It’s a special “where are you now?” season at Ask a Manager and I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past.
There will be more posts than usual this week, so keep checking back– there’s more to come today!
Remember the letter-writer wondering whether their job was the problem or they were? Here’s the update. (First update here.)
Three years have passed since I wrote this question and I have a resounding answer to the question – it was the job.
At the time of writing the letter, I was working in a sector that is infamous for its lack of work-life balance. In particular, I worked in a job that entailed dealing with emergencies and putting out fires on a regular basis, and during COVID involved being in touch with communities that were experiencing death on a weekly basis. It was not a great set-up. I resigned from my job a year after writing the original letter to pursue work in a new field. I had a lot of questions and hesitations about ever working in the sector and in the particular type of job I’ve held, and did not know if I ever wanted to do similar work again.
I am happy to report that I am back to doing this type of work part-time in a different field, and plan to build my career in this sector. I realized that while the work itself is very stressful, the stress was made worse by the particular work environment I was in. During my employment, my boss added more responsibilities to my role, and I ended up with what could have been 4-6 full-time jobs, some of which I had no interest in. I therefore always felt behind, trying to manage many tasks and always failing to do them the way I would have liked. My workplace culture was very touchy-feely and involved sharing feelings and personal details about our lives in every staff meeting. At one point, we talked about how our family dynamics showed up in our work relations, if that gives you any hint of the type of culture we had. The expectation was toxic positivity, and the feedback for any idea needed to always be enthusiastic and over-the-moon excited. Giving feedback for improvement was seen as mean or problematic and resulted in scapegoating. My boss was not a direct communicator, and tended to be passive aggressive and gaslighting. I always felt that he didn’t like me, even though he respected me as an employee and could see the quality of my work. His lack of clear communication resulted in me feeling insecure in my employment, and I walked on eggshells in my workplace. My friends and colleagues outside the workplace often told me to quit. Out of our five-members team, three people resigned in the first year of me being there. I resigned two years in, and two of the replacements we hired lasted a year before resigning as well.
Since working at Toxic Positivity Inc., I have worked a lot on my coping and stress reducing skills. I started meditating regularly, taking walks to decompress, and emphasizing work-life balance. Through building these skills, I have also learned that skills aside, some environments are too stressful and too toxic to be sustainable long-term. I consider my former workplace to be one of them. And while it’s true that I do have high work ethics and tend to work very hard, putting me in a risk for burn-out, I have realized that some environments are gentle and supportive enough to help me prioritize my needs, and some environments will see my traits as a way to get more work out of me or control me.
I am happy to report that I am on a new career path that utilizes my old skills in a new field. I am in school part time to support this career change, and am working part-time in the field as well. I love the work I do and the people I work with. When I think about the work I will be doing in the future, I cannot help but feel “I can’t believe I am going to get paid to do this!”. The work is challenging as well in many ways, but having supportive, balanced bosses that respect boundaries and are truly invested in me as a person makes all the difference!
If you are wondering if it’s you or the job, trust your gut – it’s probably the job. No matter how great the work is, you will be able to find similar work that doesn’t entail mistrust towards your coworkers or isolation in your work place. You deserve so much better!