I fail at crisatunity. Wall of text follows.
August 27, 2010 10:15 PM   Subscribe

There can be only one (full-time employee in this company). Help me get through this - and/or possibly get out?

My boss is a fake it 'till you make it kind of guy - but he's increasingly leaning on me to fake an entire business. Stress and anxiety are having an unreasonable impact on my daily life - even when the days themselves are pretty un-stressful! How can I re-frame this situation mentally to be less stressed, more productive, and moving towards a better situation?

My boss: Cut the firm back from about 8 people when I joined the company to himself, me, and a very part-time bookkeeper last year. Then this year he took an offer to go be CEO at one of our historical clients halfway across the country - while still somehow keeping our existing business running.

Me: 5 years out of college, reasonably good at handling stress and social anxiety during business travel, but terrible at dealing with uncertain future / unfamiliar situations if I don't have to. Uncertainty leads to anxiety, anxiety leads to avoidant behavior, which leads to more stress, small panic attacks, and general mounting dread.

The company: It's a strategy consulting firm, focused on a specific market. I work mostly from home at this point, travel 20-75% a month, and talk to my boss when he's not running the other company - usually very early or very late. So I have no one else to ask questions of, and I'm increasingly getting requests from him that feel way out of my depth, like in-person meetings with major CEOs, calling up people to see if they want to sell their companies, or drafting serious legal documents. Basically, all the things where my boss could have a conflict of interest with his new job.

OTHOH, in the past 6 months I've gotten a significant raise (in a sense - it was a 20% raise, but I'm still getting paid about 25% less than average for similar jobs), and have had some amazing opportunities laid out in terms of roles, skill building, revenue sharing, etc. And the work at home thing is definitely nice. But I just don't think I have the interest or the personality to run this guy's entire company for him... no matter how much I like him as a person or enjoy the projects that we aren't completely understaffed on (our last big project this summer was a complete disaster - and not just from my perspective).

Here's what I've done to try to exert some control over my life and be less stressed:
- Applied to grad school - I'm starting a great program next week, part-time
- Told my boss he needs to hire someone more senior for me to work with - he acknowledged the need, but probably doesn't have the money/inclination to do so
- Tried traveling with my boss some to see if I could get more of his time. Not really. He frees up at about 9PM, and then I'm stuck working with him in a hotel bar for another 2-4 hours. It sucks.

A week ago I mustered up all my analyst skills to evaluate hundreds of companies, identified 25 job openings I might be interested in, and sent out resumes to all of them - which is great, but ups the uncertainty factor in my life even more. And my the work situation feels so unsustainable that I can't seem to focus on anything besides general panic - even though right now I don't have that many demands being made of me! Metafilter, help me think straight and get through this. What else can I - or ought I - to do here? Criticism welcome, wall of text apologies.
posted by deludingmyself to Work & Money (6 answers total)
Ask him what he wants for you to just take over the other company, or at least that you want to be a partner, or whatever other position you would ideally like to have in the company. Write a proposal - cover everything. Schedule, compensation, vactaion, privileges, job description, etc.

Given your pivotal role in it's existence. Make the point that your salary is sub-standard depsite his meager raise (20% is a lot if you are already being paid correctly, but if the situation drastically changed, and therefore the jbo as well, it's re-negotiation time)

All I'm really saying is you may have more of an opportunity than you think in this situation if you step up to the plate and re-define yourself confidently, and deliver.
posted by TravellingDen at 10:20 PM on August 27, 2010

Maybe you need an assistant? Maybe he needs an assistant that isn't you?
posted by furtive at 11:25 PM on August 27, 2010

Best answer: I've been in what they call the 'tapdancing' position before, and it sucks. It sucks when you have to spin the truth to make the company seem like it's better/bigger/more competent than it is. I am guessing that the tapdance is what exhausts you.

The problem is this - you're too good. You're doing *well enough* that there is no need for the owner do so anything about it. If you stopped holding up the ceiling long enough for it to fall in, they would have to do something about it.

