Did I screw up my career?
August 31, 2006 6:21 AM   Subscribe

Have I just screwed up my career caused by a bout of anger, depression, burn out and frustration? And how do I "get back into the game"?

First some background, I'm a web person in a fairly small city with nearly 10 years experience and I had been working at a start-up web agency for around 2 years, until a couple of months ago, as the senior person on board.

Towards the end of last year I could feel the pressure of the job building and the burn out coming (home life and a friends suicide played a huge part), so I planned a vacation at the start of this year in the hopes it would help get my head straight.

It didn't, things started to spiral out of control as soon as I got back, the directors started making decisions without me, stopped inviting me along to client events, that kind of thing. This left me feeling marginalized, betrayed and frustrated, especially when some of those decisions where bad ones that I wouldn't have allowed had I been included in the discussions initially. I retrospect I can understand why the directors did this, thinking they could at least take some of the pressure off me, but they never spoke to me about it, they just went ahead and did it (this is however conjecture on my part, I have no real idea what they were up to). I should point out it never affected the quality or timing of my work, I was always on time and within budget on all my projects.

So one day I upped and quit, I got angry over something the team had come up with and then wasn't allowed to participate in - really it was just a backbreaking camel moment. I didn't have another job to go to (I still don't!) nor have any plans on what I was doing. I did leave on decent terms with the directors, but was pretty clear I wouldn't work for them again.

As I said, I live in a fairly small city, I can't move due to my SO's job, and everybody in the industry that knows me, knows I work/worked for them, so explaining what happened is tricky. I'm finding it incredible difficult to find a new job and I'm starting worry that I'm making up excuses (it's not paying enough, there's no client facing, they want someone more technical, it's client not vendor side, etc) for not going after roles for some really stupid reason or another (I've become afraid of pressure, the burn out really did get to me, I have nothing at stake in this so why should I bother).

I ask the hivemind, have I screwed up royally and how do I get back on that horse?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Have you considered starting your own company?

In a strange way the burn-out is less because you are much more in control of your own destiny.
posted by unSane at 6:37 AM on August 31, 2006

Are there any guides out there for people in a similar position as the poster, who are interested in starting their own business but may not have formal education in that area?

Personally I wouldn't even know where to start. :/
posted by Fortyseven at 6:51 AM on August 31, 2006

1)I don't think that you've ruined your career. People part company with their employers all the time. Sometimes the parting is amicable and sometimes its not. There's nothing new undr the sun. And you parted on good terms. Forget about it. You can find a way to spin this in a job interview.

2)I think that the bigger problem is in your unhappiness, depression, stress etc. You're having a tough time in life and need to talk to someone to get yourself back on track. I think that's a prerequisite to finding a new job that you feel happy with. Maybe you'll want to start your own business, maybe you'll consider commuting to a place with more opportunities or maybe you'll accept another job locally -- I don't know. But you should take care of yourself and "fix" yourself first.

...good luck. Don't be too hard on yourself. I don't think that your problems are insurmountable at all.
posted by bim at 7:11 AM on August 31, 2006 [2 favorites]

You should definitely consider starting your own firm. It may be a lot of work, but you know your competition well, and can offer the service and performance that they lack and lost (from your departure).

Here is a short list of resources for getting started. I am doing an independent study on planning for business and do a bit of web development myself, so if you want to drop me a private line, I am happy to act as a sounding board. Check my profile.

Startup Nation
Steve Pavlina
Pamela Slim's Escape from Cubicle Nation
posted by mic stand at 8:17 AM on August 31, 2006

what do you mean by "I am a web person" ? are you saying you're a web developer? can you code? action script, flash, dhtml, php, mysql, anything? if so, take a look at newstoday - there is a ton of work waiting for people like you. many large ad agencies have huge interactive departments that are paying really top dollars because the scene is so empty. if you are good, you should be able to do your own thing pretty quickly from anywhere.

but in the long run - get yourself into a decent size city.
posted by krautland at 8:26 AM on August 31, 2006

Another possibility may be to do contract work for awhile. It keeps you fresh as far as having something to put on your resume, gives you your own time to work out what you want in the long-run and develop a plan, and lets you set boundaries so that you won't have too much on your plate.

