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“What makes you think you were doing bad work?” Asks the psychologist. Not a real one, just the call-and-response in my cranium.
“Well, there’s only so many hours a workday you can spend on Ricochet when you ought to be doing other things and still think you’re a good worker. I’m not going to sit here taking their coin forever when I’m not providing commensurate services in exchange. It’s dishonest.”
“Has your boss talked to you about this?” Pretty much the first check to perform when someone talks this way. It goes this way with depression; the disease feeds and grows off of lies you tell yourself. Maybe I’m doing bad work, maybe I’m only depressed and think they’re doing bad work.
“No, last annual review the boss man said he was pretty happy with the work I’ve been providing. Frankly, that was a surprise to me. I wasn’t happy with the value I’d been adding at that point.” The hope here is obviously that I’m lying to myself about my poor job performance. If that’s a lie then as soon as I disbelieve I can stop worrying about it, be a little happier about life, and importantly, not have to quit my job. But is it a lie?
“And your coworkers? Have they noticed anything?” Gathering more evidence.
“Noticed? Can’t say that they’ve noticed. Can’t say that they haven’t, either. Hasn’t gone far enough that anyone’s said anything, at least in my hearing. Still, I’ve left them plenty to notice.” I expect people to notice a great deal more than they let on. I assume no one’s spoken up out of a certain amount of politeness or unwillingness to stir up trouble. Or maybe they haven’t noticed; people really don’t think much about other people. Not something I’d like to presume on, however.
“So if the ‘boss man’ hasn’t told you you need to shape up, and none of your coworkers have complained about the quality of your work, what makes you think you’re doing a poor job?” And that’s the meat of the question. If I’m lying to myself then quitting the job is a large scale act of self-sabotage. If I’m not then… well, as long as we’re being honest it’s not a great scenario. You want to quit a job when you’ve got another one lined up already.
“I can measure, can’t I? This isn’t a case of ‘I feel like I’m worthless.’ This is me calculating time spent on the internet versus time spent doing something productive. This is me measuring my rate of progress on projects versus similar projects a couple of years ago, and coming up short. This is me counting the times I’ve switched from working on necessary projects to working on fun projects because at least that way I might get something done. Look, one of my assets, I’ve got an extremely logical, scientific mind. I trust my own ability to objectively evaluate these things more than anyone else’s, and that’s even taking the crazy into account.” Perhaps a touch arrogant, but I’ve been measuring my mind for years.
“Let’s take it as read that you’re right about that. What makes you think about jumping ship to any other job is going to give you better results?” A fair question. If your problem is in your head you can’t walk away from it.
“Because my job is in Industrial Engineering. Nothing against the discipline, but it ain’t me.” I may hold some things against the discipline, but nothing personal.
“When you say ‘it ain’t me…” Ah yes, the old ‘repeat the last three words back to him’ school of psychoanalysis. Hmm…
“Have you ever studied economics?” Being an inhabitant of my skull I’m going to assume she has at least a passing familiarity with the subject. “F. A. Hayek: ‘It’s the curious task of economics to show man how little he knows about what he imagines he can design.’ I believe that wholeheartedly. Industrial engineering is… not that. Working on a factory to make it more efficient, yeah, that’s great. No problem there. Modeling a factory ever more accurately in order to make predictions about the future? I don’t really believe that’s possible past a certain point, and I think our department passed that point a long time ago. Centralizing decision making around product flow in order to maximize output? Practically gives me hives thinking about it. What you’re doing is you’re assuming your model is more accurate than the real world out there, and asking people to dance to it. Just a bad idea.”
“So you have philosophical objections to the work, and that’s enough for you to quit?” Might be?
“Well, that’s not all. The other thing is I like a bit of chaos in my life. Okay, more than a bit. I’m more comfortable with disruptions to a daily routine than having a daily routine in the first place. I like unusual circumstances, I appreciate having to think on my feet and having to adapt the plan. I’m all about building capability for dealing with unforeseen circumstances. All this? Anathema to the Industrial Engineering mindset. It’s inefficient. I’m not knocking that way of thinking; it’s very useful when you’re looking to maximize a factory. I’m just built wrong for it.”
“When you say you’re built wrong—“
“Not in a ‘woe is me, why did God make me broken like this?’ sense. The Good Lord built me the way I am for a purpose. That purpose doesn’t seem to be Industrial Engineering. I’m just slotted into the wrong category in the working world.” Honest truth. I try very hard to understand the different ways people’s minds work, what motivates them, what they enjoy, how they play the game. I should have a decent idea of how my motivations work by now.
“Okay, okay. You’re set on quitting your job. Why not wait a bit, find a different, a better job on the side, and only make your jump when you know you’ll stick the landing?”
“Because I have been waiting a bit. I’ve been waiting too long already. I’ve weighed and dissected the question. And the longer I stay at this job the worse I do. Job-hunting without already being employed makes that game harder. But job-hunting, while employed, is proving impossible. I’ve spent so much of my energy by the end of the workday, by the end of the workweek, that I just can’t handle the emotional Hindenburg that’s the job hunt.”
“Okay, let’s say you get another job. What does it look like?” Now there’s the sixty-four thousand dollar question.
Just a quick note: This is, as they say, based on a true story. I quit my job, I don’t have another one lined up yet. While the long term prospects of shiftless bumming are sour, in the meantime I’ve got plenty of seed corn to eat. I’m confident that I’ll be able to get a better job, just as soon as I figure out what that better job is. Is highwayman still a valid profession?