End of the road...oh no, more road.
January 25, 2013 9:11 AM   Subscribe

How do I stop sabotaging my own plans to leave a badly fitting job?

I joined a corporate organisation in 2008 because I wanted to pay off debt and save. I'd previously been a contractor in cultural institutions/non-profits and the adjustment period was really hard but I stuck it out to avoid being a flake and promised myself I'd move on soon.

2.5 years ago I was promoted to manager and although the first year was an interesting challenge I've been unhappy for pretty much the entire time since. I do like my colleagues but I'm uncomfortable managing people who were previously team mates. I also have next to no interest in the industry my job supports and the vast majority of my work revolves around the endless re-specification of a sprawling org-wide IT infrastructure project that my team has a small stake in, at the cost of the actual front end work we're supposed to be concentrating on. Churn (outside of my team) is high, restructures happen almost on a six monthly basis and I feel utterly burnt out.

So quit right? Except I can't seem to do it.

I tried the 'get a new job first' route. In April last year I applied for and was offered a similar gig that paid much more, but I turned it down as the company felt 'too corporate'. In September I again applied for and was offered a similar type of job but back in the kind of creative institution I would have given my right arm to work at 5 years ago. I actually got as far as accepting the job and handing in my notice - only to rescind a week later out of panic that I'd oversold myself and the role would be beyond me. I think I'm really just afraid of finding myself back in this position if I take any job I appear to be qualified for.

I applied for lots of less senior posts too but didn't get short-listed for interview. I even toned down my application for an internship at a big museum that had previously offered me a job back when I was contracting but didn't get so much as an acknowledgement. Having hired people to work in my own team I know how weird it is to get senior people applying for junior posts.

I'm now feeling so disenfranchised I want to cry constantly. The sheer effort of maintaining this veneer of caring about the work we do has worn me out. I feel like a terrible, horrible person for effectively lying to colleagues (of whom I'm generally very fond) for over five years. I feel I took a wrong turn at a critical junction five years ago and it's too late to go back. I'm 37 and seemingly too senior now for most front line production work back in my old sector but I don't have the confidence or practical chops to take on a management role there either. I can't access how I really feel about any of this any more and I feel like I'm barely alive.

Originally I'd promised myself that I'd only stick out the job until debts were paid and a specific amount was saved. I've built up three times that original sum and long since paid of that debt, with another six-months emergency fund on the side, yet every time a (self-imposed) deadline to quit comes up it slides past. I have no dependants and my job has a three month notice period so it's not like I'd be in penury in two weeks if I did quit but still I can't bring myself to do it.

I saw a therapist for nearly a year to help me move on, but all that seemed to happen was I talked my self even harder into staying. I have no idea what to do any more - I feel I have no skills other than pretending really effectively. I cry at the thought of Monday mornings and coming back after Christmas was so awful I actually called in sick for three days. I feel irritable and angry a lot of the time.

What the hell is wrong with me? How do I stop sabotaging my own plans? Has anyone else been through this? What did you do to make yourself move on?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (5 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
First of all, you don't hate your job, you're just indifferent to it. Welcome to the world. To paraphrase Amy from Futurama, "We ALL feel like that ALL the time."

It sounds to me that you've bought into the myth of My Job Must MEAN Something. To that I say, TTTHHHTTBT.

Your job sounds like a great opportunity to make you finanically secure and even wealthy. Good for you!

So, can you do things outside of work that will stoke your fire? Get involved in non-profit things you enjoy. Docet at museums, join a club, etc. Perhaps re-immersing yourself in that milieu will help you bridge whatever the gap is that you think is keeping your from moving on.

Or, more likely, you'll realize that the jobs you've been idealizing have their drawbacks. Funding, politics, inept management and incredibly low pay can be as demoralizing as working for a soulless corporation.

I suggest trying to bloom where you're planted. Find things about your job that you enjoy. Perhaps it's the feeling that you're accomplishing something, or that you're helping someone out.

Trust me, I don't derrive pleasure from building spreadsheets, but I do enjoy the mental challenge, learning new tricks and providing my management team with some darn good data.

Since you've built up some dough, see if you can take a sabbatical, or at least a long vacation. Go out and do things. Trek through Europe, build for Habitiat for Humanity, whatever lights your fire.

Recharge your batteries. THEN decide how you want to proceed.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:21 AM on January 25, 2013 [3 favorites]

Maybe a different therapist? Because if you actually HAD another job offer that you accepted and were excited about, but then backed out because you were scared -- not for any objective reason but because you worried that your new job would eventually end up sucking just as much as your old job -- I think you need to work through that. Maybe therapist #1 just wasn't the right person to help you do that.
posted by chickenmagazine at 9:24 AM on January 25, 2013 [4 favorites]

Ruthless - while a sabbatical is indeed a good idea, I think that if the OP is at a point where she is literally CRYING every Monday morning, then this is an issue a little bit beyond "I'm disappointed that my job doesn't mean something." I'm going through some similar job dissatisfaction right now for similar reasons and lemme tell you, IT SUCKS.

That said: I agree with the sabbatical idea, or anything that would get you away from that place for a more extended period of time. I was gearing up to a job change before Christmas, but right before Christmas I started thinking "eh, maybe this isn't so bad...." then went away for a two-week Christmas-into-new-years break and did some traveling and basically got back in touch with ME again, and went back to thinking "wait, what am I thinking, the job sucks and I need out."

I think taking some time to just not be in That Place to remind yourself what Not Being In That Place feels like and to remind yourself what Being You feels like may help renew a sense of "Oh, yeah, I like the feeling of Not Being Here. I need to get that all the time." And that may help you with some strength.

Good luck.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:54 AM on January 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

I would suggest a different therapist, yeah. You obviously have some x-factor that has caused you to get two significant job offers, but you've got a strong internal impostor syndrome thing going on that's causing you turn them down.

I think you perceive yourself as way less talented than you are, because the outside world is convinced of your talents.

Perhaps consider consulting/freelancing for a while if possible? Try to line up a client so you won't feel like you're quitting your job (and thus causing you to panic) without something else lined up, but take some time for yourself. "Another six-month emergency supply" on the side implies you have at least a year's worth of a nest-egg built up and paid off your debt. Take the plunge and just quit, but with a freelancing client as a parachute to hopefully lessen your panic, if you're in the position to consult.
posted by ndfine at 10:09 AM on January 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

You can take the new job which might suck or you can stay in your job which is sure to suck in exactly the same way it does today.

One thing I've learned in reading the green is that nearly everyone worries that they'll struggle at a new job or promotion or task. Professional performance anxiety comes up here regularly enough that I'm starting to think that we're all just faking it and doing our best.

The difference between your situation and the situation of others is that fear is hampering your ability to make choices. That indicates to me that there may be some professional or pharmaceutical help needed to deal with these fears and anxiety. Trying a new therapist or doctor is warranted here.
posted by 26.2 at 4:51 PM on January 25, 2013

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