what do I do now
August 7, 2015 10:38 AM   Subscribe

I was blindsided by a termination from my job last week. In some respects it was a relief because my manager was extremely unpleasant and working around her mood swings was spiraling me into major depression and other health issues. However, I am now stuck with a 7 month job on my employment record (which obviously looks suspect), a litany of the aforementioned health issues, and no idea how to actually recover from this. I need help. Wall of text below (sorry).

If you look at my question history you'll get some sense of the job I was just termed from.

What happened was manager called me into a meeting, told me that I was very good at forecasting, spreadsheets, mastering technology, and getting my tasks done accurately and on time, but she felt I wasn't "dynamic" enough and so was letting me go. Up till then the only other feedback I had received about my performance from her was that I needed to be warmer and more empathetic and was told to use more smiley faces and exclamation points over email to make myself more likeable (yes, really, and no, she's not 12). Aside from this feedback not jiving with feedback I was being given by my colleagues and other managers I worked with in this job (where I was frequently complimented for my helpfulness and my efficiency), as well as this feedback basically amounting to "you need to perform more emotional labor", there was never any indication that this was something that was putting my job in jeopardy. There was never any formal documentation of this feedback (I wonder if it's because of how absurd it is), I was never put on a PIP, and aside from the smiley faces and exclamation points there was no real guidance on how to improve at this nebulous task of being more empathetic. And ultimately, it seems like this feedback has nothing to do with why I was actually terminated? What does "dynamic" mean? It was all very confusing. I was told I could file for unemployment but was offered no severance. I left literally having no idea what had just happened.

The thing is that while the company I had left in order to take this job was a bit dysfunctional, my manager in this new job turned out to be really difficult to work for and it wasn't long before I was missing the comfortable dysfunction of the old place. Her mood could change on a dime without warning, she seemed to have a lot of anxiety and when things didn't go as planned (which happens a bit in our unpredictable industry) her nervous energy would cast a really negative pall over the room. People (company-wide) would avoid copying her on emails if something less-than-positive happened in order to avoid the inevitable over-the-top wailing and gnashing of teeth that would ensue. She was prone to really terrifying outbursts of anger, directed at me, other colleagues, and frequently our vendors as well, which was pretty embarrassing. She also was flat-out racist (she spent a weird amount of time ranting about how awful Arabs and Muslims are) and was vocal about it in a way that seemed pretty tone deaf (especially given that our company does a lot of work overseas with countries in the Arab world).

I cared greatly about the work I was doing and valued my colleagues (who valued me as well), but the stress of walking on eggshells around a volatile manager who expected me to be warm and empathetic at all times (even in the face of her vitriol) really got to me. I lost my appetite entirely and went days eating nothing more than a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast and a smoothie for lunch. I also managed to somehow gain 26 pounds even without eating enough food, because I didn't have time to exercize. I ran a 5K that I had been signed up for months ago without having run in months and with an extra 26 pounds on me, and I ended up injuring my foot very badly, and then wasn't able to have a doctor look at it because I was afraid to ask for time off work, so now I have a fairly significant limp. I wasn't able to sleep. I stopped menstruating. I took up smoking cigarettes again. I started having panic attacks on Sunday evenings dreading going to work the next day. In the last two weeks of my being employed there, I started having suicidal thoughts.

So even though I think my termination was handled completely inappropriately and unfairly, I am relieved because the job obviously was making me sick. But I am now at a crossroads and I am unsure how to proceed, given the following:

1. I was only in this job for 7 months, which obviously looks like something went wrong.

2. Yes, obviously the answer to this in any interview situation is "it wasn't the right fit" BUT
2a. The company is a very well-known company in my industry and is right now having a moment in the zeitgeist which makes being let go RIGHT NOW very conspicuous AND
2b. Everyone knows everyone in my industry and I have no idea what kind of whack things my manager would say about me if asked to provide a reference - the thought of losing out on a job for reasons relating to emotional labor performance literally makes me want to puke.

3. I am in extremely poor health right now - heavier than I've ever been in my entire life (I've always been chubby but this 26 pounds has officially earned me the "obese" classification), with a bum foot that makes even standing difficult, difficulties with digestion due to my inconsistent eating habits, and I'm in a major depression (though the suicidal thoughts have finally stopped).

4. Due to the economy, my resume shows a couple of short hops due to contracting gigs I held while looking for permanent work. It's explainable because hey, economy, and hey, contracting, but still, at first glance on paper I look like a job hopper. And now I look like a job hopper who got fired.

5. I am fucking exhausted, burned out, drained, and more than a little traumatized by this last job.

6. Even if I were to miraculously find a job quickly despite all of the above, my best friend of 15 years is getting married in September and I am playing a major role in the wedding as well as the wedding planning and will be out of town for a week attending to that, and backing out of it at this point of the game is absolutely not going to happen because it's a big fucking deal (he and his boyfriend have been together for a decade and now because of the recent SCOTUS ruling are finally allowed to be married), so whatever job I took I'd be pretty much immediately taking a week off, and that seems unprofessional.

