*hums the REM tune to ‘Losing my Religion’…*
Do you identify with your job?
I didn’t think I did, until I quit my job. And then I quit another job a couple weeks later. Now that I’ve deleted the signature line from my emails, I’m finding myself (again) in the space between stories.
I’ve considered myself a scientist for the past decade. I’ve fiercely loved the field since joining the after-school Science Club in fourth grade. I’ve had the privilege of training with some of the best extant scientists and working on research projects that are already improving people’s health. I’ve enjoyed tremendous peace pipetting at a lab bench with my headphones blasting EDM, and I still sneak into labs to run random experiments. For the past three years, I’ve taught undergraduates at Yale and have helped students become excited and curious about nanotechnology and immunobiology. And let’s be honest: I created a website entitled ‘The Sociable Scientist.’ Clearly, I identify as a scientist.
But for the past year, I’ve known that I’ve needed to leave my scientifically-oriented job at Yale and try something new and challenging. I’d grown complacent, and for me, complacency creates anxiety. But the inertia was strong. On the outside, I had a dream job. I held an impressive title, was well-liked on campus, made decent money, and had a flexible academic schedule. Why would I interfere with a good thing like that? Worse, why would I be ungrateful to an institution that has given me so many opportunities?
Fortunately, I tripped over serendipitous coincidences. When I was browsing a job website to post a position for a student, I was intrigued by the first job listing. “Coordinating Editor of a scientific journal? That sounds awesome!” I hastily applied and found myself interviewing a few days later. I instantly liked my would-be supervisor, and when I got the offer, my inner identity system came back online.
Concurrently, my first writing client and influential mentor asked me to help him write his book. Of course I would want to do that! His previous book was a New York Times Bestseller, and I could learn from him while sharpening my skills and creating lasting content that would touch thousands of people. I could combine the Scientific Editor job with the book-writing and make a nice career for myself based at Yale. It looked like my identity was shifting from a scientist to a scientific writer, which seemed like an apt transition…
But then, a biotech venture capital firm threw a wrench into my neatly-laid plans. This firm had offered me a job a year ago, which I turned down since I did not want to move to San Francisco or New York (my Mainer fiance would wilt in those cities!). The CEO then kept me on as a consultant and had me working on a variety of interesting projects. Apparently, they liked working with me enough to make me a full-time offer tailored to me; primarily, that I could work from home.
The day I got that call was memorable not only because of my stomach locking up (and staying that way for several days), but also because of the windy blizzard that canceled my train ride home and forced me to trek across gusty New Haven with an inside-out umbrella to catch a bus. The weather seemed fitting to the identity conflict unfolding.
“I’m not an investor,” I thought, “much less a venture capitalist! I’m a nice scientist and writer.”
But, as a scientist, I had to dispassionately evaluate the various job offers and objectively assess my embarrassment of career riches. I realized that there were several assumptions that needed to be tested:
- Venture capital, private equity, and finance in general is immoral and antithetical to the greater good
- Science and writing are virtuous, and I should choose this path if I wish to contribute to the greater good
- Life as a VC would be very stressful and intense, ultimately preventing me from being a good future wife and mother
- Working remotely is a fallacy that the firm is using to get me to sign on
- I would be intellectually satisfied taking either path
I spent the next two weeks meticulously gathering data to test these assumptions.
What do you think about these assumptions? Have similar questions come up for you when making a big decision? And where do you think I’ll land in my career?