Please suggest ways to improve my situation in life.
May 26, 2007 10:42 AM   Subscribe

The short version of my question: I am underpaid and need to make what I'm worth but I am also incredibly insecure and the thought of applying for another job sends me into panic and depression. Even when asked by, for example, the VP of the online division of a national newspaper I find myself unable to write a resume and offer it up (true story). Is it possible to convince my current employers to pay me what I'm worth?

I'm posting anonymously and asking a fairly nebulous question, so I'm going to provide far more background material than one might reasonably suppose is necessary to elicit a useful reply. Sorry. The gist of the question is simply: how do I overcome my psychological inhibitions and learning disabilities in order to capitalize on what I'm told is an odd combination of very real strengths in order to succeed professionally and personally? I'll be slightly verbose so you can get a feel for my situation and personality. Besides, I honestly don't know what I'm worth, only that it is more than I'm paid.

I'm 25, male, American, live in an east coast city with terrible public transportation and have a bachelors in English. That pretty much identifies me to those who know me without making me googleable. I hope.

I take home $785 every other week. I pay $565 in rent every month, so when rent is due I generally have to choose between paying the other bills and eating. I also pay for psychotherapy out of pocket, though at a reduced rate that is just under $1/min rather than the more typical $2.50/min. I pay for antidepressants and ADD medication out of pocket, as well. Food costs what food costs, telephone and internet are fairly reasonable, and energy costs vary from month to month. I quit smoking months ago and stopped drinking the evening I realized I'd had half a pint of the cheapest 100 proof whisky available every night for the past fortnight. I have zero friends and zero acquaintances. Until this year I have always managed to be in a relationship and in love. Since finishing college though, I haven't had any way to meet anyone, at least no one who meets my standards for beauty, intelligence, and humor. Hence the whisky. Basically, I make just enough to live, if you can call it living.

I have about $80K in combined debt because I didn't work much while I attended college and mostly relied on loans. For an intelligent person I do some very stupid things. If you're keeping up you'll realize that I can't possibly repay these, and indeed they are all in forbearance.

I excelled in literary theory and criticism, creative writing, critical writing, analytic philosophy, continental philosophy, and history. I'm extremely good at both propositional and predicate logic; however, I am very poor at math, especially geometry, which does not make any sense whatsoever and confused more than one professor. All I can say is brains are strange things. Mine falls down in two areas: practical mathematics and language acquisition. Unfortunately, this isn't mere laziness, I actually have the test results to prove it.

Go figure.

And I'm something of an emotional cripple and something of a petulant child, though I try very hard to reign in these traits.

I tend to be arrogant and insecure. I am extremely critical of myself and others and can't shake the conviction that others are not only critical of me but judgmental. I generally refrain from passing judgement on others until they prove themselves to be average. Or worse, stupid. Or worse yet, stupid and fat. Or worst of all: stupid, fat, and happy. I'm somewhat belligerent towards stupid fat people and wary of happiness.

I work for a graphic design company founded before I was born and still owned and operated by the original partners. Aside from those two there is myself and one other, a designer. I am not a designer but I have the aesthetic sensibility and appreciation that print designers seem to think both vital to existence and mostly absent from the general population.

I am an expert in Photoshop (since 2.5 I think, I remember getting excited when layers were added) and InDesign (since it came out, before that I had some experience with Quark, enough to know I hated it) and adept at Illustrator (not expert, I can't achieve photo realism, but very competent for the more common applications). Before I began working for these people they contracted out the really difficult pieces of production work — image retouching, color correction, compositing, that sort of thing — now I do it, although I had to demonstrate my abilities on a near daily basis for half a year before they would let me take over those tasks. And I only recently convinced them to purchase a Wacom tablet, which on average halves the amount of time it takes me to the really fiddly bits. They wouldn't believe me when I told them I needed a tablet. Now that we have one they won't even take the approximately one hour of time to get used to it and begin to take advantage of it.

This is one thing that drives me nuts. They've existed in a competitive and difficult field for almost thirty years. As far as I can tell, they've survived by never charging enough, sucking up to clients, working sixty to eighty hour weeks, and never, ever taking a single risk. If you win all your bids you're bidding too low. Right? Right?! They found a formula and they will not change it. And they don't respect the new, which from their perspective includes me, since in their eyes I'm still an infant. Whenever I suggest some alternative, or wonder aloud why they consistently under bill, provide free services, and don't charge for absurd requests, they get arch and remind me that they've been in business for a long time. To which all I can do is shrug, since I can't exactly say "big fucking deal, I've been alive for 25 years, that doesn't make me an expert in living. Just because you've found a way to survive doesn't mean you've found the best way." They won't leave the cave to see the sun.

I started as an intern, it was supposed to last three weeks. Six months later I was finally offered a job. Here's how that happened.

