Everywhere You Go, There You Are

Warning: much navel-gazing too follow.

I am at a party with friends, many of whom I worked with at my old job. The usual greetings: “How are you?” they ask. I reply, “Alive.” I tell them I am decompressing from a rough week / month / year / decade of work. They nod, “Yup, sounds like you’re doing the same, then.”

Whether it’s the current high-stress job, the previous high-stress job, or perhaps any job at all, I feel I won’t be happy. While there are real problems both at old company and at new, the truth is I may not be suited to work. The concept of employment. Taking on the role which is imparted by a career, seeping into every fiber of my day and being. I don’t work as a ___, I am a ____.

I think: is it employment or me? Am I just depressed? But my mood improves during the weekend. And I remember, in the lazy summers of youth, having nothing I had to do, I was often my best, most productive self.

I worry, everywhere you go, there you are. But then is the right thing for me to turn off these feelings, or is there virtue in preserving that part of my identity which cares about aligning my labor and my ethics, being skeptical and challenging of authority, all those bits of me that are making it very, very hard to be happy with work? Is there virtue in the struggle? (No.)

What if I went self-employed? But then I start from zero. And the times you have the least leverage to choose what you want is when starting from zero. Also the grind, I do not romanticize it. Starting a business is damn hard work.

So where does that leave me? Here, in my friend’s living room, with people that I enjoy, that make me laugh, that I make laugh too. The communal pizza is droopy and stale, the way good party pizza should be. The lights are dim and furniture mismatched and we’re all figuring out what it means to be ourselves as we emerge from that time of our lives where “finding oneself” is still an acceptable vocation. There’s tumult and stress and the cloud of responsibility just on the horizon, but I can’t see them beyond the popcorn textured ceiling. I am distracted– by friendship, by a moment of simple joy. I am okay. Anywhere I go from here, I will continue to be: okay.

 

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What Do I Like About Working?

The other day I had a one on one with my grand boss. I talked with her about the various struggles I’d been going through that have been making my job feel impossible. I laid out the things I need to do my job well: actual staffing on my projects instead of begging and pleading for an hour here and there of developer time, not having the founders promise the sun and the moon to new customers for things that fall on my shoulders erstwhile shifting all the people time to other areas. I cried; I’ve been doing that a lot more lately because I feel just too broken to keep it together anymore. Apparently a lot of my colleagues have been crying to her lately too, so, that’s comforting to know it’s a culture of overwork and not just me.

My grand boss gave me some advice: Make connections that can help back me up in these hard situations. The founders do actually want to hear my feedback. Stay positive and think about what I actually enjoy about my job and take pleasure in that.

It is my reflex to scoff at these well-intentioned words. All the people who would help “back me up” are constantly busy and have multiple times gotten sick of fighting with the founders on the points that have given us the most concern. And every time I’ve given feedback that I need more resources I hear Bob has more important things to work on and Don’t worry, we’ll get it done. Except, it’s on me to get it done. So, *shrugs*.

But I want to try and keep it together, so if focusing on the positives on my job will help me have fewer anxiety attacks and get me through the next few months then that’s what I’m going to try to do. So what do I actually like about my job?

  • Good pay.
  • Interesting technical and business problems.
  • Diversity in the types of work I’m doing day-to-day.
  • Most of my colleagues are nice people, even if I find them difficult to work with.
  • Yummy, free snacks.
  • I’ve learned a lot about how successful startups operate and where they fall down. I am a lot more open to the prospect of starting my own company someday with the knowledge I have now.

What do you like about your job?

 

Squeaky Wheel Gets The Grease

Another entry in the never-ending saga of YAPFB baffled by working in corporate America.

Today my boss, chatting with me in our normal weekly one on ones, told me he had some good news. I was getting a surprise $10k bonus, in part because the company hit a big milestone that I had absolutely nothing to do with and in part because the senior management had asked that some people to get extra cash based on performance. Note this is the second time this has happened since I started work here, the first being when I got a surprise $10k raise toward the end of the year, six months into my tenure.

