Wednesday, August 31, 2005

The Last Day

Today is my last day at work.

I must admit that there is a certain coolness factor in telling the guy in the airline seat next to you, "Oh, I work for NASA." After today, I won't be able to make that claim. (Oddly enough, this is the second time I've quit working for NASA -- and I swore last time I'd never work for them again. Guess I didn't learn...) On the other hand, this is a microscopically small thing to give up compared to not living the life you want to live.

I haven't said much about the work environment here, because I think it's unprofessional to criticize your employer in a public forum (even though everyone expects gripes and grumbles in a blog). I will say that I had hoped my departure would cause some people here to wake up and make some changes in how people are treated, but I don't think that will happen. It was actually a bit of a wake-up call for me. I have suspected for a while that my work and talent are being taken for granted. It's not a boast to say that we have had a number of blockbuster educational products written since I started working here nearly five years ago (check out the Mars Education site for samples), and every one of them has been written by me. I've got a pretty unique background, and it's served me well in writing educational products (and I like to think I have some measure of talent for writing in general, as well). After I leave, there is no one here who can continue to write those products, nor do I know of anyone in the field who has my background. I have offered my talents to continue to develop products for the people here, but as an independent contractor. That offer was more or less refused, and my boss was heard to mention to someone that "everyone is replaceable." Perhaps. And it's certainly her right to look for someone else so that she can have an "in-house" curriculum writer. On the other hand, her reaction dramatically illustrates to me just how little she values the work I've done, even as she touts it to the NASA brass as evidence of the superiority of our program. I'll be interested to see what kind of reputation the program maintains after I leave. One of my co-workers is also leaving (her last day was Friday) specifically because of the way she was treated, so my opinion is shared by many others here. I predict there will be more departures in the relatively near future.

I've managed to accomplish a lot while I've been here. I've changed -- almost single-handedly -- the "NASA way" of doing things to something that is much more educationally sound. That's no small feat in an entrenched bureaucracy like NASA. I'm pleased with what I've done and with the reputation I've developed in the field. I am a little frustrated at the lack of basic leadership skills here, but one must consider that I was specifically trained in leadership as a naval officer, so I have to keep in mind that not everyone has had that experience. I'm also a little frustrated by the fact that our boss is so intent on promoting "the team" that she forgets that the best way to develop your team's reputation is to promote the careers of the team's members. The "team" is usually presented as "/Boss/ and her team," so there's really not much question whose career is really being promoted, though I will be the first to admit she doesn't intentionlly promote that designation. A good leader gives her people a task and then gives them the authority and ownership of that task needed to make it happen. People want to do good work when it is their own project. When the boss feels the need to maintain control of every aspect of the project, though, these trained professionals are just reduced to wage slaves. It's very hard to keep a slave motivated in today's society, I'll tell you. Basic leadship skills.

Ah well. As I've said before, if I didn't have other options, I could endure working here. I'm not miserable, I'm just frustrated. And who isn't a little frustrated with his job? What I really love, though, what I really want to spend my doing, is writing. Yes, most of my here job is writing, but it's not the same. As a freelance writer and as a fiction writer I can spend my days writing what I want to write -- what's important to me, and, hopefully, is important to my readers as well. It's a challenge, you bet. But I can't think of anything else I'd rather do. So, to paraphrase The Shawshank Redemption, it's time to either get busy living or get busy dying. I'll choose the living, thanks.

Let the adventure begin!

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