Should I switch to my future career now or stay in dissatisfying job?
May 18, 2016 4:17 PM   Subscribe

TL;DR: Current job: The good: relaxing, fancy title, nice perks/benefits, flexibility, easy schedule The bad: boring, frustrating, mundane, not in a field I love, full of micromanagers, no room for growth, no intellectual challenge A different job: The good: a field I think I want to be in, intellectually challenging, meaningful, room for growth The bad: loss of perks/benefits, potential loss of schedule flexibility, not easy, stressful, lots of unknowns Which would you chose?

Please give me some advice for how to move forward.

I started my current job (in a large university) about 8 months ago after moving to a new region. When I accepted the job, I was thrilled because it sounded like an absolutely perfect fit with my previous work experience, and a significant step-up (with a cool new title, tuition remission, and my very own office after years of cubicles). The salary was acceptable, though a tad lower than I had anticipated. I don't love the field my current job is in, but I have been satisfied in past positions because the work challenged me intellectually.

I began part-time graduate school almost immediately, which was convenient because of the tuition-remission and my boss's flexibility (I can take classes during the day). So far, I absolutely love the program--it is in a different field (very technical; quite different from my current field). When I'm in class, I often get pangs of excitement/joy because I realize how interested I am in the concepts (something that rarely happened before).

However, I'm growing increasingly dissatisfied with my job. The work is not challenging at all--I have a hard time staying motivated and awake. I procrastinate on work assignments because I find them so dreadfully boring. The work I thought I was going to do barely resembles the actual work I'm doing. Though my title sounds important-ish (assistant director), I feel like my actual work has gone several steps backwards to a role that is barely more than an admin assistant. The job description said I would be "leading" efforts, "managing" initiatives, etc., but I'm basically just adding content to a website all day and sending emails from pre-made template. My boss goes to meetings I think I'd find interesting--but she never invites me to attend. I have asked before, but she always seems to find various polite reasons to decline. I feel like I'm on an incredibly short leash, and any time I take initiative to take on a project that is interesting to me/solve a difficult problem, I run into various levels of "approvals" and frustrating amounts of micromanaging, and things never go anywhere. I'm also dealing with someone in a different department who seems to make it his personal mission to squash every idea I've ever had. My boss is conflict avoidant, and although she knows about my frustrations, she has yet to do anything about them. Despite these red tape issues, my mental health and stress levels are MUCH better than they were when I was at a previous high-intensity, but highly-meaningful, job.

I don't get what the point of my job is (if I were my boss, I'd lay me off because there isn't any purpose to what I'm doing!), and I routinely wish I could be doing more/actually accomplishing something. At the same time, I'm worried about leaving a job after less than a year--especially one that is so relaxing, easy to pair up with a challenging course load, with various perks like a nice title/office/benefits. If I take a leap of faith to find a job related to my new field, I'll be starting from scratch--at the beginning of a new ladder-- probably with much lower pay, less benefits, and no idea what I'm doing (because I'm not even close to done with my program yet). And there's no guarantee that a job in the same field as my classes will be as motivating and seemingly meaningful as the classes themselves.

Sorry for the lengthy post. Have you had similar dilemmas? Do I play it safe until I have the grad degree (it will take several years to get there) or do I risk it all in the pursuit of something that might be way better (but might be worse)?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (15 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I'm totally confused. When are your graduate studies over? When will you have a degree?

Make plans to find a new job post-degree.
posted by jbenben at 4:23 PM on May 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

Stay in your job. Enjoy your life outside work. Keep trying to find challenge, but don't take it personally when you get pushback. Look for new work when you finish your degree, or, if things become unbearable, after 2 years. Make sure you know the terms of your tuition remission agreement - do you have to work X years before leaving the company to not pay it back? It seems like the only thing making you unhappy is your own discontent. Many people would love to have a relaxing job with great benefits.

Keep in mind the trite mantra:

grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference
posted by permiechickie at 4:25 PM on May 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

Also, it's common to miss difficulty and high stress when you have become acclimated to it previously...

You sound self-sabotaging. Enjoy this period and make the most of it. Sounds corny, but get therapy if you can't stop yourself from using this opportunity. Of course your position is necessary! It's necessary for you to get your grad degree!!