As much as it's a MeFi cliche, I second the advice about talking to someone about your burnout. You haven't ruined your career, but if you take another job only to burn out again in three months, you'll be in a much deeper hole than you are now.

Figure out what's caused the burnout -- ridiculous hours, work you don't love, something personal -- and make sure that when you start your next full-time gig you're ready for it.
posted by brina at 8:32 AM on August 31, 2006

No, you didn't screw up your career at all. The fact that you quit instead of being fired is a huge plus. If future employers ask just spout the usual BS at them: you were ready for change, to evolve, you wanted to try something a bit different, you wanted more responsibility, blah blah blah. You don't need to let them know that you burned out.
posted by nixerman at 9:28 AM on August 31, 2006

From a career perspective, you don't have to explain why you quit, or that you even quit at all (as opposed to being fired or laid off). You can keep silent and retain your full professionalism. Explaining that you quit - or why you quit - is unnecessary, and increases the chance that you'll look unprofessional or petty.

(Note: I'm on your side here if the facts are straight, what they seem to have done is rather unacceptable and would very likely stress someone out if done consistently and continually over a long period of time. But you'll run into a lot of arrogant people out there who can't relate to that.)

Furthermore, your career isn't ruined. Your relationship with a single company is soured, but they really have nothing to say about you that can hurt you. As a matter of fact, they'd be quite stupid to say anything bad about you, because it makes them legally liable for damages. They will likely choose to forget you existed, with any HR queries resulting in, "Yes, so-and-so worked here for x number of years, and left the company in 2006. That's all the info we have."

Unfortunately, this is a tough time to find design and/or technical employment here in the US, and it's probably really bad in a small city that doesn't have rapidly growing commerce or industry. New businesses, strong commerce and ambitious computer systems are the lifeblood of web designers, IT professionals, consultants, advertising agencies (who depend strongly on tech through media and design), programmers, etc. So if that's not happening in your neighborhood, you may be in for a grind. And we all know about the impact that outsourcing has had on staff tech jobs here in the US...

Hopefully your monthly expenses are low. Freelance work may come easily if you assemble a strong portfolio - really, you must do this immediately if you have not done it already. And for God's sake, don't skimp or spare expense; make it look like it's a tearsheet book for a major ad firm or National Geographic photographer. Back on topic - the pitfall in going freelance is that for any job you bid for, someone somewhere will bid the job cheaper than you. It's tricky trying to explain to someone why your services are much more worthwhile than some guy in Southeast Asia cobbling together some Joomla template for them. You won't always win that battle, but if you're serious about freelancing you definitely won't make money if you give up on it before you start.

I personally advise that you do all you can to find your way back into a company, in the type of role that you prefer, rather than try to start a business from scratch. I can't emphasize enough that becoming self-made is not the thing to do at times of career trauma. It works much better when you have a clear and focused mind about what you need to do to run a business. Right now, you're unprepared. You'd be much better off in the long run if you got a new job first and then considered the benefits of striking it out on your own. Then at least you have an opportunity to make a calm decision. Right now seems like a bad time to jump out of your current career path. But many people have made it work in similar circumstances, so if you know you'll make it on your own, then you just might.

It also doesn't hurt to talk to someone about this. It's a career thing, so your SO, family and friends may not understand enough to help. Former colleagues may be biased, and can be poor at being supportive. (Seeing you here is a sign that your colleagues were not supportive enough) Career counseling or straight-up therapy might help. Sitting at home and seething definitely will not help.

I'm sure you'll get through this. Above advice will only make the path less bumpy for you. Good luck!
posted by brianvan at 2:48 PM on August 31, 2006

« Older What kinds of splinters *must* be removed asap?   |   I want the look of a concrete countertop Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.