Seeking engagement in the workplace

Or, Seeking a Job That Fits You

Happy Worker

Photo credit: thechrisdavis (flickr)

As I mentioned in my last post, I’m enjoying (for the second time) the book Plugged In: The Generation Y Guide to Thriving at Work. One important topic covered is engagement. Engagement, in this context, means actively contributing to the workplace in a way that goes beyond just “getting enough done.” Engaged workers bring energy, creativity, and commitment to the job. They think of new ways to do things and choose to put in the extra work to make sure things are not only done, but done well.

The alternatives are satisfied workers – people who are just doing enough and are just satisfied enough to keep doing the same things as they look toward retirement, or worse – unhappy workers.

Apparently in older generations it was less common to seek engagement in the work place. Work and play were thought of as two completely different things. When I think of what I know of my father’s generation’s work attitudes, it certainly matches that. You had work, which mostly men did in order to support a family, and home, where mostly women managed households and family activities. Some people were lucky enough to love their work, but many more went through the routine and built traditional careers, trusting that if they were devoted to the company, the company would provide. Reasonable, since in those days, it usually did.

Today things are different, and separation lines are blurred or gone. We’ve been encouraged to think outside the box since we were children. I’m thankful for that. But the freedom to stop and think about whether the traditional ways will make you happy and satisfied can lead to a different view of the purpose of work, marriage, and life itself.

Less willing to accept “it’s always been done that way” as a reason to do anything, I, anyhow, came to the conclusion that if I’m going to spend so much of my time working to make a living, I might as well get as many benefits as I could. Why not look for fulfillment, a challenge, a chance to learn, a career that makes you feel good about your work?

Propaganda Poster for a Happy Worker!

Propaganda Poster for a Happy Worker!

I certainly saw this difference in expectations for engagement when I started in the workforce in 2009. Coming from an excellent university where I was surrounded by the most engaged, passionate, inspired, and inspiring members of my generation, I naively asked my co-workers a number of what I thought were “getting to know you” questions such as “what made you want to be in this field?” only to receive puzzled stares and flat responses such as “I didn’t.”

While I’ve obtained marginal help from elders in my field in trying to determine where I could find what I’m looking for, I’ve also been disappointed by how many people seem to have barely considered how a position aligns with their passions, interests, desires. I can’t help but think they’re all floating in a big river, turning this way or that because that’s how it’s done and that’s where the currents took them.

I don’t know if it’s because of my propensity for depression, but that sounds horrifying to me! What if that next fork in the river splits, one side a relaxing and fun path with just the right amount of challenge, and the other either leads to raging rapids or a desolate flat stretch with nothing to look at or do? I’d want to pull up google earth and figure out what the options are, not just let the currents carry me where they will.

Anyhow, for a number of reasons, my generation (sometimes called Millenials, Gen Y, or the Net Generation) seeks engagement in greater numbers than before.

So, how does one find engagement at work? The author, Tamara Erickson, suggests that a good place to start is by identifying times in the past that you were engaged, and noting the conditions such as where you were, what you were doing, who you were doing it with, and what type of pressure you were doing it under.

Here are a few of her suggestions of what type of experiences to recall:

-A time when you lost yourself in your work, unaware of the time that was passing or other distractions

-A time when you felt proud of something you accomplished and happy to acknowledge your involvement in it

-A time when you put in extra effort and time to make sure a job was not just completed, but done well

-A time when your enthusiasm and energy to work on a project led you to successfully convince others to invest their efforts too

Those are just a couple of her suggestions. I know they’ve certainly given me a lot to think about. I hope they’ve given you something to think about too – I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

Still Looking, and Biding My Time

Since I wrote my last post I’ve still been looking hard. I’ve sent out around 30 job applications since April – its about all I can manage with the full time job, startup company, and lots of time spent with Husband!

I had 3 more interviews, to varying degrees of near success. Two were with a company that would offer an amazing blend of uses for my analytics skills, software savvy, project management abilities, and crafty creativity. The company said they were looking for more experienced people but encouraged me to continue to apply to postings for jobs at their company and suggested that I might fit well once their teams have added some more experienced leaders.

