As a kid, I was a space nut. The NASA shuttle program was in full swing. We had already been to the moon. There were plans to visit Mars. It seemed simply a formality that every man, woman and child in the US would eventually experience space travel, either out of necessity or a sense of adventure. The sections of science textbooks that dealt with space basically said as much.
That sense of hope and optimism greatly appealed to my eight year old mind. I had so many years ahead, and the promise of technical and scientific progress that surely lay before us virtually guaranteed a trip, and potentially even a residence, outside of our home planet. Back in 1983, what young boy could have predicted the change in direction that we would take after two shuttle disasters, government budget cuts, and an economic collapse? As we’ve grown, optimism has faded for both groups and individuals alike.
This week, I made the decision to end a journey that began back in 2007. That was the year that I decided that there was more in store for me, career wise, than filling out network change requests and getting support calls at 2:00 am. In 2007, I decided to train for and pursue a position of leadership within my organization. My reasons were not typical, I admit. I’ve never been interested in titles, or power, or money (past a comfortable amount, anyway), or even any unnecessary attention. I’m not comfortable speaking in front of, or leading large groups. However, this was an opportunity that was too good to pass up. My organization was creating a new level of leadership focused on influencing the technical, as opposed to the business or people aspects that are more often given priority. The individuals selected for the positions would focus on positioning us for the future, instead of just fixing the current. Knowing that I was never the best late-night troubleshooter, and armed with the new hope that I could be a part of influencing something new and exciting, I took the risk of leaving a job and group of people that I enjoyed to join the ranks of “the grooming”.
I won’t get into the details of what has changed over the last five years, but I will say that in five years, things will inevitably change. Less and less did the goal I was pursuing “feel right” to me, as if it was no longer a good fit. More and more it seemed that the window for the opportunity had actually closed long ago, perhaps even before I had a chance to pursue it. More often than not, in the rare times when an individual was promoted, the skills they possessed seemed far different than anything I had to offer. So, I made the decision to end my pursuit. I mostly feel pretty good about finally making that decision, and doing it on my own terms. Still, there is a part of me that feels like that small boy did when the reality finally hit him that he would probably never set foot on the moon. Optimism doesn’t always meet reality. It’s a little bit tough to accept the possibility that, at 36, my organizational advancement may be complete.
Granted, I have fantastic successes outside of the workforce. I’m proud of being able to spend time with family and pursuing volunteer opportunities. However, mine isn’t the story that you read about, or that they make movies about. We love people who persevere against all odds, who shine as an example of the success we could all (according to the fabled “American Dream”) attain. Steve Jobs fascinates us. Brett Favre inspires us. But there’s a reason the phrase “back to reality” made it’s way into everyday language. The reality is that this little boy, who used to dream about traveling through space, will possibly retire from the same position he was hired into. After 40 years, the only real successes will be the impressions he leaves with people along the way.