Sunday, April 9, 2006


I assure you I am working on the first installment of my "memoir" posts, but I'm finding it slow going. Mostly because I want them to be good, meaningful, a means to an end, interesting...maybe I'm kidding myself but I look at this blog as a form of publishing, and I don't want to disappoint my readers or post anything that I would be embarrassed to read later. I sometimes lose track of the fact that this blog is about me and ultimately, for me.

Having said that, I find myself struggling with the question of career and ambition, or lack thereof. I'm a very goal-oriented person, or I used to be, which is why I spent the majority of my life involved in competitive sports and activities where my efforts resulted in a tangible result. A ribbon or medal. A letter grade. A score. A title.

Like most people, I've spent the last 20 years carrying around a large chalkboard listing Things to Accomplish, and I've been able to put nice fat checkmarks beside a lot of them. Some of them got erased or modified, and some of them I tried at and failed, but they remain on the board just in case.

I used to care a lot about my work. After high school I went to business school for a year and a half so I could learn how to use the business machines of the day. Anyone reading this remember Telexes? I knew I wasn't college-bound, there was no money for that, even though I breezed through school and probably could have gotten a scholarship, it just wasn't even on my radar. I got my first job when a friend decided to leave her office with her boss and they needed a quick replacement. I started out as the receptionist and ended up 5 years later as the office manager and an expert on Canadian securities filings. This was an office of half a dozen public mining companies listed on the Vancouver Stock Exchange with U.S. oil and gas subsidiaries.

When I moved to California I got a job with a real estate investment trust (REIT), picking up where I left off in securities, adding in investor relations. I started off as the bottom person in a team of 5, and once again, 5 years later when the company folded I was the lone person in the group with a huge range of responsibilites. My next job was at a small high-tech company, the first of many in Silicon Valley. This is where the job of administering employee stock plans came to the forefront and I felt like I needed additional training. Fortunately for me, a national certification program had just been established, similar to a CPA, and the headquarters for the program was right here in the Bay Area. My employer paid for the extensive program, which took a year and a half and involved passing three levels of tests. I was one of the first 100 people in the country to receive the designation of Certified Equity Professional.

There are a couple of local companies that still won't hire anyone without a degree, no matter what your resume looks like (*cough* G++gle), but this has kept me in well-paying jobs for the last 10 years, and it was important to me to keep in good standing by completing the required educational requirements. This wasn't that hard, as my employers would pay for me to go to seminars and meetings.

Unfortunately, my employers kept changing. Let's recap my employment history in California, shall we?

Company #1 - dissolved when the commercial real estate market crumbled in the mid-90's (laid off)

Company #2 - eventually went private, changed their name and is barely hanging on (left before the shit hit the fan

Company #3 - moved their headquarters to Texas (left for opportunity with internationally known internet company)

Company #4 - got acquired by a large multinational conglomerate (laid off)

Company #5 - died a slow, ugly death after misguided merger, no longer exists (went in as a consultant, made the mistake of becoming an employee, stayed far too long)

Company #6 - former Silicon Valley high flyer, arrived too late to make any money (laid off)

Company #7 - got acquired by large software company (laid off)

Company #8 - was the acquiror of #7, was brought back as a consultant after being out of work for 5 months, have been there for 3 years

At this point my friends and colleagues are beginning to refer to me as Typhoid Mary, which is terribly ironic considering that's my mother's name (and we all know how I feel about my mother). #4 broke my heart, I really loved that company, we felt like we were on the cutting edge. When we got acquired by a company we all felt was an internet joke it was very hard to deal with. At that point I started to become a little more guarded, and I've not allowed myself to become emotionally invested in a company since then (this was in 1999!), but I still loved my job. I was good at it. Or at least, big parts of it. Stock options and all the trappings that come along with them is a complicated business involving legal, tax, accounting, education, administration, outside vendor relationships, etc. etc.

Ten years ago this job was mostly dealing with legal and administration; now, due in large part to the sweeping changes brought upon by Enron and other corporate scandals, the job is largely tax and accounting-based. I've wondered a lot over the years how I ended up where I am today (an independent consultant in this field) as I am really not a "numbers person". I HATE math actually, and I struggle with that part of the job. Now that it's become such a huge part of the responsibilities I'm expected to be an expert at, I'm losing both my ambition and my enjoyment for the work.

