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Local Max Complacency

Seth Godin has a lot of great things to say but in most instances it doesn’t resonate with me as closely as his explanation of Local Max [3]. We all have been in the situation where you know you’re at the peak of your job, it’s a good job, it pays well, you get a fair amount of recognition, and you feel needed. But, in the back of your mind, you know that you can do better but in order to do so you have to drop from your Local Max down to point B and even possibly to point C before you can achieve the actual Big Max. This was no truer than with my girlfriend’s job as a purchasing agent for a cosmetics company despite having a B.S. in Chemical and Biomedical Engineering.

She was hired as an engineer, paid an engineer’s salary, but placed in a rotational assignment as a purchasing agent – buying cardboard boxes, labels, inserts, etc. It was a terrible job for her because the company didn’t have it together enough to realize they were putting the wrong person in the wrong job. There’s nothing wrong with a job like that. It requires a tremendous amount of coordination, the ability to negotiate (not easy!), and quite a bit of street smarts so that your vendors don’t screw you to make a few more cents of profit on their sales. It had perks too like vendors taking her out to eat at nice restaurants and sending gifts. Honestly, I thought the job was pretty good except that the diploma on her wall said B.S. in Chemical and Biomedical Engineering and that’s what she wanted to do. She hit her Local Max.

So she took a leap of faith, leaving a comfortable job with good pay and good health benefits (more important than the pay) to try to find a job more suited to her goals. She dropped from the Local Max to Point B. She searched every single job search engine, even the obscure ones you’ve never heard about, and she used headhunters to try to find her a job. She trickled down to Point C. She had doubts about whether she’ll ever find a job, whether she really had the skills needed in the real world, and it was difficult. It’s always hard not having a job. She declined collecting unemployment because she felt she didn’t need it (very admirable) and so her bank account balances were getting smaller and smaller.

Then, she received a call from a stem cell research company for a 24-hour a week third shift job from 12am to 9am (Fri – Sun). Not ideal but she went in and interviewed for it. She did so well that they offered her a full-time 2nd shift job (3pm to 12am) which wasn’t ideal but forty hours beats twenty-four hours any day. She had the added benefit of getting experience working in an aseptic clean room environment (think of those biosuits from the movies, something like that) which is critical skill in the biomedical industry.

Her pay isn’t what it used to be and the job can be taxing (working until midnight will do that to you) but she’s past Point C. Sometimes she looks back at the Local Max and remembers how nice it was but deep down inside she knows the point is to reach the Big Max – it puts the Local Max to shame.