Need advice on my personal life affecting my career.
January 21, 2013 7:47 AM   Subscribe

I am currently undergoing a career crisis and I need some wisdom, blunt feedback, and strategies for going forward.


I am in the U.S. and female. I have a doctorate in a biomedical science and left academia around a decade ago to join a private company that provides biomedical products to the healthcare industry. I was the first employee of the company and worked fairly tirelessly for my male CEO (married with kids) until I married about five years ago, at which time I gradually adopted a more family-friendly schedule of around 50 hours a week with “normal” hours, to no complaints. I was placed in the main leadership position in my company and did not flourish as such. I am not a natural leader and was uncomfortable to the point of being miserable. I do believe one needs to go beyond one’s comfort zone to grow, but this was beyond my ken completely and I had a very hard time of it. I do believe this was my boss’s version of a vote of confidence in me, but though our current corporate team is small, the politics absolutely derailed me and I had a very hard time of it. Nothing bad happened and we got work done, and I have the support of my team – it was more that I am just not a natural at captaining the ship and had a hard time managing the strong personalities on my team. I do know that they support me and care about me, however. I just don’t like to be center-stage.

Current Situation:

Unfortunately, the man I married likely had narcissistic personality disorder. Beginning five years ago when we married, he slowly began eroding my self-esteem, refused intimacy with me, and I eventually found out he was seeing prostitutes – many, many prostitutes. It came to a head during the past summer and he was physically violent and my attorney and therapist told me to get out of the house immediately. My friends all helped me move within a single day while he was out. I moved into a gated community. It was extremely traumatic and though I have my wonderful pets and they are safe, I lost a lot of my “stuff” and had to start over with furniture, etc., at the age of 40.

I had been close-ish to my CEO and his wife for the past 10 years and scheduled a call with both of them and told them what happened and let them know what my plans were going forward. It happened during a week I had long-scheduled vacation time, so work was not an issue. However, the past six months have been VERY difficult for me, due to the lingering trauma of the abuse and the ongoing divorce process, wherein my ex has been not surprisingly very difficult, though I have not seen or spoken to him since he beat me and left the premises (after which I moved out). I have NOT been reliable at my job. There have been several days where I took PTO at the last minute and I have been less engaged than ever before. I have not been a stellar employee and I recognize that.

I just had my review and I feel that my boss was punishing me – though I am not sure if it is justified and would like some help unpacking it. He was extremely critical of my somewhat erratic behavior – though I accomplished a lot in the latter half of the year, it wasn’t acknowledged. He expressed his dismay at being personally hurt by my behavior – he felt that I had confided in others, but not him. I am very close to a female colleague who has helped me enormously through this time and he indicated hurt regarding that relationship. He cried and I cried. I ended up telling him I felt ashamed that I had married such a person and I never meant to perform poorly, and he expressed his disappointment that I “let the guy win” by sabotaging my job. It was truly awful. Overall, I felt it was very personal, not professional, and that his ego was at issue. N.B. He has never, ever made a pass at me or indicated interest in that way, though I have often felt there was an undercurrent of…something. I don’t know if he wants to be my father or my lover. He is a decade older, if that’s relevant.

He offered me another position – mutually agreed upon several months ago – but at a reduced salary I found unacceptable, and told him the compensation was not reasonable for me. He agreed to review it. I do believe that this new position would be a better fit, but I’m concerned that things are so crazy and off the rails here that I should find another job STAT. The rest of the team at HQ is miserable and unhappy and we all feel like we work in crazytown - before my insane review.

I do admit I have been an unsatisfactory, undependable employee the last six months. I do feel that building the company with my CEO for the last ten years should give me something…? My question is, what are your thoughts on this? My friends who work in Big Corporate experienced the similar productivity reductions after divorces or other life-altering events but were more “invisible” and not punished.

My other questions:
• Really any advice on how to perceive this situation and redeem myself. I am okay with tough love and need to see it objectively, if possible.
• I have no ties here and can sell my property easily. I have always wanted to live in Ireland or GB. How does an American get a job overseas when their company is not international? Any advice?
• What else am I not seeing or considering?

Thank you for reading. I have found that life is NEVER what you think it will be and planning is often quite futile. I want to make the best of this new opportunity in any way I can, despite the pain and fear involved.