They'd designed a website for a school and contracted an independent web designer (a teacher at the well respected art school in this city) to do the technical stuff. They'd worked with him before so I had a chance to examine the product. He was clearly a hack, his websites were built entirely in Dreamweaver and in the least efficient, least semantic, least accessible, least standards compliant fashion possible. There were no headings in the markup, no lists, nothing but paragraphs and font tags inside of tables inside of tables tucked within tables. The doctype said xhtml 1 transitional, the markup said html 3.2, the W3C validator said you've got to be kidding. I actually needed to make a backup of a site he'd built for the company before I got there and the fastest way, I thought, was wget. Wget couldn't make a complete mirror because all the crucial navigation was done with flash. I could grab everything in a specified directory, but that was it. I ended up going directory by directory. The site still isn't well indexed in any search engine, although the first part does show up in Google.

I've been building websites for fun since 1998. In 2001 I learned CSS and became a standards nut. At this point I can and do write valid, semantic markup and exploit CSS to the limit, and fairly consistently get the results I intend across all major platforms on the first go.

Trying to convince the people I work for that semantic markup, separation of form and content, and standards compliance are not only a good idea but efficient was and is impossible. They need Dreamweaver because they're visual, and Dreamweaver often has trouble rendering my css properly, it seems to choke on complex positioning. CSS that validates and renders properly in all major browsers and, when necessary, in IE5.5 manages to trip Dreamweaver up and the bossess blame the CSS because they can't understand how an expensive piece of software can be such crap. They don't like the idea that CSS degrades gracefully. From their perspective it is better that information be totally inaccessible than presented plainly.

Fortunately, the guy they'd hired couldn't figure out how to create a fairly simple drop down menu with a translucent background that worked on all platforms and so was lobbying to build the site in Flash. I went home and cranked out a demonstration in about an hour. I brought it in the next day and said "is this what you had in mind?" Because I can be a smug little prick sometimes. And it degraded gracefully. After that I continued to build a functional example of the two most technically challenging parts of the site on my own because I had a strong feeling the guy was going to let us all down. After many failures on his part the eleventh hour rolled around and there was no site. They turned to me. Why not, things couldn't get worse. I gave them a site in five days, complete with pixel perfect alignment (usually a pain, in this case any sane developer would've said it can't be done and suggested a simpler design) across browsers and platforms. There are some ugly css hacks (but nothing that can break in future versions of IE) and a couple unobtrusive bits of Javascript, but it works. Before the client started making their own changes it was 100% valid xhtml 1.0 strict, valid css, and accessible.

That was when they offered me a job. When they saw (yet again) that I wasn't just a kid who talked a lot but a competent and knowledgeable person who delivers even when promising the impossible. Nonetheless, the starting pay was shit. I used to make more at Starbucks. The benefits at Starbucks were better, too. As were the chances for advancement. Unless someone dies, I'm as high up the ladder as I can get at this place.

Since then I've done a few smaller web projects and managed to educate them somewhat on how the interwebs work. I can't break them entirely of the Flash habit, and so I've had to work in Flash, too. I loathe Flash. I try to feed them tidbits of info they need to know but am usually ignored. The other boss seems to think that all that matters is spending a lot of time being very, very busy every day. The idea of efficiency frightens him, and when I have time to read an article during the work day he thinks I'm slacking. He also has this infuriating habit of passing off all his boring work onto me and an equally infuriating habit of looking over my shoulder and asking me what I'm working on now. It's amazing I haven't stabbed him with an x-acto knife.

I'm involved in every project. Most of the work I do is creative in the sense that I make creative use of the tools on hand to achieve what is needed rather than I create a design. I'm more craftsman than artist — aside from a few small print pieces and one website, I don't do any design. Instead I answer questions (I know more about all the software used in that place than they do and am the only one there who understands how computers work. I've been using Photoshop as long as they have yet they only know how to use a fraction of its features. They don't know what alpha channels are, for example. Quickmask scares them. They look at the camera raw interface and get confused. They use macs, you see, a computer that assumes its users are mentally challenged magpies attracted to the shiny interface but unable to do more than peck at the brightly colored buttons. They don't know what the terminal is or why they should need it), teach (you'd think InDesign was complicated, I thought designers were supposed to understand typography yet they don't bother to learn about opentype or any of the 'optical' features in InDesign and I'm pretty sure they never really understood multiple master fonts, either. You'd think nested style sheets would appeal to people working in print, wouldn't you? But they rarely use any style sheets at all, before going to press I have to make certain the formatting is consistent throughout a document), research images and fonts (I'm something of a font nut) and so on. I basically do three or four different jobs each day. I've occasionally needed to create 3D visualizations since no one else can be bothered to learn Blender or Sketch Up (and there's no way they'd shell out for Maya). I've made a few movies and done the occasional bit of non-linear video editing. Which I'm not very good at. I'm the only one who knows what 'codec' stands for let alone how to use one. I'm the only one who knows how to create web-based presentations for clients in other countries.

I am unhappy because I don't feel respected or appreciated. I am angry because I need more money than I make and I'm pretty sure I deserve it. I'm accused of making senseless arguments because they can't follow a chain of reasoning backwards as well as forwards and so get lost. I feel as though I'm tolerated the way a particularly clever monkey might be tolerated. As a novelty. I have greater and broader knowledge than the three people I work with and am looked down on for it. I spend hours daily keeping up with trends in half a dozen fields and am considered slightly strange for it. I spend a lot of time thinking. Apparently an alien concept. I value knowledge for its own sake. I like intellectual challenges. I love a good argument. I love a good discussion. They won't even step into the hermenutic circle for a chat.

