Round peg square hole
February 16, 2009 4:58 PM   Subscribe

wrongjobfilter: It's a bad fit and I'm a mess, leave or stick it out, and if so, for how long?

I feel trapped and diminished. I took a job last year that paid way over my usual salary but involved a move into a corporate/legal organisation. I hate it. I can do it, I go through the motions and I work hard and have been commended by my boss but most nights I come home and cry. Or drink. I've always worked in creative/cultural organisations before and was generally much happier with the freedom of expression and general altruism, and I felt like I was with people I understood but there came a point where it seemed I should up my income so I could save to buy or a house...or something. Now I feel clueless, and the money has become so abstract but this is the real world and recession is hitting so leaving, or even taking a lower paying job better suited seems like the worse kind of self-indulgent recklessness.

Prior to this move I had a vision and was full of ideas but it's all stopped since I've been here. I find myself resenting my colleagues because they seem so capable and professional when I'm struggling to maintain the facade. I hate that they can just get on with it when I find it so hard to contain my boredom, apathy and total disinterest. Playing nice every day is making me a bit crazy. Why can't I make this work? It's not like I'm an artist or a musician or someone with valid reason to buck the 9-5? I'm ashamed that I find this so hard. I feel like a robot. Maybe I could set myself a savings target and then leave, but how much would that be? I don't know what I want other than not. this. How could I leave without f*cking up my CV for future employers?

I know people generally say 'don't make your work your life', well I've tried. But I feel so listless and unhappy most of the time I don't know how to make this happen.

Has anyone had this experience? Did you have a strategy for managing the day to day or getting out? Any specific tips on not letting my work self take over my real life? Any anecdotes would be great.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (17 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I see no reason why you cannot put feelers out and find a better job before you quit the present one. If you don't find a better job, then don't quit this one.

Do you job well and look for a better one.
posted by The World Famous at 5:07 PM on February 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

I want to know: do you have any debt - credit card, student loan, etc.? Do you have any savings? Do you have any retirement planning?

I ask not needing specific answers, but because I would say that if you are financially healthy overall and have responsible financial habits, live within your means, etc., it is an entirely different question than if you are, say, like me.

You are right to be wary about economics, but I think the important thing is if you are in job reasonably expected to be stable and you live within the means provided by your job. If you can, while continuing to work (and please do not quit without another job lined up), adjust your expenses, save money, and move to a fulfilling job that might be lower paying - I think you should follow what you WANT.

It's important, vitally important, to be financially responsible, but NO amount of money will ever give you satisfaction with your life.
posted by bunnycup at 5:16 PM on February 16, 2009

~Do you have any vacation days left? Can you use one or two and take a break from the stress?
~Give yourself a goal of lasting a minimum of 1 year as "1 year" looks better on a resume than "X months".
~If you look for another job, make sure you can get another job that will pay the bills before leaving your current job. In about 3 months the job market is going to be flooded with more college grads.
~Also consider the possibility that your colleagues might just be better at hiding their boredom.
~Don't be nice. Be professional.
-Leave your desk for all breaks and lunches. Walk outside, or around the building.
-Do not take work projects home with you.
~Make sure you have at least one good hobby to take your mind off things. Even bettter if you have a hobby that you can find a local group for (no one at work should be involved).
~Volunteer: many organizations need people only for a couple hours a week. But it will make you feel good for helping out and get your mind off work.

I was really struggling mentally at my job and took a week vacation out of state. Not everything had gone perfectly, but nothing bad happened. It made me realize that I shouldn't beat myself up when things don't go perfectly during my day.
posted by silkygreenbelly at 5:23 PM on February 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

I've been in your situation before. Looking at the clock every 15 minutes, hating everything and every one.

In my experience, looking for a new job while you still have one is a lot easier than when you are unemployed, and setting a fixed amount of money to save gives a nice sense of purpose.

Last time I approached it as serving time. I had to pay my student loans and save enough money to live for 4 months, then I would be free to quit.

Seeing my bank account getting closer to the goal every 2 weeks made it all worth it. All the time I was looking for a better job. I got a good job offer one and a half months before I saved all the money I wanted, it was perfect.

I don't know how much money you have saved, but having enough money saved up for an extended job hunt is always good, better in a recession.