The other went extremely well and appeared to be my dream work environment (a bunch of computer geeks under 35, leather couch and beanbag chairs, huge flat screen tv with Xbox and ps3, and a shared mission I could get behind). The interviewer (a cofounder) even signed up on the spot for a trial of a service I recommended. It was very disappointing two weeks later to learn that they had decided not to hire outside the company. Maybe I shouldn’t have gone so far as to name a service that would help them! Lesson learned.

During all this time, my frustrations at work have increased, although I’ve also learned to deal with them better. I’ve waxed and waned about pushing for changes at work that I think will not only make me happier but also improve office operations, especially for the others in my generation, who now make up nearly half of the staff.

Plugged InOn that note, I recently started re-reading a book that helped me last year: Plugged In: The Generation Y Guide to Thriving at Work. The book is great because it goes over the events and trends that shaped my generation and how older people’s worldviews were shaped and how they view us, and it offers advice for how to navigate the generational gaps and how to find a job you like.

I may write more about this as I find so much of the content useful. On that note, I’d love to hear from my readers about their experiences working together with people who span different generations and have widely varying ways of working. Some of the main conflict points I’ve experienced are due to differences in ways of communicating and using technology, motivations for work, and approaches to hierarchy vs cross-level collaboration.

What did you find most frustrating when working with different generations? How did you make it work?

Book Meme

I’ve been tagged by AcmeGirl for a book list meme. Fun!

So, I’m putting the one’s I’ve read in bold, the one’s I’ve read part of in italics, the ones I love in another color, and the rest are left alone.  My classical readings aren’t really that many – mostly just stuff I read in/for school.  As an engineering student, I didn’t read nearly as many classic works of fiction as many of my peers.  I did read a lot of philosophy and nonfiction though (and of course science and math textbooks…), and I’ve always loved memoirs.  None of those are on this list…

1 Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
2 The Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien
I love fantasy novels!
3 Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
4 Harry Potter series – JK Rowling

5 To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
6 The Bible – I’ve read parts of it, as well as parts of the Koran. But I haven’t read the whole thing.
7 Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte
8 Nineteen Eighty Four – George Orwell

9 His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman – quite enjoyed it
10 Great Expectations – Charles Dickens
11 Little Women – Louisa M Alcott
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy
13 Catch 22 – Joseph Heller
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare – Although I’ve of course read many of his works.
15 Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien
17 Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks
18 Catcher in the Rye – JD Salinger
19 The Time Traveller’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger
20 Middlemarch – George Eliot
21 Gone With The Wind – Margaret Mitchell
22 The Great Gatsby – F Scott Fitzgerald
23 Bleak House – Charles Dickens
24 War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy
25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams – even wrote about it in a college essay!
26 Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh
27 Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28 Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
29 Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll
30 The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame
31 Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield – Charles Dickens
33 Chronicles of Narnia – CS Lewis
34 Emma – Jane Austen
35 Persuasion – Jane Austen
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe – CS Lewis
37 The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis De Bernieres
39 Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden – loved the movie, should get to the book someday
40 Winnie the Pooh – AA Milne – I’ve got two kids, what do you expect?
41 Animal Farm – George Orwell
42 The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44 A Prayer for Owen Meany – John Irving
45 The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables – LM Montgomery
47 Far From The Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy
48 The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood – quite good!
49 Lord of the Flies – William Golding I’ll always remember the class exercises we did and how I came to believe that some type of government is necessary, good, and inevitable.  I have a few libertarian friends and I sometimes wonder if they’ve ever read this book…
50 Atonement – Ian McEwan
51 Life of Pi – Yann Martel
52 Dune – Frank Herbert – the trilogy, baby!
53 Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen
55 A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities – Charles Dickens
58 Brave New World – Aldous Huxley I tend to have a really open mind, and it wasn’t obvious to me at first that this was a dystopia. I also read Island, which I liked even more than BNW.
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – Mark Haddon
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck
62 Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov – I actually cry at the end. Every. Time.
63 The Secret History – Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold – but i did read her other book, Lucky, a memoir of her rape.
65 Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas
66 On The Road – Jack Kerouac – have it, intend to read it, feel a special connection to Kerouac since tales say he spent much of his time at the beloved undergrad hangout of my alma mater.
67 Jude the Obscure – Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones’s Diary – Helen Fielding
69 Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick – Herman Melville
71 Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens
72 Dracula – Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett – I think I’ve read it…?
74 Notes From A Small Island – Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses – James Joyce – I tried…
76 The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath – hope to read this one some day!
77 Swallows and Amazons – Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal – Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession – AS Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens
82 Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple – Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro – must get to this one
85 Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte’s Web – EB White
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven – Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – own it, love mysteries, but haven’t read it yet.
90 The Faraway Tree Collection
91 Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad
92 The Little Prince – Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93 The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks
94 Watership Down – Richard Adams
95 A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice – Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas
98 Hamlet – William Shakespeare
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl
100 Les Miserables – Victor Hugo

