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Is this job awful? Or am I crazy?
May 26, 2010 1:20 PM   Subscribe

Determining the difference between self sabotage and glutton for punishment with a job that's great on paper? (Way too much inside.)

Kinda as a follow up to this question, I stayed in a job that I hate, hoping for the next great perfect thing out there and am actively hunting.

However, this is at least the fourth job in a string of jobs that are awful to me, awesome to other people.

I'm starting to think that I can't be happy careerwise or that I find some way to ruin/bail/destroy jobs the more successful I get. Or maybe this job really sucks.

On the pluses:
- I make a lot of money. More than I ever expected to make, more than my parents combined incomes on their best day, more than I believe I am worth, more than I need
- I am appreciated in general. I've just been appointed director, raise, stock, sent gift baskets from folks, get time with the CEO to talk about my concerns
- I rarely have to work nights or weekends. While there's lots of work, I can freelance out what my team can't do (when they're tangible deliverables, not meetings or politics)
- I have been able to assemble a great team under me -- awesome people, solid skill sets. Every team has its weak links, but we've gotten rid of folks that truly not doing their job, now it's just about getting people to "the next level"
- The boss I had professional (and some personal) concerns about has left the company, partially because of my and my coworkers contributions to his review
- What the company makes is (in general) awesome and they're more morally and environmentally responsible than any other company that makes things that I know of
- Little travel. I've had jobs where I traveled every week to small, crappy airports for 1 day jaunts. When I do travel for work, they're beautiful places, planned a quarter in advance and for a week or so. And they only happen twice a year about.

The minuses (as I perceive them):
- Hostile atmosphere. Everyone is constantly dissatisfied with our larger division in general (although they tend to like my team) mostly over political/territorial issues and it makes getting the simplest things incredibly difficult
- Lack of savvy in my skill set. No one fully "gets" what I do, but they all have control over the final outcome. Everyone thinks they can do my job better than I can, or wants to do the "fun" part of my team's job without the hard work
- Glacial pace. I have to work for a year on something to move it an inch, and chances are, it'll get reverted
- Meetings. I spend 6 or so hours of every day in meetings, with some days with 13 hours.
- Lack of leadership/decisiveness. Everyone's empowered to say no, no one's empowered to say yes and no one but me will make a *final* decision. And mine often gets overridden after I've used my "political capital" to defend something
- Lack of clear roles and responsibilities for what I do. We have set deliverables and we do great with those, but we also end up taking up a lot of clean up and fixes for things that don't seem to belong to anyone. And these are incredibly difficult to staff/resource/budget for or use a freelancer on
- Lack of innovation/response to consumers. We make products for the kind of people who make our products, and that market is shrinking. We say we want to make products for non-engineers, but it's like spray painting a skillsaw pink and saying we make products for women. We're also incredibly outdated internally with the systems and technology we use
- I'm always stressed. Work nightmares, panic attacks, coping behaviors (overeating, drinking)
- Commute. Although, to be frank, I leave so stressed out and frustrated that I need two hours a day to just stare at car bumpers
- I feel like a fraud. Between the pay and the title and the power given to me, I feel like I don't really deserve it. I don't want to fool anyone. I didn't get an MBA. Even if my team likes me, I don't really want to be a full-time manager/meeting goer. When they ask me where I see my career going, everything I want to do doesn't align with what the company needs.

With your fresh and experienced perspective, am I just making my brain think this is bad because I am green to this kind of corporate management and there's some magic way to make it all better and love this job? Or make me think I'm fishing all day?
Or does this sound like a toxic environment that's paying me and spoiling me because it's awful and that's what they need to do to keep me?

Preempting possible questions:
- Most of my experience is not in a large corporate environment
- I've managed before, but 1 or 2 people, not a vast team including people whose jobs I couldn't actually do (technical and project management folks)
- I love all my old jobs in hindsight, but hate them while I'm in them
- My favorite job of all time was a non-food, customer service position that I rocked and I left that for a job that "got me somewhere in my career"
- I am neurotic, overthink everything and no, therapy has not helped
- My skill set for what I want to be doing (not managing) is atrophying, but i don't have energy to freelance on the side
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (8 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
You're thinking about the money way too much.

- I'm always stressed. Work nightmares, panic attacks, coping behaviors (overeating, drinking)

and

I don't really want to be a full-time manager/meeting goer. When they ask me where I see my career going, everything I want to do doesn't align with what the company needs.

Would point to the exit for me.
posted by the foreground at 1:25 PM on May 26, 2010


There is a lot in your post that resonates for me.