You can contact me at destroyedmycareer at gmail dot com.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (17 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I don't think you need tough love. I think you have behaved as could be expected for the challenges you've been through, and I don't think that you have destroyed your career at all. You should get credit for being a great employee for many years and should not be judged so harshly based on what happened in the past few months. Your boss made this personal because he has some sort of feelings for you outside of your work roles.

I am just paraphrasing what you've already said, because I agree with you. I think you're perceptive and I think you can do what you like with the job. They're not offering you what you want and it sounds like you've gone as far as you can go at this company. Leaving sounds like a good option. Best of luck and don't be too hard on yourself.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 8:06 AM on January 21, 2013 [9 favorites]

I think you should immediately stop giving any signals that you are leaving the company, want to leave, are ok with being demoted, any of those things. Your boss is a nut job but you have invested too much in this to be chased off unless you are really really REALLY sure that is what's best for you.

I am super proud of you for not accepting the low salary! I think a lot of people in the confused, sad, guilty state you're in would have fallen for it. You should be proud of yourself.

Your review was COMPLETELY INSANE. A manager crying throughout the review because the employee shared personal secrets with someone else? Are you kidding me? He's the one who should be considering self-demotion.

Listen, everyone is completely f'd up for months and months after a divorce, even without the complicating factors of abuse and having to lose your stuff (which, also, what? Why? Have you even gone to court? Why should you have lost all your stuff? Has the judge signed off on that?)

With regard to the agreed-upon lower position: I don't know. On the one hand, I believe strongly in not making major decisions in the wake of trauma, just because the decision factors are likely to be wack. On the other, you agreed to it a while ago (but I'm not clear when this was in relation to your divorce.) Whatever you do, don't agree to that low salary. And whatever you do, do not acknowledge to your boss or anyone at your company that you might be looking elsewhere. Don't give him (and they will tell him) any fodder for his bizarro patronizing blaming behavior. And don't jump ship out of embarrassment. He's the one who should be embarrassed.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:07 AM on January 21, 2013 [21 favorites]

First of all, you didn't destroy your career. You had a shitty year. It happens and you're doing an amazing job of recovering.

I had to sell a house and move because of a very similar dynamic with my boss. There was an under-current of something, but it got very weird and uncomfortable. I never regretted transferring to another gig.

Start networking and getting your resume out there. Apply for positions that you believe would be a good fit. If you have specialized experience, you won't have too hard a time finding a position.

I like recommending positions with the Federal Government. There are 8 jobs open right now for someone with a Phd in Biomedical Sciences.

You can find companies overseas in countries you're interested in working in, and if you're a rare enough commodity, they'll hire you, even if they have to sponsor you.

Your self-esteem took a beating, but your boss is being an ass. Given everything you've been through in the past year, it's a miracle you didn't have a nervous breakdown and curl up into a ball in the corner.

Keep working where you are until you get another job, then fly out of there and don't look back!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:11 AM on January 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

Nthing that it is extremely unprofessional to bring up his personal feelings regarding what you may or may not have shared with him about your situation during your review. Your relationship with this man seems complicated -- whether this complexity is one or two sided -- and I am sure there is some context we are missing.

It may be that you need to get out of this dynamic with your boss but I agree with fingersandtoes that you should hunker down for now until you are in a state to think about your situation more clearly. Consider honing the resume and thinking about what you might do / where you might go if you decide to leave, however. It always pays to be prepared.
posted by rocketpup at 8:15 AM on January 21, 2013

Get a recomendation for an employment attorney and have a consultation.

Everything fingersandtoes said.

This is nuts and your barometer is WAY off. Your work is more valuable than you think, your employer is more NUTZ than you think.

Talk to professional and get some opinions on your next move.
posted by jbenben at 8:17 AM on January 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

Glaxo Smith Klein is looking for someone with these qualifications in London:

Health Outcomes Consultant
GlaxoSmithKline - Southern England (Twickenham, United Kingdom)

Preferred qualifications:

Relevant higher level specific qualifications e.g. MSc / PhD Health Economics/Public Health/Epidemiology/Statistics

It's listed on LinkedIn in the United Kingdom.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:23 AM on January 21, 2013

You were absolutely correct to refuse the salary cut. I was in a similar situation, to the point of needing a post-it next to the phone on my desk that said, "No crying at the desk!" My manager and coworkers gave me some extra leeway on needing time away from the office for several months because, like you, I had built a solid reputation as a dedicated employee for many years. Your productivity will return as you work through this traumatic situation, and if you can negotiate the salary for the other position perhaps it will give you a positive distraction.