I have a big chunk of savings because I cashed out my stock the day after they termed me, and my half-brother and my father have both offered to help me financially if needed. My unemployment claim went through uncontested, and I've bought health insurance through healthcare.gov. I'm at a point now where I wonder if instead of immediately hustling to find a new gig, I should just take the month (between now and my friend's wedding) to take care of myself and make up for neglecting my health for the past 7 months in favor of this awful job. Go to the doctor. Get physical therapy for my foot. Work with a trainer to start exercizing again so I can lose weight without messing up my foot further. Go to therapy to process what happened (I haven't been in therapy in years and I need it, especially now). Work with my shrink to get my depression under control. Get on Chantix so I can quit smoking again. Enjoy not being screamed at for not enough exclamation points or being unable to prevent a truck driver union dispute or not applauding her loud contention that London is overrun by Arabs and they are uncouth and don't know their place and must be stopped (all things she actually did). Sit in the sunlight and breathe.

It sounds really good to me right now, the idea of taking some time to actually heal.

But is that dumb? Sometimes I think that maybe this is a good strategic move too because then if asked why my most recent job was a short 7-month hop I can use the fact that I had health issues that needed to be fixed as an excuse for the short hop (since it's kind of true). Or is this career suicide, because it's a short hop followed by an intentional work gap? On the one hand, it's going to most likely take forever to find another job, so what's an extra month anyway? On the other hand, I don't want to look like someone who can't hold down a job.

I honestly don't know what to do. I feel paralyzed. I'd love some input. I'd like to request that you be gentle, though, I'm still very raw.

(On a slightly gratifying note, I have heard from someone who used to be employed at my company who left last year who confirmed that he did in fact leave because of my manager being so difficult to work with, and that the company overall is not in a very stable place and is coasting on it's cult status at the moment. Basically he found out what happened to me and reached out to say "it's not your fault, she is in fact batshit." It's a small comfort, but it helps.)
posted by thereemix to Work & Money (19 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I'm at a point now where I wonder if instead of immediately hustling to find a new gig, I should just take the month (between now and my friend's wedding) to take care of myself and make up for neglecting my health for the past 7 months in favor of this awful job.

A million times, yes.

Sit in the park. Get some sunshine. Breathe. Another job will come, and giving yourself an opportunity to recover for a month or two if you can afford it will help you get off on the right foot in your next role.
posted by mochapickle at 10:47 AM on August 7, 2015 [14 favorites]

Look at this as the glass being half full rather than half empty.

Good luck.
posted by hal_c_on at 10:49 AM on August 7, 2015

You are catastrophizing. Many, many people have job stints that are even shorter than this one on their resume and they are still employable. Take 2-3 days to sort out your emotions and be bummed, then start looking for new work and use this time to take care of yourself. Do NOT cop to health issues being the reason you were fired, ever. Just say the company was restructuring and you were let go as a result. Never mention health issues in a job interview.
posted by Hermione Granger at 10:50 AM on August 7, 2015 [14 favorites]

I'd say take the month off. I review a lot of resumes and hire a lot of people. That month gap isn't going to be a make or break in you getting hired somewhere. Your physical and mental health are going to have a much bigger impact on your ability to get a job, so as long as you can afford it, taking care of those should be top priority.
posted by primethyme at 10:52 AM on August 7, 2015 [5 favorites]

I honestly don't know what to do. I feel paralyzed. I'd love some input. I'd like to request that you be gentle, though, I'm still very raw.

You don't have to decide anything right this second. I give you permission to set a date for, say, a week from now, when you are less raw and freaked out (both of which are totally understandable things to be!) to start making (a) decision(s) about starting to look for a new job ASAP or just taking some time. Personally, I'd take some time to get my literal and figurative feet under me if I had a cushion to do so. But you don't have to decide that right now.

You can even do a little of both (time off and job search). Take a week of officially Doing Nothing. Then put out word among your network that you're starting a low-level search, and could they keep their ears open, but don't actively search. Otherwise, use the time off to stabilize and rest and take care of yourself.
posted by rtha at 11:10 AM on August 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

It sounds like everyone else at that company besides your supervisor would be happy to give you a good recommendation.
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:21 AM on August 7, 2015 [9 favorites]

It sounds like you have both savings and support to cover the time, so yes absolutely take the month. Do some perfunctory searches/resume polishing/whatever if you need to alleviate any guilt you're feeling about the fact that you're not immediately hustling for a new job.
posted by prize bull octorok at 11:32 AM on August 7, 2015

Take the month to have a life and get your physical and mental health back on track. Enjoy your friendships, hobbies, and pets (if any). Do enough job search contacts to support your UI claim (probably about 3 a week if your state is like mine). If you're not already in therapy, find a counselor to talk to to give you a reality check that you will be fine. Really, a month or two off is totally normal, and you don't have to work at that crazy place anymore.
posted by matildaben at 11:42 AM on August 7, 2015

Absolutely do what you proposed for a month. Fabulous idea - no question. I'd urge you to add in some volunteer work or pro bono consulting. After a few weeks, go to some meet-ups related to your industry or your workouts or volunteer work.

