Between an old rock and a hard place
August 5, 2022 6:55 AM   Subscribe

I quit my previous job a year ago due to burnout/lower pay/dead end and switched to a very different area of my field. I don't know if this is a good fit, so I interviewed for my old position. Not sure what choice to make here.

Back in 2020, I started a state government role to escape my previous state government role with a hostile, racist environment. I was so grateful to be out. I was excited for this role and then boom. Pandemic. Soon after I started, we all had to go remote. As I was learning my new role, we had to create a whole new pandemic program from scratch and I was put in charge of the Apples, something that is very much not my background and not what my job role was. Because we were understaffed, I was doing three roles in one. I took a paycut for this original role because I knew I had to get out and this was stable. My boss left about a year into my role and I had to take on her role while we waited to hire someone! My boss told me that they'd promote me to her role, which they didn't thank god. But they promoted me to a Apples lead for this team. I was miiiiiserable. I was suicidal for the first time in my life and ready to unalive, but thankfully got on meds before that happened!

I knew something had to change, so I started working part time for a group practice as counselor (won't specify as I'm afraid of some clients finding this -- but I'm not a therapist, but work very closely with them.) I really loved it. It felt like it gave me back my energy, even with how hard the work was. A year ago, I quit that state job and decided to give this a chance. I knew it would be a risk (1099 position, independent contractor) but I was able to get on my partner's insurance and told myself I could try it for a couple of years and then maybe open up my own practice or go find another W2 job.

Well...here I am a year later and I'm struggling again. I feel burned out, but for different reasons. I think the lack of stability is getting to me (pay is determined by how many clients I see), along with some issues I have with the ethics of the group practice I work for. One of those being we are 1099s, but we all get treated like employees with employee expectations and no employee benefits. The practice owner always reiterates how much he cares about us and doesn't want us to burnout, but if I say I need to slow down my case load, it's "well...will that be financially viable for the practice?" I have a lot of complex cases right now that *I* am not fully trained for yet too. Talking to my own therapist about it, she was like "Good lord, no wonder you're burned out. You need to take these cases off your load asap."

So, in a stupor I started looking at other jobs. I felt like a failure because I haven't made it to two years yet. I care for my clients and felt like I'm trying to leave them behind.

Then my old (replaced my previous boss) boss at the state said that my job position was opening up. They've changed it a bit, but the title is the same. I asked her if she might know if the pay has changed, and she said likely not. No growth for it either, but she said that I could essentially move up by going to another state department or going out of state or the federal level. I'm not jazzed about that. And for once, I feel like I'm ready for something where I can take more leadership and creativity in my role. This role likely will not give that. It also is not remote, so I will have to stay where I'm at, when our plans were to hopefully move closer to family in a year. (My 1099 position is fully remote.) If I take this role, I will stay here for at least 3 years to get more experience in that role, especially since that would look better for the resume. On the bright side, my old boss said that I won't be working 3 jobs in 1 and would have more support, but that this role would be taking on a lot too, so I should prepare myself.

I am not excited to go back, but I know at this stage of where I'm at, I need some kind of stability. And paid time off would be so key when I need a mental health day. While I technically make more than my previous role post-tax in my 1099 job, the unpredictability of pay unless I overbook myself is wild. I can't seem to rest or take time off because I don't know if next month will be slow. My colleagues tell me that I'll eventually figure out the cycle and take time off, but my brain is just saying "No...I can't do that math right now. Work harder, save money, recession is coming." on repeat.

I believe the job offer for the old job (have already interviewed) might be coming soon (and if not--phew. I guess problem solved) and I'm not sure what to do. Logically, I know I have other options besides old job and stay stressed in current role. But emotionally, it feels like this might be my only way out is to go back to something I know, the devil I have been used to. There was a role at another remote company that I was really excited about, but I haven't heard back yet. It may never come! These two options feel like the most sure bet.

Any advice on what I might need to consider would be helpful. Or even resources/folks to talk to (like a career coach? Haven't seen one before but at this point, I'm ok with someone walking me through this decision.) Thank you x
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
This is a sideways answer, but... the 1099 situation doesn't smell right to me. In your shoes I might pay for an hour of an employment lawyer's time, because if you've been misclassified as a contractor when you're really an employee, you could be owed a whackton of money.
posted by humbug at 7:01 AM on August 5 [4 favorites]


Wait, you said you were suicidal at that job! Don't go back!!! There have to be other options! You haven't been looking all that long!

That said, I would considering focusing in therapy on what's causing you to take work quite so hard. At three jobs of misery in a row, each for a different reason, with the problems at at least two of them developing within a year (right?), I would start asking myself whether my coping/processing mechanisms needed bolstering, or whether there was an underlying problem that I'm expressing by unhappiness at my job. A job that involves more leadership like the kind you want will almost certainly involve more stress and (just by the nature of things, rather than for any personal reason) more sense of feeling out of your depth. You don't want to snag your dream job and then find yourself struggling again.

(I don't know if you're correctly a 1099, but, as you continue looking around, you absolutely cannot treat post-tax pay as an employee and a contractor as being equivalent. Most people would say you'd need 30-50% more as a contractor to compensate for the lack of benefits and, in this case, guaranteed hours.)
posted by praemunire at 7:36 AM on August 5 [8 favorites]


The practice owner always reiterates how much he cares about us and doesn't want us to burnout, but if I say I need to slow down my case load, it's "well...will that be financially viable for the practice?"

