Feed on

Last fall, for a variety of reasons and not for the first time, I began having serious doubts about the longevity of my career in technical publishing. But with my signings in, my back-list strong, and a non-stop stream of family events from mid-October on, I backburnered my concern. Then January came around, I took a good, long look look at what I was up against, and panicked. By the end of the month, I knew it was time to get my tush into career counseling, put the family on a tight budget, and start formulating an exit strategy.

I wrote the piece below on January 26. That was only three months ago, but it’s still painful to read. Who was/is that overly dramatic, miserable person? Not me! At least, not me right now. My story took a dramatic turn when I got laid off at the end of February, but here’s how it all began:

Last November, I wrote about a certain pachyderm missing from the blog. It didn’t really relate to Simon, except that having him around changed what stressed us and how we dealt with that stress.

These past few months, there has been a second elephant lurking in these parts: my job. Publishing, as many of you may know, is an industry in decline. Certain sectors of technical publishing are in particularly steep decline. And certain topics within these sectors are on life support. My topics number among these. The nice way to say it is “mature”. The reality is, there are some topics folks just don’t want or need to buy books about any more.

Now, to its credit, my employer is doing as much as any and more than most to adapt and change to this hostile climate. They are going digital in a big way, and they are going digital in many different ways.  But alas, if you are going to hop on board the digital train, you still have to have passengers. You still have to have a list in other words, and I don’t so much anymore.

My best-case scenario, so far as I can tell, would be to pull some rabbits out of my hat and buy myself another year, then find more rabbits to pull out of hats the next year. When I close my eyes and envision the future, I see a lot of rabbits. And a lot of scrambling. And limited success. I think, to put it baldly, I have a hit a wall in my career. Or to use another metaphor, I have painted myself into a corner. What’s more, I have never seen anyone be lifted out of this corner; they’ve all left when they get into my situation.

I could, I suppose, wait out the storm. Try to buy a few years to build something new. Or, cynically, I could await a lay-off and hope I get a nice severance package out of it. There are surely those who game systems well that would counsel exactly that. But I lack the intestinal fortitude to take such a path; the stress of failure is plainly getting to me, and I’d feel guilty as anything.

Mentally, I’ve been here before. When I left my graduate program in ’98, I remember acutely how I felt. I felt I no longer liked my job, that I was no longer good at my job, that my job was making me unhappy, and worse, that my job might well be making me sick. And at 28 years of age, I refused to believe there wasn’t something better out there for me. I had 40 working years of my life left and was way too young to settle for something I knew would make me unhappy.

Today, I have about 25 years left. I’m middle aged, for crying out loud. But everything I felt at 28 remains true. My industry is in decline. I am not positioned for advancement or success. I’m miserable. My misery is beginning to affect my health, as there is only so long you can sleep too little and eat too little without paying the price. Of late, I’ve been more tired, more cranky, more anxious, and more forgetful than I can remember being in a long, long time. Well, since 1998 to be exact.

The sad thing is that I’ve felt this way on and off for a long time. Change comes hard to me and rarely arrives unless prompted by crisis. In the past, every time I put a toe in the waters of change, I peered into a foggy horizon, panicked, and returned whence I came.

Not this time, though. I can’t. I have ideas about what my next professional adventure could and should be. I’ve signed up for comprehensive and expensive career counseling to help guide my way. I’m putting out networking feelers. I’m abandoning all pride about rank/status/salary. And I’ve established a time-line for when I hope to leave my current position so I can take some time off, re-assess, and then get to work seeking a new one.

I just want to find something I can do and do well, and I’d like to do some good while I’m at it. I know folks my age change careers all the time. I have to trust that I can be one of them.

One Response to “The Other Elephant: Part I”

  1. blg says:

    Another cogent and engaging blog post. And., of course, prescient. Looking forward to whatever is next for you!

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