Hi Aunt Acid,
I need your advice please. I am 37 years old and am in my 8th office job. I’ve always left my jobs because I think the grass is greener on the other side. For me it gets to the point where I feel bad waking up every morning to go to work. There were only 2 jobs out of the 8 that I really liked a lot, and I had to leave both — one of them I left cause the place was not making money, we were even getting paid late, and the commute was 2 hrs at times. At the second job I loved, the plant closed, so they laid everyone off. All the other jobs I’ve left because of low pay, not challenging, not being acknowledged, and 1 boss from hell.
Tomorrow I’ll have been at my current job for 2 years. I love my boss and loved the first year working there, but then things changed. They hired more new people, including a coworker who wants to be a stand-out that I can’t stand. And then there are sales reps who don’t seem to like me because they say I’m not like my boss, who babies them and doesn’t question them.
I swore to myself I would stick it out at this job no matter what happened. But here I am again…thinking of looking for another job. I’m soooo tired of job hopping, but these awful feelings of not wanting to go to work and just obsessing over what to do at work are driving me crazy. Please help me! I like what I do, but the people there don’t mesh with me. I want to stop job hopping ’cause I do it every time something goes not as I envisioned. What can I do??? Your advice would be greatly appreciated.
–No more job hopping
Oh, my friend. The first thing you might want to do, besides take a deep breath and maybe a hit of something, is tell yourself that you are not alone. Not by a long stretch. Take it from the Gray Lady herself:
Even if you’re lucky enough to have a job, you’re probably not very excited to get to the office in the morning, you don’t feel much appreciated while you’re there, you find it difficult to get your most important work accomplished, amid all the distractions, and you don’t believe that what you’re doing makes much of a difference anyway.
Take it from Forbes:
Job hopping is the new normal … Ninety-one percent of Millennials (born between 1977-1997) expect to stay in a job for less than three years.
Take it from me: you are not alone. Nor are you a “GYPSY unicorn” because you want a job that feels somewhat fulfilling. You’re not even a millennial, damn it all. You’re a person who wants to work hard and have your virtue and effort rewarded with something other than a golf clap.
I was once like you. For a while, my employment track record looked like this:
+ Got a job, had to leave it after 10 months
+ Got another job, was let go after 6 months
+ Got another job, left it after 1.5 years
+ Got another job, was let go after 13 months
It was only once I found my fifth job that I found my groove. Five jobs in four years! Not counting internships! I felt like a failure. I was so sheepish about having accomplished so little that I skipped my college reunion. (Later, I skipped the next one, too, because I realized that not doing things you don’t want to do is the fastest, cheapest road to bliss.)
Job #5 stuck. Job #5 shaped me; in that office, at last, I developed not merely as an employee but as a human being. I honed important skills, got praised, got promoted, negotiated raises, saved money, contributed to my IRA, and felt like a semi-successful proto-adult. Job #5 prepared me for what to come.
It was an exercise in adjusting my perspective, though. Part of what made the match of Job #5-and-me successful was my ability to realign my priorities, to better understand what I could and could not expect from a job. For example, I could not expect a chummy workplace as seen on seasons 1-4 of The West Wing. However, I could expect a place that offered steady hours, a decent wage, and a minimum of high-pitched profane screaming. More on this below.*
Job #5 was also a hot air balloon I jumped out of right before it crashed. Job #5 no longer exists. But there is a Job #5 out there for you, my friend—or, as it would be in your case, a Job #9. Because it looks a bit depressing, numbered like that, let’s rebrand what we’re looking for: the Good Enough Job, or GEJ. And it is out there for you. The question is how to find it.
Sometimes what helps is having not merely a short term plan but a long-term one. What do you want, ideally, out of a job? What is it you’re good at? What have you liked doing in the past, at your previous paid gigs or volunteer ones? What makes your engine purr? How can you do that for money? Or, if that’s unlikely, because what you’re good at and passionate about is philosophy or philately, how can you get the kind of livable, paying gig that will allow you a maximum of time, funds, and energy for those pursuits?
