Shooting stars

“Forget what you want to do, what you’re meant to do. This is what you have to do.” — my friend

I was having a discussion yesterday with some people about a fictional (can’t stress that word enough!) scenario in which a manager was frustrated with an overachieving employee who he was afraid wouldn’t have enough challenges and might want to find another job where he could stretch his imagination more. And it’s interesting to see what other people think, not to mention how much we would wither under each other’s management styles.

To me, the manager should be a leader and engage the employee and see what he’s liked that he’s achieved so far, what’s holding him back (the scenario seemed to inimate that routine tasks couldn’t hold his attention but he did them anyway, just without enthusiasm. Go figure), and where he’d like to envision his skill set/career in two to three years. I know because it’s ME — highly intelligent people like to work independently but need that reinforcement that what they’re doing matters or else they lose interest.

Someone made a very, um, biting comment that if he’s so smart and brilliant, then he needs to be filling up his time with more projects and finding ways to stay occupied and develop his own skill set. He shouldn’t need any intervention from his manager.

Someone else made a good point that the manager sounds frustrated because they’ve got this high-functioning guy (a threat to him, maybe) and is immobile as to how to retain him and seems resigned to losing him.

The point everyone missed is that the guy never indicated he’s leaving or going anywhere. He just throws himself into his projects and does his thing. I don’t think it’s possible to run out of challenges, but I know for a fact that it’s possible to run out of steam. You can’t expect a half-full helium balloon to be able to hold itself upright for very long, can you now?

I don’t know. I was sort of pissed at the intimation that “Well, he’s smart. Let him figure out how to motivate himself.” Guess what, that only works for so long. Most people do motivate themselves. Some people achieve in spite of their surroundings. But the whole point is to survive BECAUSE of your surroundings.

I guess as someone with a high IQ, low b.s. tolerance and no shortage of ideas to better myself, I was a bit tweaked at what I viewed as flagrant disregard for the care and nurturing of an employee that the class instructor suggested might even be a star that burns brightly and burns out.


There was such a “That’s me!” moment, it hurt. Is that all I ever was to those employers past — a star that burned out? So it was MY fault that I gave time and resources and energy (and in the case of furlough days, money) and all I was, was someone who gave them the best of me for a finite time and that was it? So I left when I got tired of not getting enough (or anything) in return — that’s the way the cookie crumbles, then? Let’s find someone else to burn out and keep repeating the cycle every couple of years?

I guess I was looking at someone as a new, hopeful, potentially influential person and seeing them becoming my last string of managers (pre-2005). The room was filled the the prospect of crushed dreams and tears cried behind closed office doors — not mine, but 20, 30 years down the road of people with shiny new degrees and a mind full of fresh new dreams get introduced to their real place in society.

I hope you caught the irony in the title of this — “shooting stars.” Not just the ones that burn and fizzle and fade, but the reality of taking a metaphorical gun and blowing the dreams straight out of their heads. It happens to the best of us. It happens to ALL of us. But the manager — nay, LEADER — has an exceptional role to play in filling the void with new dreams, new hopes, new things to look forward to.

I don’t mean to pick on any one person. I just see such an opportunity to shake everybody and pound it into their heads that just because it happened to you, doesn’t mean it’s a cycle you need to perpetuate. High-functioning people (oh, hell, ANYONE) needs the reality check that, sure, they need to hold up their end of the bargain. But if you as leader are in some sort of position to help that person who is struggling with who they are and what they want to get out of their career, put your own work down and focus on developing a teammate, not a minion or automaton.

I oftentimes call up an old Ani DiFranco song lyric — “Maybe you don’t like your job. Maybe you didn’t get enough sleep. Nobody likes their job. Nobody got enough sleep” (it’s from “Pixie”, off “Little Plastic Castles”) — hell, I used to play it every morning when I got to my old job. It was my way of saying so what if your ambitions are bigger than this — get over it. This is what you have to do now to (barely) pay the bills.

Going into/continuing into management/leadership is scary. You’re held to lots of standards you never asked for. If you say the wrong thing in an interview, a lawsuit can come against your company. If you date someone in your company, you end up sitting in H.R. for a fun-filled lecture. (Been there, done that. But where else might you meet people?) Etcetera etcetera.


It’s the thing that maybe makes people want to be parents, what drives you to want to be a leader. It gives you a real opportunity to take care of people the way you wish you had been. It allows you to emulate the one or two people in your own career who did give a damn about you and to perpetuate the great things they taught you. It empowers you to build up a trusted network of people who will probably have your back and save your ass and cover for you so you can take a goddamned vacation without having to call the office a thousand times.

And when that employee achieves a milestone in their career, it’s because you did something to contribute to getting them there.

In any event, I say all this to say that sure, I have my moments of wanting to pat myself on the head with a brick, and days that I wake up and feel like Bill Murray in “Groundhog Day.” But having something and/or someone(s) to go in for and who might actually give a shit that I show up and care how I’m doing are sometimes the only reasons for throwing on the heels and pantyhose.

Creative people don’t do well in routines or holding patterns. So for the McManager in the case scenario who’s frustrated with an otherwise-fabulous employee, why not grow a set and engage said employee? You never know who has the million-dollar idea, and many of us won’t volunteer it unless we’re asked.

3 Responses to Shooting stars

  1. Tiff :

    We were actually having a similar conversation about this at my office recently- the company hires to a particular emotional/intellectual profile (and tests applicants to ensure they get what they want) because they’re afraid people who are TOO smart will get bored and quit.

    I have some opinions about this practice, but I think I’m not going to share them on the Internet at the moment. Suffice it to say, I think you and I would agree on most of them.

  2. Sabre :


    When the “maybe he should find his own extra projects” comments were made, I was shooting the Sabre Death Glare ™ at those particular pair of speakers (one of which tends to rub me the wrong way on a good day.) And once they got going on their little tirade, I pretty much dropped my whole concept of the manager finding out what the employee actually *wanted* out of his career.

    Some people whizzed me off badly yesterday. Assholes! I’m strangely happy to find out I’m not the only one.

  3. Caterwauling :

    […] I was pretty much quoting from my entry on “Shooting Stars” to folks who could benefit from it. I forgive a lot based on others’ youth and inexperience, but I assure you, if I have a chance to be a leader and set my own example, even in these few moments we have together, I’m taking it. […]