That took a long time to say that for the first time, I've let my designation lapse into inactive status. I have to pay for all of my own educational activities now, which makes it difficult to keep up, but honestly, I just don't care that much anymore. Noone has ever asked me to prove that my designation status was current, and I know many very good people in the field who don't have it at all.

As a consultant I've been able to pick and chose the jobs I want or don't want, and I've chosen the jobs that are interesting and fun to me, which has meant I am sorely behind in the critical accounting and taxation areas.

When we first started trying to have a baby it was my goal to work part-time and/or be able to work from home. I've accomplished that, but now more than 5 years later, I have no baby to take care of, and having to pay the extra 15% federal tax on my self-employment earnings means we can't save anything. I am afraid that at this point I really don't have the skill set required to be able to do a good job for any company that would hire me to administer their stock programs. Could I get some further education in those areas I am behind in? Sure. But that would take money and the desire to do so.

I feel like I am faking it at this point. I am negotiating right now to work as a consultant for an old friend, he worked for Company #1 with me way back in the late 80's and is now co-owner of a financial consulting firm. If I end up working for him I would be an employee of the firm and they would send me out to various clients, which means I would not be self-employed any more. Maybe going to work for someone I like and respect will force me to get my ass in gear and make sure I am back on the cutting edge. Did I mention I hate change?


  1. Donna, your post resonated very strongly with me. I, too, am good at what I do but have felt for a few years like it is just a job, rather than a passion. It surprises me that I've come to this point in my life and am seriously considering changing courses. I only wish I could figure out exactly what I would prefer to do instead. ;-)

    And, being in the SV myself, I'm very curious about the companies you've worked for.

    What is your instinct telling you about this new job opportunity?

  2. I also feel like I'm in a career-rut right now, and know that I'm giong to have to make some changes later this year.
    Going to work for someone you like and respect sounds like a good career move. It might you get your groove back.

  3. I feel like I can't come to a decision on my career either. I don't know whether to stay or move on. It sounds like the opportunity with your friend and former colleague may be a good one. I think you should go for it! Good luck whatever you decide.

  4. Oh, do I feel your pain on the SET... it's so unfair.

    I'm not surprised that after everything you've been through, your job may not be as satisfying as it once was... it sounds to me like should at least consider a change. But maybe the new position would be enough of one.

    Good luck with that and I'm so looking forward to seeing you soon... :)

  5. I have been thinking a lot too about my career issues, so I can relate to a lot of what you wrote. The driven/reward part too. It's hard to say - change could be amazing in this case...or not. I wish I could tell you what would make you happier. Hopefully you will have some quiet time to reflect on it and decide what is right for you.

  6. Damn, that painting says it all, doesn't it? I like what Tonya said, go with your what your gut tells you....or get drunk, that helps everything. :)

  7. Donna, I hear ya. But change isnt always necessarily bad. Marriage is a change, and that was good. Having a baby is a change, and we infertiles think that is good, but the jury's out on that one because i think that we over-romanticize it just a bit. Being a mom makes a full-time job look part-time because it's a 24/7 job for the rest of your life.

    Anyway, getting out of self employed life might be a nice change for you. Usually a job has some benefits and perks a person doesnt allow oneself as a self-employed. You can actually take a vacation without feeling bad about it, for one. Just make sure you negotiate for a good 3 weeks, given someone with your background and experience. If you were transitioning from any other job, you surely would have wracked up that much vacation time by now.

    In the meantime, have a plan to discover your other interests. Keep trying new things and things that you like. That's another perk of being an employee. When you go home, it's actually your time to do other things and having a job helps you to afford trying different things.

    And keep writing your memoirs because that's something that clearly interests you. Dont feel pressure about posting it. Just write it to your satisfaction first.

    Whatever you do, take care of you, pursue your interests and those activities that allow you to pursue your interests. It's all a journey in the end, a journey to you.

  8. Do NOT be too hard on yourself because you are feeling a lack of motivation... I've learned that my own career ruts are the results of situtation rather than my own personal drive.

    Regardless... I do commiserate with how tough it is to mske these kinds of decisions... but unlike you... I find change to be as good or better than a vacation!

  9. I wonder if this wondering about our professional careers is part of getting older, part of infertility, or some other universal phenomenon. It's just no longer enough for me, either. I hope you find the light soon.

  10. As you know, I'm very upset and disappointed and depressed regarding my career. I'm at a crossroads and not sure what to do.

    So, I'm not much support for you, but I do enjoy reading your blog and I want to encourage you to keep with your writing.

    I've update my blog and it now reflects your new name.

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