Make Me Work Again
November 20, 2020 7:06 AM   Subscribe

I'm too bored and resentful to do my job, and too depressed for look for a new one. Please tell me how to trick my brain into working again.

Hi. I wear a bunch of (non-program) hats at a small nonprofit. My predecessors averaged about 2 years before burning out; I'm in year 3 and losing it.

The job has been a roller coaster - on one hand, I've met great people, learned a lot, improved what I can, and earned the respect of coworkers and board members. On the other hand, I am exhausted. Between (among other things) being bullied by one of my coworkers, the long hours, and the refusal of my attempts at professional development (the interviews were a little misleading), I am out of gas.

I used to have solid time management for this job, and a whole system for managing tasks and schedules and follow ups. Used to. I was good. I was efficient, and knowledgeable, and my coworkers trusted me. Now I spend my days failing to will myself to do a single goddamn thing. I need to do things. And I can't.

I resent the job, because I've done a lot of good work here that the executive director doesn't value. I feel so underutilized. Maybe I'm an idiot, but in meetings she would say things that made it sound like she appreciated the scope and volume and caliber of my work, but in practice there are no raises or promotions, or even recognition. She consistently either downplays the complexity of my workload, or attributes my ideas to others, or possibly just forgets what I do. (I am an idiot. My many former coworkers warned me.)

I'm bored out of my mind, because working from home has increased the percentage of my job that is boring time-consuming admin stuff and decreased or eliminated a lot of the duties I enjoyed. (I can't give examples right now, because I have forgotten what they were. But there used to be things I enjoyed doing.) But I'm also bored because I'm sick of this. I'm sick of copying and pasting the same emails over and over again, pretending that we are having this conversation for the first time. I'm sick of paying the same bills. I'm sick of making plans that will be ignored, only to have to mop up an unplanned mess later.

And I'm afraid I'll only be able to find a new job doing the most hateful, boring parts of my current job, not any of the interesting project management or interpersonal or troubleshooting stuff I actually liked learning and doing.

So how do I make myself keep moving? How do I make myself do my job? And how do I make myself find a new job?

Yes, some of this is depression. I lost my dad last year and seem to be having some kind of weird delayed grief reaction now, in tandem with pandemic depression and work burnout. (And I am trying to find a therapist, so if you know how to search Anthem's provider site for talk therapy in a way that doesn't return results for in-patient substance abuse clinics, please share that. I was in therapy for a few months after my dad died, but then I changed insurance, and then work had a massive crisis that almost shut us down, and then the pandemic happened, so I have not had the spoons to find a new one.)
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (7 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Starting to look for a new job can be very passive. Catch up your resume/CV - you should do this every year anyway, if you don't need it for a job you can sometimes need it for board memberships or grant apps or whatever - and put it on Indeed, and any other site that might be more specific to your current or desired industry. If you haven't historically had a gmail and gvoice account specifically for job-hunting, consider setting one up when you do this.

Set yourself up maybe one daily alert for a job title more or less like you have now. This is not because it will definitely find you a job, but it'll put something in your email every day or two to remind you to go check more thoroughly on the site. This can be pleasant, a bit like poking around on Zillow just for grins - see what kind of jobs are popping up, see what kind of wording is being used these days; sometimes skillsets change names and you'll want to know that for updating your resume.

See if you get any bites, see if you see any listings interesting enough to apply to. They're just queries, not obligations, and you may find it enlightening just to have a few chats with recruiters and hiring managers about industry and pandemictimes landscape.

The first stage is just about surveying the landscape. It's actually pretty interesing. Start there, see what happens.

(I went through all this too. I don't know how to fix the inability to work at the burned-out job, I struggled very hard. Consider just finding any therapist that's taking new patients first, and then see if they take your insurance or have a cash rate you can live with. You could also, just as an emergency patch, try one of the online services. They probably all specialize in burnout right now, it might be sufficient for starting.)
posted by Lyn Never at 7:27 AM on November 20 [4 favorites]

Sometimes, when I've been in Year X (X being the burnout variable in whatever job I'm in), I'll try the whole Blue Sky Thinking approach to what I'm currently doing. I'll build up an ambitious, off-the-wall plan for something that could only be accomplished by a better company, with better resources and a better boss than I have now. I'll use the time where I'm sitting resentfully and not getting much accomplished and build an actual project plan for what would be necessary to do this big, unruly, impossible project.