The unhappiness? You asked for anecdotes. Deal with it like every one else in the world with a job they hate does. Get drunk, get into sports, get religion. Seriously. Getting drunk saved my soul.
posted by dirty lies at 5:27 PM on February 16, 2009

I had a similar experience a year or so ago. I was lucky and got laid off after trying unsuccessfully to quit. (Long story.) So I ended up with a resume with a 9-1/2-year job and a six-month job on it, and it didn't hurt me.

If your resume isn't already spotty, I think employers understand a one time "this job just didn't work out" explanation on a resume. It's often no one's fault when one leaves a company; it's just a bad fit.

Look for another job. And I'm seconding volunteering--maybe you'll even find a job through doing that, but at the least you'll be surrounded by the creativity and altruism that you miss.
posted by faunafrailty at 5:29 PM on February 16, 2009 [2 favorites]

Oh, wow. I really feel for you. Here are two possible suggestions:
- Make the money meaningful to yourself. Meet with a financial planner, identify your life goals, set financial targets, and then when you meet those, get out. Some of the most public-spirited people I know were only able to devote themselves to the causes they cared about because they made smart financial decisions earlier.
- Find something that forces you out of your corporate environment every day at 5:01 pm. Maybe you could volunteer to serve dinner at a homeless shelter near your office every night. Over time, you could use your well-moneyed connections to help raise funds for that homeless shelter and maybe even join its board of directors. (Substitute "serve dinner" for "phone bank" or "coach Little League" or "tutor" or whatever else would be meaningful to you.)
- Or quit. Really, it sounds like that's what you want to do. You only live once, and if you look at the consequences of having a lower income, you may really decide that the tradeoff is worth it.

There's no right answer here, there are just tradeoffs, and you might try taking a step back and think about how you want to think about this and how you want to weigh those tradeoffs. There are a lot of considerations here.

One thing you might try as a good starting point is to approach yourself with a bit more all-around compassion and gentleness. You're clearly putting a lot of pressure on yourself ("self-indulgent recklessness" "f*cking up my CV" "Why can't I make this work?") and while I can understand why, I think adding that fear and self-judgment could actually work against you and make it a lot harder to think this through creatively. Different approaches to asking a question or making a decision activate different parts of your brain. I wonder if you'd have better luck finding that balance if you approached the questions in a more positive, self-loving way instead of a controlling, self-critical way. You could even try doing something creative to envision the life you want in the short- and long-term, like making a collage or something, or you could try thinking about the situation while you're on a beautiful hike or doing something else that keeps your spirits up.

If ultimately you discover that you just can't handle this job, you can't, and if that's not going to change, it's something to know and ultimately embrace about yourself because there's really no alternative. I find life to be more about finding a way to accommodate myself, to find balances that make all parts of myself happy, rather than it being about getting better at suppressing one part of myself to benefit another part. Sounds like your task here is to find a gentle, proactive way to balance your current self and your future self, your altruistic self and the self that wants financial security. It might take some experimentation to find the best balance that keeps all the various interests as satisfied as possible. Best wishes.
posted by salvia at 5:37 PM on February 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

Nth-ing having a plan to escape and/or shift focus away from work -- with a timeline. That will make things more bearable day-to-day.

If you do decide to quit before you have found another job, be sure you are committed, and will not look back. If it were me, and I had a slow go trying to find a job, I would quickly discover that beating myself up for giving up my old job was a fun new job search procrastination technique, and refuse to get out of bed for days. ymmv.
posted by girlpublisher at 5:38 PM on February 16, 2009

seconding all the good advice about saving and looking for a job while you have one. But especially seconding what Fauna said above, about volunteering. i found one of my previous jobs through volunteering, and got offered another one through another volunteer position a year later (although I couldn't take it, since it was full time and I am now back in school.) it might not happen right away. but if a position opens up in an organization you volunteer for, well- they already know you, they know your work ethic, and they know you like the organization.

good luck. with the economy the way it is, i'm feeling lucky that i chose to pursue higher education for the time being. now is the perfect time to be voluntarily broke. (you weren't considering going back to school, were you?) just asking :-)
posted by lblair at 5:40 PM on February 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

Oh mate, f*ck, I feel ya. Currently in the same boat, and, yep, it's soul-sucking and it's draining and you start to lose all inspiration and it feels like an endless downward spiral out of which it's only going to get harder and harder to drag yourself by your fingernails if you stay so you start to feel desperate.