I left a job in January that previously would have sounded like the dream job for me. I too was paid more than I though I ever would earn. Also more than my combined parents, etc. Many days I felt I made more than I deserved. The work itself and 99% of the people I worked with made the job extremely gratifying. But there were a few things that totally sucked my soul straight outta me. Finally I decided that I was leaving. Not "once I find something" but LEAVING. Even if I'd have taken a 50% pay cut I would have been ok. I just wanted to not have to be there any more.

The very next day I got an email from a former boss who was congratulating me about being made VP (had happened a couple months earlier) and joked "how on earth am I going to hire you back now??"

Where there's a will, there's a way. I took a "step down" to become a director again. But you know what? I went from running a company and all it's attendant stress and BS to a position where the work ends when I close the office door (did I mention I work from home now?). And best of all? I'm earning even more money than I was when I was running that other company - and I don't have to deal with the BS.

And had I waited to accept the offer they would have had a bidding war on their hands. When people within the industry found out I was leaving my position I got multiple offers within the week. By the end of the first month I'd had about a dozen. Three directly from CEOs.

So. If you've been getting paid more than you need I assume that you've built up a cushion to rely on. Maybe, just maybe, you need to say "enough" and take the leap without a net. I don't actually recommend this, but I think there is something to setting yourself a target date to be out and putting a fire under it. Give your month or two month notice, etc. and put the word out that you're looking for a new challenge. Or get out there an do your own thing.

There is no time like the present.
posted by FlamingBore at 1:56 PM on May 26, 2010


Most of your problems come down to fear - fear of trusting how you feel, fear of choosing the unknown over the devil you know, and mostly the fear of possible regret.

Why do smart young people spend their lives building stuff (resumes, houses, bank balances) that more often than not just holds them back? Anyway this is about your questions, not mine, so:

Is this job awful? Yes, it's awful.
Or am I crazy? Is it crazy to want to be happy with what you're spending your life doing? No.
Determining the difference between self sabotage and glutton for punishment with a job that's great on paper? You do not seem self-destructive; you seem rational, critical and bothered deeply by the possibility that you might be lost. That's anathema in most large corporations (from my own short-lived experience and all the anecdotal evidence I have that isn't coming from brainwashed serfs) and they're clearly making it very difficult for you to do the right thing for yourself.
...am I just making my brain think this is bad because I am green to this kind of corporate management and there's some magic way to make it all better and love this job? How do you make your brain think something? It thinks what it thinks, you feel what you feel. The illusion of success and meaning you're trapped in is making you question your basic human responses and second-guess your basic human needs, and that's not good. You could take medication to make it feel a certain way, which may be where you were going with the second part of this question. In short: no, and no.
Or does this sound like a toxic environment that's paying me and spoiling me because it's awful and that's what they need to do to keep me? In my opinion this is how most large corporations operate, but I'll let someone with more pertinent and long-lasting experience than mine field this one.

Your pluses are nearly all about what you don't have to do (work weekends, travel too much, deal with the boss who used to get your goat) and being appreciated (money, raise, facetime with the CEO) by other people within this structure, most of whom, by your own admission, don't really get what you do and ultimately make you feel like a fake. (If a productive and goal-oriented person like you is feeling like a fraud, I have to wonder what inner darknesses those around you are suppressing or ignoring.) Your team may be awesome but it works within the larger organization, by the rules and process of said organization - which also you outline as painfully slow and fraught with internecine problems. The product the company makes may be great but clearly it emerges out of disconnected departments among people who are mostly getting in each others' way.

The fact that you lay it all out so black and white makes it clear that your realize what kind of a trade-off this is. Your time, talent and (in the long run) ability to find a better situation in return for empty praise and money. The phrasing of your questions makes it clear how very unhappy you are, not least because there are no easy answers or quick fixes.

It's cheesy, but we only get one go at this, and it's over before we know. 13 hour meetings? Come on.
posted by mondaygreens at 3:04 PM on May 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Got to say: most of your minuses are going to be true of nearly all large companies. Too many meetings, the slow pace, indecisive leadership, unclear roles, slow to innovate, interdepartmental turf wars, other people not "getting" what you do: these are just par for the course.

The remaining minuses you list... mostly don't seem to be a result of the job. The "feeling like a fraud" thing: that's you. That's going to follow you to your next job. And the stress. That one too; it doesn't really sound like it's coming from this work environment. I guess that leaves the commute.

This doesn't sound like a bad job. It sounds like a pretty good one in fact. If you've gone through four awesome-from-the-outside jobs and hated them all... it's not the jobs that are the problem.
posted by ook at 3:11 PM on May 26, 2010


I spend 6 or so hours of every day in meetings, with some days with 13 hours.

OMG! This sounds like something you can use your political capital on. "Guys, can I check in with one of you later? I need to get my TPS report out to the client by 3."

