When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.
― Viktor E. Frankl
Today’s title is a conclusion that comes from my recent assessments and experiences at work. It has completely thrown me off stride as I struggle to come to terms with the evidence in front of me. The obvious and reasonable conclusions from the consideration of recent experiential evidence directly conflicts with most of my most deeply held values. As a result I find myself in a deep quandary about how to proceed with work. Somehow my performance is perceived to be better when I don’t care much about my work. One reasonable conclusion is that when I have little concern about outcomes of the work, I don’t show my displeasure when those outcomes are poor.
Do I continue to act naturally and care about my work despite the evidence that such concerns are completely unwelcome? Instead do I take my energy and concern elsewhere and turn work into nothing but a paycheck as feedback seems to directly say? Is there a middle path that preserves some personal integrity while avoiding the issues that seem to cause tension? Can I benefit by making work more impersonal and less important to me? Should I lose any sense of deeper meaning and importance to the outcomes at work?
Personal integrity is important to pay attention to. Hard work, personal excellence and a devotion to progress has been the path to my success professionally. The only thing that the current environment seems to favor is hard work (and even that’s questionable). The issues causing tension are related to technical and scientific quality, or work that denotes any commitment to technical excellence. It’s everything I’ve written about recently, success with high performance computing, progress in computational science, and integrity in peer review. Attention to any and all of these topics is a source of tension that seems to be completely unwelcome. We seem to be managed to mostly pay attention to nothing but the very narrow and well-defined boundaries of work. Any thinking or work “outside the box” seems to invite ire, punishment and unhappiness. Basically, the evidence seems to indicate that my performance is perceived to be much better if I “stay in the box”. In other words I am managed to be predictable and well defined in my actions, don’t provide any surprises.
The only way I can “stay in the box” is to turn my back on the same values that brought me success. Most of my professional success is based on doing “out of the box” thinking working to provide real progress on important issues. Recently it’s been pretty clear that this isn’t appreciated any more. To stop thinking out of the box I need to stop giving a shit. Every time I seem to care more deeply about work and do something extra not only is it not appreciated; it gets me into trouble. Just do the minimum seems to be the real directive, and extra effort is not welcome seem to be the modern mantra. Do exactly what you’re told to do, no more and no less. This is the path to success.
When a person is punished for their honesty they begin to learn to lie.
― Shannon L. Alder
I have evidence that my performance is perceived to be better when I don’t give a shit. I’ve done the experiment and the evidence was absolutely clear. When I don’t care, don’t give a shit and have different priorities than work, I get awesome performance reviews. When I do give a shit, it creates problems. A big part of the problem is the whole “in the box” and “out of the box” issue. We are managed to provide predictable results and avoid surprises. It is all part of the low risk mindset that permeates the current World, and the workplace as well. Honesty and progress is a source of tension (i.e., risk) and as such it makes waves, and if you make waves you create problems. Management doesn’t like tension, waves or anything that isn’t completely predictable. Don’t cause trouble or make problems, just do stuff that makes us look good. The best way to provide this sort of outcome is just come to work and do what you’re expected to do, no more, no less. Don’t be creative and let someone else tell you what is important. In other words, don’t give a shit, or better yet don’t give fuck either.
Why should I work so hard or put so much effort into something that isn’t appreciated? I have other things to do in my (finite) life where effort is appreciated. The conclusion is that I should do much more about things away from work, and less at work. In other words I need to stop giving a shit at work. Its what my feedback is telling me, and it’s a route to sanity. It is appalling that its come to this, but the evidence is crystal clear.
Some men are born mediocre, some men achieve mediocrity, and some men have mediocrity trust upon them.
― Joseph Heller