Fight to stay where I don't want to be?
October 4, 2010 11:03 AM   Subscribe

I've become a terrible employee after 2 years in my first real job. It is awesome on paper but I've never wanted to be there, and lately my boss can tell. He called me in for a Very Serious Talk before I left for the weekend, though it included assurances that he cared about me as a person... to the point that he mentioned helping me find a different job that might be a better fit. I feel crazy awkward and embarrassed about the situation, and I would love to take that offer at face value, but it reeks of Bad Idea. Is it? [LONG + arguably should be filed under human relations]

I've been mentally revising this all day, and this is as short as it's going to get:

I am a Person Who Draws Kinda Well, in a graphic design position. I am trying to get past my gifted-child neuroses and possible mild depression, which have left me with some skills but almost no faith in them, deep insecurity about whether I belong in my field in the first place, no idea how to choose my priorities, and a downward spiral of "healthy rejection of perfectionism!," slacking, shame and retreat. I know I, like many others, have been raised with unrealistic expectations of how glamorous and pleasant my life should be, and I get that they need to be lowered, but how far? I'm always second-guessing myself, following up nice thoughts about what I want to do with my life with "reality checks" that those are probably chlidishly selfish or lazy or laughable overestimations of my ability. Yes, I know this is unhelpful thinking. Which is why I've ended up shutting down thinking about and subconsciously rebelling against anything to do with accomplishment at all, resulting in instinctive refusal to do just about anything and a black hole where my work ethic should be.

So. Two years ago I got a job offer from a defense company - probably the only category I'd ever sworn I'd never work for - who I'd never heard of. Even though no one else would have me, I was still debating turning it down, until my parents, who I was living with, informed me that no sane, grateful person in my position would do any such thing. So I went to work placing pictures of airplanes into PowerPoint presentations and things, among nice people but the wrong demographic to make friends, but trying to give it my best. That didn't last, even though I started to get assignments that were more interesting, even personally tailored to my skills at times. I got mediocre and slacky, then started dropping the ball harder and faster. When I finish things, they look good, but even when I care I'm still slow, and since the layout of the office has changed to allow me total screen privacy, I have honestly lost count of how many days I have surfed the internet and done literally no work.

So I've been confronted with all this by my boss. I should have been fired, probably with an actual fire, but he's the "...but I really don't wanna do that..." type, so I get a chance to shape up first. (I know, obscenely lucky, I know.) But I dread the thought of shaping up. I don't know how I would even get there, mentally, quickly enough. Sitting in one place, surrounded by beige, silently staring at rectangles for hours on end, every day, has turned out to be unexpectedly draining. Since I started working there I have stopped drawing for pleasure. It's not even the annoying-but-necessary career-launcher I was hoping it might be, except for moving further up in a company and industry I don't even like, since nothing I do can go into my protfolio for security reasons. I got the post college, wasn't supposed to be like this blues. Is that whiny? Is it as dumb as I'm afraid it is to let him show me the door, when it's an objectively good job, with health insurance and more money than I have imagination to spend it with? And then he says this stuff about finding me something else, and stresses that he's serious. How can he be? I believe his sympathy for my quarter-life-crisis-having noob self is genuine, but how is he going to recommend me to anyone? There is no reason anyone would want me as an employee.

I've already decided to leave once before, hoping to freelance, and the few people that I told convinced me to stay just a little longer and save a bit more first. I just ended up never leaving after all, and I'm a little ashamed of myself for it. I feel like I passed up an important chance to try doing what I wanted for a change, but I also feel like it might have been the smart thing, since I probably would have carried those same issues with me into whatever I did instead. I just want a summer vacation from life, or something. I need some time to not have to be on top of everything and have a flawless grownup plan. This paragraph is getting rambly and I'm sure it's obvious what I'm HOPING to hear, but I can tell just from proofreading this that I probably won't, and really, I just want some outside perspective. Thanks. Throwaway email, if anyone wants:
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (15 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
So I've been confronted with all this by my boss. I should have been fired, probably with an actual fire, but he's the "...but I really don't wanna do that..." type, so I get a chance to shape up first. (I know, obscenely lucky, I know.) But I dread the thought of shaping up

Been, there, done that, every word of it. It's very possible the decision to terminate the relationship has already been made, and they are waiting for you to not be able to shape up and acknowledge that you are not able to or interested in shaping up for THIS POSITION. My boss who gave me this talk was also 100% serious about helping me "recycle" into another position.

There is no reason anyone would want me as an employee.

