It’s Over Meow

This post is about the worst — and best — job I’ve ever had.

Two thousand, three hundred and twenty-two days is a long time for anything. According to snarky non-millennials on Twitter, that’s an eternity for a millennial to keep a job for. Apparently we’re a generation prone to job hopping, despite the data proving out otherwise. Yet the perception still remains.

For me, however, those 2,322 days is a long time. It’s six years, four months, and ten days, which is…

  • Longer than every relationship I’ve had save for one
  • Nearly double the amount of time I spent on my undergrad and graduate degrees combined
  • Almost three years longer than the next longest job tenure I’ve had…and…
  • Just under four years longer than the next longest full-time job tenure I’ve had

To me, it was an eternity. I don’t mean that as a bad thing either. It was just a really long time to be in the same place.

In October 2011, I was in the first group of people let go in the few months before my then-employer closed its doors. I applied to tens of jobs daily. I didn’t care what kind of job I got. I just wanted to pay my rent and my student loans. In what was a short, but frustrating, job search, I went on somewhere in the neighborhood of twenty interviews before landing a job as a temp1I was on a 90-day contract. This period is one of the most frustrating parts of my employment ever, as my now-former employer refused to count it toward my job tenure, despite the fact that I was doing work for them (not to mention being promoted nearly as soon as the temp period ended). doing front-line customer service and data entry for a technology company. It was a long, though not unmanageable, drive for low, though not terribly low2This statement is mostly reflective of my temp period, however it did three promotions to get back to the pay I was making at my previous employer., pay. But it was a job, which was exactly what I needed.

Over time, my role evolved from being a customer service professional into a trainer, manager, and instructional designer (depending on when we’re talking about). I helped bring on numerous folks into our local office, watched many people — both locally and remote — grow and develop thanks to training programs I designed, and proudly saw numerous folks I helped mentor move up into positions within the company with more responsibility and visibility. For the first four years or so I was there, I genuinely enjoyed my job. I could comfortably say it was the best job I’ve ever had.

There were three main reasons the best job I ever had became the worst job I ever had. The two reasons that I felt the most regularly weren’t even the most major reason to occur3We’ll get to that one in a minute.. It started with being overworked. While there was never anything formal said about this, it felt at times like there was an unwritten expectation that if you were a salaried employee, you should work from home throughout the week in addition to your time on the clock. Though I’m sure the thought process behind this was “in case of emergency only”, I’ve always subscribed to the theory that if there’s still work to be done, you keep working on it. As a result, most of my six years with the company featured my forty hour weeks looking much more like fifty, sixty, or (in rare cases) eighty hour weeks. Though this did improve slightly in my last two years with the company, by the start of year four, I was getting burnt out.

In addition to getting burnt out, I often felt like I wasn’t getting the recognition I deserved for doing my job well. And I was doing my job very well, as I always graded out in the highest grade for my position. But I didn’t want more money. Don’t get me wrong, getting a raise, a bonus, or some kind of additional stipend is wonderful and exceptionally helpful. But when you’re a one person department for four years, the best way to show that department that they’re doing a great job is to help them grow. It was a promise I heard year after year. It’s also a promise that never came. Couple that with the fact that I had to watch someone else get honored for projects I created, designed, and (in many cases) ran, and I felt like my work didn’t matter.

All of those things were bad enough by themselves. Then, a year after the company I worked for was bought, we got told our office was shutting down.

While the employees in our office were (mostly) given a good bit of time to search for a new job while keeping their current one4This was incredibly kind of our new parent company. The fact that they kept telling us how generous it was of them that they were doing this felt like a mocking statement, however., it still felt like the end of something special. Our main office closed down in October of last year, causing most of the remaining employees to move to a temporary office space. I was one of the last people in the building at the main office, allowing me to sneak upstairs to where I had started my career as a temp in early 2012.

