mad in pursuit memoir notebook

DISPATCHED FROM THE intersection of yesterday and forever

Career Disillusionment, Part 3

Great Dames vs Gray Flannel Suitsfound in my notebook - April 2001

[continued from here] I'm continuing the exploration of events and emotions leading up to my departure from the Institution. It's interesting enough that I'm not sure whether it's screenplay research or self-therapy.

In writing the screenplay I'll probably fictionalize, mythologize and generally blow things all out of proportion. That's good drama. But I want the final result to ring psychologically true.

One of my activities has been a kind of slavish chronology of the "decline and fall." I'm digging into whatever documentation I have to put together a sequence.

Now and then, I've expounded on how the effort poured into this web site helped me reinvent myself. The spin-offs were writing class and a stab at getting my essays published, then the synthesis of skills into video. That's clearly a success.

But I've never given the same attention to the negative side -- my falling out of love with my job. An interesting question: was it me or them?

A troubling observation:

With Boss #1 (1979-1994), I led a pretty diversified life. While I poured lots of myself into work, I also had a small graphic arts business, wrote novels, developed some athletic skills, and began some serious traveling. I had friends. My love life bloomed. There were challenges, setbacks, and bad days, but overall I loved my life.

When Boss #2 came along, everything became focused on Work. Jim remarked now and then that I'd become a workaholic. "Oh no," I'd say. "You can't be a workaholic if you love what you're doing." But I know that by our Ecuador trip in December 1998, I'd become a colorless, uni-dimensional wonk. Plus, I was exhausted and angry. But I think the Boss still liked me.

That was the turning point, when I decided to reinvent myself as a more interesting and multi-dimensional person. Oh, well, it wasn't quite as decisive as that. But I kept pushing the envelope -- pushing my way out of the little box I'd gotten myself into. (This bio page tells some of the tale. The 2006 radio production Mid-Life Web Diary tells the story from a different angle.)

But here is the disturbing part. The more I worked on my personal reinvention, the more alienated I got at work. Cause or coincidence? Instead of recreating the halcyon days I had with Boss #1, I created hell. Maybe age had something to do with it too. I was less tolerant of what I interpreted as willful stupidity among certain colleagues. I pulled back from 80-hour work weeks. It became clearer that Boss #2 valued loyalty and conformity and my thinking was becoming way too independent. My admiration of "great dames" flew in the face of corporate expectations.

My dilemma, as I see it this morning, was career vs. self-respect. They had become mutually exclusive. Great dames don't wear gray flannel suits. Continued>>>


more on EXIT theme

Robert McKee is the author of Story and screenwriting guru extraordinaire. If you saw the movie "Adaptation," he is the guy who gives the weekend screenwriting seminars, which is a fact. His book takes everything you learned in high school English class about stories and explains to you why it's still important and how you can see it all in good movies.