Books for and about women in science and academia

I came across these through a commenter, Emily, on the May Scientiae Carnival. Emily’s book, Motherhood, the Elephant in the Laboratory: Women Scientists Speak Out, came out recently. She’s set up a blog where she hopes to encourage discussion about how we combine motherhood and science. I haven’t read the book yet myself, but once things settle down and we have some meager amounts of cash, I’ll probably go right out and get it!

Through Emily’s blog I also found out about this book: Mama, PhD: Women Write About Motherhood and Academic Life. It will be released later this year and looks like a promising collection of essays about combining motherhood and academia. This book also has an accompanying blog at MamaPhD.com.

Lists of 8 Meme

So I’m finally doing the lists of 8 meme that EcoGeoFemme over at The Happy Scientist tagged me for, a bit of a while back. Except I think I might split it into pieces, because I like to add comments…

8 passions

  1. Loving, giving, and taking care of people
  2. Babies
  3. Cats
  4. Figure skating
  5. New York City (and cities in general)
  6. Learning, reading, doing experiments!
  7. Crafts – sewing, knitting, soon to be quilting!
  8. Baking! I love to decorate cakes, make cookies and pies, and even make candy!

8 things I often say

  1. I love you. Mostly to Husband, but in recent years I’ve added it in to occasional conversations with other close friends and family.
  2. You have to take turns. I’m always saying this, or some variation on it, to the toddlers I take care of.
  3. Bye girls. Be good! I say this to my two kitty cats when I leave them in the morning. They usually are in the entry way watching me go.
  4. I just want to stay home all day. Ok, I don’t know exactly what counts as “often” but this is a sentiment I feel all the time.
  5. Do you want your juice? Again, to the toddlers.
  6. I’ll have a large tea with skim milk and sugar. My order at Dunkin Donuts, the local delis, or the carts on the side of the street. Sometimes I swap “tea” for “Earl Gray.” Mmmm, Earl Gray.
  7. Look how cute [Fluffy/Feisty] is right now! (Fluffy and Feisty are the pseudonyms for our cats.)
  8. I’m sleepy.

8 books I recently read
If you’re interested in what I’ve been reading, you can always check out my readings page where I list books I’ve read and sometimes comments or links to posts about them.

  1. His Dark Materials Trilogy (The Golden Compass; The Subtle Knife; The Amber Spyglass), by Philip Pullman (OK, not that recent…but within the last 6 months)
  2. The Family Track: Keeping Your Faculties while You Mentor, Nurture, Teach, and Serve, by Constance Coiner and Diana Hume George
  3. The Ivy Chronicles, by Karen Quinn
  4. The Return of the King: Being the Third Part of The Lord of the Rings, by J. R. R. Tolkien
  5. Pledged: The Secret Life of Sororities, by Alexandra Robbins
  6. Complete Book of Quilting, by Maggi McCormick Gordon
  7. Mothers on the Fast Track: How a New Generation Can Balance Family and Careers, by Mary Ann Mason
  8. Who’s Afraid of Marie Curie?: The Challenges Facing Women in Science and Technology, by Linley Erin Hall (currently reading this one)

8 songs that mean something to me
Just 8? I love music too much, picking only eight is hard. This is in no way a comprehensive list.