This, however, is selling yourself short. If you want your boss' help for another position in the organization, or a recommendation or reference (via phone, in letter, on LinkedIn...), explain to him where you are at and where you want to go. Clear up what of your portfolio can be taken with you for public consumption. This is CREATIVE STORY TIME. Make something up for your boss, your colleagues, and future interviewers, that is true, but also acceptable in the workplace. "Defense is eeeeevil" is not a good story for your boss but it may play in other demographics; "a little burnt out and need a different type of client/audience" is more presentable.

Honestly, you GOT your foot in the door, you got 2 years experience in your field (if not your desired market), and you feel an itch to move on. What's wrong with that?
posted by whatzit at 11:20 AM on October 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

Why not take your boss at face value? It seems like he likes you and wants to see you succeed, but he can tell that this job isn't right for you. Thank him sincerely and tell him you appreciate his offer to help you find a new job and will take him up on it. Before you do that, think about what you want to do and have a plan or some ideas, so you're not dumping a job search in his lap but instead asking him for concrete help.

I know it feels terrible to know you're doing a crappy job, and I've experienced being totally unmotivated at an objectively great job. But that doesn't mean that your boss thinks YOU'RE terrible and crappy. He probably sees that you have potential and wants to help you. Also, you mentioned your "gifted-child neuroses" -- it's quite possible that he has a higher opinion of your work than you have.
posted by chickenmagazine at 11:27 AM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Your boss is being very cool. Take him up on it. A good boss understands that it can be the position that's a bad fit; I very much doubt they see you as a bad employee, just an unhappy one in a position that isn't working for them.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 11:28 AM on October 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

This isn't a question about job satisfaction or performance. This is about you being uninterested in doing anything, sounds like. For instance, "I just want a summer vacation from life, or something."

Well yes, me too! (And sometimes I take one. And then I don't have any dollars.)

I'm not sure if you've ever freelanced before but did you know that it involves many of the following things?

1. Cold-calling.
2. Invoicing.
3. Deadlines.
4. Horrible meetings.
5. Juggling.
6. People who don't pay you.
7. People who are really annoying.
8. People in gross industries.

And many, many more horrible other things! Unspeakable really.

And you've already shown that you don't work well when you don't have a compelling reason (besides money, I guess!) to care.

How many clients do you think you'll have if you up and quit your job? I'm going with "zero." And given that you were living with your parents two years ago, I'm concerned.

So, yes, to answer your question: this IS whiny! You have an easy job, out of college, with health insurance, that you don't even really bother to do! BUT. I also think you're right to be whiny. You shouldn't be doing that with your life probably anyway. Because you're right, it's not fulfilling. And you should be more engaged with your work, if possible.

But I'm afraid you're going to have to do a 180 with your work habits if you want to have some satisfaction. Your future includes busting your ass.

So go on, quit your job! Or have your boss find you a new one! Or go freelance! But be prepared to be busy, disgruntled and terrified. And maybe poor.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 11:47 AM on October 4, 2010 [10 favorites]

I have been on both sides of one of these conversations. Your boss likes you, and doesn't want to fire you, but he can't let things go on like this, and he's not sure that either one of you have it in you to fix the problem.

Firing people sucks, for a lot of reasons and for everybody involved, and he wants to avoid it if at all possible. He's willing to give you a good recommendation, and even willing to help you find another position. I'd encourage you to accept his help. But whether you accept it or not, you should start looking for work, because it's clear that things aren't working out at this job--your boss has made it clear that there's a chance of your being fired, and, although it may not seem this way now, being forced to resign is much, much better for you in the long run than being fired.
posted by box at 11:53 AM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Nthing that you start looking for jobs and take him up on it. Also, as someone who suffers immensely from slackofferitude when left alone for days/weeks on end: wipe your slate clean with all the guilt about the previous months/years, and reframe your "debt" to your boss as a right-now thing. Don't get hung up on the past - you can't change that. But you can be a reasonably competent employee for 2 weeks, a month, or however long it takes to move on to a better role... right?

Acknowledge the current job isn't a good fit, come up with a set plan to move on, and for that specific period, try your best to make your boss' life easier by not dropping the ball so much. It'll won't just help him help you (by demonstrating that you are capable of being motivated about something), it will help you feel better about it.
posted by deludingmyself at 11:58 AM on October 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

...among nice people but the wrong demographic to make friends

If they're human beings, they are not the wrong demographic to make friends with. This is not a tangential issue because it's your attitude to people and situations that shapes your experiences of them.

Likewise with your boss. If you've got him labelled "boss" rather than seeing him as a human being also, it's hard for you to see straight what he is saying and why.

He sounds pretty kindly, and probably means exactly what he says.

There is no reason anyone would want me as an employee.

