Hey world, stop telling me what to do!
March 22, 2010 8:39 PM   Subscribe

I've become super sensitive to people bossing me around, and it's freaking me out. How do I stop this delayed-onset teenage rebellion before it gets me in trouble?

This is not typical at all for me -- in the past I've rarely had a problem about this (the random evil school teachers notwithstanding), and my friends/acquaintances/family say I'm easy-going and extremely level headed. Up until this fall, I would have agreed with them.

I think that my perception of people bossing me around has gotten skewed lately. It might have to do with my job as an IT project manager, where I personally have zero authority to do, fix, or decide anything. It will always be my job to be told what to do by bosses, but I feel like I'm constantly being pushed around by them, vendors, customers, and even my colleagues (who I generally really like). My default reaction to most requests now is irritation/annoyance, whereas before I enjoyed being able to address people's requests and assist wherever possible. My fuse is super short right now, and it scares me. I'm worried that my bosses are going to reprimand me about my attitude.

It's spilled over into my personal life, where this fall I quit an orchestra because I was tired of being bossed around by the conductor in my free time (even though I know it's the conductor's JOB to tell the orchestra what to do! conductors conduct!), and this winter I quit a band because I was tired of the lead singer making all the decisions. My boyfriend cringes when my work blackberry rings at home. However, I go to grad school part time, and schoolwork/studying/tests don't set me off like everything else does (but I can't say I'm really motivated right now).

How can I reset my perceptions/emotions/state of mind here? Take a multi-week vacation? Go to therapy? (note: past brief ventures into therapy over the years have resulted in being told to "trust the universe" and "eat more protein," so I'm skeptical) Meditate? Do yoga? Or will this pass like a giant wave of teenage hormones?

What do you do when/if you feel like this? I exercise regularly, but it doesn't seem to have lasting mood effects.
posted by Maarika to Human Relations (13 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
You sound overwhelmed. Therapy. And cut back on your schedule. Sounds like you're driven to the brink.
posted by dfriedman at 8:41 PM on March 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Get in with your GP just to make sure there's not something physical going on that could be causing this (standard Ask MeFi: "how's your thyroid?")
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 8:56 PM on March 22, 2010

It sounds like you don't do anything that involves your creative input. Perhaps quitting the orchestra and the band were the right idea. But now what will you do for your own creativity?

I will say that it would kill me not to have the chance to make my own decisions and succeed or fail on my own terms; it has always been a precondition of my work. I teach now and I have broad latitude to create my own curriculum (which I think I do well). But most people's jobs — and yours, it sounds like — involve the most minimal sorts of creative input. Same for school, same for orchestras (I have a friend who quit her orchestra job to become a painter because she was just reproducing notes from a page).

So you need to find a setting in which you can have your say, in very large terms. Teaching, even tutoring, can work for that. You succeed or fail under your own power. But the same could go for painting, or writing music, or running an important volunteer project, or building a garden. Make something by your own hands and plans.

This is important. Don't just try to change your mood — change your life. And good luck.
posted by argybarg at 9:03 PM on March 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

It sounds like the lack of control in your professional life has worn you down to the point that you simply can't tolerate lack of control in your personal life, and opting out of those situations is a way for you to exercise control while reasserting your own agency in your life and the world at large. I think this is ultimately a normal, and in some ways a healthy, thing because we all need balance and a feeling of worth. Unfortunately, it sounds like it has begun to interfere with things that normally would add to your overall happiness (like the orchestra and the band), and you are right to be concerned. Also, it sounds like you have an awful lot on your plate, and that can feed into those feelings of powerlessness and stress.

As someone who spends my work hours doing things for other people (I am an executive assistant), I really relate to this. I can tell you there are days where I just get fed up with all the taking care of other people and feeling subservient, and on those days, it can trickle into my personal life. Sometimes, it is a huge neon sign blinking at me that I need a new career or a major change, and other times, I just need a break. Venting to friends and family, talking to a therapist, and trying to invest in things that do make me happy in my free time, go a long way towards chilling me out and feeling better.

Maybe you need a major life change. Maybe you just need a break. I think this is a situation where counseling can really come in handy. Talking to an objective person who has no stake in how you live your life can really help you see a situation clearly and figure out how to make things better whether through small or big changes. I think a lot of people struggle with similar things, but a lot of them also don't reassess, then identify and implement ways to improve their situation. By reflecting upon your current feelings and behavior, you are that much closer to being happier. Best of luck!
posted by katemcd at 9:30 PM on March 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

You had a long-delayed reaction because you previously had trust. Get trust.
posted by parmanparman at 9:31 PM on March 22, 2010

Do you ever say "no" to people who are bossing you around? Just because you're a project manager doesn't mean you have to accommodate every request.. obvs you know that, but it's been my experience that some try to do everything for everyone, and some will plain say "no".. some say it more diplomatically.. but still. I mean, you're a manager, aren't you supposed to make the developers feel like they're the ones being bossed around? :)
posted by citron at 9:37 PM on March 22, 2010

This has happened to me before, I think the best thing you can do is quit. Work is a really artificial situation interpersonally, it's not really possible to address your feelings of not being respected. (Although lots of people think being dishonest in this kind of way is a good thing and try to bring work standards of communication into real relationships, so you have couples counseling which is kind of like the HR department, etc...)

