Talking ain't doing.
April 1, 2009 12:40 PM   Subscribe

When to give up on a job you love? (...when you're not very good at it, and don't seem to be improving?)

Sorry for posting a general, somewhat personal question (premise should be obvious from posting history). It's not really a question about me, though.

Have you had experience with this?

What do you do?

When do you cut and run?

Have you forgiven yourself afterwards?
posted by puckish to Grab Bag (8 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I gave up a field I wanted to study but found myself hating in practice. I gave myself one last go at it -- I took the textbook, went to Italy for the summer, lived with my boyfriend and studied by the sea. I had time, quiet, beauty, and motivation.

I still hated it.

That's when I knew that I needed a change. There were no more excuses, "if only this professor had been different", "if only I weren't so exhausted", etc.

I had kept at it for much longer than I should have, because I was so terrified of how I'd feel after giving it up -- after all, my identity had been tied up in this ambition for a very long time. And you know what? It was OK. I found a new field which makes me much more happy. For a few years, I was embarrassed about having given up on the previous field. Then that passed. I have absolutely zero regrets.
posted by wyzewoman at 12:50 PM on April 1, 2009

You seem to be thinking about this emotionally.

To begin with the end of your question: you're discussing employment. There is certainly no immediate reason to need to be 'forgiven' for anything - and if you feel the need to forgive yourself, please do, but understand that you haven't necessarily done anything that needs to be forgiven. It is not a sin to be bad at your job. It is not a sin to leave a job. These are not things that need to be forgiven. If I sound like I'm repeating myself, it's because I want to stress this: don't give yourself grief over this; shame and guilt only muddle your thoughts when you're trying to decide something like what profession suits you.

Which brings me to the core of your question. There is nothing essentially wrong with doing a job you love, even if you're not good at it. There are some jobs which are critical to the health and happiness of other human beings or dangerous, and if you are a hospital worker or a skydiving instructor who can't quite hack it, well, you most likely ought to quit. However, in general, there is nothing to be ashamed of in being mediocre at something. It's just a job. It is not who you are. You can be a happy and fulfilled person in life and have a job that you don't excel at.

Of course those you work with and for might recognize that you don't excel, and that can lead to reprimands and disciplinary action, but don't take this the wrong way; remind yourself frequently that it is just a job, and that you can have self-respect and dignity regardless of your professional status. If you aren't allowed to work in the place you're in any longer, that's fine, and you'll have to take it the way you take it; but understand, as I said: there is no moral obligation for human beings to be good at their jobs.
posted by koeselitz at 1:00 PM on April 1, 2009 [3 favorites]

You look for suitable alternative employment, ideally at a higher wage, and then leave your current job once you have secured an acceptable alternative.
posted by The World Famous at 1:08 PM on April 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

I think that if you love your job more than you hate not being good at it, then stay. If you haven't been fired yet, then your employer also thinks that you are good enough to keep on. Enjoying your job is such a rare thing that it would be crazytalk at this point to give it up just because you could be better at something else.

Even if you don't think you've gotten any better, it seems that you have been competent enough to get by. If you are seriously considering moving to a different field, then list what really excites you about this particular job (good hours, working conditions, generous discounts, what have you) and try to keep these perks at your next career.

I assume that by asking 'have you forgiven yourself?" you are referring to not beating yourself up for leaving after investing a significant amount of time, energy, and resources to mastering your craft. I agree, this can be difficult. Do you have an immediate supervisor who may be able to steer you towards creative ways of improvement? Do you read trade literature and keep up to date with recent activity in your field?

And, what koeselitz said above, as long as you are not directly endangering someone by working in your position, you don't have to be particularly exceptional. Not knowing what tooth to pull? Dangerous. Not the best artist in the world? Don't worry about it.
posted by amicamentis at 1:16 PM on April 1, 2009

I'm going to take a shot in the dark that you're referring to a creative-type job. That seems to be the case where often people are most harsh with themselves about their own abilities. (boy, do I know!) But if you (or- your friend) love what you're doing enough to think you'll never forgive yourself for quitting, then that's your answer: keep at it! If it is in the creative field, it usually takes awhile to see tangible improvement. But a year from now, you will likely be amazed at your progress.
posted by Eicats at 1:23 PM on April 1, 2009

It also really depends on how hard you've tried, and what professional development opportunities are available to you. If you love what you are doing but need to be better at it, there is usually a way to do that - so long as you are actually committed to the idea of working toward your goal.

As wyzewoman said, you give it one last hurrah. You seek out a mentor, you seek out a tutor, you sequester yourself with the right tools to get better, and you hunker down (in Italy, apparently!). And once you've done that, you may still find that you've got no aptitude for it. But if you do, then you get better, and it starts to happen, and life moves along...
posted by greekphilosophy at 2:03 PM on April 1, 2009

Whilst there is no obligation to be good at your job as long as it doesn't endanger somebody that you're not good, chances are that if you are not objectively good at it you are not playing to your strength, that you're not enjoying it as much as you would something else and that it is exhausting to maintain even the level of performance you're at - more so than doing something else would. So whilst it may be abandoning a dream or ideal of some description you may feel relieved to make a change once you've done it.

A colleague handed in her notice this month after three years of trying very hard to be good at something she just wasn't good at (despite a lot of training and guidance and support to become better) - she resigned after an argument with her mentor but once she'd handed in her notice her body language and behaviour changed completely - as if a huge weight had been lifted from her shoulders.
posted by koahiatamadl at 4:14 PM on April 1, 2009

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