I'm dealing at the moment by really focusing on stuff outside work, and just trying to get through the day. At this very moment, I'm looking forward to lunch time (at which time I'm going to go to a nice park overlooking a river that I like to spend time at, reading a book that plays to my other interests), and after that I'm going to look forward to knocking off for the day and working on a knitting project that's currently making me feel productive. Viewing it in four-hour blocks seems to make it easier: you've just gotta make it to the end of this one and then there's a block of time in which you can do something that brings you back into alignment with who you actually are. I'm finding it's better if I really soak up that time while it lasts; it reminds me that there's life beyond this when I decide how I'm going to get out of it.

It was definitely easier for me when I had some workmates who always weren't terrifically into it. At the moment everyone I'm working with is sorta related to the boss, either by blood or friendship, so I'm having to keep my lip zipped and that's hard. It's hard feeling so isolated and like a square peg in a round hole. To that ends I can only say keep a real focus on your real relationships outside of work, and don't don't don't identify yourself with what you're doing by day at this particular moment in time.

This is, I think, the "work to live, don't live to work" approach. I don't really agree with it, but I'm using it like a tool at the moment to get through this period. I don't know if it could help you, and it's a poor second best to having what you actually want - trust me, I know - but I'm offering it up all the same, if just as a bandaid approach.

Other things I've thought of:
* Can you do this job part-time, say three or four days a week (and thus reap the benefits of having a higher paying job) while doing something more enjoyable the other two/one days?
* Volunteer after hours in the/an area you'd rather be working in. It can keep you feeling like you're doing something valuable, and also means you can keep a finger stuck in that particular pot for when you're able to move back in that direction. Which in turn might help you not feel so trapped the longer you stay in what you're doing.
* Set a savings target that feels achievable enough that you could hit it in a tolerable space of time, but is substantial enough that you know you'll feel proud of yourself for having tortured yourself a year or so to achieve it. And then when you get there, review how you're doing and if you're willing to do that again. If you are, repeat. If you're not, you can go back to doing your more enjoyable job but you'll have a fair-sized chunk of money you wouldn't have had otherwise. That money can always sit in the bank until some time in the future when you want to continue adding to it or do the buy-property thang.

All this said, on the topic of leaving vs staying, my workplace hired someone a couple of years back who'd only just started a new job that sucked for him. He was a little obfuscatory in the interview about how long he'd been there (I think it turned out to be something like two weeks!) but he just let us know he didn't like it and appealed to my boss's company pride by making out like this was a way better opportunity more in line with what he *actually* wanted to be doing, and he got through. So, like faunafrailty says, I think as long as you're not doing it too much, I wouldn't think it would be a problem for you to start looking for a new job.

Take it easy eh? Go do something just for yourself later today, something that's guaranteed to make you feel good. Go see a movie on your own at the cinema, or whatever it takes to ensure your mind will be firmly off this stuff. You're undertaking a shitty endeavour; you deserve and need a mental break from the crap that comes with it every now and then.
posted by springbound at 5:43 PM on February 16, 2009

Hey, I didn't even notice your subject line before I said "square peg/round hole"! Sorry, I mixed you up: you're a round peg, with a square hole. Well, same applies. ;)
posted by springbound at 5:47 PM on February 16, 2009

This is serious advice. Tell your boss to take the job and shove it.
Every adult should do this at least once in their working lives, no matter what the state of the economy, no matter what their personal finances. I don't care if you have five dependent children, a debt mountain and you're looking after all four of your aged grandparents. I don't care if your resume has more spots than a child with chickenpox. There is quite literally nothing you can do in your career that is more liberating than leaving a job you hate and burning the bridge into little messy cinders.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 5:49 PM on February 16, 2009

With regards to breaking up the day so the time seems more manageable . . . for a while I was focusing on getting up and taking a stretch break every x minutes, walking some stairs, drinking more water, etc. I'd set a web-based timer, and 40 minutes seemed to be the magical time interval for me -- not too short, not too long. Coincidentally, 40 minutes seemed to work perfectly as a good time-perception-motivator -- if it was 11:20am, I could look forward to 12pm lunch "soon -- it's almost here" instead of looking at the clock and wishing it would tick faster. Same thing happened with the afternoons -- 2:40pm? Time for a snack! Then by 3:20pm? The day was "almost over."

