My job is killing my soul but I can't leave
April 30, 2016 1:27 AM   Subscribe

I'm at the point where my job is actively causing me despair. Since I can't quit without getting a new job first, how do I cope every day while I try to find something new?

Nonprofit. I have almost no direct supervision but am responsible for several ongoing projects as well as a bunch of new things that I'm supposed to be implementing. Nothing in my background prepared me for half of the things I am meant to be doing (I had 1.5 years' experience in office environs before I took this job 3 years ago, am in my 20s), and I feel completely over my head in terms of my skill level, my level of organization, my ability to manage multiple projects at once, my ability to manage OTHER people who are working on those projects as well, etc etc etc. I don't want to go into too much detail but at the last place I worked, the equivalent of my job was done by about 10 other people in two departments.

Most of the work I do feels thankless and like I can work my ass off and no one will notice, but like if I do anything slightly wrong it will be casually pointed out. My responsibilities have increased dramatically since I've been here, but I've only gotten cost of living raises and no title change/promotion. My "job description" does not reflect my responsibilities in even the vaguest way, but when I raised this and asked if it could be changed (not even a raise or promotion!), it was shrugged off.

We were supposed to hire another person to take on half of my job, we even got to the point of holding second-round interviews early this year, but we didn't hire anyone after all as "none of them were quite right" and now that budget line has gone to something else, so no one new will be hired.

My natural response to this is to want to stop putting in any effort whatsoever, but this is not an option really, but my level of effort is definitely as low as I can possibly get away with, which makes me feel like garbage and as if the stress of my job is really all my fault, because if I just tried harder I could do it all and everything would be fine, but I don't think so. But I have been coming in late and turning in work at the last minute, so now it's like... I feel like maybe it IS my fault and either way I feel like I've totally blown it, wasted the last three years because no one here will ever give me a great recommendation, whereas my last job loved loved loved me and were so sad when I left.

I have basically no savings and live in a major city, my rent/utilities/loan payments total around $1000/month and that's before food/health/transport/etc, so I can't just quit tomorrow (I wish).

Yeah yeah I'm in therapy. Except sometimes I think I should stop and put that $160 a month into savings instead...

OK, so, yeah I know I need to get off my ass and update my linkedin and start asking everyone I know about jobs and get a haircut and apply for jobs and go on interviews, but that process will take months, and until then, how do I make it so waking up and going to work doesn't make me want to run away and hide in a deep dark hole until I get fired and don't have to come here every day anymore?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (8 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
They're taking you for granted and assuming that just because you've put up with their crap for 3 years, you'll keep doing it. A couple of jobs ago I was you, everything you've described here, down to the part where you could work your ass off and no one would notice but you made one mistake and THAT was what they noticed. Nothing changed. It was a sick system. So I left.

You sound burnt out. How's your leave allowance? I would book 3 or 4 days off, not all in one go but one this week, one next week etc. Shorter weeks really do feel better and they also motivate you to finish up all your work in the available time so you can enjoy your extra day off. Then use that extra day for whatever will make you feel better - writing applications, attending interviews, sleeping till midday, getting a haircut.
posted by Ziggy500 at 2:49 AM on April 30, 2016 [6 favorites]

The way you describe feeling resonates with me, so I'm probably going to read a lot of my own experience into this, so it goes with out saying that I'm writing in the spirit of knowing that you can just drop it all if it's of no use to you.

Firstly, you have an aim. That's the most important thing: you know where you want to get to, everything else is logistics. So, focus on your aim (to get a new and better job), and see all the things you are doing in terms of how they support your aim. All the things you are doing at work are things you can do and are doing. They may be driving you mad, but they're skills. That's worth remembering. Perhaps journal the things you do in some way so that you can quantify them and own them and use them. Everything you can rely on yourself to be able to do will serve to get you to somewhere less distressing.

