how to cope with starting a new job that I don't want?
August 25, 2013 10:21 PM   Subscribe

I love my part-time job, but it doesn't pay the bills. In order for it to become a full-time job that pays the bills, I have to go back to school and get a master's (library science - yay for very little career opportunities!). In order to go back to school, I need to get a full time job and earn some money to pay for school. I just accepted a full time office assistant position in a law firm. I'm not excited at all. Help!

I've been severely underemployed for over a year now. My library is tiny - they'd love to bring me on full time with more pay, but can't afford to. I would really like to get my MLIS and struggle to find work in a bigger library so I can actually make ends meet and eventually do what I like, but, being broke and a little bit in debt (around $10k between credit card debt and student loans), so I don't think it would be responsible to go back to school right now, even though I REALLY want to.

So, I've been looking for other work. I got a job offer yesterday and accepted the position today, via email. I am supposed to give my two weeks notice tomorrow. (I'm not looking forward to this.)

-It's full-time - I'll be making more than I've ever made, but still not a huge amount.
-I don't really care for the person I'll be working for - he's nice-ish, but seems to be very abrupt, a bit harsh, and has already shown himself to be a bit patronizing. He'll probably be fine.
-His wife and co-owner seems very nice and I'd rather work for her, but she has her own assistant.
-The style of dress is much more formal than I've had before, I'll likely need to buy a new wardrobe since I lean toward the quirky and that won't fly.
-Because of the economy, my less than stellar employment record (not entirely my fault!), and whatnot, I feel like unless it is completely horrific, I'm stuck here for a while.
-I feel like an ass because I know the economy sucks, I'm trying to be grateful but struggling with it a lot
-I want to be excited and like it! I know in my brain that it probably will be fine, but I can't get my gut/heart/crazy anxious stomach to get onboard.

So, the question: How do I quell these anxieties for the next two weeks before I start? I really do need this job and I'm trying to be a grown up about it (I'm 25 ferchristssake!), but my I want to cry and my stomach is getting all anxious and upset every time I think about it. I would accept anecdotes about your own experiences, meditation advice, tips, tricks, anything you might have to offer!

Thanks, mefi! I know you will come through, as always.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (16 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
A lot of what we find is wonderful in new situations, isn't so because it's obviously wonderful (or merely okay), it's so because we're open to it being so. Very little in the world lives up to our youthful expectations. The happy adults tend to be those who are willing to give new things a try and enjoy them for everything enjoyable they offer.

In other words, your new job will have good parts that you don't see now or expect, and your anxiety is almost certainly driven by expectations that aren't likely to be very accurate unless you fit everything you experience into those expectations. So don't cram everything into those expectations. Show up, be ready for it to be better than you expect, and the odds are pretty good it will be.
posted by fatbird at 10:32 PM on August 25, 2013

-I don't really care for the person I'll be working for - he's nice-ish, but seems to be very abrupt, a bit harsh, and has already shown himself to be a bit patronizing. He'll probably be fine.

I know this isn't what you want to hear, but I think you should keep looking. Small law firms are notoriously horrible places to work. And the fact that your employee is only "nice-ish" before you've started there really doesn't bode well; he's in his best behavior and you already think he's an asshole. For your own sanity, keep looking.
posted by Unified Theory at 10:36 PM on August 25, 2013 [6 favorites]

a thought for you: if you take Unified Theory's advice and keep looking, keep in mind that some large law firms keep their own libraries and have someone run them. That could be a good job for you to get more experience in your field.
posted by mirileh at 11:02 PM on August 25, 2013 [5 favorites]

I am a law librarian. I think this could be a good springboard for you to eventually get a job in a law library (firm, or public, or possibly even academic). If you are hoping to get a full time job in any library your chances will be better once you're in an MLS program, because even for paraprofessional jobs you'll be competing with everyone else currently in library school and even tons of people who have graduated. The law librarian job market is as not-great as any other kind of librarian, but the plus side is it's one of the library specialties that pays the most. I think you're on the track to be hesitant about taking on grad school debt without a better paying job. Also, you might not need to go crazy with a whole new wardrobe. In my twenties I dressed... interestingly and never had an issue at the big law firms I've worked in. As long as it's appropriate and not too revealing you might be fine. The big rules where I've worked is no t-shirts/shorts/sandals/halter tops.
posted by banjo_and_the_pork at 2:38 AM on August 26, 2013 [5 favorites]

A couple points: For good and ill, people can seem one way during an interview process and come across differently once the job starts.

With the wardrobe, thrift stores are your friend. I know a few women and a man or two who've said they get the most compliments for clothes they found in thrift stores for laughably cheap prices.

I used to work with a woman who'd regularly come in looking stylish and office-appropriate, comment that the dress or skirt and blouse or pants and sweater cost a total of $13.

Less specifically, a not-great job for a couple years or so ain't so bad.
posted by ambient2 at 4:59 AM on August 26, 2013

How to survive a job you hate.
posted by jeather at 5:07 AM on August 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

Can you afford not to take this job? If so, I'd keep looking, and maybe try to find something that will allow you to stay at your library job. Every single time I've ignored red flags and worked just for the money, I've wound up regretting it.
posted by snickerdoodle at 5:29 AM on August 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Why are you anticipating that this job won't be fun? It could very well end up being awesome!