Meditation. Therapy. Unless you are independently wealthy or don't mind tons of debt or other hardship, just focus on your degree. That's awesome you get paid and the gig is easy and low stress. Fill your battery! Life will get tough again soon enough. Bank for that eventuality. Life is the Long Game. It's a marathon, not a sprint. Plan accordingly.
posted by jbenben at 4:29 PM on May 18, 2016 [3 favorites]

I would keep the job and try to accelerate my progress towards my degree. And I would talk to my boss again about how I don't feel challenged and how important that is to me. You say that your boss knows your frustrations, but have you talked with them specifically about how you don't feel challenged? Have you given them specific solutions to your problem? "I feel like I could do better work if I was more challenged, and I would like to attend the meetings about [strategic planning/resource allocation/student development/whatever] so that I can contribute more in those areas." (Also, meetings are terrible, especially in academia; they are also highly political, so you may be not invited because of the ugly politics that have nothing to do with you at all that are happening there.)

Man, I lived most of my adult life without a good salary, without benefits, without an office in which to do my work.... No way would I turn that down now. My current job, which is really really hard and makes me really unhappy sometimes, well - they will have to pry it from my cold, dead hands or fire me, because for once in my life I can put food on my table and get my medicine without worrying all the damn time about it.

In America we are taught that our jobs are our identities. Try to think of your job as something that sustains you so that you can do what you really love. Who cares what you do at work? It's just a way to pay the bills. If you can reframe the idea of a job in your mind until your degree is finished, that will serve you well.

And there is no harm in looking for positions that are more closely aligned to what you want to do within the University now. That might help. Once you are in, and you are doing a good job, it is a lot easier to get another similar job in a different department at the same institution. So keep your eyes on the jobs board at this place, because a shift in departments might help solve a lot of the issues without forcing you to lose those stellar benefits. Tuition remission.... man, oh man. That one alone is worth so much.
posted by sockermom at 4:29 PM on May 18, 2016 [12 favorites]

Upon your update...

So the alternative is a harder job that will make your grad degree 5 or more years away?

Stop complaining to your boss about your job. Please. Nthing to accelerate your degree.
posted by jbenben at 4:32 PM on May 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

Why would you give up the job that is paying your tuition, especially without another job lined up?

(The saying "a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush" is designed for this situation.

Once you actually have an offer of a new job, then you can come back and ask the question. But remember to factor in the cost of your graduate tuition when comparing salary and benefits. )
posted by leahwrenn at 4:43 PM on May 18, 2016

Yeah....if you're going to quit this job of yours, can I have it? If you weren't pursuing the grad degree I guess I would say whatever, follow your bliss, but since you are, you'd really be cutting off your nose to spite your face.

Fill your battery! Life will get tough again soon enough. Bank for that eventuality. Life is the Long Game. It's a marathon, not a sprint. Plan accordingly.

SO MUCH THIS. I used to be stir-crazy and vaguely unhappy with my life when I had chill, low-stress and low-obligation periods. Then the shit hit the fucking fan, and all I can think of is how glad I am that I have been getting a good night's sleep for the past few months.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 4:44 PM on May 18, 2016 [6 favorites]

It's better to be bored at your desk while you get a degree they are helping pay for than to be stressed to hell trying to work and get a degree you can't afford.
posted by Foam Pants at 4:45 PM on May 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

It sounds like you have a typical academia bureaucrat job that comes with tuition discounts, close geographic proximity to your classes, and copious downtime in which to do homework. Most people so far have commented that it sounds like a pretty sweet deal.

I, too, had this job and grad school scenario, and I lasted 2 years (1 year in two different university program management jobs). It was so boring and needlessly political, and by the end I hated everyone and everything. Here's what I did: I got a different project management job in a technical but more related to my grad school studies job. The salary increase at the new job more than covered paying full tuition, and I did not hate everyone (just the job itself, in the end). I kicked butt in my grad program part-time and got offered a hefty scholarship to enroll full-time for the last half of my program, so I quit the new job after another two years, took a full courseload, and got a sweet part-time work-study job 100% related to my studies. I graduated in 2 semesters, defended my thesis one morning and interviewed for a perfect job that afternoon, and now I'm working in that field and am much much happier.