Secondly, I'm inferring that you're feeling adrift in the bucking seas of your employment and that's infected everything else. In that case you need to find areas of firm, reliable ground (probably at home) from which you can extend. You don't get off your ass and do everything, you get off your ass and do one, apparently insignificant, thing every day without fail. Then two and so forth. I obviously know nothing of your life apart from what you put here, but for many people (including me) those are small things such as making the bed every morning or washing up immediately after every meal. Because the chaos which is located somewhere else has infected every part of our lives, we've let those small things go because they do seem so insignificant. Reclaiming those things reverses that, and gives one a firm base from which one can move towards the heart of the chaos. Once that's established, one job every day - think the night before "I'll do that tomorrow", whatever that might be (the ironing, tidying a shelf, small jobs). In the morning, know that you will do it, timetable it as you would a meeting. Then do it at the appointed time. Then drop it, forget it. In the evening, recall that you did it and plan the task for tomorrow. It's an exercise in building an ongoing habit of power over one's own life over time. These things are practised in the recesses of one's home life because one does not have the power to practise them at work. But the metaphorical muscles these exercises build up will be useful at work, too.

That's where I might be way off course, of course. If so, ignore my wittering.
posted by Grangousier at 2:53 AM on April 30, 2016 [7 favorites]

OK, so, yeah I know I need to get off my ass and update my linkedin and start asking everyone I know about jobs and get a haircut and apply for jobs and go on interviews, but that process will take months, and until then, how do I make it so waking up and going to work doesn't make me want to run away and hide in a deep dark hole until I get fired and don't have to come here every day anymore?

This process does not necessarily take months, and putting off the little things like updating your LinkedIn, your resume, and the basics of a cover letter, and asking friends about other jobs will just prolong it. There are jobs being vacated every day and my last job search took two weeks to get an interview and two weeks to close on it. This obviously varies, but take this weekend and get your basic documents in order so you can apply for a gig as early as Monday of next week.

Part of the reason you feel so bad, I think, is feeling powerless - powerless against getting any help at work, powerless against getting a raise or a promotion. The place you can feel some power is in getting your job hunting toolkit together and starting the grind...that's all you.
posted by scrittore at 6:45 AM on April 30, 2016 [12 favorites]

Really good advice from everyone above. Just to add that in these sorts of situations I try to see everything that's maddening me about my current situation as fuel for the engine that will power my leaving there. Use how pissed your job makes you to find that extra 10 minutes to update linked in or book that haircut or do some more work on your resume. Good luck. Keep going.
posted by Chairboy at 6:51 AM on April 30, 2016 [2 favorites]

"Work very hard quietly and win super accolades" is a job myth. People think you're working hard, doing a great job, if you're telling them you are.

One thing I've learned is that very rarely will anyone just give you a raise, a title change, or someone to share the duties. You have to convincingly make a case for all those things. I've had to push in my job for all three.

Let's say you decide you want a title change - you research possible titles, poke around to find out what other titles are used in your non-profit or use your connections to inquire with other similar companies you work with. Then you craft your resume to show all the super stuff you're doing for them, and write a cover letter that explains all the increasing responsibilities you've taken on and how that justifies the title change to X. Then you request a meeting with your supervisor and any other relevant people and have an adult conversation about how this is a great thing for them to do (for you.)

Very similar for a raise.
posted by Squeak Attack at 7:31 AM on April 30, 2016 [4 favorites]

Take a sick day to work on your resume/LinkedIn profile/what have you. You decide if you want to turn off updates, but they're not going to fire you even if they see that's what you're working on. Sometimes it feels good to poke the bear. And the sick day is a little bit of rebellion that will help give you a feeling of control. But set a target for what you will do, or you might spend the day moping.

Find a good career councilor and talk about your goals, how to clean up your resume, etc. speaking to someone about this professionally can be uplifting when you have someone that can give you an objective view of your skills. Especially when you're in the dumps and don't have much confidence in your self because of it.

Only work 9-5, or whatever hours are appropriate for your office. My guess is that you're working more because of the overwhelming projects. And because you're doing that, why would they need to hire someone else?