What I realized was that I had displaced the issues at work in non-work situations, trying to work through different but similar kinds of problems where it was possible to solve them. The logic is "OK, I'm basically trapped and helpless at work, but this other situation which I can do something about is similar, so... close enough!"

It's like that joke about the guy who drops his keys in the alley when leaving a bar one night. His friend finds him searching out on the street, and asks him why he isn't looking in the alley. He says "The alley is pitch black, I can't see a thing, but there's a street light over here."

As long as you feel something is broken at work, you'll keep circulating around displaced versions of the problem, probably at the expense of your other relationships. I think there are three ways to prevent that from happening: first, you can quit; second, you can try to bring up the issue (to HR, your boss, your colleagues), dealing with it rather than a displaced version of it; third, you can dissociate, which is kind of what you're doing right now, but maybe there are other ways.
posted by AlsoMike at 9:59 PM on March 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

I actually think you could see this as a good thing. People often respect you more if you stand your ground, even if it seems rude to do so. Sure, you might get reprimanded, but you'll rarely get fired. The trick is to make sure that you choose issues where you actually believe your answer is the right one, and are prepared to defend it.
posted by novalis_dt at 10:13 PM on March 22, 2010 [3 favorites]

It might have to do with my job as an IT project manager, where I personally have zero authority to do, fix, or decide anything.

Ding! We have a winner.

I bet you do have people hassling you when things are undone, broken or undecided though - yes?

If so: there's nothing at all wrong with you; your boss not only sucks, but is working directly against the best interests of your organization. In some jurisdictions, what you're experiencing can be the basis for health and safety claims against your employer. Your employer has a duty of care to provide a workplace that minimizes avoidable hazards to employee health, and putting a manager in a position of responsibility without authority is, as you're finding out, psychologically damaging.
posted by flabdablet at 11:40 PM on March 22, 2010 [4 favorites]

I'm on the opposite end - I spend all day at work bossing people around and generally herding teenage undergrad cats. When I get home from work, it is very easy to stay in that petty tyrant mode and end up trying to boss my wife and/or the pet rabbits around (with varying degrees of success).

In order to prevent this, I've sort of ritualized the break between 'Work' and 'Life'. I'm lucky in that I have a half hour train ride home, so can spend that time just letting my mind wander. I set my alarm on my phone and shut my eyes, daydream, anything but think about work or what I need to do when I get home. Essentially, I turn myself 'off' on the train and reboot in Home Mode when I arrive home.

It sounds like you don't have much of a break/separation between work and home. Is there a period after work where you can turn your blackberry off? When you can make up your own route home (walking, driving, whatever) and decide to change it on a whim?
posted by robocop is bleeding at 4:44 AM on March 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

Irritability is a sign of depression. See your doctor, and also take a depression screening test.

my job as an IT project manager, where I personally have zero authority to do, fix, or decide anything
As a project manager, you need the authority to get slackers to pick up the pace, to get the information you need to be able to plan and report. At some point in my life, I was feeling pissed off because my family doesn't take me seriously. I asked myself: Do I take myself seriously? And I started to give myself credit for my accomplishments, take responsibility like I always have, but also take the corresponding authority. I'm less tolerant of put-downs, even when they're couched as jokes. When somebody treats me in a disparaging or dismissive way, I am cold in response.

I don't think I've lost my sense of humor; I've lost my sense that everyone else is smarter, more deserving of attention, etc. The change is subtle, and pretty much entirely attributed to my own change in attitude.

In the Wizard of Oz, a diploma confers brains. Consider getting certified as a Project Manager or a certification in your field and taking classes in related subjects. It will convince you, and others, that you skill and talent.
posted by theora55 at 8:06 AM on March 23, 2010

Thanks, all. Interestingly, the day after I posted this I was approached about a potential new position at work. In the meantime, there's lots of things to think about.
posted by Maarika at 5:46 PM on March 24, 2010

I agree with the other posters that work stress can spill over into all sorts of areas. However, it's not the only thing that might have changed. Here's a short list of some other factors that can skew your perceptions:

- birth control
- thyroid levels
- sleep disorders
- depression
posted by heatherann at 6:35 AM on March 25, 2010

« Older Lagging landlord owes me money.   |   The more "average" you are, the more attractive? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.