Also read biographies of people who inspire you. Also you might read bios of people who overcame great obstacles. My favorites in this category are TR, FDR, ER, and their sister and cousin Anna "Bamie" Roosevelt Cowles.

Good luck!
posted by jgirl at 11:59 AM on August 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

Just a resume tip (when you get around to it), you can consolidate all of your contracting gigs under a single heading (Independent Consultant) with one date range and the list the details of each assignment under it the same way you would list different job titles under the same employer.
posted by metahawk at 11:59 AM on August 7, 2015 [19 favorites]

Also, I did not mean to imply that you have great obstacles!

And metahawk's idea is great; BTDT!
posted by jgirl at 12:04 PM on August 7, 2015

This internet stranger wants you to know you're 100% fine. Take time off. Get new gig. Be thankful you are not sucked into shitty job anymore.
posted by slateyness at 12:10 PM on August 7, 2015

Aw, man. I'm so sorry. Your previous boss was a hosebeast and crazy! You are much better off and you should not second guess yourself. Your boss WAS awful.

Good things to focus on:
You have savings and you can collect unemployment.
You have time to focus on regaining your health.
Your worst case scenario happened (you lost your job) and you're STILL standing - in fact you're better off because it's uphill from here.

Some things I would recommend for you:
Untangle where you are from what your job was.
Your boss was awful to you, but if you re-read your question, you should note that you were more awful to yourself.
You're the boss now. In fact you were always the boss, but now it is easier for you to see that because you don't have a nasty abusing meanie in your way.
Consider that you put your job over your health and it did not get you anywhere at work.

I have great news for you - now that you're in the driver's seat to get yourself back on track, you will be much better equipped to handle difficult people in the workplace. You'll know your boundaries and limits, and you'll also know that if you set your boundaries and wind up getting let go, you know how to move on afterward. I have been where you are. I learned that the fear of losing your job is a lot worse than ACTUALLY losing your job. That has served me so well in my career ever since.

Let yourself off of the hook. Sleep. Rest. Spend some time outdoors. Stay off of Facebook. Recognize that where you are is not a failure, it is just where you are, and that you are going to be just fine.

One thing I want to point out - it is going to take a lot longer than a month to get "back on track". The first month of trying to workout and exercise and get stronger and eat better is going to be tough and full of fits and starts. I suggest you give yourself a shorter term goal for the month that is objective and you are confident is achievable. Something like "do a workout of some kind five days a week."

Good luck! Congratulations on being free of such a toxic system, and on having some time to focus on how to take better care of yourself. You may feel really awful now, but you will most likely look back at this time as a turning time in your career. You'll make it out of this and be much more confident and comfortable in the future because you'll know that you have the stuff to get through a job loss like this.
posted by pazazygeek at 1:10 PM on August 7, 2015 [3 favorites]

Absolutely take the month off! You have savings, you sound exhausted and traumatized by a shitty boss (and OHBOY do I know how that feels), and the physical and mental break sounds like it is sorely needed. I did the same when I got laid off from my job last year, after working for a company that started off great and became utter shit due to a crappy manager, and I can't even begin to describe how absolutely fucking wonderful and healing and great it was. It was like a massive, month-long, whole-body sigh of relief.

When you are ready to go look for work, metahawk's suggestion is awesome, and I have done exactly that in the past when I did a series of occasional contract gigs while working around both my own health issues and my dad's. Many or most employers will see it as shorthand for contract work, but that's totally normal these days (at least in my industry).
posted by bedhead at 1:22 PM on August 7, 2015

It's so awesome that you can take a month off! Do that! Enjoy the wedding! You have earned it!

I've hopped jobs lots of times. I once quit a job by sliding my resignation under the boss's door after hours and then never came back. I'd only been there four months but it was a nightmare and I was physically afraid of this person. Best thing I could do. I went on to many other stints of gainful employment, it had zero bad effect on my job history.

I did not use them for a reference, but you could use your coworkers, it sounds like. Do that.

When you do start looking, stop thinking of yourself as a burden/liability, and put yourself in the interviewer's shoes. They have a job that needs filling; there's probably already work piling up in that job, deadlines being blown, adding to their stress. Interviewing is hard, boring, and takes away from whatever they normally do all day. Unless there's something hinky going on (in which case, you don't want that job) they are secretly hoping that you are The One so that they can hire you and get on with things. And if you think you are The One for them, and can back it up with examples of your awesomeness, then your chances go up. Also, since you're not in another job, you can start right away.