I want to stay where I am because it is relatively informal, I can walk to work, and I'm used to it. And because applying for jobs terrifies me. I only got the internship that led to this job by impressing a Professor who, because she thought I was interesting and smart arranged it with the company. I needed three weeks for college credit. After that the bosses owed nothing to me or to my professor. They didn't want to terminate the internship and I am now an employee. Luck got me in the door, ability kept me there. But I didn't do the scary part and apply for the position. Bearing in mind that I really do admire the talent and dedication of the people I work with, not to mention their knowledge, here is some of the crap I have to put up with.

They don't share my frames of reference and so my ideas often strike them as stupid. My humor is wasted on them. The day Kurt Vonnegut Jr. died I was saddened, they said "who?" They'd never heard of Emperor Norton; don't understand Descartes; won't discuss Aristotle; don't care about web standards; don't trust open source and make no effort to understand either the philosophical or the practical implications of it; care only about how things look; one of them believes in god; they don't know what the X-Prize is or who won it; don't read fiction, especially don't read science fiction; don't have ideas; and don't do anything, really, except churn out incredibly high quality design.

I say Jeremy Brett was the best Sherlock Holmes and they grunt. I say A Bit of Fry and Laurie was the best sketch comedy show to come out of England since Monty Python's Flying Circus and they shrug. They (the bosses and my co-worker) don't know Bertrand Russell from Bertram Wooster. They've never read The Wasteland. They can't make a distinction between postmodernism and postcolonialism. They don't know what opera the Queen of the Night is from or who composed it; when I was listening to a recording of Edita Gruberova in the role I was asked to turn the volume down. But they think nothing of it when my coworker plays The Shins or one of the bosses puts on Herman's Hermits. They've never heard of Lucretius. If I say "somatic cell nuclear transfer" they do not say anything, not even "baaa." They don't know who Knuth is. They've never read "Three Men in a Boat." They can't explain special relativity. They use lorem ipsum and don't know where it comes from or what it means. Once the male boss, who runs, suggested I take up running. I half muttered "There is no one who desires pain for its own sake. Who would chose to do hard exercise, except to reap some reward from it?" (paraphrasing Cicero) I got a blank stare. It wasn't a perfect translation, but it should've been obvious what I was driving at. They don't know what TCP stands for. They haven't read Mark Twain since high school. They refuse to understand why the idea of an intellectual commons matters and matters more now than ever before, and won't think about it. They don't know the basics of any subject but their own: no grounding in psychology, cognitive studies, biology, genetics, zoology, philosophy, nothing. One of them likes history but not the way you or I would think of history, as an area of study, he doesn't seem to think about it so much as to memorize trivia. The other has read The Picture of Dorian Gray but never thought about it. When I quoted from it one day she was pleased to recognize my source and I, in turn, was pleased to discuss it. Only I couldn't because she'd forgotten what it was all about. I made a joke about necessary and sufficient conditions, I forget the context now, but I remember having to explain it and I remember they never quite understood. They don't know art history, not even in broad. Fuavism, formalism, futurism begin with an "f" and end with an "ism," but that's about it. They've heard of the book "Things Fall Apart" but they can't name the author nor recognize the allusion in the title. They've never heard of the steady-state theory or the standard-model, although they can say "big bang." The COBE satellite gathered data that took cosmology from a speculative pursuit and transformed it into a hard science. Anyone who can hear that without a sense of optimism and wonder lacks a soul. They lack souls. One of them mistook a line of Herrick for a line of Shakespeare. They've never seen Doctor Who, can't name a single actor who played the Doctor, and look at me funny when I say "exterminate" like a Dalek. They are machines optimized for design and convinced of the absolute rightness of being a machine optimized for design.

I'm paid shit to do work that is essential to their daily business and they don't seem to think this is a problem. I wouldn't mind if they weren't so slow, boring, and dismissive. I was promised insurance in January and only now have it, by the time the insurance company starts to cover the pre-existing condition of depression I'll have been paying for treatment out of pocket for over two years.

I write, I manage the network, the ftp and http servers, I do all the technical stuff, I do basic video work, I do Flash (I hate Flash). I have worked hard for years to know what I know and to get good at it.

But I've acquired all these skills on the side. So I'm afraid to approach another employer because I can't demonstrate, not fully, what I can do. I feel there must be people just as qualified and with proof in the form of grades and a diploma and a portfolio. these days I'm starting to have a portfolio, but my expertize was acquired out of a passion for the creative potential I percived in the tools. I can point to an annual report and say "the left half of that image was created entirely in Photoshop, by me" but that really doesn't get to the heart of what I can do. I'd love to get away from print entirely (although initially it attracted me) and focus on new media and network mediated communication, but thanks to that pesky language+math learning problem I'm the worst programmer alive so I can't sell myself as a developer. Especially since I seem like someone who should be excellent at it, I get all the theory, all the abstraction, for example I find Javascript fascinating because prototypical inheritance is neat and I've always like lambdas. I once spent several months failing to learn Haskell.

