What’s My Motivation?


What happens when a boss says “we’re stuck” and “we’re not going anywhere”?

My boss ordered a “new” computer for me four months ago. “New” means it’s a six-year-old Mac mini he ordered from eBay because the OS is Mavericks. It couldn’t be brand new because our six-year-old software wouldn’t work on the newest operating system.

My old computer, a glitchy Mac Pro too old for the company to spend money repairing, still works, but not well enough for the paces I put it through every day. It is, however, perfect for testing.

I took a deep breath and braced myself. The conversation I would start with my boss wouldn’t be new or easy. He’s not a fan of change in technology, voicemail, working from home… Instigating change has become a tedious exercise in futility I have a few times a year just for fun. I marched to his desk. “I’d like to upgrade my old Mac from Mavericks to at least Sierra to test what software will run and determine what we must upgrade so we can do it on all the production machines.”

He didn’t immediately respond. He clutched his armrests, eyeing me like Simon Cowell about to deliver a harsh critique of a performance. His chair swiveled left and right. I could see the wheels in his head turning as he dug up his standard answers. Answers I already knew. Answers he knew I already knew he would give me. But he summoned them anyway. “That’s not going to work because Adobe CS6 and InDesign will slow to a crawl. And Quark 9 won’t work at all.”

His part of these exchanges always started with “that’s not going to work…”

I’m always ready with an answer.

I said, “I have CS6 at home running on Sierra and there is no crawling. Plus, we need to upgrade. It’s time. Mavericks is too buggy. Don’t we already own a license for Creative Cloud?” He gave me a slow nod. “I’m going to install Creative Cloud,” I said. I remained strong as I described the steps I would take. That’s what testing is for. And if it failed, I’d take a different route.

He countered. “Our plug-in for InDesign will need to be rebuilt.”

“InDesign has a built-in feature that will perform the flow task for us automatically,” I said.

A wrinkle. He didn’t expect that. I smiled, but within, so as not to gloat about my impending victory.

A flurry of words flew at me so furiously I should have ducked. He said, “I’ll have to get the developer to rebuild our script. It will only work with Mavericks—”

“We won’t know unless we test—”

“And I have to get in touch with them and all that going back and forth just to get it right. That’s very expensive. Plus, we’ll need to worry about Technology pushing Adobe updates to us. If they send an update that breaks everything we’re screwed. I don’t see how we can do that. And what about Quark?”

“What about it? We don’t need it anymore,” I said. He knew that. But he’s the only one in the office who still likes Quark. My mind went back to his comment about the expense. That was the issue. Expense was the constant issue, rather, the excuse. But this time, we don’t need new Adobe software or a plugin. Only our proprietary software will need an upgrade.

Every time an expense comes up it’s as if it will come out of his paycheck instead of being paid for by the international organization we work for. I know for a fact that his boss (at our headquarters in another state) is all about “get whatever you need to get the job done.”

He came up with at least ten more excuses. I turned and left him muttering as I sauntered back to my desk, discouraged by his fear of progress. The last thing I heard was “we’re stuck with what we have.”

I don’t like that word “stuck.” And it set me on my new personal mission. Do it anyway and prove him wrong. Before I left for the day, I made a list of things I needed to do to prep my old Mac for upgrade and testing.

And the next day, this happened:

After everyone had arrived at work, my boss gathered us. “Guys, I don’t know if you’ve seen your performance evaluations yet, but I just wanted to let you know I put absolutely no effort into them this year. I think they’re bullshit and I’m tired of doing them. I tried to get out of doing them. I even talked to (my boss) and told him I think they’re bullshit and asked if there was any way around them. I’m tired of trying to come up with creative ways to say you all do great work. And even if I did, it will not change the raise you get. This isn’t the kind of job where you will get promoted. We will never get promotions. We will never get more than our two percent raise. So there is no point.”

What the hell?

What am I supposed to do with that? I can’t even describe the emotional wave that put me on. Anger wasn’t quite it. I floated over disgust and disappointment. Disturbed is accurate. Who admits that to their employees? Who is ballsy enough to say that to his boss? (Shouldn’t there be repercussions for that?) We work every day. He couldn’t bother to put effort into our evaluations once a year? Isn’t that part of his job? After my face readjusted from the quizzical frown plastered on it for several minutes, I shrugged. I’ve been here long enough to know that’s how Captain Apathetic feels. But since he’s grabbed the loudspeaker and announced it, what’s my motivation to stay on this crappy ship?

Let me go back. This isn’t about him. He is a nice man and maybe he’s finally frustrated and worn down by the corporate game. In all honesty, these red flags have been waving at me like an Inflatable Tube Man for years. I stayed too long. I got complacent. The schedule works when I need to take my aging parents to appointments. Other than that, I got nothing. When people ask me where I work, I hem and haw until they insist. When I tell them, they “ooo” and “ahh” until I say, “No, really, it’s not.” If I’m not in the mood, I’ll say a firm, “I can’t talk about my job.” And I’ve told more than one person, “It’s classified.” This is a place that does not reward good work and doesn’t punish bad. What am I still doing here?

Captain Apathetic’s declarations did give me motivation.

Other than it being a footrest under my desk, I haven’t touched my old computer. I can’t and won’t waste any more time on futile efforts. I’m not taking my talents to South Beach, but we’re going somewhere. There are better gigs. I’ve had better gigs. I’ve had bosses who were fired up and passionate about the work and motivated me to do my best and move forward. I want to do work I’m proud to talk about. I want to work for a place that’s evolved from the Software Stone Age and the equipment is better than what I have at home (it’s supposed to be!).

I’m now motivated to put my efforts into me.


(I’m curious to know if you’ve experienced anything similar at your job. Please tell me in the comments. Thanks.)


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