The cost of work autonomy…

Work is incredibly stressful right now on all fronts, at both workplaces, so I should be working on a presentation I have tomorrow at 9:00AM or a journal article that was due today. Instead, I am here…

I will be the first to admit that, in the context of both my personal and professional relationships, I privilege some degree of control, and when I don’t feel like I have it, I try to negotiate for it. If that fails, my next instinct is not to fight but to flee. Unsurprisingly, this propensity is not entirely limited to my career and has occasionally been a theme in my romantic relationships. In any instance, it is how I am feeling at the moment about my employment with Organization C. My new boss (for the sake of clarity I will call him the Politician) is incredibly entitled and treats donors and funders in a strictly transactional manner as if they owe our organization (a non-profit) thousands of dollars instead of it being a collaborative partnership towards “shared” goals. This is incredibly frustrating and thus far my most significant contribution to Organization C has been building a better relationship with our largest donor, who said, and I quote, “He [Politician] comes off as entitled to all of us. Listen, I want you [Afro Penny] to be successful but things need to change.” Right.

For a moment, I thought perhaps I had jumped from the frying pan into the fire in my departure from University B, as at least I liked my boss at University B, even if I couldn’t trust him to act in the best interest of my career, but things are equally messy there. The promotions and raises my boss (we’ll call him the Preacher) promised my colleagues (and me prior to my departure) never materialized and instead they were offered a very small salary adjustment. And while other information might lead me to believe that this results from organizational changes that are not entirely the Preacher’s fault, his continued inability to be transparent is baffling. Especially when the information is known across the division. Instead of just saying, “Unfortunately, things are happening that are out of my control…” he is instead going with, “I am just as shocked and surprised as you are. I didn’t even notice that your ‘offer’ letters from human resources were for a small ‘salary adjustment’ and not for a promotion even though I sent the form letter directly to you myself.” Right.

Had I stayed at University B, I might have more job fulfillment as I would still be doing direct program work and supporting students. However, I would also be in the same position as my former colleagues: underpaid and unable to trust my boss to advocate for me or deal with me fairly. It is in reflecting on this cushion and a soft place in which I sit* (satire, because yes, I recognize my egregious privilege) that thoughts of fleeing arise. They are of the short-term and medium-term variety and vacillate between quitting and heading back abroad to teach English and hustling to get my debt below $50,000.00 this year and then quitting to do (insert numerous entrepreneurial ideas here).

For all of the reasons that have crossed your mind in the seconds it took you to read those statements, I will likely do neither of those things. Instead, I will go to bed. Get up early. Finish the presentation. Write the article. Tend to all of my other tasks. And generally, be grateful I have well-paying employment. However, before those things, during those things, in between those things, I will also be contemplating the cost of work autonomy.


*To be more explicit, I acknowledge that the mismatch at Organization C between myself and the Politician, as well as the lesser mismatch between myself and my role, is of my own making. I was so intent on acquiring a better-paying position that I placed far more emphasis in the interview process on selling myself to them. I should have spent as much time
| ensuring that the role, and the leadership, were a good fit for me. It is much easier to say it now, but I will do a better job of interviewing in the future.

4 thoughts on “The cost of work autonomy…

  1. You remind me of myself and my previous job, I needed a job, a good paying one, nand took the 1st that was offered to me, even if I knew deep down my future bosses didn’t sit well with me. Fast forward 13 months and I was fired just 10 days after announcing my pregnancy. That’s French law firms for you… I got “wise” after that and after my maternity leave, took the job where the boss gave me the good vibes, even if the salary wasn’t quite what I expected. 7 years later, I am still there because I never got he good vibes in subsequent interviews, so I stayed put. This one I think one has to learn from experience. You seem to be doing a good job nevertheless and you have the better salary, so it was not a bad move. I now think my rotten bosses lead me to my good job, so maybe it is a good thing in the grand scheme of things. And bosses can change jobs too you know, so who knows 😁

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    • First, I am so sorry to hear this happened to you. I can’t imagine how stressful this was for you given that you were expecting a child. That being said, I am shocked that your employer would be so bold. I don’t know when this happened but for the past 30 years in the U.S. (I know you mentioned that you are in France) this would be a one-way ticket to a lawsuit.

      You are definitely correct. This is very much a learning experience. While I might have other part-time bosses moving forward, I really think my next full-time role change will be to work for myself. But…more on that later.

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  2. yeahhhhhhhhhhh this is kinda how I ended up working for myself. I like collaborating with other people but I’ve never had a boss that I didn’t eventually have weird friction with. Some of that was them, don’t get me wrong, but some of it is just that I like to do my own thing. Anyway, I think that insight in your footnote about interviewing is a really good thing to take forward with you. In the future you’ll be less desperate about money and that means you can be more confident about that kind of thing!

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    • Ditto to all of that. I think some of it is just the nature of the relationship. Also, one’s ability to supervise employees and be a good leader isn’t really something that is emphasized in most hiring processes. As long as folks have done it, it seems to be enough. In any instance, working for myself is definitely the medium-term goal and at some point in the near future (like after work settles a bit) I will start planning for that…

      As for the footnote…absolutely. One of the reasons that I am so keen to pay off my debt is because it restores freedom and choice. I don’t know that I will wait until my entire debt is paid off to make a move but this is definitely a “fool me once, shame on me, never again…” lesson.

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