From what you say, you might be able to work pretty well in another environment. For example an environment where you are doing projects that interest you more, working to tight deadlines, have close supervision, are surrounded by a more energized vibe, and the environment makes it impossible for you to spend all day surfing the net.

Your boss and other people you know may be able to help you find such a place. And being able to see a more attractive future may give you enough of a lift to enable you to keep being productive in your current job until you land a new one.

hoping to freelance

Freelancing is probably not the environment I described though.

nothing I do can go into my protfolio for security reasons

Luckily you are in field where you can do personal projects and impress people with your work on them. That coupled with 2 years experience and a good word from your employer should count for plenty.
posted by philipy at 12:15 PM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

I’m not quite sure what your question is, because what other options are you considering (you mention dissatisfaction with a workplace, but what would you want instead? Something more creative? Different industry?)

However, nthing whatzit – you have 2 years creating presentations in a particular niche area.

Here is one possibility, because people will look at the ‘can do presentations,’ – aim for a similar job but a different niche area. I know there are many, many medical education companies that would pick you up very quickly because you are already trained to do presentations, but instead you will do pictures of diseases, etc. Or if you don’t like medical information, then go to a law company. There are several industries that would work with you.If you decide to go the medical education/med com route feel free to memail me because I can find or point you to lists for certain cities. You would take the list and email several companies and tell them you are looking for a job, attached is your CV.

In your next job, new people, new environment, it may be the charge that you need to restart.

If you do want to do freelance in the future, I think you will be in a great place with experience in 2 distinct niche areas (and it is not a problem to say – can’t show samples for some of these areas because it is proprietary info/confidential, etc.). It can be more challenging to do freelance work, but …I don’t think it is that bad.I’ve never cold called a person in my life, for example, and I have done this for close to 2 years, but YMMV).

The other option is to use to boredom of this job (or another job) to drive your creative pursuits that you do outside work. This may or may not speak to you, but there was a guy (Hugh Macleod) who did not like many of his jobs and used his boredom/dissatisfaction to draw cartoons. Believe it or not, he made it pretty big and now does whatever work/consulting that he wants. I found his ‘How to be creative’ guide really inspirational.

I would work on leaving rather than staying. Mainly because people begin to perceive you in a certain way and that perception sticks (if you do a great job all the time, slack off -- they may not see the slacking off; converely, you can slack off and do a great job, but they may not notice it). Get out and you can do a great job at the next place. Also, as you realize, the clock may already be ticking, they gave you the warning and it is a matter of time.
posted by Wolfster at 12:16 PM on October 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

Yeah, you need to get out of there, cushy job and all, because it's killing your productivity and you've already been told that they need to get rid of you if you can't do your job. So take your boss up on his offer, or tell him that you will do so after you take a break. Because if your savings are good enough, you should give yourself that sabbatical. But! Don't just be a lump the whole time, you've done that. Set a timeframe for the break and consider therapy for what sounds like depression and low self esteem. And spend a lot of time thinking about What, exactly, you want your next job to be.

Hint: it should be a job where you can feel productive and like you're making a contribution.
posted by ldthomps at 12:42 PM on October 4, 2010

So your job's not what you wanted in life. You've got nothing to gain by getting yourself fired or walking out with nothing to go to. Unless you've got bottomless pockets, suck it up and get your head back in the job while you look for something better -- another job, retraining, whatever. You'll be in a much stronger position for that move if you have proved yourself in your current job. It's temporary, tell yourself that every day if it helps. I'm sorry if this sounds harsh, I empathise with you more than you know, but the easy way out here is probably not in your best interests.
posted by londonmark at 12:59 PM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think you are in a strange state of life that I have just decided to call "pre-fired." This is your boss politely and semi-euphemistically notifying you that you WILL get canned soon. You could try to "shape up," I suppose, but clearly you don't want to and the boss doesn't think you're going to, so the only thing left to do is to get you out the door.

I wouldn't really uh, count on him saying that he'd help you find another job. He may just be trying to be nice, but I can't figure out why he'd say that other than to cushion a blow. Bosses are just gonna be too busy to look for a job for someone who isn't exactly putting effort in (sorry, but you know that).

You do sound depressed, but assuming that you're going to lose your health insurance, well... yeah, can't do anything about that.

"I just want a summer vacation from life, or something. I need some time to not have to be on top of everything and have a flawless grownup plan."

