“If you can’t think of anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Replace the word “nice” with happy and you’ll understand why I’ve been avoiding my blog in the last couple weeks. Coming back to my so-called “normal” life has been a much bigger challenge than I could have ever imagined. I’ve been so afraid that I would fall back into my old ways of thinking and behaving that I’ve been unintentionally making this process much harder on myself. But I need to have faith that this experience has been transformative enough for me that I can’t fall back into my old patterns.
Part of the mental fog has been related to shifts in my work environment. I’m not going to discuss organizational charts or other internal work matters on this public blog, but what I will say is that upon my return, I came back to a new manager, new department head—and new job role. While I still have some job responsibilities from my previous role, our new group now covers an earlier part of the pharmaceutical product development process, entailing project work that is quite different from what I’ve done and experienced over the last four years.
Given all the major changes I went through in PULSE, one might expect that it would be easy for me to adjust to the new job responsibilities. But it hasn’t been, primarily due to the fear I expressed at the start of this post. Additionally, I’ve been frustrated by feeling that my past five years of work have been wasted since my new role—one I was assigned without my input—means that I will spend the next few months feeling like a new hire. The lack of control over the decision must be what is bothering me most since the new work I’m doing is pretty interesting.
Independent of this job role shift, there’s also the major challenge resulting from the significant loss of autonomy and control that comes from leaving an organization with small numbers of permanent staff (my PULSE NGO partner) back to a major corporation. On any given day in Kumasi, I knew immediately whether I was having an impact by the feedback given to me by the teachers I trained. That same sense of accomplishment can sometimes be lacking when working on projects where success is measured on the time scales of years or even decades. Independent of our long project timescales, anyone working for a large organization—corporation, government or otherwise—probably ofent has similar doubts about whether a day’s work really has an impact.
Coming back from PULSE, we have to write a case study that includes learnings that we bring back to GSK. (The connection between this paragraph and the previous one will become clear.) By nature of the assignments, some volunteers come back with exciting new ideas for products that can be developed or new business methods that can be implemented. My assignment was a bit too far removed from our core strengths for me to feel like I have anything to contribute on those sorts of topics. My lessons are of the “what I needed to know I learned in kindergarten” variety. I’m certain I’m not giving up any corporate secrets by saying that one of those key lessons is about the power of appreciation. I recently saw an employment survey that ranked appreciation as the number one thing that employees want from their jobs, ranking above bonuses or promotions. Even if I can’t always see how my work directly results in a product that helps patients, a simple “thank you”—even for work that constitutes my “normal” job—can leave me feeling like I’ve made a difference.
Speaking of making a difference, Liz (MCI project manager) is over in Ghana at the moment for continued work on the S2S project. I wasn’t surprised to hear that they kept calling her Michelle—we look a bit alike, especially in a country with few white people—but I was not expecting to hear that, if they didn’t confuse us, the first thing they asked Liz was how I was doing. Many of them have also told her how much they appreciate what I taught them. That’s not a bad way to end the workweek.