I'm Stuck And I Don't Know What To Do

Feel stuck in your job or career? Trust me, we've all been there.

Regardless of outside factors, though, you alone have the ability to influence and control the path that your career takes. Although it may seem overwhelming, all it takes is a different mindset and a step in the right direction.

In this talk, we'll discuss the ups and downs of careers and how to achieve happiness in yours whatever that may look like for you.


James Glick: [0:00] I'm stuck, and I don't know what to do, a story of ups and downs and how to pursue happiness in your career. Growing up, my family spent most of their time feeling stuck in their career. Often, they wouldn't have felt like they had a career. They might have had jobs, but not a career.

[0:23] For me and my family, for my family specifically, a job was just a job. Something necessary to support their family. Something necessary to get by. Something necessary to make money, not necessarily something associate with happiness.

[0:38] This was especially true for my dad. My dad was one of the smartest people that I had ever met. He got his law degree from the University of Memphis, many years ago. He did all that work. He started to practice as a lawyer, but he realized he didn't enjoy it, and so he quit.

[0:56] This might have seemed like a noble thing, the idea of pursuing happiness over money and stability and that sort of stuff, but it didn't work out for him that way because he didn't sacrifice money for happiness. Ultimately, he just never found either.

[1:12] It never seemed he had a job that he enjoyed. It never seemed he was on a path to somewhere, and he never made any money.

[1:21] This talk is about some of the ups and downs that I've dealt with in my professional career. I want to share with you some of the things that I've learned in the hopes that you can use them to strive for happiness in your career, whatever that may look like for you.

[1:36] I'm going to talk through three different stories here about different phases of my career. I'm going to start with my career beginning at Microsoft.

[1:46] I was lucky and fortunate enough to start my career out at Microsoft as a technical evangelist. As a technical evangelist, your role is to do community engagement, and speak at conferences, and give presentations, and do videos and that sort of stuff.

[2:01] At the age of 22, I found myself speaking to audiences on a regular basis, oftentimes audiences that were full of people, developers that had been writing code, that had been doing development longer than I had been alive.

[2:15] As you can imagine, being in front of these audiences was a pretty overwhelming experience for me. I suffered from a lot of imposter syndrome. I started to have this question in the back of my mind, "What can I possibly offer this audience that they don't already know?"

[2:31] Again, they've got as many years experience in this field as I do just being alive. The more I started to do this, the more presentations I gave, the more videos I did, the more conversations I had, I started to realize that people were showing up to listen to me speak because I did have something to offer to them.

[2:51] I may not have the 20 years of experience or 25 years of experience that lots of other people did have, but I did have experience in other areas that they did not. As I did this more and more, I started to build up this confidence. I started to get confident in myself. I started to enjoy the role. I started to enjoy giving talks and presenting to people.

[3:11] Ultimately, that led to me having a very successful first year at Microsoft, and that led to a big celebration. That being a very successful year Microsoft led to a big bonus, to be honest. With that bonus, I took that money. I bought a ring. I took that ring, and I proposed to my wife. Then, we got married about a year later.

[3:34] In the midst of all of these positive things going on, I realized there was something I was missing. Obviously, I was a part of a good career, part of an amazing company, was engaged, but I realized there was just something I was missing. That was that my wife and I had visited New York City a couple of times.

[3:54] I knew that my ultimate dream in life was to live in New York City. My wife talked about it. My wife and I talked about it. My manager and I talked about it at the time and decided that I was going to take an opportunity to move to New York to join the same type of team, but a different team in New York City.

[4:16] This is a picture of the skyline from the rooftop of the apartment that I lived in, in Brooklyn. Moving to New York City came with a lot of new things, obviously a new city. I joined a new team. All of that stuff was exciting, but the more I got to know my new manager, I realized I wasn't quite as happy with him.

[4:37] I'd had an amazing manager when I started out my career in South Florida, but in New York things were just different. I didn't feel like this manager was paying attention to me.

[4:47] The reason I feel that way is he would often have our one-on-ones on the cell phone while he was going through the drive thru to get food at McDonald's, or going to Starbucks to get coffee. Honestly, I just felt alone. I felt my manager wasn't paying attention to me. That wasn't very positive experience.

[5:07] Fast forward a bit to my very last review, my last year at Microsoft and the review with my manager, and I was reflecting on my year thinking I'd done my job like everybody else. I was on par basically with everybody else. I didn't think I did anything amazing, but I certainly thought that I did my job.

[5:23] The bonus that I got that year was very, very low. I'm not necessarily a money-driven person, but it didn't add up to what my expectations were, based on the things that I had done throughout the year. I was blindsided by this.

[5:36] I hadn't had any negative feedback from my manager, any positive feedback. I hadn't had any, "You need to do these types of things," feedback throughout the year, so I felt blindsided by this.