Look into the details of living abroad as a future plan, but don't rush into anything for at least a year or so. It really does take that long for you to come back into " yourself."
posted by notaninja at 8:25 AM on January 21, 2013

Oops! I'm not saying you should sue anyone. Sorry if I conveyed that.

I can't tell where the boundaries are in this situation, but an attorney will know. You need to know these!

I can't tell what your opportunities or options for compensation are, but an attorney or similar will know.
posted by jbenben at 8:26 AM on January 21, 2013

Do not make any drastic moves in the wake of this. The first employee at a growing company, who has been there for 10 years and occupies a senior position, should have far more leeway than you're being given and be treated more professionally. The lack of such is a reflection of the creepiness of your boss - your instincts there are not wrong. His behaviour with respect to that review was not right.

I do think you should consider moving on, once your personal situation has stabilized. If you do not want to be a manager, there surely would be senior scientist positions available to you elsewhere in a larger pharma or biomed company. You may in fact need to accept a pay cut for that move, as not being a manager means you're further down the chain, but I would only do so in a move that otherwise is beneficial for you personally. Doing so at your current company is not the way to go. You need to get out of there. You should look at big pharma companies that have a presence in the US but that are also big or HQ'd overseas. For immigration purposes it may be easier for them to hire you here and then ship you over there at some point down the line.
posted by marylynn at 9:33 AM on January 21, 2013 [5 favorites]

Yes, I should have clarified - I'm totally all for getting your ducks in a row to make a fresh start somewhere. Just don't make sudden moves out until your ducks ARE in a row and you have given yourself enough time to objectively weigh all your options, and don't let anyone force your hand, including crazypants boss or more junior co-workers whose situation is not the same as yours.
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:13 AM on January 21, 2013

a private company that provides biomedical products to the healthcare industry

There are several of these in Ireland, especially in the west: Cork and Galway, which is a lovely place to live. They are mostly US owned forms and with your experience this is entirely do-able and the company will take care of the residency paperwork. Call and ask HR today! Give yourself something to look forward to and work on that is entirely about making yourself happy for now.
posted by fshgrl at 10:16 AM on January 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

My friends who work in Big Corporate experienced the similar productivity reductions after divorces or other life-altering events but were more “invisible” and not punished.

Exactly. Your boss was unsympathetic. Worse, he was WAY across the line between professional complaints and personal complaints. Whom you confide in has nothing to do with your professional performance. He should be helping you find ways to perform at your best during this difficult time (e.g., go down to 80% time so you have more time to deal with attorneys).

he expressed his disappointment that I “let the guy win” by sabotaging my job

Wow, this is super screwed up. That's across the line, too. He can talk about your behavior -- "we need to be able to depend that you'll be here by 10 am every day. You came in late 3 days last week. That's a problem. Things can't continue like that." But he's saying way too much and being way too judgy about you. If he wants you to be there by 10 am, or to adopt some other behavioral change, okay. Beyond that, it's none of his business.

Some of what he's saying sounds awfully critical, blaming, and punitive. Not to get all Psych 101 on you, but is there some kind of minor narcissistic abuser dynamic with him too? Is his real problem with you that you've started focusing on your own well-being instead of making him / the company Priorities # 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 in your life?

Good luck. I hope you can find a good next workplace.
posted by salvia at 10:32 AM on January 21, 2013 [4 favorites]

Agree with salvia. This sounds like a weird dynamic, and a great time for you to look for an amazing new job in the UK or Ireland! I'd focus your attention on that (updating resume, searching on LinkedIn, networking, etc.) and not on this weird situation.
posted by 3491again at 12:03 PM on January 21, 2013

As fingersandtoes above noted, one of the most important bits of this Ask is The Review. It would be worth loads to you -- and to us, in the accuracy of our responses here, absolutely to your work with any future therapist -- to have a copy of that review on tape. Shadings, inflections of tone and/or volume of either or both of you in that review -- as best I can see it, if there is any tough love to be given you in response to your Ask, it's in suggesting you ask yourself if you've read both yourself and your boss accurately. You've been pounded into the dirt, both professionally (continuing in a management role when ill-suited, that's just pure hell, and I know it from the inside, I've done it also) and so obviously in your personal life, broken down and beaten in your marriage. Being beaten down as you have, it'd be amazing to me if you're not seeing anything said to you -- and/or anything you might say to others, or yourself -- as negative, as hateful, as denigrating. I'm lucky enough to have a sortof mentor in my life, and anytime I tell him that Melvin thinks I'm A Big Fat Jerk or Myrtle is looking at me with eyes of abject contempt, he reminds me how often I've misread this scenario or that situation, and that Melvin and/or Myrtle might think I'm really just swell.