Not sure what practical advice I can give to help you find//create something interesting about your job . . but usually people kind of stumble into a small aspect they enjoy. I like getting up and moving around. I finally realized this, and started asking to go on more carrying-stuff-around errands/field trips. Now I enjoy that aspect of it, and I'm better at it, to boot. What could you do during the day that's sort of "the thing you do best"? To put it in a funnier way . . what's your superpower? Figure that out and then find some ways to exercise said superpowers during the day.
posted by oldtimey at 8:16 PM on February 16, 2009

I know a fair number of creative types who are more in the less interesting 9-5 world to put bread on the table, feel at least some of the frustrations you relate. Me, too. What's worked for a lot of people is to find something on the side that does engage creative interests. I know someone who writes about rock music on the side, people who do graphics/Web stuff for local bands. It's great to do and positive in terms of setting out to do something and making it happen.

When I was in that boat, I had a go at finding an outlet, was pleased to end up doing some writing for the world's most popular boxing Web site. I like boxing. I've thoroughly enjoyed doing that from time to time and it felt good that I set a goal, put my mind and some effort into pursuing it and... success! It's been fun.

(Don King is as he seems. There is no off switch.)
posted by ambient2 at 8:30 PM on February 16, 2009

I recently visited jessamyn's profile.

I think she answers your question, and about 80% of the questions on askme there.

I concur, and you should do to your workplace's bathroom as I do to the local Olive Garden's bathroom when I feel like FSUing.
posted by hal_c_on at 8:32 PM on February 16, 2009

I worked at a job that wasn't a good match for a while. Eventually, if it is enough of not-a-match, your co-workers or boss may begin to feel it and the job may peter out anyway. My recommendation, in this economy, would be to put out feelers and keep the job as long as you can stand it until you find a solid replacement.

Until then, keep your brain as happy as you can by providing it with distractions. If you take transit into work, bring an exciting book so you have something to look forward to on the ride home. If you drive, get some really satisfying music or books on tape, whichever entertains you more. If you can listen to personal music or the radio at work, do so. There are some fantastic podcasts out there and if you can multitask and listen and work at the same time the day will go by just a bit faster.

Also, I don't think that leaving a job puts as much of a dent in your CV as you'd think. If you've been there for less than a few months you don't even really have to put it in your CV if you don't want...a few months' gap is perfectly understandable these days. If you must quit before you get a new job, it helps to be up front about it. You can say something like, "I just didn't match the job; I did a good job at the work but didn't feel I was able to reach my full potential there." Something like that.
posted by Deathalicious at 9:45 PM on February 16, 2009

I (a creative person who loves to be busy) am currently in a job that I hate (mind-numbingly boring and uncreative with no challenges - EVER), and am fortunately leaving this Friday having found something better. I would recommend that you start applying for jobs NOW. Every day do a job search and every day try and apply to at least one job that might be of interest to you.
Attend any interviews you are asked to. It's good practise, and it makes you feel less bleak about what's out there. (For this, I'd recommend maybe using 'sick days' so that your boss doesn't know.)

I understand how you feel about the whole recession/job safety. That's why it's a really good idea to look for a new job while you're employed. Plus that way, if you go for a job and don't get it, you still have an income.

"I hate that they can just get on with it when I find it so hard to contain my boredom, apathy and total disinterest. Playing nice every day is making me a bit crazy."
I also completely understand this. It sounds like me. And I don't have an answer, except to say, take comfort from the fact that you're not alone. I think some people can do boring jobs without minding whatsoever, but others need to care about what they're doing to retain any level of interest and excitement. Don't feel bad about this. It's hard but just keep telling yourself that this job isn't forever, therefore it doesn't define your life, or who you are. I find that when I'm unhappy at work, it makes me feel 100% better to picture it only continuining for weeks/months/whatever. Suddenly you can see a better job for you somewhere in the future. And you WILL find a better job, if you really try for it.

Get applying now and start digging up old contacts/friends who might be able to help you in your career.
posted by angryjellybean at 6:30 AM on February 17, 2009

Had a job that sounded ideal but made me hate my life. Relationship with my wife suffered because of it. She was miserable, I was miserable, I think even our cats were miserable. I knew after only a few months that it was a horrible, soul-sucking job and wanted desperately to get out.

Long story short, I took a large pay cut, moved halfway across the country and am likely going to end up foreclosing on the house we had purchased, just to get out of that horrid job, and we couldn't be happier. Honestly. I think dumping the job saved my marriage and saved my sanity. You only get one life. Use it wisely. It isn't worth being miserable all the damn time just for money.
posted by caution live frogs at 7:09 AM on February 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

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