The selling out diaries: Surprising sources of pressure

I’m a behavioral scientist, pretty lefty, and I currently do research for a major media corporation. I predicted before taking on this job that I would feel some pressure to drift from deeper questions about society towards “business school” questions — questions that are less about human behavior and more about consumer behavior. What I didn’t predict is that all of that pressure would come from within myself. I voluntarily propose questions in the direction of consumer behavior when it’s not what I want to do and I’m not being pressured to do it. Why?

The big factor is that I’m amiable and eager to please. So while I maybe am not drawn towards consumer research questions, the people I meet in other parts of the company are often interested — personally interested as reasonable people — in just that stuff. I like these people, and I recognize the good in the things they want to accomplish, and I want to be worth their time to do other kinds of work with them in the future, so I offer to help.

And there it is: I prepared myself against outside pressures, and got surprised by the pressures I’m really vulnerable to, the ones that come from the inside. They are trickiest in that they seem to come from good places — in particular from the ways that I like to think of myself as a good person.

In introspection-heavy spaces, recognizing a problem is the bigger part of solving it. For this particular problem, the rest is easy enough: For every 50 questions I generate, 10 are academically interesting, and 1 also has appeal to the people I work with. So if I stay creative enough to sustainably generate 100s of questions, I can constrain my helpfulness to the ways that I want to help without making any party feel constrained; I can do satisfying work and help my colleagues at the same time.

This particular solution is a patch, and it will raise other problems. I’m not done thinking about these things. But as long as I pay attention and stay aware of my values I think I can do work that is good for me, good for the people who support me, and good for the world.