  1. If I Aint Got You, by Alicia Keys – This song makes me think of my Husband. In particular because we’re both so non-materialistic.
  2. Imperfectly, by Ani DiFrancoThis is just the most genius of a song. To me, it’s really empowering.

    We get a little further from perfection
    each year on the road
    I guess that’s what they call character
    I guess that’s just the way it goes
    better to be dusty than polished
    like some store window mannequin
    why don’t you touch me where I’m rusty
    let me stain your hands

  3. Icarus, by Ani DiFrancoThis one captures my outlook on the world so well.

    bad dreams like this roll in like a cold front
    thunderous thunder and lightning in tow
    and your tiny little life gets even smaller
    as you heed the heavens’ mighty show
    i don’t mean heaven like godlike
    cuz the animal i am knows very well
    that nature is our teacher and our mother
    and god is just another
    story that we tell

  4. Acoustic #3, by the Goo Goo Dolls – This one reminds me of my parents’ relationship – or it did, before my mom finally moved out about two years ago. The whole song speaks loads about how I felt growing up as a teenager.

    Your voice is small and fading
    And you’re hiding here alone
    And your mother loves your father
    Cuz she’s got nowhere to go
    And she wonders where these dreams go
    Cuz the world got in her way
    What’s the point in ever trying?
    Nothing’s changing anyway

  5. The Times They Are A Changin’, by Bob Dylan
  6. Let’s Stay Together, by Al GreenThis is what Husband and I used for our first dance at the wedding. We really got into it and he pretended to sing to me and it was fun!
  7. Galapagos, by The Smashing Pumpkins

    And rescue me from me and all that I believe
    I won’t deny the pain, I won’t deny the change
    And should I fall from grace here with you
    Will you leave me too?

  8. Einstein on the Beach, by Counting Crows

8 qualities I look for in a friend

  1. Compassionate
  2. Intellectual
  3. Fun
  4. Accepting/Nonjudgmental (not only of me but also of people who look/think/act differently, etc.)
  5. Independent
  6. Creative
  7. Understanding
  8. Liberal

8 people who’s blogs I enjoy and who may consider themselves tagged if they wish

  1. Rebecca at Adventures in Applied Math
  2. Jenny F. Scientist at A Natural Scientist
  3. Sciencewoman
  4. Jane at See Jane Compute
  5. Watershed
  6. ScienceMama at Mother of all Scientists
  7. Zoe at A Family Affair
  8. Nicole at Just Crazy Enough to Try

Mental craziness

This is a long post but if anyone has time to read the whole thing and leave me some words of encouragement about the class failing part, I’d greatly appreciate it. I could really use it right now.

Yeah, so I’m still here. I had a crazy weekend, mentally, in which my mind thought all sorts of crazy things that I knew at heart were untrue but couldn’t help worrying might really be true. Like that Husband doesn’t really love me. How silly is that?

Well, actually, the culmination of things that I experienced and read on Friday and Saturday, combined with some major hormonal unbalance, made this episode of absurdness understandable. On Friday and Saturday I went to a conference on careers in science and technology. I haven’t felt too strongly that I’d like to go into industry, but I went to two panels on industry. While the work sounded interesting, I really got the impression that all of the people in the type of research jobs that I’d be interested in weren’t balancing their jobs with an outside life. The one panel that was most interesting had 5 people, 4 older males and a young Asian woman. The men all had wedding rings and the woman did not. The moderator was a married woman, so I talked to her after the panel. I also spoke to some of the panelists after as well, and I still left feeling like industry, in my field at least, wouldn’t be that different as far as flexibility goes. Still, it might be easier to get back in after part-time than in academia – I don’t know.

Saturday I got to meet Jenny F. Scientist. She was nice, and it was my very first time meeting a blogger friend in real life, so that was cool! Then I went to a panel on academia, and I did learn some interesting stuff there, mainly because they had a panelist from a small liberal arts college who had been in a major R1 university for her PhD, so I was quite interested in hearing her story.