I would spin your last job thusly: Job was great for (reasons) and I learned so much about (x,y, z). I really enjoyed it! But my strengths are (1, 2, 3--these should be strengths you think the job you're applying for will value) and that job just wasn't set up to take full advantage of them, so it turned out not to be the best fit.

You don't diss anyone, you don't complain, but you also don't take responsibility for the crap that happened there. You are pointing to structural issues (which are, Boss Was Terrible, but you don't have to say that) and not people, which makes you look perceptive, non-complaining and also completely blameless. Which you are.

Best of luck to you. Come back and let us know how you are doing.
posted by emjaybee at 2:12 PM on August 7, 2015 [6 favorites]

You absolutely should take the time for you. You have made a responsible and reasonable plan for yourself. You have a lot to deal with and it is going to take some time to recover from the trauma of working for someone like that. Don't worry about the gap. If a future employer asks, you can smile really big and say that you took the time off to prepare yourself for your next challenge.
posted by myselfasme at 2:21 PM on August 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

Hey, I went through something similar a while back. Actually, I had three jobs in the span of 17 months. I am in a field where early-career job-hopping is standard but, still, that's a lot. And while I wasn't fired from any of those jobs, in two of them I had extremely difficult bosses, one who probably would have fired me if I hadn't quit.

I was ok, and you will be too.

I actually took two months off before I started seriously job-hunting. It was right before the holidays, when it's pretty impossible to get hired. So I visited family, went to two weddings, took a (previously planned and paid-for) Caribbean vacation. It actually took me four months after that to find a job (it was at the height of the 2008 recession), and then 6 weeks to start my new job, so I was unemployed for almost 7 months all-told. In retrospect, 7 months was too long for me personally, but I'm glad I took the time I needed at the beginning, because my 17 months of crappy/soul-killing jobs had really taken their toll on me and I needed the time to regroup.

That was 7 years ago, and my resume gap has never once been an issue. In fact, since then I've shifted into a slightly different career track and doing wayyyyyyyyyyy better in my career than I was before that period of unemployment.

I have heard that resume gaps don't matter as much as they used to, because the economy has changed so much. As a hiring manager, I might ask about a gap of more than a year, but otherwise I don't care.

A few pieces of practical advice:

- As someone above said, get someone else from your old job to be a reference. Ideally someone at a higher level than you, who can speak to the quality of your work and will say effusive things about you as a team member and coworker. Sounds like the quality of your work was fine, so this shouldn't be a problem.

- Even while you're taking time off, start checking out job boards/LinkedIn/whatever is relevant for your field just to see if there's anything that looks good. The hiring process can take a while, so it doesn't hurt to start looking casually before you go into an all-out search.

- If you're unemployed longer than six weeks or so, then find some sort of project to work on. A volunteer project, learning a skill, something. This will keep you engaged in the world and give you something to talk about when interviewers ask you what you've been doing since you left your job.
posted by lunasol at 5:58 PM on August 7, 2015 [2 favorites]

Go to the doctor. Get physical therapy for my foot. Work with a trainer to start exercizing again so I can lose weight without messing up my foot further. Go to therapy to process what happened (I haven't been in therapy in years and I need it, especially now). Work with my shrink to get my depression under control. Get on Chantix so I can quit smoking again. Enjoy not being screamed at for not enough exclamation points or being unable to prevent a truck driver union dispute or not applauding her loud contention that London is overrun by Arabs and they are uncouth and don't know their place and must be stopped (all things she actually did). Sit in the sunlight and breathe.

That all sounds awesome, and while being like cat, you could also probably find a plaintiff-side employment law attorney who would be happy to provide you with a free consultation about your possible options.

he found out what happened to me and reached out to say "it's not your fault, she is in fact batshit." It's a small comfort, but it helps Get a lawyer.

posted by Little Dawn at 8:15 PM on August 7, 2015

Such good advice here, and I will add one thing.
Stop trying to figure out why they let you go. Your manager was awful, and played head games and had conflicting expectations/ gave you mixed messages. It might have been just a budget thing and someone had to go. Maybe she needed someone better at masking their confusion or fear (sounds crazy- but that was the criteria at my last place, along with butt kissing). It could have been virtually anything, but all you do know is that it had nothing to do with the quality of your work.
Shift your focus to what you learned there and forget the rest. Work on the best resume ever- test a few formats and make some contacts, and do a bit of searching but unapologetically do what you need to do to take care of yourself!
Take care of that foot, get some good exercise and take that vacation- you have earned all that.
posted by TenaciousB at 2:00 PM on August 8, 2015

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