Though my off-centered picture was necessitated by boxes that had been moved upstairs late that afternoon, it was a surreal moment to see the place I’d been to every day for (then) almost six years so empty. My very first desk was the one directly across from the empty desk on the left5Not the one with the chair. The one further back as if you’re moving away from the camera.. My last one (in this building) was a closet-like office where I could hear every toilet flush in the building thanks to the pipes running through the wall in front of me. It felt somewhat like leaving a home I actually liked, even if I no longer enjoyed the job itself.

Between October of last year and April of this year, the vast majority of people left the office. Some left because they found a new job. Others were there until their company-designated last day. But by the second week of April, I was able to take a similar picture of our new space, though with much crappier sight-lines due to five-foot-tall cubicle walls.

I had to stand on top of a desk to take that picture. It was a lot more work by the end…both to take that second picture and to come to work each day.

In six years, between a few moves my wife and I made as well as the temporary office move, my commute length had more than doubled. I had lost the boss who I truly feel was the best boss I ever had. The team that I had developed, nurtured, and watched grow, was mostly gone from the company6A small number of them were fortunate enough to be able to relocate to Chicago for new jobs there.. Meanwhile, I found myself sitting in my car crying against my steering wheel at 7 in the morning most days because I didn’t want to go in. It was, by that point, the worst job I’d ever had.

I’m not being hyperbolic when I say that the job was either the best or worst I’ve had. At times, it was both. There were even days where it felt like both of those things at various points in the same day. But it was time for a change. My mind needed it more than anything else (as evidenced from my post a couple of weeks ago).

I would love to say I left when there was no more work left to do, in keeping with my own mantra. That definitely wasn’t the case. There’s more work to do than ever. But I left when I reached the point where there was nothing left I could do while also remaining sane.

Despite that feeling, I can also recognize that I grew so much while I was there. I kept up with a job that felt like constant pressure for more than six years. I made some friends and got to watch some people grow into exceptional employees and people. It was just time to turn off the lights and leave.

Impostor Syndrome

Disclaimer: This is a bit darker than the typical post on this blog1Aside from the short stories. Those can get dark.. It’s just something I needed to get out of my head. Apologies in advance.

Disclaimer 2: I wrote this post in early March when my job search was at its darkest. Said job search is over now, which means you’ll be seeing me talk about it in coming posts. That said, I decided to publish the post anyway because I’ve seen quite a few folks on Twitter getting frustrated in their job searches. If nothing else, hopefully seeing that others go through this is supportive in some way.

There’s a common experience I hear a lot of my fellow millennials talk about. It’s this idea called impostor syndrome. For those unfamiliar with the term, impostor syndrome is where a person is afraid that they’re not good enough at something and that they will eventually be exposed as not being good at that thing. It’s not a formal psychological disorder, but it is an experience that many people seem to go through at some point in their lives.

I’ve personally struggled with impostor disorder at various points in my life, almost exclusively with my writing. I can objectively identify that I can write well — or at the very least that I’ve shown quite a bit of improvement over the time that I’ve been writing. That said, there’s been countless times wherein I’ll write something, creative or otherwise, only to feel like the piece is inadequate once it’s live. I still struggle with this with my book, even though we’re nearly two years since the point when I published the book. I know that I can work to put out a better work down the line, but I feel like my published work is inadequate — despite the fact that many reviewers have disagreed with that assessment.

Impostor syndrome is not what drove me to write this post. It is, however, the best thing I can use to describe how I’m feeling at the moment.

As I’ve talked about before on the blog, I want to do work that I care about and that does good in the world. I’m the type of person who cares a lot about the work I do. If I can’t feel like my work is making an impact and if I can’t feel proud of the work I do, it becomes extremely hard to that work. I haven’t felt proud of the day-to-day work I do in…two years now? Nearly three years? It’s hard to keep track of time.

