Finding My Footing At The New Job

Before I went on my Irish vacation and for a little while after, I was having a really rough go of it at the new job. And while there are still days when I feel the usual pangs of imposter syndrome, alienation, and general workplace unhappiness, I think I may be starting to turn a new leaf with the work.

One of the things that helped me was to find a mentor outside of my organization (connected via one of my friends) that could help give me perspective on what I was doing. I told of the many ways that internal systems seemed to be broken, the work I had tried to do to stitch things together, and the uncertainty that I was adding any value or taking the right approach to fix the problems I saw. And he reminded me of something very important:

Are you trying to make your company better or your life better? Because remember: those are two very different things.

Sometimes making my work life better is different than my instincts on making the company better. Finding a sustainable way to do my own work should be my priority because that is, frankly, much more in my locus of control and interest.

Don’t hide pain points by taking on what should be the work of others.

Eager beaver me had been trying to “fix” things I saw that didn’t seem to be working. And in doing so, I started stepping on other people’s toes (frankly, I probably still do). Amongst the chaos of a startup environment, I was trying to impose order, not just in the field of my role, but where there were gaps in our employee pool as well.

After talking with my mentor, I realized I was both driving myself batty and doing a disservice to the organization by trying to patch up holes I saw in our systems myself. Instead, he recommended a much more effective route by “managing up,” pushing recruitment of additional staff to fill those other gaps. Or, if others in their roles are not doing their jobs well and therefore leaving gaps, making it very explicit (albeit in a subtle way) where the real bottleneck is so it can be rectified. Taking things on myself would just be a band-aid.

Granted, writing all this down feels very politic-y and shirking work, but I think the point he made and I’m starting to internalize is that my natural reaction to broken things is “omg how do I fix now” whereas the correction reaction should be “what is the best way for this to be fixed and how can I help make that happen.”

Stay in your lane.

Stay humble. Listen. Don’t assume you know everything. Do not feel compelled to give an answer for things where you are unsure. Defer to others outside your area of expertise, particularly if you don’t want it to be thought of as your area of expertise.

Prioritize the work you want to be doing.

For a while I have been doing one type of work (task A) related to my role I really don’t care about and frankly kind of hate instead of another type of work (task B) that interests me a lot more. At some point, I found the best way to keep my head above water was to carve out time for task B explicitly in my schedule and rework internal processes so that I ended up doing less task A altogether. And you know what? That’s made things a lot more sustainable which, assuming I am adding value, is better for the company in the long run than just quitting. (Whether or not I am actually useful is a different story.)

You can’t be popular with everyone.

I have a good relationship with most of the people I work with but for many reasons– some probably gender related– I have had a really hard time connecting with some of the staff. And you know what?

Fuck. Them.

As long as I feel like I am kind and considerate and interacting with them in a way that is appropriate for my job function, fuck their visible disdain every time I enter a room, fuck their passive aggressive comments. Their opinion of me as a person has already been made up, so I should stop trying to please or tip-toe around them and just get my job fucking done.

How do you feel about your job? When things have been not-so-good what have you done to improve your circumstances? Do you have a mentor and, if so, do you find their advice helpful?

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2 thoughts on “Finding My Footing At The New Job

  1. Sounds like you’re in a really tough spot. I’m sorry to hear that, but also happy you’re seeking help and taking steps to work through it. I can’t imagine what it’s like to be one of the few women in a technical role. I’ve found some engineers to be…hard to talk to. Throw gender in the mix and you’ve got yourself a nightmare.

    Your mentor raised some great points! ‘Managing up’ was something I learned the hard way. Back in my consulting days, I was actually kicked off my first project – not by the client, but by the senior partner on my own team. Naively, I thought it was important to manage the client’s expectations, but that I could be transparent with my own team (the partner claimed he was open to critical feedback). Unfortunately, some people’s idea of transparency extends only to opinions they already have or opinions they like.

    Jennie and I both read your post a few times and as Drake would say, it got us in our feelings. So at the risk of being presumptuous, we put our heads together and came up with some tactics that may or may not apply to your situation:

    1. A huge part of managing up internally is to under-promise and over-deliver.
    2. If possible, you need an ally. Someone internally who’s either well-liked or influential. Get to know him/her on a one-on-one basis, preferably outside of a work context. Someone you can eventually be candid with, who knows what you’re going through. Only then, can everybody else go fuck themselves.
    3. Document everything. Your correspondences, the expectations you set, your accomplishments. Anything you think might be relevant in case things head south. Because you could do everything right and still end up in a vulnerable position. You could get the “you’re just not a team player” talk, which is just code for “I can’t put my finger on it but…we just don’t like you.”
    4. Your graceful way out is probably through a client relationship you cultivate over the next 12 months. Obviously, don’t pick the difficult client you wrote about. But knowing that this could be an exit option means you should position yourself appropriately.

    -Ivan

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    1. Thanks Ivan! It’s so touching to get advice from such good e-mentors as you and Jenny. 🙂

      I’m lucky in that most of my coworker relationships are actually pretty good, including with my core team and my boss (so managing up has worked pretty well). There are just a couple of people I have difficulty working with but are reliant upon. Which is tough but you can’t win ’em all I guess?

      I am definitely all up on the documenting everything, haha. I am pretty transparent person by nature, and I find being extremely open about my decision-making tends to help get people to go along with my ideas, so most of my notes & methodology are public internally for folks to see.

      My goal after this job is either to go to one of the big tech companies or transition into something more technical. Or go back for my PhD, who knows? Unfortunately transitioning to one of my clients is a big no-no due to my non-compete and the nature of my role (I work mostly with R&D folks so… yeah). That was an issue when transitioning out of my last role too. But, at least, if I run out my old industry’s non-compete, I can revert back to that work and make a *lot* more as an independent contractor. We’ll see.

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