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Family, Self-care, Work

Dilemma Resolved

This is a work post. I don’t post about work very much because, well, it’s generally pretty boring to people outside of my domain. I mean, seriously, I work in software, duller than dull right? Most people think software development is as obscure and highly technical as chemistry (doh, PhD chemist here too, double trouble).


Actually, I’m not a developer, I’m a technical writer. I work on the install guides and the online help for end users for a wide range of scientific software applications. My job isn’t about writing code, it’s about explaining to users how to perform the workflows that they need to complete to do their jobs. It’s really interesting and I’ve been doing it of over 15 years in the same company. I’ve been promoted several times and I’m now the most senior writer in my group of 9 people. Despite what I just said about the writing, I’m also technically strong. I understand and maintain complex systems for managing our content, plan tasks, collaborate with developers and QA, and work with leaders to determine our long term strategy for delivering the best possible help to our users.

Last year, I had the opportunity to be involved in a mentoring program where I got to speak with someone in higher management on a regular basis and receive advice about how to develop my career. My goals then didn’t pan out but I didn’t mind particularly – I’m good at protecting myself from disappointment because my imposter syndrome runs strong.

This year, I was nominated by HR to participate in a leadership development program. It’s much more involved that the mentoring last year and I’ve been learning lots about myself, my strengths and risky potential pitfalls.

The Dilemma

Anyway, that’s just the background. Back at the start of the year, our manager became unwell and had to take some medical leave. As time went on, her return date moved out again and again. In the meantime, we were being managed by her boss who has many other responsibilities. The other two more-senior writers and I supported her, advised her and made sure that communication between management and the team went smoothly. Together we recruited 3 new team members and generally kept the wheels turning.

A few weeks ago our interim manager quietly told a couple of us that our manager’s treatment had left her with some long term impacts that would prevent her from coming back in her old role. Would either of us like to take on managing the team? Well, this isn’t the first time I’d been asked the question. The last three times I turned it down because I felt completely unequipped and because of my young family. This time, my recent confidence boost from this year’s leadership program gave me pause and I didn’t say “no”. My other colleague and I discussed possible dynamics of either of us taking the role, keeping our communication open and transparent over several weeks. The idea of people management is daunting to me, but she has experience.

The thing is, I want to make sure I’m making the right decision for the right reasons. If I say no, I want it to be because it’s not a good fit for me, not because I’m scared. But I don’t want to say yes because I’m trying to show willing and cooperation or so I don’t let people down who’ve invested in me. This is a decision about me personally and what I want and what will ensure I am happy in my job, not purely about the success of the group.

My Thoughts

Recently, I met with this year’s mentor after a summer holiday-enforced hiatus. He gave me some great advice:

  • If it’s not “yes!”, then it’s probably “no” – if you aren’t immediately passionate, excited and energised by an opportunity, then it probably isn’t a good fit for you.
  • Sometimes, saying “yes” to one thing means that you have to say “no” to many others – taking on this responsibility would have an impact on the other things that are important to me, both at work and at home. I wouldn’t be able to fully benefit from the leadership program because I’d be so busy learning all the people management admin technical and soft skills. I’d have to give up some of my family time, there would be late meetings and an expectation that I would go back to full time, no more Fridays off.
  • Leadership and management are not the same thing – just because I’m on a leadership program doesn’t mean that I’m being groomed for management. It doesn’t mean I’d be a good manager or enjoy it. Being a technical leader is a very important role, and with collaboration of a supportive manager would likely be more successful for some people than juggling it with management at the same time. I definitely think that’s me.

My mentor also asked me why I would want to manage our group. I really struggled to answer. There is an attraction that I would be able to force an unmotivated group to do the things they’re meant to be doing. But the idea of making them do it repels me. I want them to want to do it, not because I said so, but because they understand the need and are enthusiastic about improvements. Apart from that, there is zero attraction for me.

Himself also summed up the situation in just a few words – “we don’t need it”.

I don’t need to the stress of managing the arsehole, of doing holiday and sick leave admin, of hassling people to do their training, of dealing with low performers or personality clashes. Our family doesn’t need mum in meetings til 8 pm. I don’t need to lose the peace and mental health recovery time I get on Fridays. We’re lucky enough that we also don’t need the financial bump.

The Decision

So, after a few weeks of swaying in both directions, I’ve finally come to a decision. I don’t want this promotion. Not now, and possibly not ever. It’s not for me.

Recognising when something isn’t right for you is so important. No matter how flattering, how many people tell you that you’d be great at it, no matter how many times you’re asked, how worried you are that you’ll disappoint important people by saying no, no matter if that means you lose an opportunity to influence things. None of that compares to being aware of the impact it would have on you and whether that would be positive or negative. For me, in this case, the negative far outweighs the positive.

Dilemma over.

How about you?

Have you ever faced this sort of decision? Have you turned down a great offer because it just didn’t feel right to you?

Love from Smell xxx

11 thoughts on “Dilemma Resolved”

  1. I love how this post progressed and how well you explained the backstory, working up to the dilemma. You’re job sounds very interesting and it’s easy to feel the passion you have for it. Which is quite inspiring.
    You’re dilemma and the tips given to you by your mentor sound familiar. I’ve been in these situations before and as you were told, if it isn’t a Yes! then it’s probably a no.
    Thanks for sharing your story.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I faced a very similar decision years ago when I decided to move out of people leadership. I had been managing people for over 15 years at the time. I was good at it but I came to the realization that it wasn’t the thing that excited me about my job and was more of a pain than it was worth. I moved into an individual contributor role with no direct reports and I have never looked back. As you say, there are many ways to be a leader.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Your job sound slike the harder job, because you have to take something complex and explain it so someone who with no knowledge or experience with the software, will be able to learn how to use it.

    Speaking as someone with crippling self-doubts and imposter syndrome, not getting energised and excited when first asked shouldn’t mean you say no. Talk it out and reflect on it before making a decision

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think I’m just genuinely not interested by people management. It’s been three weeks or more now and I’m still not thrilled. My knee jerk reaction was that I should say yes because it was being offered. But actually I think I shouldn’t do it because I ought to, and especially not if I don’t want to.


    2. I think it takes a truly free spirit to be honest that promotion isn’t for them, the society we live in is forever pushes to the top, that no one enjoys the journey. I stepped off the ladder when I became disabled, which somehow gave me greater peace and fulfillment in the end

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I have twice siezed opportunites because of “how it would make me look.” Each of those led to unhappy years. I settled back to a “steady growth” mode that led to some frustration, and then broke out to the open ended thing.

    I’m retired now. Years ago, when assets were abuild, I flirted with the idea of buying a house to “rent out.” I heard a guy on the radio answer a question as to whether it was a good idea. His response stopped me in my tracks. “Could you evict someone with a baby or a puppy?” I knew I couldn’t. Assets built elsewhere.

    Liked by 1 person

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