That said, I also can’t just quit my job and dedicate my full-time life to finding a job that fits what I want. I wouldn’t be able to afford that. My wife and I wouldn’t be in a position to live solely off her salary while I looked for a job without having one of my own. So I look. I’ve been looking off and on for nearly two years now — hard for almost a year. Without getting into the numbers2As I plan to do a whole write up on this at some point in the future, as data is fun., I can say that the job hunt I’ve been on has been one of the most mentally demoralizing things I’ve ever experienced in my life. Rejection email after rejection email has come into my inbox. They’re common enough that I can tell you almost word for word what the rejection form messages from a couple of companies look like3There’ll be a post on this too. Some companies do this really well. Most do not.. That said, I’d much rather get a form rejection email than no message at all from a company I applied to4Especially when two of the three companies that you list off as “dream companies to work for” when someone asks are companies that never followed up with you after applying..

At a certain point, I’ve begun to feel like I can’t do my job. I’ve begun to feel like all of the work I’ve put in — the four years of 60-80 hour weeks with no overtime pay, the mass of projects I’ve jumped in on even though they’re outside of my discipline just because someone needs help, the amount of cross training I’ve received, the repeatedly watching other people in my company get awards for projects that I’ve done the bulk of the work for — is for nothing. I know I do damn good work. I can objectively say that in spite of the rejections. I also know that a percentage of the positions I’ve applied for have been reach positions5Positions where I was underqualified, but tried anyway as a way to advance my career.. Hearing no from one company is fine. Hearing no from a handful of companies is frustrating. Hearing no from literally hundreds of companies for roles that I am (generally) well-qualified for? At some point I must be the problem.

I don’t know how to fix this. The longer this drags on, the worse this gets. I do not feel valued for my work by the company I work for. It’s clear that those outside of my company do not value either my experience or my education enough to bring me in. I’m sure I’m self-sabotaging too by wanting to be free from my current job badly enough that I’ve applied to some companies tens of times at this point. I was taught that you’re supposed to get out of bad situations though. Yet, the harder I fight to get out, the more I feel trapped.

I don’t know what to call this feeling that I have. It’s certainly not impostor syndrome. But in a way, it is. I feel inadequate to whatever expectations there are of me as a job seeker. I feel that the situation will not get better at my current job6I’ve done everything I can think of to try to make it better for nearly three years now, with minimal success. If someone from my employer were to happen to read this (likely not, but hey), my door is open. There’s a lot I’m prepared to talk about yet another time if there’s any hope of making it better.. I should be able to do this. I know I have the skills to find a job.

Or so I thought.

Why I’ve (Sort of) Changed my Opinion on Thank You Cards

A couple of years ago, I wrote a lengthy, expletive-laced tirade about my distaste for thank you cards. In retrospect, the post was arguably one of the worst I’ve ever written for this blog — or any blog I’ve written for over the past 13 or so years. If you’re the type of person that likes getting made at someone on the internet for no reason, feel free to read that post and get mad at me. Even with improvements to the post after I realized that it was hot garbage, it’s still one I cringe while reading.

The strange thing is that I don’t even fully disagree with the primary point I was attempting to make in the post itself. Thank you cards are, as a concept, pretty annoying. Recipients don’t really want them, the sender doesn’t want to put the time into writing it and going to the post office, and the post office isn’t making much money1If any at all. off of a simple card. In general, I still see the thank you card as a flawed and ultimately poor way to show gratitude.

Notice how I specifically called out the thank you card in the last paragraph. This is because I think there’s a far better way to show gratitude to someone who has done something for us — a way that should become the cultural standard for how we handle saying thank you. It’s a way that’s been right under our noses the whole time. I’m speaking, of course, about the thank you email.

I can practically hear my millennial brethren cringing at that last suggestion. The email, the phone call, and the voicemail are becoming antiquated methods of communication among millennials and younger. A former co-worker of mine once2In early 2017. said that they don’t call any co-worker back who leaves them a voicemail because “if they didn’t find it important enough to IM me, it must not be important”. Throwing aside my own disagreements with that philosophy, I get where the person was coming from. Social media has created the need for instantaneous interaction and communication. To provide a delay from that makes the communication seem less valued, at least in part.