Be frank with your bosses. It's okay to say "I'm unhappy, the only thing that was keeping me here was that we were going to get some relief with the new hire. Now that is off the table, I don't anticipate staying here unless we can change my workload." People have a hard time telling bosses that they might leave, for fear of retribution. But the thing that freaks employers out? You leaving. Be sure that if they give you any promises, you ask for concrete steps and deadlines. It's far too easy to promise you things will change with no actual action taken.

Conversely, if you can see some specific changes that would make your job easier, like project a,b and c don't seem as important to the organization or relevant to you, propose they be given to someone else, put on the backburner or other. Many disorganized workplaces will start projects that won't be implemented, are nice-to-haves, or just end up on someone's plate because there is a plate. When making those suggestions, also suggest a title change and a raise, and give some concrete reasons as to why. If you're having trouble with this, a good career councilor can help with that too. Note! You don't have to stay even if they do all the above! But it's a backup plan, and another reason you can give when they ask why you left.

If you're really determined to leave, your job right now becomes the job search. The day job is just what you go to during the day. Seek out industry or skill related events. is likely to have some. It's okay to mentally check out at work and just do the bear minimum. If they complain, well, they were supposed to hire someone to help with the workload- they chose not to and that is the consequence of that decision. If they try to pin that on you anyway, Stand your ground and insist that is the consequence of not getting more help. If they tell you you are not a team player for working an obscene number of hours, tell them you have outside obligations that can't be changed. (And you do! Your mental health, your job search!)
posted by [insert clever name here] at 10:15 AM on April 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

Could you tell your therapist that you want to make "finding a new job" the focus of your next therapy sessions?
Second thought: you mention your previous employer really liked you. That's a great advantage. Email a contact there and tell them you're looking to move on and ask them to keep you in mind or if they'll be a reference for you. Maybe you don't want to go back to work there, but they may have another job lead for you.
Your experience really resonates with me and sound almost exactly like the experiences I had at a small non-profit. And it's exactly what I've heard from friends in small non-profit offices. I don't think it's you or even necessarily your office, I think it's the crappy dynamics that happen in small non-profits. But hey, schedule a hair cut because you deserve self-care regardless of where you work! Please me-mail if you'd like to commiserate or vent.
posted by areaperson at 11:45 AM on April 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

You asked, "how do I cope every day while I try to find something new?" It might help to keep a record (preferably quantitative) of your tasks in a spreadsheet or document. It totally counts as a work task, and you could schedule it into your day or week at a time when you know have time and low motivation (mornings? Monday morning?)

For example (these may not work for you but might help kickstart your thinking):
- how many projects are you managing? what % is this of the department/organisation's total program?
- how many are on time and on or under budget? what % is this of all your projects?
- how many grant applications have you won? how much for?
- how often do you call/meet/report to stakeholders to keep them engaged and informed about project developments?
- how many times have you noticed overspends and altered budgets to save costs? how much $ did you save the organisation?
- how many articles/e-bulletins/policy papers/submissions have you written? how many people saw them? how many clicked something or retweeted?
- how many events/fundraisers/seminars have you organised? how many people showed up? what percentage of attendees gave positive reviews on the post-event evaluation forms? how many people became supporters and how much money did they give?
- have you changed internal systems and saved working hours (yours or other peoples')? how many working hours/day/week/month did you save? have you improved internal systems some other way (created/shortened feedback loops, initiated technical upgrades, etc.)?

You could also write a short note to yourself if you solved a problem (particularly if it involved multiple staff, stakeholders, or averting a crisis), brought new projects/funding/stakeholders into the organisation, or if you got positive feedback from stakeholders/clients/trainees.

Keeping a record, preferably quantitative, of your work and achievements has potential three benefits:
1) it adds an element of gamification to your worklife to keep you sane and engaged, without the external validation your managers should be providing but aren't;
2) it provides solid data to back up your case for a raise with your employer, if you decide to do that; and
3) it provides solid data and examples to strengthen your job applications, where you may need proof of difficult things like "interpersonal and negotiation skills", "analytical and conceptual thinking", "experience building and maintaining relationships with stakeholders" (all quotes pulled from my recent nonprofit job applications!)

Best of luck.
posted by trotzdem_kunst at 5:33 AM on May 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

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