I'd like to freelance but I don't know how to find clients and don't have any savings and besides I'm convinced of my own worthlessness. On one level I know I'm superior in many ways, I've been told so for years, I can see it when I compare myself directly to others, but I can't really feel it. I feel boring and average and dull. Sure, I'm smarter, quicker, and funnier than the people I work for, but they're old and inflexible. My coworker is nice enough but a little slow, but she's from the South, believes in god, and anyway didn't have some of the privileges I had growing up, so it isn't really her fault.

I always see the big picture and take the too-long view. Nothing really worries me because I know that eventually the universe will end and long before that, I will. But lots of things piss me off, and all of them are caused by people.

In many ways I'm a geek. As a child I took apart my toys to see how they worked and to this day void the warranty within a week of purchasing something. I build my own computers. I'm comfortable with and run several flavors of Linux as well as freeDOS. I hate OSX but I know it quite well. My dependence on the internet for news is quite geeky, too. I read about thirty different sites including general sites like mefi or boingboing and topical sites like a list apart. I'm completely current with what passes for culture online and completely oblivious to most of what passes for popular culture offline.

In many ways I'm a creative. I'm moody, depressed, sporadically productive. I dress in black. Although in truth that last is only because I hate shopping (I haven't bought new jeans in ten years, I only own one pair of footwear at a time, the newest T-shirt in my collection is six years old, I buy underwear and socks but that's about it) and black wears well. I'm a rebel without cause or clue.

In many ways I'm an academic. I synthesize ideas from many disciplines in newish ways, I learn incredibly quickly, and I have a lot of fun doing it. I see the humor in tragedy. I enjoy research, enjoy theory, and enjoy writing down my ideas for others to examine.

In many ways I'm a failure. I have an undergraduate degree and excellent recommendations from English and Philosophy professors but terrible grades. I might be able to get into grad school but it wouldn't be a Harvard. I went to school to learn and never paid attention to grades, deadlines, or requirements. I hate competition and direct confrontation, I prefer to destroy opposition before it has a chance to realize it is opposition. I prefer other people to do things for me than to do them for myself. I can't bring myself to respect authority or even pretend to do so, I can't submit to people who are only my superiors in age and wealth. I'm not a morning person to the extent that I've been fired for being incapable of getting to work on time. In other words, I'm neither temperamentally nor physiologically suited for the professional world.

I don't know what to do. I want to make enough money to pay back my loans, eat out occasionally, and put something aside. I don't know how to drive and wouldn't be able to afford to keep a car anyway so I can't go far. I don't have the money to move. I'm stuck. The people I work for are kind employers but cheap and inconsiderate and dull. They don't reward merit but then who does? I can walk to work, which is great because I don't know how to drive. I can't bring myself to write a resume because putting down what I can do seems stupid. This whole post makes me think I'm wrong to want more money. Only by directly comparing myself to another am I able to convince myself I'm not a stupid fat person. I will, of course, force myself to write a resume, but I'd rather stay where I am. Its convinient and its familiar. How can I convince my employers to pay me what I'm worth when they don't take me seriously and refuse to acknowledge that they need me? I mean, I'm not indispensable, but if I quit now it would be expensive and difficult for them and chances are they'd never find another person who can fill all the roles I fill.

I feel like I'm on train that left from the birth canal and won't stop until the incineration chamber. It's been chugging along with ever growing speed and the world outside is a blur; I'm moving through time and I'm sitting still. I can't stop the passage of time, but there must be some way to get off the train and complete the journey in a more active and rewarding manner. I just wish someone would tell me how.

Thank you for your patience and for taking the time to try to help.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (23 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
Holy shit. It sounds like you need a friend. E-mail in profile.
posted by cior at 5:15 PM on May 26, 2007

you're going to be miserable wherever you go with that kind of attitude. you'd also find yourself as miserable if you hung around people who feel the same way as you do.
posted by jimmy at 5:54 PM on May 26, 2007 [1 favorite]

What's wrong with Herman's Hermits?
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 6:22 PM on May 26, 2007

Seconding Jimmy. If you are going to be able to be happy in life, you have to come to accept that most people aren't fascinated by the things you are and they often have good reasons for it. You have to be flexible in what you accept from people because you have to hope for that same flexibility in other people when they judge you. I have a similar problem. I tend towards being very judgmental of other people but it tends to lead to exactly the problem you are having. If you are so hard on other people, you tend to be just as hard on yourself. Your problem is that the standard you are setting is too difficult for anyone to live up to. It turns out, it's too difficult for you to live up to as well.

Really though, the problem is not having high standards. What it comes down to, I think, is that you are afraid of failure. I should know. I see myself so much in your posting. It's much easier (and safer) to stay where you are and complain about all the idiots you work with rather than finding the cajones to type up a resume and end up working at a place where failure can be your fault. I'm graduating at the moment and I have found the whole job search thing to be terrifying. It's very difficult to put yourself on the line and try but it gets easier and you learn the confidence it takes to be truly happy. If you stay in the mindset you are in, I can assure you that you will never be truly happy.
posted by MasterShake at 6:28 PM on May 26, 2007 [3 favorites]

Your first priority is getting a new job. They're not likely to pay you more, and you're not going to grow if you follow the path of least resistance (hooray cliches!) and can't write a resume. Work with your psychotherapist on this?

