovered that it is easier to accept the fact that I have a job, but not a career. A career is something that has advancement up some sort of chain, while a job is something where the advancement is more in the level of skill you have to put into the work. A plumber is a plumber, a machinist is a machinist, and you will pay more for highly skilled plumbers or machinists than apprentices or entry level journeymen. A doctor, or lawyer, or military officer, can expect to advance away from being a grunt worker bee in an organizational hierarchy towards a position in administration, department leadership, or even transitioning to teaching/mentoring with pay reflective of an advancement (getting a master machinist or welder to teach is quite often a step down in pay). Recognizing that my work no longer has that possibility is rather liberating. I don’t have a career, despite wearing the same rank and uniform as people who do still have a career.
In short, the level of excellence I can bring to a job is dictated by me, while the level of excellence in anyone’s career includes a bunch of external factors. In terms of external factors that could change my situation, there is nothing left but false hope that needs to be ignored, and a pension that will come as I hit the mandatory retirement point provided that I don’t screw up royally between now and then.
There is now no avenue for me to really give back to the military community in any meaningful way, only show up each day and perform my tasks and duties with all the dedication and energy I can muster. And I will continue to do that, rowing as hard as I can for as long as I can, because whether or not I have a career or merely a job, I’m still a professional.
It was painful to abandon the image I held of myself as a career man, someone who invested into an organization and could continue to find value in that investment. I still wish that such possibilities remained, however wish in one hand and defecate into the other and it becomes clear which will fill up first.
So what to do now. Logically since I know when I will be separated, I should begin specific preparations for that transition and obtaining follow on employment. Unfortunately very few institutions have a hiring cycle years out. Putting that thorny little problem aside brings me right back to my current reality, and the necessity to embrace it.
I also need to get serious about a financial audit for the impending changes. With more than 24 months left to go now is the time to ensure the financial house is prepared for the transition.
No one said I needed to like my reality, and I certainly don’t. But even those who do have a real career eventually hit the point where they cannot stay any longer, and must transition out. I assume that they can look on their entire work history and feel that they had a successful career, which is something that I can no longer do. I can look on my work history and be proud, but the roller coaster ride I took is certainly not a successful career.
But for the next few short years I have a job, and it pays well enough to keep the wife happy. It isn’t what I wanted, but it is what I got myself into, and there is nothing left to do but drive forward.
Honestly all this navel gazing really isn’t useful, but somehow it has become necessary for me to go through it and find some level of zen or stoic acceptance to my situation. Since the internet is forever, maybe these words will help someone else in the future come to terms with the death of their career, and transitioning to having only a job.