I'm wondering what happens next in this chain of events? You ask the owner to slow down your caseload, he hems and haws about profit.... and then what?

What would happen if you pressed your point? What would happen if you told him that you feel unqualified to take on X, Y, and Z cases and you are concerned this could be a liability for you and for the clinic? What would happen if you stopped taking responsibility for the overall financial viability of this practise? (Surely as a contractor, your only role is to come in, see the clients, and bill for your time.)

If you are as miserable as you describe, and ready to leave the job anyway, then what is the downside to insisting on less work?
posted by cranberrymonger at 8:13 AM on August 5 [3 favorites]


Both these options suck. Apply for more jobs and find one that at least sucks in a new and exciting way.

I would suggest not thinking too hard about any personal habits and processes until you get that new job, as you risk spending time overexamining the internals of the bad situation while you're still in said situation. This can very easily slip into "What flaws do I have that makes me deserve this terrible job? Am I mentally unfit for a job I like? What's wrong with me that must be changed?" when realistically, there's a good chance that you're just in a bad fit and the energy you spend ruminating could be used on job hunting. When you get that new job that doesn't totally suck, then take a breath and think about your personal habits and how they affect your work life.
posted by kingdead at 10:06 AM on August 5


For your answer... just look at the part where you say: I'm not jazzed about that. And for once, I feel like I'm ready for something where I can take more leadership and creativity in my role. This role likely will not give that. It also is not remote, so I will have to stay where I'm at, when our plans were to hopefully move closer to family in a year.

I mean, that's the answer. Don't go back there. It's not what you want professionally, and would actively prevent you from reaching important goals in your personal life. You'd be trading one rough road for another rough road going in the wrong direction.

If your current job isn't what you're looking for and won't give you what you want, keep looking until you find a job that will (or at least, might!). Your old job isn't that.
posted by invincible summer at 10:16 AM on August 5 [3 favorites]


Yes, "get magical third job that doesn't have the problems of jobs one or two" would be an ideal answer, but we don't live in an ideal world and you're trying to figure out what to do now, not wait around for magical third job to exist and take you.

You've done both jobs now. Which is worse? The job where you were suicidal, or the one where you were burned out? I feel like that's the real core of this problem. You've done both jobs now. Both have problems. Which one, knowing what you know now, has slightly less problems? I can see why being able to take a mental health day with pay would look appealing at this point, but is that worth the suicidal-ness? How would current boss feel about you leaving entirely and having THAT financially affect the practice, vs. you having less cases?
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:27 AM on August 5 [2 favorites]


I like cranberrymonger's answer. Wait to see if the old job makes an offer. And then go to the practice and tell them that you are ready to leave unless X, Y, and Z changes for the better for you. Or go nuclear as humbug suggests. And then go the practice and tell them that you are ready to litigate unless X, Y, and Z changes for the better for you. Or litigate anyway. :D
posted by Stuka at 10:53 AM on August 5


It sounds like your new work is pretty different, right? As in, you're doing different stuff than you were before? And now you've been doing it for a year, which means you have enough experience to start looking for other jobs that have the type of responsibilities that you said gave you back your energy, but with better labor practices. In short, stick with the work you prefer, and then find a job that values you.
posted by babelfish at 11:12 AM on August 5 [1 favorite]


"the job offer for the old job (have already interviewed) might be coming soon (and if not--phew. I guess problem solved)"

I think this is key to the dilemma. You don't want to go back, don't.

In my view, health insurance is one of the main reasons people hold onto jobs they hate. You have health insurance.

Deal with the burnout --talk to the owner, cut back on your clients, take a leave or quit. But I strongly recommend you don't go back to that first job.

Good luck.
posted by rhonzo at 11:24 AM on August 5 [1 favorite]


I don't think you should go back to the old job. It sounds like you'd enjoy the current job, minus the burn out and heavy case load. Can you figure out if that's typical for people in those positions? And if not, can you look for a position like your current one but elsewhere?

You are not a failure because you can't manage a super huge workload!

I do think it's worth taking a big step back to see if something is linking all these cases of your work stress.
posted by bluedaisy at 2:03 PM on August 5 [2 favorites]


Try to set boundaries. If you're conflict averse that's really hard, but not all boundaries have to be communicated.

An example where they should be communicated: the state job. Talk to your boss about your burnout and tell her you will need 2 days off a month, either sick days or vacation days. Govt employees know how to label things to meet the rules, so get her input. Otherwise, ask if part time is an option for the state job.

An example where boundaries need to be set but not communicated is the non profit job. Your boss was extremely inappropriate in talking to you about the financial health of the organization (has bad boundaries). Reduce your caseload and schedule no contact days where you work on paperwork. If you have to drop cases then or stop accepting new ones, so be it. Even though there will be a financial hit to you, you will open more space in your mind to look for more suitable opportunities.

Perhaps let go of some strictures that are keeping you locked in place, like you need a certain number of years in a job to look good. A year is enough.

Good luck!
posted by jello at 11:02 AM on August 6


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