You also need some friends. The people you work with don't need to share your frame of reference - they're not your friends. Find some fellow geeks to hang out with (search past questions for how to do this - volunteer, etc.); even if you're annoying, people might like to hang out with you if they can learn interesting things from you.

You value your intelligence too much and people too little. You're also a perfectionist and an ass and might be a troll. Still, you don't seem like a lost cause.
posted by dreamyshade at 6:35 PM on May 26, 2007 [2 favorites]

Here is what you do: cowboy the fuck up. You are getting job offers and turning them down because you are afraid of failure. You are already a failure. You have to choose between food and bills. That's failure. You have to choose to get out of this situation.

If you truly decide that you are not equipped for the professional life, pick something else and do it. It's a large world. Some day you will be exterminated, but prior to that you can take advantage of your privileged opportunities and have a good chance of happiness, or ignore them and have no chance of happiness. This is the world you are in. There are no regenerations. Wake up.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 6:38 PM on May 26, 2007 [3 favorites]

I say Jeremy Brett was the best Sherlock Holmes and they grunt. I say A Bit of Fry and Laurie was the best sketch comedy show to come out of England since Monty Python's Flying Circus and they shrug. They (the bosses and my co-worker) don't know Bertrand Russell from Bertram Wooster. They've never read The Wasteland.

There are many types of intelligence that bosses and friends value. So, you've read The Wasteland. You can quote Aristotle. You've mastered Photoshop. Nicely done. But that is neither here nor there. Many other people can either do these things or they can be taught.

Emotional intelligence. People skills. Collaboration. Negotiation. Showing empathy. Taking responsibility for your choices and actions. Demonstrating listening skills. Et cetera. That is the type of intelligence you seem to be lacking. Those are the types of skills you need to develop.

As I read your post, I was struck by the leaps you took between beating yourself up and then expressing disdain for others. There is a middle ground. There is a balance. Right now, you seem to be swinging widely from pole to pole, back and forth, preventing any forward movement in a positive direction. You realize that you aren't experiencing the forward movement that you'd like. That realization is a huge step forward. Keep going.
posted by jeanmari at 7:37 PM on May 26, 2007 [1 favorite]

posted by 517 at 7:40 PM on May 26, 2007

This might help: Learn that you are not a special snowflake. You are not unique and precious. Everyone else has insecurities. Everyone is fucked up. More people are as smart as you than you think, and many more people are smarter than you than you think. Your first question when you're having trouble with people is "gosh, is this because they can't follow me? is it because I'm just so smart and fascinating and special?" It should be "okay, how am I not being clear, and do I really even need to be saying this? how am I being full of shit right now?"

Start there. The thing about not being a unique and special snowflake is that it frees you up to fuck up. It helps you see that the way that you look down on everyone is rooted entirely in your own insecurity and not based in any kind of reality, and that you are propping your excuses up with your pretend specialness.

It sounds harsh, but I think it really is the first step in getting over yourself--the arrogance AND the insecurity--enough to step up and actually be awesome, rather than making yourself awesome in your head.
posted by hought20 at 7:48 PM on May 26, 2007 [3 favorites]

I recognize a lot of myself in you, especially when I look back to my 20s, as I am about 10 years older. There are a bunch of similarities: ADD, mood, culture, intellectual interests, isolation, hatred of applying for jobs, etc. I'm not claiming to have resolved all of my issues, far from it. But I can see certain patterns that I know will not serve you. Give a listen.

The most basic issue and the one you spent the least time on is transportation. You can't quit until you get this resolved. Either you somehow finance a move to a city with better public transportation, which seems unlikely, or you learn how to drive. You can learn how, and I strongly suggest you do so. This will be of benefit in other ways, including your mood, but it is a necessity for you to change your material situation.

I don't think you are going to be able to get much more money out of your current employers for a little while. Your rapport with them sounds like it is for shit. I'm guessing that at the very least they suspect you hold them in some contempt. That generally slows people down in handing you more money. While on some level they do recognize the value you bring to their company, the horrible social dynamics that likely exists between you prevents them from fully acknowledging it amongst themselves. They do not want to notice it because that would mean giving someone who holds them in disdain an increase in status. Would you want to elevate those who sneer at what you value?

I'm not saying you will have to quit to get more money but you will have to change the way you relate to the others at the office, and it may take a while. So learn how to drive. Start keeping a journal of what you do at work and how you have contributed to projects. As past work comes to mind, write it down. Be as specific as you can. Eventually you'll use this to craft your resume and to think out your answers in future interviews.

You value culture too much and I am saying this as something of a culture snob myself. Philosophy students in particular, and I was one, frequently believe that their relationship to culture and what they read somehow validates them or gives them some superiority. As I'm sure you know this goes way back to a number of quotes about the philosophic life being the only life worth living. There is a sense in which that is right and one in which it is completely wrong. Bernard Williams once made the comment that it is ridiculous to think that studying philosophy will make one a more ethical person. He's right. A lot of philosophy, especially the academic variety, is 'talking about'. The other sense of the quote, is how it may have been practiced in the ancient world, as among the Stoics or Epicureans. If that interests you read Pierre Hadot. Otherwise, accept that you have a more refined aesthetic sense than your coworkers, and while that is worth something, it is only good for your own satisfaction and enjoyment. It doesn't mean dick beyond that. You are placing value on it like it should translate to social status. It does not. If anything your idealization of it causes you to treat people in ways that lowers your own.