The problem with that logic, however, is that it can often take time, as well as careful wording, to show gratitude that seems genuine. That’s not to say you can’t thank someone with a quick “thanks” in passing. But since we live in an interconnected world where most interactions are not occurring face-to-face, most moments where we’re showing how grateful we are for someone’s help are conducted remotely and in real time. So how then do we set ourselves apart from everyone else also looking to show their thanks? Slow things down.

I’ve been on the job hunt for a little while now3As I mentioned in last week’s post, I tend to write these posts well in advance. This post, like the last one, was written in October. That said, I felt like gratitude and saying thank you was a good topic to discuss on Christmas Day., meaning I’ve filled out copious amounts of applications, received more rejection emails than I’d care to admit, and have attended a small handful of interviews. One thing I’ve tried my hardest to do is to write the recruiter, interviewer, or whomever I have contact information for a thank you email after every interview I have. I realize it’s small and, to this point, has meant very little in my job search. That said, I’ve found that my interactions with the hiring staff at the companies I’ve interacted with have been better than any I’ve experienced before.

I recognize it’s not a very deep thought to say “hey…you should be sending a thank you email to the people who interview you, even if you don’t get a job with them”. It’s pretty much interviewing 101. But at the same point in time, I don’t see people doing it that often — both from my own experiences as an interviewer, as well as from what I’ve heard being an interviewee myself. Therefore, in this one case, I think the concept of a thank you card must become more common, even if the literal thank you card itself is left in the sands of time for it.

Effective Managing: A Primer For Newbies

A couple of weeks ago, I had a former co-worker email me out of the blue. Though we haven’t seen each other since I moved out of Arizona((Where he and I worked together.)), he was excited to tell me that he had been promoted at his current job. As a result, he is now in his first managerial role at a company. While I didn’t have much formal managerial experience((I’ve had about 6 months as a true supervisor, though I’ve been in leadership positions of various levels for about two and a half years at various jobs.)), he asked what advice I could give him about being a manager.

After thinking about it for some time, I decided that there were five areas he needed to focus on in order to be an effective manager. While I highly doubt that my ideas are revolutionary, I did decide to put them in a nice acronym.

Communication
Listening
Expectations
Advising
Recruiting

My advice to him was that if he follows the five items listed above, he will have the skill set to be both effective and useful to leading a team of people. I expanded a little bit on each of the points I sent to him, and I thought I’d share the same points I made to him with all of you.

Communication

The foundation of any good managerial relationship is built upon communication. While it’s an understood that managers may not always be able to tell everything that they know to those who they manage, beginning and maintaining an open dialogue with anyone who reports to you. Honesty is the primary component to clear communication, however there are a few other communication items — expectations and advising — that I’ll get to a little further down the list.

Listening

Even more important than communicating with someone by speaking to them is taking the time to actively listen to those who report to you. You’ll get two valuable pieces of information by doing so. First and foremost, those who report to you will typically let you know at least a portion of the things that they feel like they’re struggling with. Combine those items with the things you feel like they need work on and you’ll be able to make action plans that allow the employee to feel like they have input in. The second piece of information you’ll get is feedback as to how you can improve yourself as a manager. While there may be someone who says you need to work on something and they’re the only one who has that opinion, if you’re hearing the same feedback over and over, perhaps that’s where you have room to grow.

Expectations

As much as communication and listening are vital skills to leading a team of people, setting expectations for what should be done by those you’re leading is equally important. It’s great to have rules and policies about various items, including attendance, performance, and attitude. That said, if you don’t make those expectations clear…and by extension hold people responsible for those expectations…what you say begins to have little weight. Being transparent and consistent about your expectations will help you to build credibility as a manager.