So, short advice: don't quit without a reasonable plan worked out in advance. Boredom sucks. Things may work out even better than you planned.
posted by Maarika at 4:46 PM on May 18, 2016 [7 favorites]

I'm answering from the perspective that I had a job similar to you at one point early in my job life, so I became very familiar with some of the benefits of working at a university at that level, along with some of the cons.

I've also job hopped a lot, so just some things to think about. I do not think the answer is cut and dry as to whether you should go or stay, but think about it more and make a plan.

So here were some of the positives that you might not yet have taken advantage of that can make your job more worthwhile, and also just other ways to think about it:

- Those meetings (and any other meetings related to your particular academic area of interest.). To this day, I still look at those times as very worthwhile - everything was open when it came to attending other meetings, from grand rounds with physicians to specialty meeting with big name person. BUT the philosophy at least in my job and most others at my level: If you attended these meetings, you made up the time later (this is not what they hired you for). Most jobs will never give you this - but if this what you want to do, do use a script similar to soccer mom (as in share with your boss that you are interested in field X, would like to attend the meeting, what do you need to do), and offer to make up the time.

-Are there other opportunities related to field X? So my job was also boring at that level, but there were opportunities to do research that got my name on a publication and then a poster, and then present at an academic meeting. This was absolutely a plus and might be one of the reasons that I got into graduate school for my field. Are there opportunities like that?

-ARe there other training opportunities available to you? (I knew a few people who waited until a boss would say X system will be installed, we need someone to go through training and install it...and yes, they wanted the low level people to do it, but it often presents new classes, new challenges, and sometimes, new jobs (as in new jobs with people who have worked with and installed that program, or whatever.)

-You are surrounded by people who have worked in your field. Pick. Their. Brains. How did they get there? What do they know? What would they have done differently? Sometimes when you get to know these other people, tell them your goals, they "sometimes" will work with your boss to give you chance X or Y and training and a different project (this is also dependent on funding, relationships between higher up people, politics, so there is no way to know if it will or will not happen, but tell people - at least you will learn about other meetings, classes, jobs, etc.). This also made the job worthwhile and insightful.

Now here are the negatives, and reasons you might want to think about your time differently and it might be worthwhile to get out:

-The pay. The pay scale at universities is often lower than anywhere else, even if you move far up that ladder. So even though free tuition looks worthwhile, maybe not if you are offered (or negotiate) higher salary somewhere else.

-Bigger tuition remission opportunities: Have you looked into funding for your desired program? What happens if you go full time for whatever level? I didn't realize this until I talked to other people (and did my own research) at that job long ago, but if you were admitted to some graduate programs (dependent on the degree, both field and what not), tuition plus a stipend was provided in its entirety. So although one or two classes were great for a taste, in the long run, it was better to apply after a year or two at that job, and go full time...tuition free, and complete the degree. But find out if it applies to your field (or related fields), and do the math first.

If it helps, I found that job long ago very boring, was constantly applying to other labs at the same university (it never happened), but I did take a few grad level classes, was able to obtain experiences related to the graduate degree that I wanted, and left after 2.5 years (ow) to a fully funded graduate program. If I had to live my life over, I would have done that job again, for that specific time period with that specific goal. I can't tell you how much the flexibility is worth it: Many, many jobs will never give you this.

However, now the job hopping aspects to consider (and I've jumped for better learning opportunities, and to have a chance to do what I want, and did this a lot in the later career stage):

-You can negotiate and carefully ask questions as to what a new job offers. So before you jump, ask specific questions (what does someone do? Will I have an opportunity to work on X (ans ask several people during the interview process to confirm that yes, you will be doing X)? AT some point, figure out the salary and make that comparison. Also see if you can negotiate and specifically ask during the interview if you can have that time toward that class (and if they offer tuition remission - some places do, some do not).

-The micromanager...I have to be honest and say from some of your comments, I would be worried about a micromanaging boss (and I probably would 1) first try to negotiate, and if that failed 2) try to negotiate with another supervisor, and if that failed, 3) always equaled leave or get a new job for me, mainly because micromanagers can be difficult, especially if I found out they undermine other opportunities, but YMMV.

Look at the whole entire package from opportunities where you are working now, to what the other jobs can provide. Also, I would add "info interviews" to your list - ask employees who do what you want to do at other jobs. You might find out they have a herd of micromanagers, or work 60 hours a week, because some of those things make your current place a better place to work - but try to find out this info first.

