Antidote for an ossified soul
November 16, 2010 10:45 AM   Subscribe

How to bounce back after extended time in a badly-fitting job?

I'm in a job that is a very bad fit. I came from years of contracting in creative organisations into a legal firm because the pay was much higher and I wanted to save enough for a house deposit. It turns out that although my workskills are pretty transferable (content management, editing etc), my motivation is not. I've been shocked at just how unhappy I am in this environment, and after two and a half years of trying to make it work my motivation and confidence are at rock bottom. The organisation is big on tedious detail and endless discussion but very poor on decision-making and as my job role is almost entirely reactive I can't get past the endless roadblocks. I have made some progress and am generally thought of as effective but there is no opportunity to stretch or excel at the things I'm good at and the stuff I have done is paltry considering the projects I've worked on prior to this. My objectives are vague and my manager is almost totally absent - I get no feedback and have no idea if I'm any good at what I do here.

It's also a question of personality, the culture feels so dry and conformist that I find my work relationships difficult and frustrating. I've adapted externally and am generally known for being diplomatic and helpful but it's a constant struggle and I'm exhausted. The world seems beige and passionless and I miss collaborating with curious, creative people who are driven to produce beautiful and/or original work. I have creative hobbies outside of work but the drabness is all-pervasive and my output there is effected too - I cycle alternately between totally numb and wildly over-sensitive.

However, the saving has paid off and I now have a sizeable enough sum to start planning my exit but I'm terrified that I'm done for in terms of finding a better-fitting job. My confidence is very low and I basically have nothing to show for the past two and a half years and the web moves quickly. I have no idea how to explain to potential employers why I worked in a field I had no passion for, especially when I've failed to deliver anything tangible. I'm not even sure I have anything to offer any more.

So what can I do in the coming months to turn the situation round? I have no debt or dependents and will have enough spare resource to take three-six months off for study, interning etc. In this economy I'd rather not push my emergency savings too far, but I'm willing to do what it takes to get back on track. Has anyone got any advice on what I should be doing to make it happen?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (6 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
A friend just up and quit last spring from his job in the financial services industry--he, like you, was just beaten down long enough that he no longer had any perspective on what he wanted to do, what he was worth, etc. He took the summer off and just sort of re-centered, and I think he's going to start looking for another job soon, though I doubt much will happen before the end of the year. I don't know how he intends to pitch it in interviews, because I think he wants nothing to do with that industry ever again. His wife tells me that he is as happy as he's ever been though--he and I used to have "who hates his job more" contests, and he does, indeed, seem to be in better spirits.

You may find that you get more out of your study/interning etc. if you take some time off first--maybe through the end of the year?

Good luck!
posted by Admiral Haddock at 11:21 AM on November 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

I don't really see a problem with pitching this at job interviews - just be positive about the fact that you're wanting to return to an industry you feel passionate about. I think anyone can understand leaving for a higher salary, but coming back because you're not fulfilled just by the money is something to brag about, not be ashamed of. Talk about transferable skills, talk about the passion you have for what you want to return to, say you're a better fit for a creative culture, etc. You can definitely spin this - you just need to get perspective, which will happen when you get out of your current bad situation.
posted by hazyjane at 11:29 AM on November 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

but coming back because you're not fulfilled just by the money is something to brag about, not be ashamed of.

I agree with this. The bottom line with any question about "will X hurt me in interviews" is: sometimes it will, sometimes it won't. Places do exist where they care about "gaps between jobs" and how your tie is tied and any other kind of nonsense you can imagine. Bad news: You won't get this jobs. Good news: There are other jobs.
posted by drjimmy11 at 11:38 AM on November 16, 2010 [3 favorites]

Sheesh, you are making me jealous. It sounds like you are in a plum situation.

First and foremost, change your attitude and recognize what a wonderful scenario you've created for yourself - you have the financial means to exit a less fulfilling job and re-orient to a fulfilling career path? Sounds damn good. Talk about it in your job interviews.
posted by RajahKing at 11:42 AM on November 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

My husband and I just jumped ship in similar circumstances last week.

Everyone is correct, it's a luxury to have a big savings account and we are appreciating that tremendously right now! Similarly, the only perspective employers that will failed to be impressed by your actions and confidence in this situation are not for you anyway*.

- You will feel so much better after you take the leap if you assert the right attitude NOW. You will start to feel better as you seriously prepare, but it's nothing like how good it will feel once you are free.

- We know to our tippy toes this is the right move and we didn't allow ourselves to invest in doubt once careful planning for the change was in place. You do the same.

- We budgeted a few weeks into our game plan to relax and process what we left behind. An important step.

- We enrolled in some college courses before quitting in prep for the future and just to have something productive going before we took the leap. It's been great for us.

- We appreciate how much money we made + other stuff we sincerely enjoyed about the jobs we left. We could easily be pretty angry right now about certain things concerning our old jobs - but why bother? That's not moving forward, so we acknowledge lots of bad stuff happened, but we skip the ruminating about it.

- People in your personal and professional life will be shocked (shocked!) to see you leave behind a viable paycheck. Be prepared to deflect their fearful comments with a positive attitude. You are not them. We've adopted a sort of "live and let live" attitude here. Thank people if they are genuinely concerned, obviously, but politely speed bump the rest. Accidentally getting poisoned by other peoples beliefs in failure won't bring you any more swiftly to the next happy employment situation, so try not to take on other people's baggage. It's irrelevant to what you will accomplish.

- Keep your plans private.

Congratulations. Making this move will be great for you. Promise.

*employers featuring toxic workplace environments, in my humble experience, love employees who are likely to feel trapped once they are onboard, and (consciously? subconsciously?) hire folks who will fit that mold. with the right demeanor, your job history will be kryptonite to folks like this - they won't want you, and you wouldn't want them. it's win-win. don't hold yourself back!
posted by jbenben at 1:15 PM on November 16, 2010 [4 favorites]

I know how you feel, I've been in this very situation before. But there's good news: you're not desperate and can afford to wait for the perfect opportunity.

First, focus on the positives. Every job has details that you can emphasize to demonstrate your competency for the job you want. Emphasize these in your resume and be prepared to discuss how these contributed to your personal and professional growth.

Second, being in an industry unrelated to what you planned on doing, or want to do, is not a bad thing. It demonstrates that you're well-rounded, gives you a unique perspective to bring to the table, and can make you an authority on subjects that perhaps potential employers value.

Third, get a portfolio going. You don't need much to show potential employers, but its better if its real experience. Perhaps you can contact some local non-profits and see if they can utilize any of your skills for a few hours a week. Sometimes it's hard to get motivated to get going when you're the only one keeping yourself accountable. Get some other stakeholders involved, that may force you to be diligent.

Start looking for other jobs and getting interviews now. You're going to bomb a couple, that's pretty normal. I find that it takes a bit to get back into the groove of doing interviews if you haven't had to do them for a while.
posted by bhamrick at 1:33 PM on November 16, 2010

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