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Reasonable Expectations For Civilian Jobs


Will S Sun Valley, NV

Today is almost exactly the one-year anniversary of when I took terminal leave from the Navy. Now, with a year of civilian experience under my belt, I am surprised to realize I am still unsure of what a reasonable expectation is for a job in the private sector.

In my first position, the work life balance was amazing, but I had no idea how I was performing. In monthly meetings with my manager I'd ask how he felt my performance was and he'd say "everything's just fine." I actively solicited constructive (or even destructive criticism), growth areas, anything special that I could learn or study in my off time to improve my value to the company and he never had any suggestions. I changed tactics and asked if he could help me define 3 to 5 key characteristics that someone in my position would need to be successful and he said he had never thought about it before. Despite a very comfortable lifestyle, this felt like a situation where I would not grow very much.

The owner of a technical consulting firm reached out to me and I went through several rounds of interviews for a program management position at his company. Ultimately I made the decision to come on board despite longer hours due to the better title, interesting work, but more importantly due to my belief that the owner (to whom I would report) was a more engaged and dedicated leader to his staff and that I would benefit from his mentorship. Also it seemed valuable to get a first-hand perspective on a different company, different industry, and different type of position.

I'm about a month into that position and I've found that although my boss is truly dedicated to his staff, he is spread really thin and I am having a hard time figuring out what's expected of me. My usual response in that situation is to do EVERYTHING that I can possibly think of that might help the mission move forward, and doing so has left me stretched really thin, stressed out, and frustrated.

It seems like a lot of people out there aren't really concerned about things like that. In my first position, my co-workers were totally unconcerned about their personal/professional growth and were really happy to just collect their paycheck and put in the minimum number of hours to get by. In my new company, my co-workers don't seem to be concerned about regularly putting in 80+ hour weeks.

In gathering advice and mentorship from my network, I regularly get advice saying "find what you love to do," and I think an important starting point in that quest is understanding what a reasonable set of expectations is. What I'd really love to do is get paid $1M/yr to work 20 hour weeks walking my dog around the neighborhood, but of course that's not reasonable. On the flip side of that coin, if my only options were to get hit with a wiffle ball bat in the face for 60 hours a week OR file paperwork for 80, I'd really love my 80 hour weeks filing paperwork. But of course none of those are reasonable and there are hundreds, thousands, maybe even millions of different positions, work/life balance situations, companies, etc. etc. etc. to choose from. So I'm curious what a reasonable set of expectations might be.

19 March 2020 5 replies Career Exploration



Will S Sun Valley, NV

Thanks Paul for your thoughtful and encouraging reply. I think capturing desired results in writing seems really effective!


Paul Crabtree Mason, OH


I first want to thank you for your service. Having grown up in the Norfolk, VA area, I have a deep appreciation of the sacrifices of the men and women in the Navy to keep our country safe. I also wanted to build on the advice offered by Bruce and Jeff. As you continue to sort your situation out, you need to keep in mind that the true value you bring to any company are the results you are able to deliver in service to the company's goals. The skills you have are the means by which you achieve those results. At the beginning of each fiscal year, my company, Procter & Gamble, has each employee and their manager capture in writing the Results the employee is expected to deliver for the year, and identify interim deliverables or milestones during the year to help measure progress. We review the Results on at least a quarterly basis to see if we are "on track" or "off track" - or hopefuly - "ahead of schedule". Based on the initiative you seem to take, I am wondering if you know enough about the Results you need to deliver to capture them in writing, then use that as a the basis for a conversation with your manager to clarify and align on what is expected of you. Once you have the aligned expectations on the Results you need to deliver, you'll know where you stand as you track your progress. I hope this is helpful. As Bruce said - I think you already have the skills you need for success.


Will S Sun Valley, NV

Thanks very much Bruce & Jeff for those thoughtful responses.

It's heartening to get the encouragement and I really appreciate the suggestion to look at data-driven companies. I hadn't made that connection but now that you say it that does seem like an important "fit" item for me!


Jeff Martin Ashburn, VA

I agree with the good advice that Bruce offered you in his response. I would also suggest looking for a company or a role that is very data driven. I’ve worked for companies that measure everything, including employee contributions and rewards data driven performance. Amazon is such a company and there are others. If you are truly performance driven and want to know where you stand, being in a data driven company might be a good fit for you. Just a thought. Good luck.


Bruce Kaalund San Mateo, CA


Yes, you are experiencing what a lot of us have when we made the transition from wearing the uniform to civilian life. Understand, the same drivers for success are there in both the military and in civilian life. However, many civilian managers who have never served do not appreciate the need to give feedback, because they become focused on their goals.

You are alright! Continue to work hard. Figure out how to use the skills you learned in the Navy to use! I am sure you have briefed Admirals, they are the same as Vice Presidents! Spend your time showing what you can do, what you can produce with quality. Learn the business, how it makes money, and figure out how what you do helps the company towards its objectives. Someone will pay attention to you, and recognize you for your efforts. If it doesn't happen, build your skills and knowledge, because there are other companies who will appreciate what you have.

I went through this 35 years ago, without the help of an ACP. If you haven't done so, sign up for a mentor! I am working with my third mentee (a young Naval Officer), and it is very helpful to them!

Hang in there, you already have the skills for success!

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