advice/perspective on jobs, work and management

About “the subordinate”


In 2003, I quit my career-track job in pharmaceutical research and development.

I couldn’t say why – nor did I have another job lined up, any prospects, or even a plan.

I’m sure my decision came as a shock to my family, friends, and colleagues. Most of them probably thought I’d end up a “career man” just like my father. He worked for the 3M Company for over 30 years, and growing up I remember going to company picnics and “Bring your kids to work”-days with my two sisters. I worked summer jobs there (when my dad could line one up for me), and our house in suburban St. Paul, MN, was within easy walking distance of their main corporate campus.

In high school, I excelled in both math and science, so a well-meaning guidance counselor encouraged me to pursue a career in engineering. With this in mind, I attended college at the nearby University of Minnesota, majoring in both chemical engineering and chemistry. My interests skewed towards the latter, so I applied for, and was accepted by the graduate program at Colorado State University, where I earned my Master’s. Circumstance then led me to London, England, where I received a PhD (D.I.C.) in synthetic organic chemistry from Imperial College.

Following a brief post-doctoral appointment at Duke University, I found work at a small pharmaceutical company located in the far ex-urbs of Philadelphia, PA; my first “real” job. I was charged with aiding their drug discovery efforts, but my tenure there is notable really for only one reason: It was this experience that sowed the seeds of my eventual disillusionment with the modern workplace environment, corporate life, and in particular, conventional management practices.

So six years later, I quit.

Having lost patience with my employer, my work, and how I was being managed, I took what savings I’d had and travelled—at times aimlessly. I hiked my way through New Zealand, surfed the eastern coast of Australia, and island-hopped my way around Fiji. I even wheezed my way up to Sagarmatha (Everest) Base Camp in Nepal.

When I returned six months later, I took the first job I could find—retail sales at an outdoor clothing store—and slept on friends’ couches. Gradually I made my way back to pharmaceutical R&D, but my heart just wasn’t in it. Retail work had provided me with another “a-ha!” moment: Most people were being needlessly mismanaged, I felt, and I was beginning to think I understood why. So again, I took what little savings I had, quit my job, and devoted the next year of my life to researching and writing a book on what I’d discovered.

That was over a decade ago.

Since then I’ve returned to the private sector, working jobs most people would probably consider beneath someone with their PhD in chemistry. Random gig work, part-time retail and service work, the occasional consulting stint, and no small amount of bartending.

I’ve also completed my manuscript (I’m currently looking for an agent/publisher). Portions of my work have been peer-reviewed, and presented to an international audience. I’ve also blogged on-and-off about jobs, work and management for over five years – and I’ve begun work on a related podcast.

All of my writing is informed by my ample experience at the so-called “bottom” of the organizational hierarchy.

Loerarchy® is a term I coined to describe my unique approach to managing more effectively.

Currently I live, work, and write in Philadelphia.


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