On the one hand, I am very grateful that management has demonstrated that they appreciate what I am contributing in the universally understood language of more money please. Plus my job has gotten a lot more enjoyable in the past couple weeks after I moved a lot of the projects I dislike off my plate. On the other hand, I am still looking for other jobs, though I’ll admit the recent changes have made the urgency… less.

It reminds me a bit of a moment in my last company. We were acquired by a larger entity and within a few months everyone’s pay (including mine) got cut 10-15%. I remember complaining to the new management about it, but they were adamant that that’s the way it’d be– sorry, kid. Fast forward a few months and I just kept getting bonuses and raises, for my “performance” nominally, but mostly I think because (1) I had a lot of useful institutional knowledge and (2) because I had complained. I know the latter was important because there were others just as important to the organization as me who got none of the same benefits. It’s like I was getting paid to complain. Is that what self-advocacy is supposed to mean?

So, yeah, I think it was a good call for me to negotiate hard on my initial offer with this group. I think it set the tone of what I wanted (i.e. money) and it’s just kind of come on its own since? I don’t know. The politics of working are weird.

Are you a squeaky wheel at work? Has that been beneficial to you?

Staying At A Job For Less Than A Year

I’ve been at my job a little more than six months. I tried something new, somewhere new. I worked really hard, putting in 50-60 hour weeks on the regular. I got a nice raise for my performance. I did my best.

And now I’m looking for something new.

There are a lot of reasons for me not to quit. In the abstract, this position is my dream job. I get to work on interesting problems with smart, motivated people. A lot of what I do I really really love. And based on my not-so-expert opinion of the company’s trajectory, I would be well-positioned financially if I stayed, even just long enough to hit my one year cliff. Let alone the three-month paid maternity leave.

But I just can’t do it anymore.

There were things that I was uncertain about when I started this position, that I now see as clear as day. Yes, that coworker that I have to interact with as part of my role does think I’m incompetent, is mansplaining and negging me on the regular, and generally being a jerk. Yes, when the founder said “I have no tolerance for politics” I should have seen it as a red flag that there are a lot of politics because the higher ups have failed to create any sort of process. Yes, the enterprise has been severely understaffed and there’s a lot of fun technical debt nobody has been dealing with. Yes, they are penny wise and pound foolish when it comes to hiring.

I have been a really bad partner lately and a really bad friend. I haven’t been making time for the people and things that are most important to me. Every night all I think about is work. When I dream all I dream about is work. Today I got home and all I could do was squat on a half empty shoebox, rest my weary face in my palms, and stare blankly at the lines on my hand. Because I’ve given all my energy, patience, and care into something that’s never going to give anything back.

I feel a blinding rage on the daily. I have started burning bridges out of anger and burnout. Not to most, but to some (really just the aforementioned coworker). The people I like and would want to work with in the future would understand if I left why I left. On an emotional level, it’d be nothing but wins.

I’ve brushed up my resume, putting in some stuff that I’ve worked on in this role. (I also helped a lot with hiring the past few months. True fact: resumes are terrible and useless indicators of applicant quality.) Writing it down I realized I was doing the jobs of three people. I am partly proud, partly anxious at being that person who quits at the drop of a hat, but mostly very exhausted.

I’m reaching out again into my network. I’ve gotten a few recruiter emails, but the roles haven’t been a good fit. I need to move somewhere I can stick with for a long while.

Wish me luck.

Have you ever quit a job you’ve worked at for less than a year? How do you deal when you have to work with someone who is constantly disrespectful towards you?

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?

Making A Career Mistake

I’ve been at my new job for six weeks now and I am starting to get the hang of things. My boss has me working with a big, important, and innovative client. My team likes working with me. I have already made some impactful changes that is improving the way things are done. To top it all off, the company is doing very well financially and, should it make the right changes, could very well make its way to success.

In spite of all this, I think I made a mistake taking this job.