There are different ways of going about this. One is to ask a mentor. I’ve never had a mentor; perhaps you’ve been luckier than I in this respect. But if you too have been deprived of the mentor experience, get creative. Ask a therapist, a life coach, a panel of sage friends, even a wise-beyond-her-years Kindergartener. Ask your grandma. Ask, “What do you think I’m good at? What am I letting hold me back? What would you do if you were me?”
Go in with your mouth closed and your ears and mind open, as though your writing were being workshopped at Iowa. As in a writing workshop, not everything you hear will be valuable. Still, all information is good information at this stage. Later, you can separate out the signal from the noise.
Then go somewhere quiet—the mountains, a bathtub, a library—and ask yourself the same set of questions: What do you need to give yourself permission to do? Earn money? Not earn money? Live to work? Work to live? Ask your inner child what she always wished you would do as a grown up. Ask your gut what she craves and fears. Ask your id, your superego, your shy, awkward, repressed tween. None of them gets to drive the car, ultimately, but they all have to ride in it. Every one of their opinions is worth hearing.
Now find patterns. The night sky is a graveyard, a battlefield of stars, but there are also constellations—stories—if you know how to look.
Start putting together a plan for how you can segue from the job you currently have to one that would please you more, one that will satisfy you in the long term. That might mean figuring out how to move, or how to apply to school, or both; that might mean selling a house, or buying a car, or going abroad. It might be as simple as angling for a new and different position in your current organization. Don’t overlook anything because it’s obvious. But don’t overlook anything because it’s impossible, either. Action is alchemy: it transforms the impossible into what’s done.
Before you implement your plan, run it by some of your trusted advisors. Consider their feedback and reassess, if necessary. Take the time that you need to make a plan you can trust. And don’t worry about getting it right immediately. Job #9 might be a bust too; it can be a bust and still represent progress. You’re aiming for significantly better here, not best, and not best, immediately, now. Change requires a nearly saintly combination of patience and diligence. But it’s worth it.
Success, as I mentioned earlier, also requires recalibration. Accept that, just as some romantics never find their “soul mates” (ugh), you may never find your ideal job. That’s okay. That’s normal. We Americans put way too much pressure on our jobs to define us, to provide us with identity, these sad, hyper-capitalist days. Remember, you’re not looking for perfection, just contentment. And I have every faith in you that, if you put in the effort, you can find it.
* Here is a list of what I have discovered you can and cannot expect from a gig:
CAN EXPECT: A reasonable level of physical and emotional safety.
CAN’T EXPECT: A place where you will never get hurt.
CAN EXPECT: Access to coffee and water.
CAN’T EXPECT: A fridge or a table at which staff can eat lunch.
CAN EXPECT: A bathroom.
CAN’T EXPECT: A bathroom where no coworker will audibly vomit or masturbate during the workday.
CAN EXPECT: A job good enough that you don’t have anxiety attacks on your way into the office.
CAN’T EXPECT: A job so good you would keep showing up even if you weren’t paid.
CAN EXPECT: At least one co-worker you like enough to eat lunch with sometimes.
CAN’T EXPECT: Co-workers you think are so great you go out regularly for happy hours and who you can call to bail you out if you get thrown in jail.
CAN EXPECT: To be treated with a reasonable amount of respect, assuming that you treat others—bosses and interns alike—with respect as well.
CAN’T EXPECT: Never to be asked, or instructed, to do something that is not in your job description.
CAN EXPECT: To feel bored, antsy, undervalued, lonely, and/or paranoid on occasion, no matter what.
CAN’T EXPECT: Anyone to treat you better than you are currently being treated unless you make it clear that better treatment is what you need and deserve.
Illustrator: Liana Finck’s work has appeared in The New Yorker, Lilith, Tablet, and The Forward. Her first graphic novel is called A Bintel Brief. Her webcomic, Diary of a Shadow, can be read on her website.
The role of Aunt Acid is played by Brooklyn-based know-it-all Ester Bloom.