You bring 90% of how enjoyable your job is to work with you.

First of all, you can get professional clothing very inexpensively. Shit, go to Macy's they're clearance is stupid. Get some black pants and some nice blouses and one nice pair of shoes. You probably won't break $100. (ask for coupons.)

Now, you haven't met all the folks you'll work with, one of them may be a riot. You may find your best friend at work. I did. I thought my job was terrible, but Donna and I powered through our days together and sat up at night talking about our dysfunctional workplace. I still remember it as one of the happiest times of my life.

Think about all the cool stuff you're going to be learning. You may end up really liking the work.

In short, stop feeling sorry for yourself that you are one of the approximately bazillion people who doesn't get to do their dream job. Instead, think about how lucky you are to have landed a well-paying gig!

The other thing to realize is, nothing is permanant. You may be moving onto bigger and better in a couple of years.

I suggest that you blog about your experiences. Start now. Each day write an entry about preparing for this job. You clothing shopping trips. Your concerns. Continue to blog daily. I think when you look back on it in six months, you'll be pleasantly surprised.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:46 AM on August 26, 2013

Take it and learn stuff and make good connections. I was like you at 25 and didn't really grasp how every job is an opportunity to make connections and impressions on people that can really help you. How do you know that his awesome wife won't, for instance, recommend you to a friend? How do you know that you won't love the law? How do you know that your boss himself might not serve as a valuable reference -- you don't know who he knows.

Anecdote: a friend of mine had a temp job she hated, which required a long commute through the snow, and didn't pay much. I suggested she quit it. She correctly ignored me, stayed with it and did her best. When she eventually went to law school, the paralegal she'd worked with during that temp job recommended her to a personal friend who just happened to do the hiring for 1L summers at the world's most famous tech company, and ever since then white shoe firms have been lining up to try to hire her, thinking that she'll bring her tech company connection with her as a client. Her way into biglaw was thrown open and roses strewn at her feet, basically, because of this connection she made as a clerking temp.

Moral: don't think short term. Think about what you can learn and who you can meet.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:58 AM on August 26, 2013 [4 favorites]

nice-ish, but seems to be very abrupt, a bit harsh, and has already shown himself to be a bit patronizing.

This is how lots of lawyers are.

Small law firms are notoriously horrible places to work. And the fact that your employee is only "nice-ish" before you've started there really doesn't bode well; he's in his best behavior and you already think he's an asshole.

Big firms are also notoriously horrible places to work. I repeat, this is how lots of lawyers are.

This particular lawyer could be worse than others, or not as bad as he seems. Same goes for the firm. We don't know yet. But dealing with this type of person sort of goes with the territory. You may find that it doesn't rankle so much once you adjust, or you may find it intolerable. I've seen it shake out both ways. (Both with new staff members and new attorneys.)
posted by snuffleupagus at 8:21 AM on August 26, 2013

Of course you're apprehensive! You're walking away for a job at an organisation you know and love (but one that can't offer you the opportunities you need) to strike out on the path to Where You Want To Be.

Change is scary. Growth is sometimes uncomfortable. Last year I left a job that really wasn't working out to take a dream role. And I couldn't get over how sad and anxious and fretful I was about leaving the familiarity of my old job (I mean, it upset me more that ending a relationship and moving cities for said new role. Weird, huh?)

And yes, lawyers can sometimes be abrupt and a bit patronising, and they operate in a very particular way that can take some getting used to (record keeping! billing! disclosure!) but honestly? I've worked with lawyers in every job I've ever had (policy/ PR) and am currently enrolled in law school (studying avery specific area of law) and the main issues I've had have been professional differences over which approach to take on a project (i.e. legalistic or negotiation/ PR campaign) not personal differences. Heck, some of my best friends are lawyers! Every profession has its quirks. You'll be fine.
posted by rockpaperdynamite at 8:54 AM on August 26, 2013

Of course you're freaked! You're leaving a place you love and moving to something unknown.
It's a really good idea to stay open to loving this new job, and when you catch yourself thinking something negative think of a positive - even if that's just keeping your eyes on the prize, which is that this job is going to help you get where you eventually want to be (although you could love this job so much you end up changing your mind, which is okay too!).
I started at a small law firm as a law clerk. Partner 1 was pretty great in my interview, and partner 2 seemed like a jerk. It was not long before I realized I'd completely reversed it, the jerk was great and the nice guy was not so nice. I wish I had taken the advice above and used it as a better opportunity to make and keep good connections.
Story 2-
I can be abrupt and harsh, and yes a little patronizing sometimes (I'm not your new boss though, promise!). I'm also an amazing boss - I go out of my way to teach, care about the people around me, and will fiercely go to bat for someone who works hard and wants to try to do a good job and has my back. So you just don't know - just put forth your best and most positive effort and if you need to keep reminding yourself that this job is helping you get to where you want to get!
posted by KAS at 9:36 AM on August 26, 2013

I agree with fingersandtoes: don't think short term. Think about what you can learn and who you can meet.

