Do I hate my job, do I just hate working, or am I just plain tuckered out?
October 18, 2010 4:27 PM   Subscribe

I need to figure out whether I: (a) hate my job (b) hate working, though it's inevitable (c) am just wiped out mentally from other circumstances in life. The answer is probably (d) All of the Above, but that doesn't really send me in one direction or another.

Pardon the potential whiny-ness here....

I dread getting up in the morning to go to work, am cranky as heck on Sundays, feel completely unfulfilled when I'm there, and have no energy to do anything at all by the time I get home. I suspect other circumstances in my life (wife has cancer) are contributing to the mental/emotional toll, but I can't do anything about those factors -- I wonder if I can do anything about the job.

My complaints (bear in mind my job title is "project manager"):
  • My role seems to tend toward tending to all sorts of deep, small details. I tend to be a "big ideas" rather than "minutiae" person, gleaning what I need from these tedious conversations and translating to something useful to myself at a higher level.
  • It's tough to say I know what I'm doing... the role and every day are in such flux that it's hard to feel confident. Combined with the point above, I often feel like I'm just "smiling and nodding" my way through days.
  • I have very little influence and no real authority/power over those from whom I need output. Tip-toeing and asking nicely only gets so far.
  • No opportunities to shine or excel. I don't know about the rest of my coworkers, but I don't go to work in order to not get fired... I really want to go above and beyond, to do well. However, most of my job's tasks are of the pass/fail/good enough variety.
  • My boss, though a genuinely great guy and a whole magnitude of intelligence smarter than me, doesn't really offer much in the way of criticism. I'm not perfect, I know I can do better, he knows I can do better, but he has a weirdly even-keel attitude that offers no real clues either way. I want to do more, but have no incentive to do so, and no energy to throw myself into high gear.
  • The work culture here is dysfunctional... upper management behaves like a bunch of high schoolers, with cliques and irrational, short attention spanned behavior. Everybody seems content to do just enough to not get canned. I'd hate to catch that disease, and am afraid I will become institutionalized here with that attitude.

    Problem is...
  • I don't have a dream job, per se. I know this isn't it, but it's hard to pick up and try to find something new when I don't know what that "something new/different" is. My degree and skillset are terribly generic/general. You know that guidance counselor question "What would you do if you had a billion dollars in the bank, but still had to work?"... I don't have an answer, so job searching is browsing through a huge pool.
  • I can't just take a giant pay cut. (see problem linked above) I don't make gobs of money, but I don't have to worry too much about bills.
  • The boss is awfully well connected in the area. If I send out some resumes, he's likely to hear about it. When I expressed my general dissatisfaction to him a while back, he promised to make some changes for me, and if that wasn't enough, he would do his darndest to help me find something elsewhere that fits. (told you he was a nice guy)
  • I have a very, very short commute and can't spend all day at work. I'm determined to spend as much time as possible w/ my family (again, see linked problem), and get terribly aggravated by traffic/travel. My work day is a company-accepted 8a-5p, though I'm always with my electronic tether (blackberry).

    The effect?
  • I'm probably depressed, but I'm not sure it's just the job.
  • I have no energy to do anything anymore, at work, or more importantly, at home.
  • I'm unpleasant to be around, especially when thoughts turn to work. My wife is a total saint... I don't know how she puts up with my crankiness and petulance.
  • I'm in my early 30's and already feel like I'm throwing my life away.

    So I don't know whether a change of scenery will help me (what if the grass just seems greener on the other side), whether I just hate working period (maybe I'm just a lazy ass, and I just need to suck it up and do my 9-5), or I have it really good (short commute, decent hours, okay pay, good friends at work, low expectations) and just don't appreciate it because of everything else happening in my life.

    Any thoughts would be appreciated. Just typing this out has been helpful in sorting out my thoughts, so thanks for putting up with the whining to this point :)
  • posted by theplatypus to Work & Money (11 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
    "I'm probably depressed, but I'm not sure it's just the job."

    Well, why don't you start by treating the depression first and then see if you still hate your job?

    It sounds like right now the priority is to have time for your family, which your current job gives you more of than other jobs probably would. Also, now is probably not a good time to switch jobs, since you'd have to deal with the stress of job hunting and learning a new position on top of everything else you're going through.
    posted by Jacqueline at 4:39 PM on October 18, 2010

    "bear in mind my job title is "project manager"

    There's your problem. I wouldn't wish that job on ANYBODY. It is one of the most stressful, gets no recognition, provides you with little power over the output you are actually stressing about because you are totally dependent on other people, etc. etc. etc.

    Find a new job with less stress. Easier said than done but well worth it.
    posted by Elminster24 at 4:58 PM on October 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

    Have you talked this over with your wife, your parents, or even your pastor/rabbi?

    Do you have enough in savings/401(k)/etc that you can live off of and take a sabbatical? Have you made any plans up to, including, and past the point where the cancer wins?

    I know it seems very selfish and self-centered, but do you have a hobby? Perhaps one that lets you make things for your wife - baking, simple woodworking, container gardening?

    The workplace you describe sounds like it's not a healthy place to be, unless you're one of the click of guys at the top. If you are on good terms with your boss as you say, tell him that you are very unhappy at work, and need to structure things so that you can focus more on your wife, and that perhaps he can assist in that vague promise to find a new job.