Since you're going to be out of a job soon, I think you're going to get one... well, sorta. Problem is, once you get out of college, you don't get time to not have to be on top of everything. While on "life vacation", you're still going to have to figure out some way to get money and be able to eat and pay rent. Unless you go live with your parents and your parents are super-tolerant of you vegging out for ages. Unfortunately, this is how the Real World works for most of us once we graduate. You get a job so you can have a place and eat, and you probably aren't going to love it. I know it's hard to adjust to the working lifestyle, but it has to be done.

So what I'm thinking here is: start applying for jobs on your own. With your new free time, start coming up with stuff that you could put into a profile. Start looking into freelancing. Basically, you're going to have to really pull yourself out of the hole, if only for your own survival. You won't be able to coast along in the corner where nobody knows how much you surf the net, and maybe having a job that lets you do that isn't the best thing for you anyway.
posted by jenfullmoon at 2:24 PM on October 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

As a boss who recently had to retrain, then council, then demote, an employee who finally saw the writing on the wall and quit...

If your boss is a decent human being, and it sounds like he is, he is probably trying to see the situation as less horrible than it really is. Unless he moonlights as a recruiter for "cool graphic arts jobs," his resources are probably limited. It's not that he's being intentionally untruthful; it's a coping mechanism for him.

So - you need to recognize some truth about your situation:

- your job performance self-admittedly sucks, and your boss knows it sucks. This isn't going to end well at your present company the way you're going. Period.
- you should really stop sucking at your job. It sounds like it's not an aptitude limitation; it's an unwillingness to work hard at something that doesn't light you up.
- People who get jobs that light them up have generally struggled through a period of jobs that didn't light them up. People don't give cool jobs to screwups, unless they're screwups themselves
- graphic arts seems like a really cool field, but unfortunately there are a lot of nonfun, nonzany, noncreative jobs in it, really. I should know - we do promotional products and t-shirts all day long (I'm not an artist, but my company has them).

My advice is to work as hard as possible in beige rectangle land during the day and find supercool fun things to work on in your free time. This also tends to help you find supercool fun people to hang out with who share your interests as well. For example, I work on the aforementioned sales/promo products job by day and play music at night. I'm off now to teach music lessons and then to orchestra practice.

I think it's a big fallacy to feel that your job is your whole life.
posted by randomkeystrike at 2:30 PM on October 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

I don't know anyone that has a job that is filled with fun or that doesn't drain your spirit. Even clowns get depressed.

Our temporary secretary questioned me today when I asked her to scribble out names on a stack of interoffice envelopes. Of course doing menial tasks is going to cut into social time and or napping at the desk but the job will pay the bills whereas napping by itself will not.

I don't define myself by my career and I know plenty of other people that don't either. They work 9-5 jobs and go home where they do something totally different. An engineer friend of mine is a dance teacher/pro dancer. Other people are moonlighting writers, artists, photographers, and internet celebrities.

Keep your day job and do as good a job as you can without letting it consume you. Then do the anonymous art you've always wanted to do at nights/weekends.
posted by JJ86 at 2:34 PM on October 4, 2010

This thread is full of good advice. As an older guy who has worked in probably similar environments for over 20 years, here is my advice: Take the job that your boss is offering you.

I spent the first 10 or so years of my career doing essentially the same thing, to the point where I was afraid I couldn't do anything else. A supervisor in a neighboring group recruited me for a position that I was quite sure I would suck at, but I knew my current gig would soon be going away and took him up on it.

It revitalized my career, and whenever I get an opportunity to take a new assignment, I look for one that is the most different than anything else I've done.

Burnout is a bitch. It doesn't mean you're a bad worker or a bad person. It just means you're burned out. Your boss recognizes that you do good work when you're motivated; his offer to help you find another position within the company is not only a gift to you, it's good business for the company.

As for the second guessing, I was given a book by a friend several years ago. It was a Christian, motivational, self-help book. I usually don't read stuff like that but decided to do it just to be nice to the friend who was always good to me. I remember very little about the book, save one concept: We are ALL posers. You can look at anyone around you and think, "Wow, he's really got his life together. My life sucks so bad. I wish I could be more like him." That same guy is looking at you and envying you. So it helps to make a game of it- fake your way through life. Do your best, know that you're not that good, yet be amazed at how well-received your effort is. Jump in over your head. It's scary at first, but eventually you will realize you're swimming. Life is like that- the best times are not the easy times; the best times are when you realize you've mastered something you suck at.

At least that's how it works for me.

Good luck to you.
posted by Doohickie at 3:28 PM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Since I started working there I have stopped drawing for pleasure

Go. Go go go go go go go go go. Go.

This job has eaten away one of your core pleasures. You need to leave.

Take the boss at his word, and if he fucks you, you can look for another job.
posted by Quadlex at 4:41 PM on October 5, 2010

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