Additionally, I read a book over the weekend: Mothers on the Fast Track: How a New Generation Can Balance Family and Careers, by Mary Ann Mason. It’s a recent book by the author of the Do Babies Matter? project, and this one looks at women combining parenting and careers in academia, journalism, law, and medicine. It was definitely a good read, and it certainly had stories of women who were happy with the choices they made, but still, it disappointed me to read that the odds are still against getting back on the full-time track you want to be on after having taken part-time or time off to raise your children. Also, those women who had kids and had been successful in their careers all emphasized how important their husband’s support and help had been, and how they couldn’t have done it without them. Although expected, as a feminist it disappointed me to read that as well, because historically so many capable women find themselves with less than supportive men.

Somehow the overwhelming amount of information that seemed to me to be saying I couldn’t really do what I wanted, that sacrifices made in career would be more permanent than I had hoped, was very disappointing. It’s been a stressful semester anyhow, and somehow on Saturday night I was getting to that completely stressed stage where I just had all these crazy thoughts that were completely untrue. I went to sleep and woke up on Sunday and felt a little better, a little more sure that those were untrue, but still very unsure as well. At this point, I really felt like a crazy person – like one part of me was able to tell myself “no, flicka mawa, that’s ridiculous and completely untrue” and the other part of me was just so effective at beating me down, making me believe in the crazy thoughts, that I felt sad and worried and scared all day. Since Sunday, the ratio of reasonable thoughts to crazy ones has steadily increased, until I felt back to normal again yesterday. And believe me, it was such a relief to have my normal thoughts back! To again feel confident that I am in an amazing marriage and that Husband loves me and that no matter what else, I’ll always have him and my marriage to help me through.

Aiming for healthy

Well, I’ve officially lost 3 lbs on the “We’re f*cking broke” diet. You might think that doesn’t sound so great, but I’m pretty happy about it – it’s helping me to get used to only eating until full, or sometimes being a bit hungry, and I think helping me to get back on to a healthier schedule. We’ll have some money again this Friday, and then the broke part will go away (we’ll switch broke out for poor), and then I’ll get to eat healthier, more balanced foods. But hopefully I can stay on track as far as overeating and exercise – sometimes losing just a few pounds is enough to get me more motivated again.

Overall, I just want to be healthier. Right now, I’m overweight – at a BMI of 30.4, I’m technically considered obese, but I don’t think you’d call me obese by my appearance – I have really strong leg muscles from my days as an athlete, and I wear a size 14 largely because of my chest (a large chest runs in my family). I have high cholesterol, but much more good cholesterol (HDL – high density lipids) than bad (LDL – low density lipids), and my blood pressure is always in the completely normal range. Here’s a picture of what I look like today:

Me, today

As far as exercise, on a weekly basis I walk everywhere (to get around the city) and I run around with the kids. I go to the gym to bike, use the elliptical, or take a yoga class, but that varies a lot more. I also continue to practice a sport I was competitive in as a kid – but usually only once every few weeks (it’s been even less frequent lately) – as it’s tough to get to the training center for that.

Why do I want to be healthier? Well, it has little to do with my appearance. Unlike when I suffered from bulimia, I now am much more ok with my body. My husband finds me sexy and I’ve learned to buy clothes that fit my body type. As many of my readers know, however, I hope to have children in the future, and we’re not really talking that far off. Right now we’re thinking we might start trying to get pregnant in the Spring of 2009, which is about a year and a half away. And I want to be healthier for my future pregnancy, and for my future children, and yes, for myself. There are a lot of pregnancy complications that are more likely when one is overweight, and I think since I have lots of time to plan, I should do whatever I can to put myself in the healthiest place I can be before I decide to rent out my womb to a tiny little being. One of the largest factors of that will be losing weight. Another will be to exercise regularly, some of which should be in activities that can continue throughout pregnancy, so that I can exercise during pregnancy as well.

Getting healthy, for me, is part of pre-conception planning, a practice that has become more common in the past few years. I really found the book, Before Your Pregnancy: A 90 Day Guide for Couples on How to Prepare for a Healthy Conception, to be helpful. It includes a section on diet and exercise, with recommendations for a diet and activities that focus on the nutrients and muscles that are needed for a healthy pregnancy.