Regardless of whether you're overpaid, overtitled, or not, your resume gives you a rare opportunity in this economy to move to another company at the same level and actually make a difference. Chances are, in spite of your self-doubt, you are perfectly competent. And if not, you'll already have been there a year before they figure that out...
posted by Saucy Intruder at 4:43 PM on May 26, 2010


It sounds like a fine job with its normal balance of frustrations but just a bad match for you.

You seem to have two choices: adjust your definition of "a successful career" and take a few continuing ed classes to switch to something you like, or work (harder, and in new ways) to find a way to be happy in this career track. Do you think you would be happy if you switched back to the "going nowhere" customer service work? Or do you think that your tendency to feel like a fraud and worry would eventually catch up with you there?
posted by salvia at 6:13 PM on May 26, 2010


I think you're not a manager - or rather, you are a manager but that managing is not what you want to do.

Managing in a corporation involves all of the things you dislike: leading a large team of people who may do things you can't, using political capital, making decisions that could be reversed in a minute by someone else, having others not understand your job (or actively fight you over resources). Your job doesn't inherently suck, it just isn't what you want as an individual. Personally I enjoy going to meetings and using political capital to get my will accomplished - I also love running things. That sort of thing in my job energizes and excites me, while sitting in a room just working by myself depresses me. On the flip side, I know many people who hate the frustrating interpersonal politics of a corporate management job and would rather be in a room working by themselves.

I'm assuming you are a technical person who was good at your job and kept getting promoted because people like you? Often you see tech people getting promoted into management because they have good communication skills and decent social skills, regardless of interest in the work. Escape that trap and go for a job you actually want. If I am understanding your situation correctly, I'd suggest a job where you can get promoted within a technical track and can make a lot of money without the management aspects. Google is the only one I'm personally familiar with, but the technical track probably exists at other tech companies as well.
posted by rainydayfilms at 10:31 PM on May 26, 2010


"Is this job awful?"

To be honest, it doesn't sound that bad to me.

"Or am I crazy?"

You definitely don't sound crazy to me.

Oh, but - you left off the third option:

"Or is it an okay job that is just really really not a good job for me?"

Bingo.

So, where do you go from there?

"I love all my old jobs in hindsight, but hate them while I'm in them"

Get out a pen and pad of paper. Now, list all your old jobs, and as clearly and specifically as you can, list what you liked about them and what you hated about them.

"My favorite job of all time was a non-food, customer service position that I rocked and I left that for a job that 'got me somewhere in my career' "

Yeah, the "got me somewhere in my career" thing? I'd definitely examine that and decide what YOU want out of life. How much of your life do you want your job to be? Some people want a career that fully expresses and embraces their passions. Some people want a job that takes as little effort and energy as possible so they can take their paycheck home and fund the OTHER stuff they love. Different people want different things from their work. That's okay.

(Just yesterday, I was reading Ian A.T.'s great description of his work driving a cab, in which he said, "driving a cab has advantages that aren't strictly financial, so it's hard to think about it in just economic terms: I work when I want. I stop when I want. I don't have a boss. I don't feel like I have to cram my life in on the margins of my job. I get to talk to people I might not otherwise get to talk to. (Girls.) On the other hand, nobody respects me, and my friends and family are disappointed in what I've done to my life. LOL!" The whole thing is really worth reading.)

"My skill set for what I want to be doing (not managing) is atrophying, but i don't have energy to freelance on the side"

Make this as much of a priority as you possibly, possibly can. Set aside time on the weekends. Can you use your position as a manager to set an example of life-work balance and make it a public point to leave the office every day at a sensible time? Can you shift your workday so you come in early and leave early, giving you some quiet time when you're not in as many meetings, and getting you out of the worst of rush hour traffic? Can you employ that skill set in any way that doesn't require as much of a time commitment as full-on freelancing?

A lot of us feel we "can't" even ask about any kinds of changes at work, like setting a limit on the number of hours we can spend in meetings, or requesting a shifted work day. You're at a pretty high level, it sounds like. Is there ANY part of your work situation you can alter a bit to make things easier for however long you stay? ... I mean ... what are they going to do, fire you? Because if you hate this job right now, how terrible would that be?

Finally, a book recommendation: Go Put Your Strengths to Work. I really liked the book's main message: that we're encouraged to think we need to work hard to improve our shortcomings and silence our own preferences to be better "team players" - but in fact, the book suggests, we can contribute best by focusing on what we do best, what makes us feel best and happiest and most accomplished. The simple practice of taking a moment at the end of the day to write down the three things you did during the day that really felt great to you seemed like a terrific idea to me.

Go find yourself a job that gives you opportunities to really use your strengths and makes you feel good at the end of the day (and keep working on letting go of the 5-10% of all jobs that's just not ideal).

Good luck!
posted by kristi at 11:08 AM on May 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


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