Thursday, November 5, 2009

Planned Obsolescence

You are starting this new job - a new career, really.   

There wasn't exactly an interview process - it was more just trying hard,  going through the motions, a few tests, and eventually you find out you got the job.  It doesn't start, though, for another 9 months or so.  In that time, you will be expected to gather - and retain - as much information about performing your new job as humanly possible.  Any book, any magazine, any website with your job title in the name, you are to read it.

People who currently hold the job give you these wan smiles when you ask for tips on how to do it well.  Some will thoroughly enjoy sitting you down and scaring the crap out of you as they describe just how difficult this job will be.  Some will start sentences that sound promising, but then trail off with ''ll just figure it out as you go along.'

The months of preparation give you a real sense of confidence:  the workplace is ready, the equipment all prepared, and all you have to do is wait for confirmation of your start date. You know for a fact there will be a few weeks of adjustment - every new job has those - but that soon you'll get to know your employer, and that in no time you will show BossMan/Lady how truly good at this you can be.

Then the Big Day arrives.  It's all a bit hectic in the beginning, but at the end of that day you have this sort of eye-to-eye catchup with The Boss - quiet sort, that one - and as those dark eyes fix on you,  you begin to get a glimmer of just how complicated this new career might turn out to be.

Your pre-reading will come in handy:  you set long term goals for yourself,  short term goals for the group.  You'll get instant feedback on some projects, zero feedback on others.  The Boss keeps asking you to do new things, requiring you to analyze new information that feels waaaaaaay outside of your comfort zone, asking you to participate in fields that are absolutely not what you were trained in.  After a few years in the job, you may end up with a few employers - all of whom will have their own ideas about what your priorities should be.

As with all careers,  some days (and nights) will feel endless.  There  will be intense weeks, and you will feel that you might never survive this particular project.  And then all of the sudden you will raise your head, look at the calendar, and realize an entire season has passed.

You will start every day in this job thinking today I will be better at this. Today I will try harder.  (Actually, you will start every day thinking COFFEE.  Please God, please just make the coffee be ready FASTER!  And then you will think about doing better and trying harder.) You will end every night of this job reviewing your failures, and praying to whatever Higher Power you may believe in to give you the grace to forgive yourself, and to forgive your tyrant employers.

You will have moments of indescribable joy in this job.  There will almost certainly be moments of miraculousness. You will have moments where your very soul feels like it is being put through the In-Sinkerator.  You will mutter I QUIT to yourself at least once a week (honestly? once a day.)  At certain points you will look at yourself and think I had no idea I would ever be able to pull this off.  At certain other points you will ask yourself How on Earth did I think I would be able to pull this off? Never before have you done a job like this.  You will see the absolute best in you revealed, and the slimy angriest worst in you as well.

After a number of years, you begin to establish a rhythm that will get you through the days, the weeks, and the months.  You gain in confidence, enough to smile knowingly at people just entering the workforce, and say oh..... you'll just figure it out as you go along

But as your confidence grows, so does this niggling idea at the back of your head.  Some of these projects, heck, most parts of the Big Project have very long term objectives.  You'll have some mid-term reviews that will give you an indication of forecasted results, but really?  You won't know if your efforts are successful for at least fifteen, twenty years. 

This niggling idea, this noisome little voice of dissent in the back of your brain starts getting louder.  And here's what it says:  your job, in fact your entire career will only be successful if you make your job obsolete.  If you do your job well enough to make your participation unneccessary.  With every step closer to completed objectives, you are a step closer to working yourself out of a job.  Not only is that an end result, that is the goal.

So even as you adjust daily to this monumental role - the career of a lifetime - you have to keep asking yourself what you will do after this.  You must ask yourself what you are doing to prepare for life after this career - what is your exit strategy? - even whilst you find yourself utterly consumed by the task at hand. 

So that's it:  I'm working, in a glorious, messy and kiss-filled way, towards planned obsolescence.  The rewards of watching the power of language dawn in someone's eyes, of watching a sense of dry humor in action, of hearing tender words that demonstrate deep intuition?  Far greater - so very very much greater - than a severance check. 


L-A said...

I love this entry - v. insightful, v. true... except for one point I disagree with. I don't think a parent's job is ever completely obsolete. While I am able to stand on my own two feet and function on my own in society, I still feel I need the ones who raised me. While they don't need to work for me fulltime anymore, I appreciate their willingness to be retained on a consultantation basis. And if all goes well with my current employment, perhaps it will end the same way.

hezro said...

wow...this was timely for me. just wrote up a little "project overview" of my own on my blog. i've been feeling a little blue about the baby leaving the nest. i know, i know, she's 20 months...but still. :)

Gasmeter said...

Nice writing.

I have been conducting a performance review today. I didn't score well.

Cheryl said...

What's shocking is that I haven't been fired yet. I have pondered going on strike, considering I'm on-duty 24/7 without even a potty break..but I guess the key is, if you've produced contributing members of society who actually, you know, like you as well as love you, then they will never truly leave you.

Harold of Scaggsville said...


kirsten said...

Lori-Anne: I think the key is in the phrase "do your job well enough to make your participation unnecessary."
Ideally yes - you still invite your parent's participation, and I LOVE the analogy of the part-time consultant, but the key is that you've got the skills to make it on your own. Having your old employees around is a nice affirmation that your weren't such a Tyrant Boss after all.

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