Then, there is the matter of social skills. I'm hardly someone that many would turn to for advice here but I will offer a few words anyway. Find something about your coworkers that you can respect. Focus on that. Quit trying to tell people things. You aren't in a position where they will be willing to listen to you. It sounds like you may well be right about a lot of the issues at work. It doesn't matter. Do a lot more listening, and just listening. Work with their objectives without showing disdain for them no matter how short sighted they are. Craft whatever you have to say in a way that will be heard, this includes dress, and waiting for the appropriate moment. The appropriate moment may be weeks or longer away. I think you are likely to do better somewhere else but these changes are pretty much at the level of necessity, so start on them now. This website has a lot of good social advice, so go through the archives. Find people who consistently give good advice on interpersonal relations and look through all their past answers.

Don't try to do too much at once. You have a ways to go. Be gentle with yourself. Consider meditation or some kind of relaxation practice. Congratulations on having quit smoking and drinking. That was a big step.

Best wishes to you.
posted by BigSky at 8:33 PM on May 26, 2007 [4 favorites]

It is always hard to get professional respect (or a decent amount of money) from people for whom you once worked for free. It is even harder to get respect from people to whom you do not show respect. Your litany of your bosses' failures is incredibly insulting, and I have no doubt that that attitude is blatantly obvious to them.

You will not achieve your goals without getting a new job. I suspect that, with the obvious disdain you hold all of humanity in, it will be nearly impossible for someone to like you enough to offer you a job, despite whatever amazing Photoshop skills you may have.

The only advice I have for you is simple, but I fear it will be impossible for you to do. You have to figure out a way to like people. Respect and enjoy them for their positive traits, and learn to ignore or forgive their negative ones. Realize that not knowing what fauvism is is not a negative trait. I honestly don't have the slightest idea how someone like yourself might even begin this process, but perhaps if it is not something that has come up in your therapy, you might want to begin talking about ways you can begin to like people. You don't have to like your boss (many people do not), but you do at least have to show respect and deference, even when you think they are wrong.

Good luck, dude.
posted by Rock Steady at 10:17 PM on May 26, 2007 [3 favorites]

Seriously, quit. Use your therapy to keep you balanced while you do this. In fact, print this thread out and take it to your therapist.

Go freelance. charge whatever you feel you're worth. Also, quit judging people based on a cultural iq test of your favorite things.

The world won't end if you go freelance. If you're afraid, save $20 or more a paycheck, wait 30 or so weeks and then quit. Possibly call your family and ask them to support you while you do this. Move home if you have to. Realistically it sounds like starbucks pays as good without the overarching responsibility and leave you time to focus.

Go see fight club and realize you're not a unique snowflake. Go see Good Will Hunting and realize life isn't about books but about experiences.

Intelligence can be a curse - you believe you can think your way out of some things that just require longer term discipline. Kudos on quitting alcohol and cigarettes. Take that money and use it to provide at least a month long cushion (maybe 3).

Last you have some serious cultural loves - find some friends who enjoy that too; start online if you have to (british tv and forums if necessary.) The IRC channels of bunnies, mefi, tapes and mofirc are all places where you can be friendly with relatively non judgmental strangers.
posted by filmgeek at 10:33 PM on May 26, 2007

Practice brevity.
posted by SlyBevel at 11:41 PM on May 26, 2007 [1 favorite]

You're worth what you'll take. You take peanuts, and so you are a monkey - a monkey who quotes Cicero, but still a monkey.

Even if there were some external objective measure of your worth - a figure in an imaginary ledger, a spectral price tag about your neck - you admit you're a petulant, childish arse, and I suspect the value would reflect this.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 5:00 AM on May 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

Take a year, go to China, teach English there. You’re in need of a) humility and b) a boy-scout-like-ability to just do the basic stuff and nothing teaches the former like living somewhere you have an effective IQ of 60 because you can’t read the script nor understand the language, and nothing teaches like the latter like needing to cope anyway.
posted by Aidan Kehoe at 6:18 AM on May 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

Here are some of my reactions to your post:

* You indicate you have to choose between bills and eating. I'm not sure why. If you take home $1,570, then after your rent you have $1,005 monthly to cover food, telephone, Internet, power, and your medications. Based on my own expenditures in those areas, that seems fairly reasonable; my monthly food, telephone, Internet, and power wouldn't amount to more than $500. If therapy is $1/min., an hour weekly would be $240. $265 would be left for antidepressive and ADD medications; if your medications are costing you more than that, investigate purchasing health insurance on your own until the insurance you've just been given kicks in on the depression.