    For me, the key thing that I learned in two previous soul-sucking jobs that was to leave the work at work. Once I did that, I switched from being job-is-a-job and was able to interact better with family and home life.

    Also, start taking time off. See about arranging either 32-hour weeks or 10 hour/4 day weeks.
    posted by Old'n'Busted at 5:18 PM on October 18, 2010

    I'm with Elminster. Being a PM is stressful enough when you have control over your resources, but if you don't then it's just insanity. Responsibility without the commensurate control/power to fulfil the responsibility is the road to job ruin - you become a depressed emotional wreck and/or you get scapegoated when the project goes wrong and you don't have the power to fix it.

    If your boss truly is as awesome as you say, tell him the problem (unfulfilling, power/responsibility imbalance) you have with the job and ask if there's something else you could be doing. Is there a need for a senior strategy/analyst type person in your company?

    And given your family circumstances, I'm not sure any job would be particularly fulfilling.
    posted by polyglot at 5:36 PM on October 18, 2010 [3 favorites]

    Definitely treat the depression first and then see what happens. It is amazing how much of a difference it can make to what you think are entirely objective problems.

    I had/have depression and went to see my workplace counselor at the start of this year to discuss leaving my job. I honestly thought there were a whole lot of objective horrible things about it. I could list them. I was ready to walk away. She got me on some medication and... ha ha ha, oops. Actually my job is just fine.
    posted by lollusc at 6:25 PM on October 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

    Elminster24: "Easier said than done but well worth it."

    I don't know in what order the OP should deal with the issues, but I just want to chime in here and not agree with the above. In my experience, PMs can be excellent managers in general because of their experience in herding cats. There are a lot of middle-management (don't blanch!) jobs that are simpler than what you're doing now and pay just as much.

    aand deja vu. trip out.
    posted by rhizome at 7:07 PM on October 18, 2010

    Elminster beat me to it. I'm a big-picture vs. minutiae thinker too, and when I see what the project managers at my company have to go through, I wonder how *anybody* could do that job and not become a permanent ball of stress.

    Any chance that you could take on a new role at your same company that might be a better fit? Could you even discuss such a thing with your boss, or with your HR department? I went through a similar period of depression when my job was becoming more and more detail-oriented rather than the big-picture project that I signed on for. I never ended up in a different position, but tasks got shifted around to the folks who could best do them - and while I'm far from being able to say "I LOVE my job," it's a heck of a lot better.

    Best of luck to you.
    posted by chez shoes at 7:34 PM on October 18, 2010

    I left a project management job earlier this year, after going through my father's cancer diagnosis, treatment, and death. I was (am) pretty depressed about the loss of my father, and even before his diagnosis had been struggling with motivation problems in the workplace. So, I took his illness and death as a sign that I shouldn't put things off any longer and that I should pursue my goal of going to graduate school.

    As it turns out, I sort of think I should have just worked a little harder on the depression stuff first. I think I may have been depressed all along and it just felt more so during the undeniably dark stage of my father's sickness. I'm not in a terrible place now, but I think if I'd put a little more effort into examining where I was at mentally during the whole "I'm just going to quit and do something different" stage, it might have played out totally different.

    That being said, the change has been refreshing and I've been fortunate to have some free time to focus on interests that had previously been neglected. And PM work is definitely *not* for everyone. I think you at least owe it to yourself to pursue some therapy/meds for the depression and also maybe look for a new job - just don't do anything rash in this time when a lot of stuff is already out of your control.
    posted by DuckGirl at 7:47 PM on October 18, 2010

    Honestly, given your wife's situation, I would not want to mess around with a change of insurance or looking for another job right now if you can at all help it. If you don't even know what else you'd rather do for a job anyway (plus, well, you've got a lot going on that might be making you unhappy anyway), I don't think quitting is going to make anything better overall right now.

    So I think you should get the depression treated, AND talk to your boss to see if he can make anything better for you.
    posted by jenfullmoon at 8:14 PM on October 18, 2010

    Not long after the initial release of Prozac, one of my space cadet friends tried it out just to see what it was like. He said it didn't feel like anything much, but he got scared enough of it to quit using it anyway, because he found himself no longer hating his objectively horrible job.

    So if abusing powerful chemicals in order to make your present situation tolerable is acceptable to you, you might want to go and get yourself a prescription for an SSRI even if you don't believe yourself to be clinically depressed.
    posted by flabdablet at 9:13 PM on October 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

    I agree that your job might feel like it's sucking you dry right now, but nthing the sentiment to get the depression treated first. When I am depressed I hate everything - my job, my house, doing laundry, everything on TV, people on the street. They all irritate me and I focus on the minutiae of everyday bullshit and walk around in a big roil of hate. AND I am tired. Exhausted. Overwhelmed by the idea of doing just about anything, because it's so energy-sucking (no matter what it is). I literally fantasize about sleep.
    When I am not depressed, that shit just rolls off me. Treat the depression and it will become clear to you if it's the job. And if it is, you will be in a more solid place to do something about it.

    Good luck and update us when you can.
    posted by 8dot3 at 4:34 AM on October 19, 2010

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