The last time I stopped holding up the ceiling the owner sent the co-owner in to pick up the slack. E.g., I couldn't go to a requirements meeting with a new client because another client was having major problems and I had to take care of them. Co-owner goes, says "it went great". I ask for notes. I ask for notes about a dozen times. I am getting phone calls from New Client asking me for schedules and meeting notes and action items and meanwhile I am juggling old client while Co-Owner - who I know perfectly well smiled and was charming during his meeting with new client but didn't take down one fucking note - keeps saying "yep, sure, i'll give you notes."

I finally transferred the client's call to the other owner, and then he started to tapdance instead. I started forwarding all their increasingly demanding emails to both owners and told them to deal with it - while I was keeping Old Client from suing the company for not honoring the contract and not delivering on time by getting shit fixed.

Ultimately, I just found another job. Because they were never going to stop running the company in the way they did because they always managed to get out of it. And you know New Client above? They finished the job after I left, this client LOVES them, is one of their big case studies.
posted by micawber at 9:21 AM on August 28, 2010

Best answer: micawber, "tapdancing" is the best term I've ever heard for this kind of behavior.

Much of business relies on presenting a strong face to the client, but sometimes this relies on information that can't be 100% known at the moment or over-enthusiasm for a project. At some companies, including the one I left this year, smoothing over problems and making halfhearted promises is a way of life - and some employees really like it because they feel like they're getting more accomplished. I felt like I was either lying or promising my life away, and it sounds like you're having similar frustrations.

Updating your resume was a great idea; it's liberating to see how qualified you are. I don't quite understand why you feel more uncertain by applying to other jobs. It made me feel powerful and in control, because I knew I could escape this bad situation once the right job came up. It did, I moved to a new city, and now I'm settled in and in control of my life. So to deal with the uncertainty, focus on the goal - a job (whether this one or a new one) without that level of uncertainty. You're making steps towards decreasing your uncertainty, which is great - so appreciate what you're doing.

For the current job, get everything out of it that you can, while working on your plan to get out. Take on some of those challenging projects, and write documents that you don't feel entirely qualified to write. You'll learn a lot regardless of whether everything goes well. Maybe some of the documents will be great, and you'll have found a new competency. Maybe they'll go over poorly, and you'll be much better the next time you have to write one. After all, how are you going be become more senior if you never try anything new? If things go poorly, you can always leave - which is why it's such a good idea to start interviewing now.
posted by Tehhund at 10:24 AM on August 28, 2010

I forgot something - first, keep communicating your concerns to your boss. Maybe things will change and you won't have to leave. There's a difference between whining and communicating.

Second, pat yourself on the back - your boss thinks you can handle some pretty advanced stuff. This is an unfortunate way to get a compliment, but it's a compliment and they're probably hoping you'll rise to the occasion.

Finally, I mentioned getting everything you can out of your current job. Start looking for a good chance to ask for a raise. If you take on extra responsibilities and really do a great job, it's time to get more money, not just more experience.
posted by Tehhund at 10:27 AM on August 28, 2010

Response by poster: Micawber & Telhund, thanks both for some good advice. The "tapdancing" routine really started to get to me after 2 months on a client site this summer, where paired with a much more senior guy (and old colleague of my boss) who was brought in as a contractor, and proceeded to have a complete meltdown (memory loss, crippling anxiety, complete lack of focus) over the course of the assignment. He had good reasons - a major health crisis - but the entire period involved me attempting to manage up on a task I was completely unfamiliar with - while pretending to the client like nothing was going on. It didn't really work out. But I guess I learned a lot professionally?

Still, since then, I've been kind of a wreck. Small panic attacks, irrational fear of email, increasing desire to just turn my phone off all weekend. I'm checked out, and it terrifies me. So I'm throwing everything into getting out and starting school, which is good, except that it's making me a much worse employee. And when the company is just me and my boss - and my boss is working 75-80 hours a week on a different job - that's kind of a problem.
posted by deludingmyself at 3:41 PM on August 28, 2010

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