* At the top, you state that the worst of all things is to be stupid, fat, and happy. At the bottom, you state, "Only by directly comparing myself to another am I able to convince myself I'm not a stupid fat person." This is a significant thing. You are essentially saying that only by comparing yourself intellectually to others and finding yourself superior to them (as you did to your employers in this post) can you convince yourself that you are not what you believe to be the worst of all things: stupid and fat. You are telling us -- in your own words -- that the arrogance you yourself admit to is a defense mechanism. You're "convinced of [your] own worthlessness" and feel yourself to be "boring and average and dull." There's an expression I've run across and feel it to be quite accurate: "Depression turned outwards is anger. Anger turned inwards is depression."

* You take antidepressants, yet you are wary of happiness and consider being happy to be an element of "worst of all." Antidepressants, depending on the type, exist to move you further up on the spectrum from depression to happiness. That's an interesting contradiction.

* You devote a lot of space to a very thorough criticism of the way that your employers do business, yet shrug off their experience by a fallacious comparison to your lifespan not having made you an expert at life. Years working as an adult in a trade does give you expertise, or at the very least experience, in that field; years in childhood and adolescence does not lend itself towards expertise at the amorphously described phrase "life." Further, all of the negatives you describe seem to be extremely normal aspects of a company that is required to cultivate client relationships in order to continue to survive: you come in with a rate lower than that of your competitors for the job ("never charging enough" and "bidding too low"); and you maintain a cordial and even semi-sycophantic (if necessary) relationship with your client ("sucking up to clients" and "provide free services" and "don't charge for absurd requests"). In their field, the fact that they have survived in a competitive field for three decades does, indeed, give them a right to say that at least some of the "sun" is already inside their "cave."

* You "spend hours daily keeping up with trends in half a dozen fields and am considered slightly strange for it" as compared to "The other boss seems to think that all that matters is spending a lot of time being very, very busy every day. The idea of efficiency frightens him, and when I have time to read an article during the work day he thinks I'm slacking. He also has this infuriating habit of passing off all his boring work onto me and an equally infuriating habit of looking over my shoulder and asking me what I'm working on now." Again, an interesting juxtaposition. The partner of a graphic design firm does indeed have the right to pass along "all [the] boring work" to one of his subordinates. And if the "keeping up trends in half a dozen fields" is done during the hours he's paying you to work, he's got a right to be concerned ... that's money coming out of his pocketbook, and he may be giving you that work, "looking over [your] shoulder and asking you what [you're] working on", etc., because he wants you to work every hour of the day. It sounds as if he has a time- and not project-based view of the workday ("spending a lot of time being very, very busy every day"). That's not out of line, nor abnormal.

* You are not going to get anywhere by being dismissive of other people's attempts to reach out to you as a person. I shook my head and felt sorry for both you and your boss when I read the example regarding running. He obviously was trying to forge a common bond with you on that point: hey, I like running, you might too. And you quote Cicero at him? My God, you can't be blind to how snotty that must have sounded.

* Yes, they don't share the multiple frames of reference you go into there. Frankly, you set a very high bar. People here on MeFi are rather literate; I don't think you're going to find many people who could off the top of their heads, or even with a good deal of preparation, easily respond to most of the subjects you spoke of. Frankly, if you consider yourself expert level on all those various levels of interest, then you have a problem: I think few in the world are going to be able to match up to that level of debate. Read "Flowers for Algernon," if you've not already, and contrast Charlie's problems at his higher level of intelligence relating to people against your own. Perhaps look up your local Mensa chapter.

* As a corellary to that last point ... you need to realize that others' differences do not translate to inferiority or superiority. Most of America loves football. I just don't get it. That doesn't mean I'm better or they're worse (or contrariwise). It simply means we have different areas of expertise. I could probably tell them how to write a shell script. They're not interested. They could probably tell me what a fullback does. I actually am interested, if I find myself in that situation. Your areas of interest do not intersect with theirs. That doesn't make your areas of interest superior to theirs.

Truly, anonymous, I'm at a loss as to what to advise you to do. Were you solely arrogant, I'd advise you to stop thinking of yourself so well, but you obviously don't think of yourself well at all. Any aspect of changing your current situation seems to involve paralyzing fear.

This is what I would recommend to you, regardless of whether or not you feel you actually can do it.

1. I think that part of what may be making you unhappy is the inability in your current situation to relate to other people offline in areas of interest you enjoy. I would recommend such things as Meetup.Com and Craigslist to find local venues in which you can discuss the topics you enjoy with other people.

2. I think your life is restricted by your inability to travel. You need to learn how to drive and purchase a vehicle.

3. I tend to think that one of America's three big megapolises — New York, Chicago, Los Angeles — might be a good place for you to live. The amount of intellectual opportunities open to you in any of them would be several orders of magnitude larger than wherever you are.

4. You need to begin to constantly be willing to reframe your perceptions. Director Kevin Smith introduced an interesting concept in his movie "Dogma": the idea that ideas are far, far better than beliefs. "[I]t's better to have ideas. You can change an idea. Changing a belief is trickier. Life should be malleable and progressive; working from idea to idea permits that. Beliefs anchor you to certain points and limit growth; new ideas can't generate. Life becomes stagnant." Your statement (IMHO) showed a psyche absolutely paralyzed by beliefs calcified into truths. If I were you, I'd sit down and write a hundred of my beliefs down on a piece of paper, and for the next three months, each day, look at one of those statements and live the day re-examining life under the idea, "What if that 'truth' isn't necessarily a truth?"