Good luck.
posted by Wolfster at 5:14 PM on May 18, 2016 [3 favorites]

You seem to believe that the thing you do for money should be the thing that fulfills you. For most people, it's not. Do what you love in your downtime during work and after work, and appreciate that you have a paycheck that allows you to.
posted by metasarah at 8:12 AM on May 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

I just want to say, I've had jobs like that (really a *lot* like that, albeit with lovely bosses - ***didn't help***) and some people are seriously underestimating how painful and stressful boredom like that can be. 2nd getting out if you can! Two to four years is a long time, you're the one who has to live it.
posted by cotton dress sock at 11:08 PM on May 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

OOF. I hear you. The college bureaucracy grind is real. Also, I firmly believe that while a less-than-awesome job can be buoyed for a long while by sheer force of awesome co-workers, even the greatest job can be rendered untenable by toxic or ineffective coworkers, and that idea-crusher guy sounds like a real piece of work.

But I also agree with a lot of the folks above: tuition remission for a degree in a field you hope to ultimately enter, a low-stakes and flexible position, and a sweet salary and benefits package is not a thing to be tossed aside lightly, especially if you don't really have a Plan B lined up at the moment. Having enough time to be bored at work while still making a decent salary is a luxury, especially if you're now also juggling a part-time grad school course load.

Here are the questions I'd want to answer before trying to job-hop:

You say you really love your grad program and the field it would allow you to enter. Is this a field you could enter without the graduate degree credential and work your way up via experience? Masters degrees are great, but they're not always strictly necessary. Some fields even favor practical work experience over the more theoretical knowledge most grad schools offer.

If you don't technically need the degree to enter the field, would you want to continue your studies anyway? Would an entry level job in this field offer you the kind of salary where you could avoid going into too much debt if you continued your grad studies while working in the field? Do businesses associated with this field tend to offer tuition reimbursement as a perk?

If you do actually require the degree to enter the field, do you have the time or opportunity to volunteer/work part time/work on an independent project related to your new field either in your down time at work or outside of work hours?

Could you apply for an internal transfer at your university to another more challenging/interesting position? This would let you keep the tuition remission and employer (so an eight month job hop wouldn't be as obvious on a resume), while still allowing you to change up your job duties and department, possibly even to something more in line with what you're studying.

Good luck!
posted by helloimjennsco at 12:51 PM on May 20, 2016

Also, if I may play devil's advocate for a moment: eight months is not a long time to get a real feel for the structure, politics, and priorities of a large institution, especially in higher ed. Folks who work in higher ed tend to stay there for decades, and their memories are loooooong.

It could be that the reason that you're encountering so much resistance from your co-workers when you try to "solve a difficult problem" or "take on an interesting project" is precisely because your go-getter, let's-set-the-world-on-fire problem solving efforts may inadvertently be alienating some co-workers or creating a lot of extra work or headaches for other departments.

Ask around. Make some office friends. Try to get more of a feel for the winds in this place, learn a little bit about what sorts of things they've tried out in the past, and plan your approaches accordingly. Nobody likes it when a young hotshot rolls into their department and tries to "fix" things for them.
posted by helloimjennsco at 1:06 PM on May 20, 2016

Hi There,

I'm in a similar position right now as far has having a dreadfully boring and mundane job, however after reading your post I'm inclined to tell you just to stay in your current position until you finish your graduated studies. I think that the flexibility you have to attend classes along with all of the other good things you mentioned are reason enough to stay until you at least finish your degree. As for not being able to tag along to interesting meetings, perhaps you could ask your boss for additional projects instead? I'm not sure how your department is run, but at my work place we have occasional meetings with the supervisor to check in with each other to see how things are going, if extra work is needed, or if any issues need to be addressed. If your boss offers this, you could use that opportunity to tell her that you'd like extra work or try asking her again if you could tag along for the meeting.

All in all, boring work is so draining and I'd say that if you weren't currently attending classes I'd suggest you find a job elsewhere, but as long as you have your coursework to complete it might be worth sticking around until you finish and then move on to other work after graduating.
posted by Firestorm 2018 at 7:58 AM on June 4, 2016

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