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The Importance of Being Difficult

Written By: Jennifer Donovan

The year 2021 was an exciting time for me. It began with the birth of my second child and a (mostly) blissful maternity leave. The world was finally emerging from the COVID bubble which meant the return of family get-togethers, play dates, and in-person meetings. I had held a travel-heavy role in the pharmaceutical industry for nearly a decade and enjoyed the switch to remote work during the pandemic. Business travel was ramping back up and I dreaded getting on a plane again. Sneaking out of the house before my kids awoke for 5 am flights, rushing home from the airport to read bedtime stories, working 12+ hour days after being up for midnight (and sometimes 2 am and 4 am) feedings . . . it just wasn’t going to work anymore.

I set my sights on finding a new, remote position and was pleased to find the pharma market was HOT. Within weeks I had multiple offers and felt like the world was at my feet. Empowered by my options, I grilled hiring managers on work-life balance, travel requirements, company culture, and the hours I’d be expected to keep. After much deliberation, I accepted an offer from a mid-sized company where I was assured a manageable workload, flexible hours, no travel, and a certain level of autonomy in managing my study. I couldn’t wait to get started. I saw myself in it for the long haul and anticipated growing with the company.

Within the first few months of starting my role, I began receiving meeting invites for 6 am calls multiple times a week. As a west-coaster working for an east-coast-based company, I anticipated this problem and had been sure to discuss it with the hiring manager before accepting the position. Like many working parents, my mornings are busy getting kids dressed, fed, and ready for school/daycare and I was assured by the hiring manager that 6 am calls would not be the norm. I pushed back (#teamdifficult) but some of my co-workers were put off that I was already asking for “exceptions”. Missing the meeting or taking calls while I put pants on a kicking toddler always seemed to leave me several steps behind for the day. I wanted to give my team my best, but to do so I needed to work the hours that were discussed. We were not off to a good start.

By eight months, things went from bad to worse. I was absolutely buried in work, 6 am meetings were standard, I was micromanaged to a level I had never experienced, and was asked to travel internationally. This was not what I signed up for and I began to doubt my abilities. I voiced my concerns to my manager and reached out to two of my counterparts for tips on keeping up with the high workload.

When pressed, one colleague admitted she was only able to stay on top of everything by “working an unhealthy amount of hours” and the other suggested, in all sincerity, I “sort through emails while on the toilet.”

I learned that there had been several others in my position and none of them had lasted more than a year before resigning or transferring to a different role. Surely, the hiring managers weren’t aware that the work-life balance of their employees involved all-nighters and finding an ergonomic desk with a built-in latrine. So, how did they get it so wrong? Although my colleagues shared with me that they were overworked, they didn’t express this to upper management. Instead, they suffered through, pretending they had everything under control. In doing so they greased the ladder for everyone that came up behind them, making late nights and toilet emails the norm and leaving hiring managers to make promises the company couldn't keep.

I stuck it out for a few more weeks but the culture of overworking was deeply ingrained in my team. Ultimately, I ended up resigning and the team and had to begin the hiring process all over again. As for me, I remain a freelancer dedicated to #teamdifficult. Because we don’t need to give into the culture of overworking. Because we deserve to sit on the toilet without sending our warmest regards. Because being difficult just might make it a little easier for those coming up behind us.


Meet the Author

Jennifer Donovan

Jennifer Donovan is a former medical researcher reimagining her life as a writer. Her comedic style focuses on creating content that sparks dialogue, provides levity, and fosters community. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and their two children.


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