5. Your therapist needs to read what you wrote above. Bring it to your next session.

6. I do think that academia might be a good area in which to investigate career opportunities. So might a think tank.

7. Above all, you need to cultivate compassion — both towards yourself and towards others — as a counteragent to your self-hatred, and your arrogance towards other people's worldviews and conceptual beliefs. (Thinking other people are soulless is a concept that has historically led to some very scary individuals.) I don't know what can do that for you. I think Comfortable with Uncertainty, by Pema Chodron, might be an interesting text for you to examine. ("Be willing to have a compassionate relationship with the parts of yourself that you feel are not worthy of existing.") Chodron also has a text I think some form of volunteer public service might be a good venue for you as well — perhaps not something as drastic (or improbable) as moving to China, but something that exposes you to the homeless, perhaps.
posted by WCityMike at 9:56 AM on May 27, 2007 [5 favorites]

Correction to the above text:

* #7: "Chodron also has a text called When Things Fall Apart that might be of interest. I think some ... "
posted by WCityMike at 10:01 AM on May 27, 2007

I excelled in literary theory and criticism, creative writing, critical writing, analytic philosophy, continental philosophy, and history.

I usually deliberately refrain from contributing to talking cure chatfiltery, but this is simple and does not involve medical advice. This is a career thing. You are not being paid enough, you need a get a blog, and if you worked as a tech writer in a big city with your skillset you could easily clear between $100K and $150K a year. You'd also work with lots of other post-arts majors.
posted by meehawl at 11:22 AM on May 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

I just noticed the part about hating competition and direct confrontation. This ties in pretty strongly with your fear of failure.

I was skimming a book the other day that had an anecdote about a young child who was considered a strong chess player. This child had not lost a game in quite some time and was very proud of his record. In order to preserve it he would only play against opponents whom he knew he could beat. One day someone with real expertise in chess happened to watch this child play a game. The child naturally won but it was very apparent to the expert that the child was no longer that strong of a player for his age level.

The game of Go has sometimes been described as man against self. Go has an excellent handicapping system so any player no matter how strong should win right around half their games. Progress is not about the number of victories. Handicapped honestly, no one should have some fantastic record to flaunt and invest their ego in.

Enough with the figurative speech. You are brittle, and you are afraid that you will not rebound well when things break bad. Cultivate resilience. There are some excellent threads here on passive aggressive behavior, and I'm not talking about the retarded thread on notes in the Blue. Look at the ones on AskMe. See if any of them sound relevant to where you are at. Do some things you are afraid of. I even more strongly now recommend a meditation program of some sort. Open Focus, devised by Les Fehmi, is great but if you don't want to spend the money, do something. Strong feelings of fear may come, but they also go.
posted by BigSky at 12:15 PM on May 27, 2007 [2 favorites]

Also, quit judging people based on a cultural iq test of your favorite things.

What filmgeek said.
posted by emmastory at 7:59 PM on May 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

Email me if you want someone to talk to who knows what you are saying. My email's in my profile.
posted by amethysts at 8:07 PM on May 27, 2007

You're overwhelmed because too many things need work and you don't know what to do first. You have to break this stuff down into smaller problems and work to fix them one at a time. It sounds like you're having money problems and emotional adjustment problems. I think you need to separate the two, work on improving the money problems (which is totally do-able), and then go back and tackle the emotional problems when you're in a better situation to be able to do so. And you'll probably find that fixing the money problem goes a good way towards gaining the confidence you need which is the first step to working on the emotional stuff when you're ready.

You panic at the idea of looking for a new job, but I really don't think you're going to be able to find happiness in the job you have. Also, with your skills, and working full-time, it doesn't sound as if you should have money worries. I think you could make a whole lot more than you're making, but I highly doubt your current cheapskate employers are going to give it to you.

If a job search sounds completely unmanageable, can you try breaking it down into small steps? For example, give yourself a deadline for Thursday for choosing a template for your resumé, putting your contact details at the top, and writing an objective statement. Give yourself a deadline of Saturday for writing the "Relevant Experience" section. Then a new deadline for the "Education" and any other sections you put in the template, etc. And then a new deadline for putting the resumé onto the job search Web sites of your choice. Then another for actually searching for jobs and applying. You can get where you need to go by taking baby steps.

Don't buy a car yet - you have enough money headaches. Get to the job interviews and the new job you're going to get on the shitty public transportation, even if it takes you two hours each way. Bring a book and just get through it. You can do this. If you get a job interview that you just can't reasonably get to on public transportation, turn it down.

You've accomplished a lot in your life already. Don't waste it. You're already on the right track stopping the alcohol and the cigarettes (got any advice for me on that?!). You can do this!
posted by hazyjane at 2:05 AM on May 29, 2007

Until you learn to love and accept other people for what they are, you are not as intelligent as you think you are.

Get a kitten and stop taking yourself so seriously.
posted by milarepa at 9:55 AM on May 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

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