How do I make a mid-career recovery after a really hard fall?
July 23, 2019 7:57 AM   Subscribe

Four years ago, I moved to a new city for a job that was on a path to senior management. I also got into a relationship, pretty much right when I arrived, that turned abusive. (My ex and I didn't work together). I’ve now left the relationship and have a 10-month-old child with my ex-partner. The problem? I made an utter hash of my last position.

The reasons are linked to the relationship: my ex would denigrate my work and intelligence, make me late to work on purpose by keeping me up all night or threatening to leave me or harm himself in the morning after fights. Near the end of the relationship, he disabled my car and tightly controlled where I went.

This translated to a lot of unexplained absences and being unable to focus and do good work. I was promoted after a year and a half, but my performance drastically slid as my partner became increasingly violent. My company and I recently decided to part ways after another extended absence where I had to stop working in order to take over full-time childcare because I could no longer leave my child with a caregiver (my ex) who was increasingly violent and careless.

So, here we are. I just turned 40 and the results of my last job are not what you would expect of someone with my education and former title. I burned up a lot of credibility, and am pretty sure most of my former colleagues would never want to work with me again. My company did what they could and I met them halfway by proposing a clean break rather than dragging things out with a long medical leave (possible where I live). I didn't feel able to open up about this at work and while I recently told my manager and our HR director what was happening, my colleagues have no idea what I've been through. I was clearly not okay and no one ever asked, so I don't want to start talking about it now.

How do I recover the burning hulk of what was once my career? I'm glad to be out and relatively unscathed, but I'm also a middle-aged single mother. This whole experience has left my confidence shaken and I'm really afraid for my professional future right now.
posted by Occam's Aftershave to Work & Money (8 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I am very sorry you've gone through such abuse. Please know that none of this is your fault! I’m glad you are out of that relationship.

I remembered this letter from Alison Green’s “Ask a Boss” advice column earlier this year that addresses many of the same issues: abusive relationship, loss of job, young child. You might find some helpful advice in there.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 8:41 AM on July 23, 2019 [3 favorites]

This internet stranger is sending you virtual hugs, for whatever it's worth.

As a fellow 40+ working single mom, I think one of the keys to success as you move forward is building/maintaining a strong support network. Not just emotional support (although that is hugely important), but actual adults who could, for example, pick up your child from daycare if you get stuck at work. Do you have family or trusted friends in this city? If not, and if moving to be closer to support networks is not an option, then you need to start building those relationships ASAP -- e.g. new mom groups, playdates, etc.

Easier said than done, I know, but having a robust support network as a single mom can help mitigate some of the logistical challenges that otherwise complicate the "making a good impression"/"building political capital" phase of any new job.
posted by somanyamys at 9:07 AM on July 23, 2019 [4 favorites]

From your description it doesn't sound like you're in a deep as you think you are. Position and expected salary are what transfer from company to company -- HR is generally restricted to saying "Yes they worked here".

Your former colleagues won't have nice things to say, but unless you're in an unusually tight-knit industry they'll never be asked. You can use people from your previous job as references.

It sounds like your own confidence has been shaken, and no wonder. You've been through some very rough times, with your competence directly under attack. Learning to trust yourself again is probably the most important thing you can do for your career.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 9:52 AM on July 23, 2019 [4 favorites]

"Here we are" looks very different from the outside. You had a job on a path to senior management, you got promoted, you left the organization for family leave/medical reasons and were not fired.

You don't have a burning hulk of a career. You're fine on paper. Companies interviewing you do not have access to your attendance/tardiness records or performance evaluations. What you accomplished at the end of the day at your prior job is something that YOU feel badly about, but you're gonna have to tamp that down and bury it during your interview and focus on how your experience has prepared you to Do Great Things for Prospective Employer.

You just need to figure out what to do about personal references. Surely someone has your back and sees your potential. Other personal references can be from earlier jobs.
posted by desuetude at 10:44 AM on July 23, 2019 [4 favorites]

I'm so sorry this happened to you, but so glad you made it out! You are so strong.

When you say you "recently decided to part ways", do you mean you resigned, or were you terminated? Obviously, you can use other references from previous jobs, but if you were fired, you may have to disclose that.
posted by easy, lucky, free at 11:09 AM on July 23, 2019

I'm sorry this happened to you. I am so glad to hear you got out of that situation.

Professionally, I suggest you work on some bullet points for your resume (presumably some good things happened during your tenure, even if there were a lot of problems); and I also suggest you think about small positive moments from your tenure that you can use as stories during interviews. It'll be good if at least some of your success stories are from the more recent job. You were promoted, so we know you were involved with some good work!

It's worth asking your employer exactly what info they'll disclose (job titles? dates? eligibility for rehire? anything else?). You'll sleep better if you know precisely what the risks are there, and there's a good chance that there's no risk.

It sounds like you look great on paper, so I think this will be fine. If a potential employer ends up rejecting you because of a lack of recent professional references, well, there are lots of employers and they don't all require them.
posted by whisk(e)y neat at 11:55 AM on July 23, 2019

First of all, please go easy on yourself. This all sounds really terrible and stressful. I hear you saying it's not your fault, but I hope you really truly know this, deep down. You did the very best you could in a really awful situation. You prioritized what was most important: your physical safety and the safety of your child. You made the right call. Maybe you feel a bit responsible because you began the relationship in good faith. That doesn't mean what happened was your fault.

The fact that you got promoted seems like a good thing. It shows that you succeeded. I think you can explain what happened after that along the lines of what Alison Green says in the article linked above. You had some medical and family issues that required your attention.

I'm sure this is complicated, but are you in therapy for all this? Do you have a good support system?

I think there's a framing here that will be truthful and will also help you start to feel better about moving forward in the future.
posted by bluedaisy at 4:53 PM on July 23, 2019

Hi there, we're almost the same age and the last year and a half has been similar to yours (but different). I'm not out of the woods yet, but I'm finally feeling like I'm starting to climb out of it. I want to comment specifically on your comment that, "I didn't feel able to open up about this at work and while I recently told my manager and our HR director what was happening, my colleagues have no idea what I've been through. I was clearly not okay and no one ever asked, so I don't want to start talking about it now."

Without pushing you to do something that makes you supremely uncomfortable, are you able to confront and change your mind about this? In January of this year, I finally broke down and asked my boss if I could fill her in on the difficulties coming from my private life. I felt--I knew--it was impacting my work, and I knew it was going to continue, but I wanted to keep my job. It turned out to be a very, very good decision. My boss has been helping me manage my work, but also providing a kind of emotional support outside of work that I never could have expected.

I also found a very wise, compassionate, and direct therapist. I pay on a sliding scale that is manageable and, especially in those first few months, felt like a literal life saving measure.

Be well.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 8:27 AM on July 24, 2019

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