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Making sense of doubt

During job interviews, standard line of questioning includes asking applicants what they look for in the workplace. For some, while they have an idea of the perfect office set-up, it is taken for granted because there are other more important considerations like prestige, price, practicality, and passion.

Little had I known that it would be something that would fuel self-doubt and question everything I’ve learned to do well the past four years.

Caveat: This, in no way, generalizes operational and managerial mechanics across all NGOs, but only specific to personal experiences and dilemmas that the writer aims to address.

The lowdown

Last December 2015, I’ve switched jobs from a startup communications agency to a non-government organization. From a job description perspective, there really isn’t much difference in the transition — only the nature of the workplace, and of course, I have really yet to find out the workplace dynamics for this NGO.

Based from experience across advertising and communication agencies, organizational hierarchies, systems, and project management and tasking tools tend to be similar, so you know what to expect and order is maintained despite multiple projects running. But with NGOs, there is an assumption that each organization will really be different as there really is no assumed standardized way of operations across all. It would really depend on advocacy, management, and established activities.

The dilemma

  1. Workplace. Workplace structures and dynamics are different. I’m still adapting and trying to find my groove with where I am now. I’ve gotten used to standard reporting lines, utilizing the latest technologies and project management and collaboration tools across all departments – whether you’re Creatives or Accounts.
  2. Management style. While advertising agencies can get incredibly stressful especially with multiple client demands, long hours, and a very lean team, the burden is made lighter and manageable by good leaders within the agency who understand that motivation is different for each and every person, and that a positive work environment is important for employees to be able to battle external forces. The more I am pushed and pressured in a demotivational manner, the more I find myself paralyzed in unproductivity. While I do not doubt their intelligence and insights on the advocacy, I just find it counterproductive to manage employees this way.
  3. And the doubt that comes with it. Since I’ve started, recurring self-doubt has been eating me up, and that left me questioning my workplace priorities. It’s affected my productivity, even my health, that one month in I’ve already had a fever and gastritis and still had to work (also because I came in at a very busy time). When you’re sick, you rest. I’m scared of how my health could potentially suffer years down the line if I choose to stay and endure a stressful workplace or where less value is put on employees. I’ve doubted my passion for certain advocacies because of my difficulty with tolerating or accepting certain conditions that are counterproductive. Is it bad that throughout the years I’ve known that there are more progressive management styles that work and I’ve been resisting where I am now?

Maybe I’m not meant to save the world this way. Maybe I’ve idealized NGO work too much. I know there’s no such thing as the perfect workplace, but somehow through the years I’ve experienced manageable work settings, which are also far from perfect, but I’ve also felt support and motivation from managers.

I’ve been trying techniques to manage the internal and externally-induced stress I’ve been experiencing lately. I’ve also been finding ways of coping with this kind of management style. We’ll see.

Finally, one interesting observation my mom’s pointed out with all these was how with my work experience, it’s the corporations and advertising agencies that put more value on their employees than the NGO.

We’ll see. I’m still trying.

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