Thursday, February 9, 2012

Nick from New York Sends in a Big Thirsty on Feeling Good vs. Feeling Bad.

I'm post-gradding it in the big Apple, and my best friends from grad school are getting jobs right out of the box. We're all B-school grads so our like is still in pretty hot demand.

But not me so far. I've hopped to a couple of different year-long positions, even spent six months working on a major league IPO. But I want to teach, ideally, in a really good program on the east coast.

When my pals get their big breaks, the tradition (at least at our school) is for them get big parties together for which they don't pay a dime. (Whoever's dumb enough to be the last one out of the club usually gets stuck, or we kick into a hat.)

And because I live right in the city, I end up being at most of these bashes. Too many times I get stuck holding the bill because I'm too dumb or too slow. (Mostly I just want to really celebrate my friends and their successes.)

But now, with my cash dwindling, and my good will dwindling, I just want them to have their own parties, pay for them, and I want to skip them anyway.

Q: As our peers surpass us, win jobs, find better gigs, are we supposed to feel good or feel bad?


  1. Feel bad, but pretend you don't, as those with good gigs may be able to help you down the line. Arrive early, leave early, or skip it and send a card. Either way you want to maintain good will, because a) it might be you someday and b) the reason it might be you might be someone doing you a favor.

    But feelings? Those you get to have any way you want.

  2. I agree with Frog and Toad. I'm doing my doctorate, and whenever someone I know announces that s/he's finished and passed with flying colors, I can't help but feel bad. It kind of motivates me to get these revisions done and finish, but it also makes me think, "why the hell am I still doing this?"

  3. What Frog and Toad said.

    You sound like a decent sort, so just swallow your envy and use it for motivation, because as F&T pointed out, your friends may well be in a position to help you get what you want, since a lot of success really does depend on who you know and how well they think of you.

  4. I only ever felt envious when it was some dreadful fool who clearly didn't deserve it. That hasn't happened in a while, though, since I am quite possibly the last astronomer in America to have gotten tenure. That does not feel good, particularly because I'm constantly besieged by students wanting to know how they can do it.

  5. Be happy for them, because it takes more mental energy to feel bad than to feel good or merely indifferent, but don't be so happy that you get stuck footing the bill. I get invited to plenty of retirement parties since I work (as a staffer) at a university at which someone retires approximately every other week. And I'm always asked to kick in for a gift. I'll sign a card but I'm not going to contribute for a present for a silverback earning six-plus figures and retiring on a cozy half-salary with full medical or whatever... they can afford to buy a watch with their own considerable income.

    I'm a notorious crank about this sort of thing. I divvy up restaurant checks scrupulously. I drink only water and don't want to pay for other people's frippery coffees or cherry Cosmos or whatever people drink. I don't even want to pay the tax on their filet mignon. And I feel bad when I get a department-wide e-mail blast that someone's niece or grandmother died, but I also don't want to help pay for their funerals. I also don't want to do our insane Secret Santa, a week-long affair during which we are expected to purchase and hide five gifts for a coworker. My own brother, who I love, gets 2-3 gifts at Christmas, so I'm not going to buy a near-stranger five. I chip in for birthday cakes for my immediate coworkers, but only because I'd get hassled if I didn't. (I get hassled about not doing Secret Santa, despite me saying that I can't afford it and don't have time for gift-shopping, so I'll probably cave this year and do it again.)

    It's not that I'm flat broke, but nor am I a Richie Rich, and I don't want to foot the bill at restaurants, buy retirement gifts, assist with funeral expenses, and purchase five gifts for a near-stranger. So my answer is no, don't foot the bill, but be glad for your friends. Try a tactful excuse such as, "I would love to come to your party, but I can only contribute $20 [or however much you can afford], so if that's not enough, I'll have to pass this time." Hopefully your friends won't be so mean as to exclude you merely because you can't pay to fete someone who has a new job and will soon be making more than a post-graduate student still on the job market.

  6. Noblesse Oblige

    And, unfortunately, that's all screwed up here.

    A previous career had very distinct class separations, which included different rates paid by different classes to attend events. At times I wished to bristle at the disparity, but behind it was a very real, and significant, pay gap.

    Patty shouldn't feel guilty for not kicking in towards a gift for someone earning five times her salary (with benefits to push it up to an even ten). The newly-hired shouldn't be feted at the expensive of the not-found-a-job-yet-survivors. Funerals, flowers and the like, yeah, that's nice. I've seen various ways of dealing with communal condolences, but that should be about sharing grief, not shouldering a financial burden.

    But, to the OP's stated question, and not the circumstances. You should feel glad. I think so, anyways. Because in the opposite hyperbole, should they never find a job and end up homeless under a bridge, I hope you'd feel bad.

    Which is an entirely different question from the one found in the story.

  7. We're supposed to feel good, but I just end up adding to my ever-growing store of resentment. I don't think I'll ever get over some of the more egregious examples of ridiculous luck or insider hiring etc.: the female several years behind me with no publications being hired straight out of graduate school while I slogged on for five more years of applications. The anger and resentment will build, and then when the guy who was hired eight years after me gets tenure and I'm officially the only untenured member of the department, I will end my life in the messiest and most inconvenient means possible.


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