So there's that.

As I read your Ask, I just was saddened as hell. We can't take it on for each other, either, even if/when we'd want to -- I know for a fact that everyone reading this Ask would want to take some of your pain, would be willing to take it on, even if just for an hour, to give you some release, respite, surcease the damn ache that you're living just now. Life can be such a fucker -- you're right, too, dead on target in stating that life is NEVER what we think it will be and planning is often quite futile. You didn't plan on stepping into a land-mine marriage, I'd bet if we saw your wedding day photos, neither you nor your soon-to-be-ex hadn't a clue what was coming, I'm sure it was a joyous day. You may find -- tens years time, some future therapists office -- you may find that you had clues what might happen in that marriage, small red flags waving, maybe even waving urgently, or maybe even big red flags waving urgently, but we just can't know what those damn flags mean until later, and while we'll never walk that particular road again, it sure wasn't our fault we didn't know the symbols of the flags, not just yet.

Meanwhile, back here on the ranch, life is moving as it will, and you're in it, wondering wtf. I'm so happy for you -- I want to say proud of you but that's not exactly right, maybe a combo of happy for you and proud of you -- I'm so happy that you said "Um, nope." when less money was thrown in front of you. THAT was a dick move, on his part -- wtf. But not you, you didn't roll. You're strong. You've got guts, at core level. I mean, I really just love that. Every one of us here wants to buy you a hat. Wants to sit with you and be happy about that with you, and tell you about it, tell you that you just flat rock. Because you do.

Furniture? Stuff? Who gives a rats ass. Let it go. Far more afoot here than a damn couch or pan. There's couches and pans all over the place. China churms out couches and pans out @ fourteen bucks a pop anymore, let it go. If there any paintings involved or other art and/or anything really close of yours -- a sweater your grandmother knit you, a painting of yours that really nails who you were in college -- that sort of thing is worth grieving, but worth the price if it gets you away from that sickened marriage. Plus I'm betting you got anything you really cared about on the day you waved him goodbye. I hope so.

New job? My take -- and you did ask me, so there -- stay there until some of the aftershocks in your life quit trembling you. You may find that this new gig is so much a better fit -- sure looks to me that it is. Your ego is going to be hurt maybe but I say let your ego be hurt, ego is a totally annoying bastard any-old-ways and here's a big chance to thumb your nose at it when it tries to poke you in the eye. Which it will, particularly w/r/t your co-workers, who used to be your reports. I've a friend here in town who was "demoted" autumn last year, and took it hard -- for about twelve minutes, until she opened her eyes and saw that all of her reports now were someone elses problem/responsibility, plus she was making the exact same money she was before. Truth be told, it was a promotion, though hierarchically it was A Bad Thing on the org chart. Screw the org chart. Go to work and do your work.

Your boss, that whole thing will settle down as the aftershocks of everything else settle. Of course he's a big fat mess and acts weird -- he's a human being, same as the rest of us. (Take a look at a dog, you'll never see a dog needing to dress up in scuba gear to have an intense orgasm, it's people that are nuts.) Who knows what was going through his mind, probably not him, maybe him least/last of all. I don't see -- I can't see -- how he could not love you and no, I'm not talking about scuba gear love but rather just plain old non-fat yogurt type human love, same as anyone would have for anyone else who has worked with them in the trenches side by side, and made their company prosper, thus given them the money to pay the orthodontist for their kids etc. Who knows why he was crying, maybe a combo of yogurt love and sadness for the hell of your marriage and maybe he can't stand the woman you've confided in and yeah, could be he's jealous of that, too, in either a scuba or yogurt way. No way of knowing, not now anyways. Maybe he had gas? No way of knowing, and likely he's aghast about it all, too, probably thinking back on that review of yours he poises a razor over his wrist.

Just let me whole job thing ride, is all, at least six months, be cossetted there, rest in what you've built, which is huge.