Also, try not to think "I'm going to hate this job"--try to think "I don't know what to expect". Don't think "I've made a terrible mistake", try to think "this is part of the process of getting where I want to be." Only the exceptionally lucky and privileged walk right into where they want to be without going through less great situations or lots of hard work first.

Although the atmosphere in many [small] law offices is toxic, it's by no means a universal truth and many [small] law offices are no better or worse than any office environment: good with the bad; some employees you like better than others; some tasks you'd rather do than others.

Things you need to do to survive small law firms, whether toxic or not:
--leave the office on your lunch break more days than not. Whether you bring or buy your lunch, whether you just walk around the block, whether you just find a nearby bench to read a magazine on, you have to get in the habit of not staying the office all day long.
--don't engage in office gossip, ever. Never never make it clear you have a negative opinion of the office or a particular person in it unless you already have your exit plan (and acceptance letter) in hand. It is far better in a toxic law office to be seen as stand-offish than to be seen as part of the back-biting. It is notably better in a non-toxic law office to be seen as professional rather than gossipy. Practice non-judgmental deflection of office gossip, but be sure to engage in friendly conversation (how was your weekend? oh, I saw new movie. How exciting you must be about your wedding plans! Yes, I saw the pic of Jane's new grandson. Gosh, I wish the weather would get better)
--honestly thank/praise any staff member who helps you with a problem or something you don't know how to do.
--ASK QUESTIONS. When the brusque attorney gives you a task, with insufficient instruction, don't be intimidated. Say "I am unfamiliar with this task. Do you have 20 minutes this afternoon to answer some questions about it? If not, who on staff should I talk to?" This was incredibly hard for me, but made a significant amount of difference (it greatly reduced my frustration; it established me as someone who was not intimidated easily; it showed I knew how to learn at work). When you are in the middle of a task and think something is going wrong, or you don't know what to do next, go to the Office Manager and say "when you have a minute, I have run into a roadblock on the billing project Mr Jones gave me and would like your help."
--take your vacation days unapologetically.
--learn and remember people's names. Engage in (non-office gossip) chitchat with people. Be positive about your firm and your goals when chatting with people. Even if the only sincere thing you can say about the firm is that it's helping you understand the legal profession, which is good because you hope to work as a law librarian down the road, say that.

If you just can't take it, if it turns out to be one of those toxic places that causes you to lose sleep, lose weight, and cry with relief when you get home, be aware that everyone in your legal community who has ever dealt with that firm knows that it is dysfunctional and toxic, even if no-one ever says it to you. Start looking for another job, being careful to stick to your one positive partyline comment about working there, but being firm that you need a new position which is better aligned with your goal of going to library school and you'll be able to jump ship. Someone who can come off as professional, level-headed and not vindictive or petty when looking to leave a toxic law firm has a leg up in interviews in the same legal community as the toxic law firm.
posted by crush-onastick at 9:48 AM on August 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

You have a goal, and a plan to reach your goal. Keep that in mind. Dealing with lawyers may be demanding, and they may not be charming to you, but they will also probably be straightforward. Be clear in your communication with your boss. Use your smarts to improve workflow, and basically do a good job. Learn as much as you can. The great thing is that you can leave it behind as soon as you're out the door. It's not Walmart, it's not the night shift at 7-11; it's a professional environment where you have an opportunity to learn while you save up for your degree.
posted by theora55 at 9:52 AM on August 26, 2013

A job like the one you have accepted is exactly what got me into librarianship in the first place.

I worked for the unpleasant partner at a small boutique law firm that did not have a library or librarian and once it became known that I had a head on my shoulders I became the de facto research person on staff. It was great experience for me (and the partner really wasn't that bad).

I spring boarded that into a position with a firm that did have a library, and worked with that librarian while I went to library school in the evenings. Now I am a research analyst in a specialized field at a well-regarded firm. I like what I do - when they aren't driving me crazy!

You may not want to stay in law (and the reasons for this are many) but this still could be a useful position to have while you think about or prepare for or attend library school. Also there are plenty of firms out there that offer financial assistance with continuing education classes that are related to your position. I definitely received financial assistance for classes from my firm. You could also look into joining the local law librarian association or the local special library association who may offer scholarships and grants for students in grad school. I was the recipient of a scholarship or two from associations like these as well.

As for dress code in law firms, staff aren't usually held to the same standard as the attorneys. Sure - it's probably better to be boring but I know plenty of people who express their creativity through their clothing who work for very respected white shoe firms and it's not a problem.

This is a good time to network like crazy and try to finagle to get your job to pay for law librarian associations in order to meet people and stay involved in the field in some way IMO.
posted by rdnnyc at 10:35 AM on August 26, 2013

Anon, if you want more details about why I paint such a gloomy picture, please MeMail me. (Especially if you can supply details about practice area, I'd be able to give better advice on coping, lifestyle for support staff, etc.)
posted by Unified Theory at 11:45 AM on August 26, 2013

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