[5:46] He couldn't also explain to me why it was so low. He didn't say, "You didn't do your job, or you missed out on these opportunities, or these other people did these things." I was hurt. I was shocked, and I felt I had no control over that situation.

[5:59] From that, I learned two very important things. First, is that I needed to be my own conductor. No matter how good or bad a manager is, no matter how good your support system is, what you want to do in your career is ultimately up to you. The buck stops with you. You have to be responsible for making things happen for your career.

[6:22] As a part of that, I should have been more vocal. I shouldn't have been surprised by the end of the year. I should have been more outspoken about asking for feedback throughout the year to make sure that I was on track, or that we were on the same page.

[6:36] I still think his responsibility was to do more of that, but ultimately, I have to be my own conductor, which part of that implies that I have to be more vocal.

[6:45] I had this good job, not such a great experience with that second manager, but I mentioned that I was getting ready to leave Microsoft, and you might be wondering why, such an amazing company.

[6:56] I was in New York City, one day, sitting on the same rooftop overlooking the Manhattan skyline. I got a call from my dad. My dad told me that he was sick, and he was diagnosed with cancer and only given six months to live.

[7:14] My wife and I decided that we would move back to Memphis, that I would get to spend whatever time that he had left with him, to take advantage of however long that was, hopefully six months. As part of this moving process, I realized that I couldn't find a job with Microsoft that made sense, so we decided I would leave Microsoft.

[7:33] I was talking to FedEx. I had interned at FedEx in college. I started to talk to my previous manager and a VP at FedEx. They said that, "Hey, we're actually about to start hiring several different roles. This is actually good timing."

[7:47] I thought, that sounds like this is going to work out. I'll get to spend some time with my dad. I will have a job lined up. I'll transition smoothly, but ultimately, things didn't work out that way.

[8:00] My dad ended up passing away about a week after I got back to Memphis. Although, I am very grateful for the time that I did have with him, that week was not the four or five months that I expected and hoped for.

[8:14] With all of that on my mind. I was looking towards a job at FedEx. At least, that would be something that would go smoothly. I would be able to transition, and I wouldn't have to do much of an adjustment period of being without a job.

[8:26] It turns out that they weren't quite ready to hire. They knew they would have positions, but they were delayed in getting those things hired. I was sitting around, waiting. My wife would ask me, "Have you heard anything from the job at FedEx?" I'd say, "No, I haven't heard anything."

[8:42] I'm dealing with the passing of my father. I'm dealing with being jobless, not thinking I'm going to have a job, but that being somewhere down the line. I also am dealing with everything about the house that I grew up in.

[8:56] My mom had passed away a few years before. I had to not only deal with the emotional aspect of this, I had to deal with taking care of everything in that house and doing something with it. There's lots of other details that go into that. Obviously, this is an overwhelming time, very emotional time for me.

[9:12] My wife would check in frequently and she would say, "Hey, have you heard anything from FedEx?" I would say, "No, but it should be coming," and she would ask me again, and I would say, "No, it should be coming."

[9:22] Then, she said, "Hey, you know how we like to eat food and stuff. We like to have a house and new clothes and things. We need money for that. Have you heard anything from FedEx?"

[9:34] That changed my perspective on the situation, because I realized I didn't have any control over when the actual call for an interview would be, or when they would be ready to hire for a position. I couldn't control that. What I could control was being damn sure that I was prepared for that opportunity when it came.

[9:51] I found myself watching a lot of YouTube videos. I found myself doing a lot of courses on Udemy. I found myself going to meetups and investing in the community. I was doing anything I could to improve my skills and to make sure that when I got a chance at an interview, I was as prepared as I could possibly be.

[10:10] The thing I learned from that is to focus on what you can control. I couldn't control when the interview would be, I couldn't control when they would be ready to hire. What I could control was being as prepared as possible for when that opportunity came up.

[10:26] The third part of the story is when I transitioned into FedEx. I joined FedEx, and they practice something called SAFe. It's not really important what this is it stands for Scaled Agile Framework. Basically, that's this methodology for doing agile at a big company.

[10:42] As part of that, I kept hearing this pitch of, part of your time in these 10-week increments should be dedicated to innovation and planning the IP sprint, so two weeks of your time should be working towards planning for the next 10 weeks, and then also doing innovation. People kept mentioning hackathons, learning opportunities, and stuff like that.

[11:03] The longer I was around, I realized nobody was doing that. We talked about it, but no one took any dedicated time to learn and to innovate. In one of our big meetings, not quite this big about a roomful of 60 people, I stood up and said, "Hey, we talk about this stuff, we brag about this stuff, but we're not doing this." That sparked a conversation.