Last. I've seen this time and again, where people getting out of truly horrific relationships have the worst time letting go of them, and then feel stupid, and guillty about why should they be so torn and lost over leaving this horror-show. Here's the news: In these broken, sickened relationships, there is an intimacy that is unbelievable. Because you have shown each other pieces of yourselves that are rarely shown to others, very rarely seen in the course of the everyday. He's unmasked to you his rage, he's shown you the face of his guts where they stink from rot. And you've shown him your face, letting him see you totally humbled, staying, holding there even in the face of his raging and violence. It's not a healthy intimacy but it is a remarkably intense intimacy. With your husband you've shared an intense human situation. Yes, of course it's broken humanity, but it's damn sure humanity. It's this intimacy that holds people, binds them, gets them to stay. It's why it's easier to leave a healthy relationship than a sick one. I don't know if this is the case for you and for him but I felt/feel bound to say it here; I've just seen it so much over the years, and seen the confusion wrought by it.

I wish you the best, totally. Good things are coming your way, brighter days. If I could I'd tell you face to face, buy you a coffee and hash it out; this is close as I can do to that.

Good luck.
posted by dancestoblue at 12:24 PM on January 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'd hold off on relocating to other countries, especially if you don't already have established support systems there. It's quite tempting to just up and leave all of your problems, but you won't be able to leave your feelings, and you may find yourself feeling even more alone. If you're dead set on moving, you'll need to find a job that qualifies to sponsor you for a visa. It will have had to have been advertised in that country and the EU and you may have to prove that you have qualifications that no other EU applicant has. If I were you, and I were wanting to move, I'd stay in the same country but pick somewhere I hadn't been yet. I've discovered that, for me, Europe is a place to vacation, not to live.

I don't think you need tough love; I think you need to be more understanding with yourself. It's not your fault that your partner turned out to be a piece of shit. That's on him. You got out of there and proved you're a survivor.

As for the work problem, go easy on yourself there, too. We've all been less than stellar at our jobs before--and some of us don't even have legitimate hardships to blame. Forget about your boss and his (at best) emotional manipulation and (at worst) emotional blackmail. You need to focus on your own needs; he certainly is.
posted by fruitopia at 12:36 PM on January 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

Career strategy only

You were promoted from a technical position up to a manager position and it did not go well. They want to demote you.

So now you are officially burned at that company. You can't go back and rejoin the technical team (take a lesser position at lower pay). From everything I have observed in life, that would be an untenable situation for yourself and for others. For starters, the next manager won't want you around. And even if you are totally supportive, you will still inadvertently split the unity of the team and be up to your neck in politics. You can't unring that bell.

I would advise that you start looking for a technical position with a new employer. Play up the angle that you realized you love the technical side of things. They will understand and give you the baggage-free chance that would not be possible with your current employer.

In the meantime, continue as manager as best you can until you are terminated or otherwise paid to leave. If forced into the demotion, refuse to accept it. They can fire you or you can offer your resignation. Don't accept the demotion, though. It is better to make a clean break.
posted by 99percentfake at 1:32 PM on January 21, 2013 [4 favorites]

Lots of great advice, and six months do not a screwed-up career make. You are self-aware enough to know what great work looks like, and even under the extreme circumstances you've endured you can recognize what being 'off your game' looks like to your credit.

A crazy review from a supervisor with something there isn't unusual either. Nthing what fingersandtoes said above - and no hasty decisions either. If you can negotiate something acceptable with the change in responsibilities, great - and in the meantime put together a plan to be the ideal employee now, while you look for what great opportunity comes next.

As employee number 1 for a startup that has survived and grown for 10 years is really something that few people can claim, and you have a great foundation to build on. Don't let the past six months define you - let the past 10 years do it for you.

About finding a job abroad (here's one about relocating to Sinapore) is vastly complicated by the fact that many places allow for tourist visits, and obtaining a work visa and associated permits is exceedingly complex. I don't have knowledge about the UK and Ireland, and would recommend a visit there before you make sure you want to work so far from all that's familiar. (This is from someone who works in a Big Corporate biomedical company making products for research and healthcare who worked abroad for two years.)

I think what you've written demonstrates that you are very well-positioned to recover very nicely from this, in your self-awareness that life isn't what you planned it to be, and that you want to make the best of it.

How to redeem yourself? Hold yourself together through this tough time, refuse the demotion, work on getting a technical role in a new environment, and no rash decisions on living in another country for a little while yet. And somehow get to work on getting over what you've been through in your personal life, difficult though that is.
posted by scooterdog at 2:10 PM on January 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

« Older A smaller car with great gas mileage?   |   Should I make my car a smart car? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.