Advising

I’ve had a few managers over my time in the working world who felt that the best way to lead was to teach someone what to do, then let them do it on their own with no feedback. If that employee succeeded, great. If that employee failed, too bad. Managing people is just as much about coaching people as to what they can do to improve their performance as it is making sure they show up on time((If showing up on time is what they need to work on, awesome. You can kill two birds with one stone here.)). The role of a manager is best viewed not as a boss, but as a teacher or adviser. You don’t have to be completely hands off to help someone succeed. If anything, the opposite should happen.

Recruiting

While not a direct management technique, per say, an effective manager uses their recruiting efforts to improve their team within the vision and ideals that they want to see exhibited in their personnel. Though I generally dislike the concept of a vision statement(Or similarly cliche items.)), a manager should work to build a team that has the traits that they feel will best help their team and department to succeed. Seek out people who have those qualities — and make sure you actually find people with those qualities instead of those who are lying about having them((I recommend using behaviorally based interview questions. They’ll give you a more clear picture as to someone’s future behaviors.)) — and work to improve your team as it grows and changes.

Are there specific skills that you feel are important for managers to have? Sound off in the comments.

The Job Jumping Dilemma

Note: The following post is a guest post written by a gentleman named Mike. Please enjoy Mike’s post below.

Throughout high school, we were promised that going to college would get us a good job. That we shouldn’t worry about student loans, as our job will allow us to pay those back quickly. That by going to school, we were making something of ourselves, and would excel in life. Are we REALLY sure that any of that is true?

I sit here myself only one year removed from graduation, yet like many people in my position, I feel helpless. I have student loan debt, with the need to repay it. More than that, I know it’s the right thing to do, and while it’s never easy, it’s something that must be done. However, the opportunities our elders promised us seem to be few and far between. We sit here, tucked away in our cubicles in the corner, still faced with the problem of being “the new guy” and feeling like it’s impossible to get ahead.

For many of us, we had to take the first job offer presented to us after graduating. It felt like an impossible challenge, to step away from campus and the college life style, and into the real world where real expectations and real problems exist. No longer was our hardest choice which bars to hit up, which cheap beer to drink this weekend, which flavor of Ramen noodles to eat. Our choices now impact real people and real lives, and often come with bullshit TPS reports and printers that say paper jam when there is no paper jam.

When those jobs get tiring, exhausting, depressing, and mentally draining, what are we supposed to do then? Do we risk looking like job jumpers, as we yearn for a new opportunity? What if we make the wrong choice and end up in the wrong field? What if we’re already in the wrong field?

You see, for me, this is a choice I’ve been struggling with lately. I know that I’m not alone, and also recognize the weight a decision like this could carry. For some of us, we were forced to sign contracts that ran up to a few years. Once those contracts near the end, and there’s no guarantee of tomorrow, we are put in an awkward position both personally and professionally.

For those of us who hate what we do, it can become draining on all aspects of life. Work depression can trickle over into our personal lives, affecting our relationships with our partners, friends and parents. The mental toll on those stuck in cubicles in front of a computer screen for 8 to 9 hours a day becomes increasingly difficult. The constant wondering about what other jobs and careers are out there becomes a pounding drum of war in our heads. We dream to move forward, to make a difference, to get that promotion or that raise. We feel like our jobs are literally holding us back from our future.

That’s why I’m here to say, stop it. This message goes out to not only me, my friends, but to all of those in my generation, and in my position. Worrying will only do so much for our situation, until we take the leap of faith and follow our dreams. Who cares if you have multiple jobs on your resume in just the last few years? Competent employers would see a student who was trying to get ahead in school. Employers who scoff at it are likely terrible companies whose work environment would crush your soul even harder. So take that risk. Apply for that job. Change careers if you want. Ultimately, do what makes you happy, and as long as you’re not harming anyone, don’t regret it. It’s become pretty clear from any news story about government and business for the last..decade or so that these people are out for their interests only. So screw them, it’s time to look out for our interests too. Maybe one of us will be the next major CEO, board member, or president of a company. Maybe one of us will be the Governor or Senator that shakes the whole system up. None of us will ever find that out unless we go and do it.