[11:24] I was able to lead an initiative where we had basically on a regular basis we did these types of events that were like hackathons. One example of that was we did some IoT stuff one year where we got Raspberry Pis. We got monitors, and one person built like a box to put these lights in, and turn them on and off.

[11:42] It was really, really fun. We started to take advantage of these learning opportunities. One of the things that came out of that, with me being the person pushing for these is I started to get a lot of appreciation, congratulations, great job, kudos, and well done. I realized looking back on my career, one thing that I had learned to do was to be vocal.

[12:04] That being vocal was now leading to me gaining some notoriety in the company, some respect in the company for speaking out, and advocating for things that we should be doing. A few weeks later I ended up having a conversation with my manager.

[12:21] She said, "Basically there's two ways that people approach careers, especially at FedEx. There's you go into the management route, you go up through that chain, or you continue to grow as an IC as an Individual Contributor. You go up that route as well." I told her that I didn't want to be a manager.

[12:39] I didn't want to do the day-to-day of a manager. I didn't want to have those specific things. I wanted to be a leader. I specifically wanted to be a leader in technology. I always enjoy learning about new tech, trying them out, seeing what makes sense. I wanted to be a leader in that sense.

[12:54] She came back to me a few days later and said, "Hey, we have this position that we were going to post for an architect for the organization. We would like to give that to you." At the time, this is a big deal because it was a skip-level promotion, which FedEx rarely does.

[13:11] I would become the, I don't know this for a fact, but probably the youngest architect in that position that FedEx had at the time, and maybe had had ever, I don't know, probably one of the youngest, to say the least, at the age of 27. At 27, I became an architect at FedEx, and I got to draw cool diagrams like this one.

[13:32] This is a diagram that I wrote, explaining how one of the systems worked to some people that had joined the team. I got to travel to Europe, go to meetings there, have planning sessions, and got to hang out with my team. Honestly, had a good time. My wife even got to meet me over there. We took a trip to Amsterdam, and Germany, and had a good time.

[13:50] Did I mention that I got to fly first class to do all of that? That was really nice. I was enjoying this until I realized how much time I was spending in meetings. Not only was I spending time in meetings. I was spending time in meetings that I didn't care about, I didn't think they were relevant to me, and I was being forced to go.

[14:08] One of my biggest pet peeves is feeling my time is being wasted. I would push back and say, "I don't think I need to be in that meeting." That worked OK for a while, but it got to a point where basically the role of that architect was required to be in these meetings. I realized that's just not what I wanted my job to be.

[14:27] I enjoyed a lot of aspects about FedEx. I enjoyed a lot of aspects about my team. I enjoyed a lot of aspects about that role. When I feel my time is wasted, I didn't want that to be the case. I realized I was starting to be a little less excited going to work, a little more excited going home, and I didn't want to feel that way. Other people felt that way.

[14:48] They had accepted their fate that this was all there was. This was how it was going to be. They were going to stick it out and work at FedEx until they didn't work at FedEx anymore, they retired. I realized this sounded a lot like how my dad would have responded to the situation. He would have taken it the way it was, he would have accepted it for how it was.

[15:07] He didn't really have the motivation to go out and change those things. Ultimately, that led to me deciding I wanted to get back into doing content. I started as a developer advocate at Auth0 after leaving FedEx. I got to start with Auth0 back in January of this year.

[15:26] One important thing I learned from that experience, being down on the job, being down on myself during a certain period of time, I realized that it's important to pay attention to your mood. Some days you're happier, some days you're not as excited, some days you are really excited, but you need to give yourself some attention to what your actual mood is on a daily basis.

[15:47] I think that if you're unhappy with something in your life, in your career, it's up to you to be your own conductor to make that change. I posted this on Twitter and someone responded by saying, "That's really nice, but it's not easy for someone to leave a job and to go and change that." I hundred percent agree. You can't change things overnight.

[16:06] What you can do what you can control is to invest in yourself, and start taking courses on Udemy. Start watching YouTube videos. Start investing in the community, helping pull other people up, having them pull you up as well. You could create your own website. You could go to meet-ups. You could do all these things.

[16:24] If I had one last chance to talk to my dad, I would tell him not to procrastinate. I would tell him that things are never too late to change. I would tell him to mind the gap. Look at where you are. Look at where you want to be, and what happiness might mean for you down the line. Always try to mind and address that gap.

[16:43] The last thing I would say is that none of that stuff changes overnight, you have to take baby steps towards where you want to be. Ultimately, you should be working towards fixing that gap and getting to happiness, whatever that means for you. My name is James Glick, I am extremely happy with where I am in my career and my job at this point in time.

[17:03] I owe it to myself, and you owe it to yourself to continue to check in with yourself to see if that's true a month from now, or two months, or six months, or a year. If those things change, you need to mind the gap and make those baby steps, those changes working towards your happiness for yourself as well.