I was right to quit my old job. The organization had a lot of problems that, over the years, had led to a lot of emotional baggage. Morale was low, infrastructure was breaking, and the long term trajectory of the industry was iffy.

But there were good things at that job too. Friends whose company I enjoyed, interesting and moderate workload, lots of variety, and by the time I left some sense of expertise.

At my new job, I have… none of these things. Some of my coworkers are fine but none seem open to new friends. The work is much easier than my last job, but there’s so much more of it and my clients, somehow, are 10x more demanding than any I’ve ever had to deal with before. And every time I ask a question to technical contributors not on my primary team, they look at me like I’m an idiot to be endured at best.

If it were just that list, though, I wouldn’t feel as I do now. In fact, I worried for a while that I was just dealing with the new job blues. But I’ve realized that there are big issues that I hadn’t considered before at this place, the kind I wouldn’t have been able to gauge in an interview. My boss (contrary to the “let me know if I can help”) doesn’t have time to mentor me in any meaningful way (or if they do it just adds more work I’m super not interested in doing on my plate), there are significant process issues that senior leadership has failed to make, and frankly I find the client management part of my job to be tedious rather than invigorating (turns out, quality of client matters a lot!).

I also feel like the career change element was probably not what I wanted either. Like, what I am doing now is way easier than the work at my old job. That said, I feel so much less satisfied with the type of work I am doing. Far less technical and therefore in my brain less cache.

So now I’m here six weeks in wondering… well… what next? I could wait it out at this job for a couple years until my non-compete runs out and go back to my old industry, opening up my own shop. Or I could just bite the bullet and become a developer already. It’s still probably too early to quit, right? Sigh. Maybe this is all there is?

Anyway, that’s what’s up with my life, work-wise lately.

Have you ever made a bad career decision? Do you feel like you ever recovered? If so, how?

What Is Casual Dress Code Even

It looks like I’ve been getting a lot of traffic on my “Should I Think Less About FIRE?” post. It seems like it came from someone’s email newsletter, but I can’t tell from whom? In any case, thanks internet stranger! And welcome new readers!

I know I’m on break, but I had a couple quick things I wanted to talk about with regard to my new company’s casual dress code.

First of all, “casual” pretends it is not a dress code, but it totally is. It mirrors what I think a lot of us had as school dress codes. As far as I can tell, casual means that one can wear jeans and T shirts, but that things that are more skin-revealing (even tank tops or off-the-shoulder looks which are trendy right now) or bodycon are really out of place.

Even within the realm of T shirts and jeans, some tees are normal and others are out of place. Lightly patterned tees (stripes, dots, little dog prints, etc.) are fine, but emblazoned words and three wolf moon-esque shirts are not. Also, fit is extremely important. Especially if one is literally wearing tees and sweats, the right fit is the one thing keeping wearers from being seen as truly unkempt.

Second of all, my business casual-leaning wardrobe is really close to feeling out of place at my current work place. I’ve been defaulting to my silk shirts and jeans and I’m worried it’s causing people to see me as too dressy to be technical? Like sometimes people don’t bother telling me things I can completely understand because they are “subtle”, but like I would really appreciate people to just tell me in order to perform my job thank you very much. Maybe this is just in my head? A projection of imposter syndrome, perhaps?

In any case, I think I’d be well-served to add a couple more pairs of jeans to my rotation and some non-silk shirts. I don’t really want to just wear tees, personally. Feels too informal. Some minimalist cotton or linen blouses, I reckon, but no button-ups because even as a bust size B, those tend to pucker like whoa. Recommendations welcome!

Third of all, I have a $50 credit to Saks through a new Amex partnership via my Platinum card. I can burn the credit between now and the end of the calendar year. It’s enough to buy maybe a third of a garment? Not really sure how and whether I’ll end up using this.

Alright, back to my exponentially increasing to do list!

Does your workplace have a “casual” dress code? What does that even mean? Any minimalist cotton or linen tops you’d recommend?