Sometimes, that results in smaller wins I could accomplish within a reasonable time frame at my current position. Sometimes, it's just a distraction that at least has me thinking within the realm of my current job in an idealized way. And sometimes, I've presented that entire plan, ridiculous as I thought it was right off the bat, wholesale to my company, and though it almost never has worked out the way I envisioned it, it's gotten me some recognition for trying to solve problems in a systematic way and showed me in a fairly new light to a boss who thought I'd given up.

That's a very sunny and rosy approach. I'd say also looking for other jobs through alerts and passive scrolling on job sites can help as well. Save a whole lot of them in whatever way works for you and see if any of that sparks action, as well.
posted by xingcat at 7:48 AM on November 20 [6 favorites]

I have worked for nonprofits where I wore “various non program hats” and I COMPLETELY empathize with this. They are burning you out so thoroughly that you don’t even have the energy to look for something else. When I was in that situation it took me months of foot dragging and prodding from my therapist to finally apply for new jobs. But once I did, I got two offers within a month or two.

This is not your fault. Many nonprofits will chew people up and spit them out, especially non-program staff because “program’s job is harder/more important.” Well, fuck that. I resent the years of my life I wasted on that treadmill and you have all my support in getting the fuck out of there.
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:55 AM on November 20 [9 favorites]

This really sucks, and I'm sorry to hear that you are going through this. On the days that normally feel like a total waste, I try to get at least 3 things done - they can be small things, but if it's 3 more things than 0 things, that is still progress. Make 3 whatever # you feel is doable, but still a bit of a challenge.

I don't know about you, but I also feel on the days I can't do anything, I will still try to sit at my computer stewing over what a time waster I am. I've started to try to trick myself to at least get those 3 things done faster. E.g., once I get these 3 things done, I'm going to stop working or take a break or eat a chocolate... vs. getting those 3 things done over the course of many more hours than needed and being miserable about it.

On other days, when I'm mindlessly being asked to do an X thing that I totally disagree with, I set a timer app that turns your time into $ made, and that makes me feel slightly better that I'm being paid to do X boring thing for Y money. (Your mileage may vary of course depending on how fairly you're being compensated.) It at least helps me view my time exchange as a monetary transaction - that company X felt like it was important enough to have someone spend $Y doing this dumb thing, even if I disagree with it.

It sounds like your boss is terrible, but it does sound like there are some folks at your work that appreciate what you've done. Can you try to spend a little more time with them? And if you're feeling safe, can you ask them to help them remind you of what a great job you've doing? Hearing some cheerleaders in your court can make a world of difference. It won't make up for your boss's lack of appreciation, but it does sound like others appreciate you for what you've written.

Last but not least, I find reading this sick systems article really helpful for validating my experiences of burn out in cultures designed to burn you while making you too weak / tired to get out of the hell hole.
posted by ellerhodes at 8:13 AM on November 20 [3 favorites]

Hi. I'm burnt out and depressed too. (So you're not alone, if that's any help.) I can't help with the big-picture stuff, but I can offer two small things that are helping me keep going.

First, do you have any control of your hours? If you're somewhere where the days are getting really short now, if you can rejig things so you get a longer lunch break, that gives you the chance to get outside for a walk in the daylight. Which means you get exercise, daylight, a break in the day, and a reminder that a world exists outside of work. Yes, it's a sticking plaster for a gaping wound, but I think it's something that's helping me a tiny bit at a time when I'm far more stressed about work than about the GLOBAL PANDEMIC which really ought to have been the most stressful thing to happen this year, dammit.

Second, a brain-hack: When a task I need to complete is one that doesn't need my full attention - and it sounds as if you have plenty of those tasks - I watch undemanding television while I'm doing it. That distracts the part of my brain that's otherwise bored and unhappy, and lets me make much faster progress. Medical dramas seem to work well for this - formulaic enough that you don't need to pay close attention to follow the plot, engaging enough to do the job of distraction.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 9:43 AM on November 20

Whatever you do, don't take your vacation time. Stay away from interesting projects. Ask for a raise. Give yourself time to get over this hump and try to keep yourself occupied with the exciting things you CAN do because you spent your time wisely instead of in a way that you find energizing by default. Meantime, keep your resume updated and make sure you've got all the little 'awesomeness' certificates your chosen career fawns upon. It's you're boss's job to make you feel valued, but not TOO valued (especially in a non-profit), so don't take that personally. Just know everyone gets burned out after year one or two. The more passionate about the job at the beginning, the faster the burnout. This, too, shall pass.
posted by IronLizard at 11:42 PM on November 20

I've tried using the WOOP method for finding motivation and over coming obstacles.
posted by squink at 7:27 AM on November 22 [2 favorites]

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