I don’t fancy myself a hypocrite. And yet I haven’t been practicing what I preach.
And yet I’ve been stuck at the same company for almost eight years.
And I don’t want to be.
In that time, I’ve been promoted three times and I’ve received multiple raises. But it’s a small publishing house on a metaphorically small, remote island within the broader publishing industry.
And unless my boss gets torn apart by angry maenads sometime soon, I’ve literally reached the top of the ladder here. There’s nowhere else to go within my company, and very few options for other publishing jobs in the area.
I feel trapped. I feel like a failure. I’m bored, directionless, and frustrated. I want to enjoy going to work again. I want to feel challenged and get paid more.
So because I’m feeling rather… truthsome right now, I want to dissect my current career stagnation. I want to confess my failures and seek absolution. People of the Internet, be gentle with me.
Humiliation and jealousy
I’m not prone to jealousy. I normally view my friends’ successes with all the pride of a lioness watching her cubs bring down their first antelope. But it’s been getting harder and harder to express my support without feeling like their achievements are a reminder of how much I haven’t achieved. Of how stuck I feel and how desperately I want to move on.
When my husband first started making more money than me, we laughed about how we were caving to the will of the patriarchy, even though he was only out-earning me by about $2K. But by the time he was out-earning me by $25K… the joke wasn’t funny anymore.
Watching Kitty conquer the business world one job hop and promotion at a time has been similarly thrilling. But while I genuinely want to express my support and excitement for her, I constantly worry I sound like that friend. You know: the one you can’t tell about your new boyfriend because every time you talk about dating she reminds you that she hasn’t had a date in five years and it must be nice to be so wanted.
I don’t want to be that mopey shrew! I want to be a righteous and foul-mouthed cheerleader for the career fulfillment of my ride-or-dies!
And yet I also cringe when friends ask how work’s going. Because they all know that I’ve been searching for a new job for… literally years. And it’s more than a little embarrassing to admit that during that time I haven’t succeeded. I’ve had interviews, I’ve had offers, and yet… nothing has changed for me. And explaining why is just humiliating.
My job is not inherently bad. But then again…
Publishing in general is pretty poorly compensated, but even within that context, my salary is on the lower end. Remember that time my boss gave me a bigger raise than I asked for because he was embarrassed at how little he was paying me? Yeah. That’s fucked up.
I’m fucking bored
I’ve mastered everything there is to master. This isn’t egotism: I’m really fucking good at what I do, and my accolades and promotions reflect that.
I came into my field extremely motivated and prepared and was promoted incredibly quickly. By the age of 26, I was an acquiring editor with my own list, something many editors don’t achieve until their mid thirties or forties. I started my company’s internship program, increased our conference attendance, started a new series and list, and increased acquisitions by 12% annually.
At this point I’m making up bullshit challenges for myself because I don’t know how else to stay awake.
My commute is too long
Twenty miles one-way sucks, even if I can work from home one or two days per week. There are only so many audiobooks at the library!
And friends? I fucking hate driving. My car is used almost exclusively for my commute, as I can get away with walking, biking, or busing everywhere else. My husband’s office is only two miles from our house, and he dare not complain about his glorious morning stroll of a commute in my presence.
I practically fantasize about getting a job closer to home.
I hate my boss
My relationship with my boss has drastically deteriorated. It’s to the point where I stare at him while he talks and imagine stapling his mouth closed, stabbing him in the jugular with his pretentious fucking fountain pen, setting myself on fire, and jumping out the window.
And he has no idea.
He condescends to me constantly. He talks over me. He does that really cool thing where I’ll voice an idea, and he’ll dismiss it only to rephrase it a moment later as if it’s his own and he just thought of it.
The other day, he literally said, “No, you wouldn’t know how to use it,” when I asked him for a fucking spreadsheet.
It’s the kind of low-level, unconscious discrimination and undermining that frustrates me and drives down my self-esteem. I’ve questioned my competence and second-guessed myself to the detriment of the company. Working under him has become intolerable. I GRIND MY TEETH IN HIS GENERAL DIRECTION.
I feel worthless and stupid
If I haven’t gotten a new job in all these years, it must be because I suck, right? No? Well then, you tell me!
Why the everloving fuck haven’t I moved on by now?
What I’m really trying to wrap my head around right now is… why have I stayed? Why haven’t I moved on once in the last almost eight years?
I tell myself that it’s not for lack of trying. I’ve interviewed for a number of other jobs over the years, some of which I’ve come thiiiiiiis close to getting. I even turned down three offers. And others I just didn’t get because I’m not willing to relocate and they’re not willing to hire a telecommuter.
I told myself it was all because if I was going to move on, it had to be for something better. And every time I almost left but didn’t, I was able to angle myself for a small raise. The small raises kept coming, my schedule kept getting more flexible, the feathers in my cap sprouted so often that I looked like some kind of Musketeer pimp.
And I stayed.
If you throw a frog in a pot of boiling water, it’ll jump out to save itself. But if you put a frog in a pot of cool water and slowly, gradually turn the heat up… the frog will stay in the pot. And it will die.
I’m not a frog. (Not for lack of trying. My life’s ambition is still to become a Muppet.) But I have been content to sit on my ass while a shitty situation gradually gets shittier.
Because up until recently, I’ve been safe. Change is scary and it takes effort. And for my health I try never to expend effort where I don’t have to!
So why expend the monumental effort involved in making a change when just… not… is so damn safe and comfortable?
I can handle feeling bored and frustrated every day. I can handle imagining my boss buying the farm in increasingly more gruesome and creative ways. That kind of simmering resentment is totally my style! But taking the risk to switch jobs? That just sounds exhausting.
Of course… I’m hiding behind humor. In truth, I’m not afraid of effort or a challenge. I’m not lazy. I run for fun. I adopted the most damaged dog at the shelter because I wanted to fix him, and by god I fucking did.
So I’m not afraid of a challenge.
I’m afraid of failing.
I’m afraid of things being worse somewhere else.
And my fear has kept me locked in place for literally years, missing out entirely on opportunities to improve my life and finances. I’m paralyzed by fear. I’ll put up with being miserable at my job because I’m too afraid that no one else will want me.
And up until recently, it was pretty easy to stay in this flat circle of self-pity and routine. I kept asking for raises regularly and reveled in my flexible schedule and relative autonomy. I didn’t risk reaching for anything significantly better because things were Just Fine I Guess.
Until one day I asked for a raise and for the first time ever… I didn’t get it.
Not only did I not get the raise, but a few days later I was informed along with the rest of the staff that we wouldn’t be getting our COL raises this year either.
The pot was boiling and I’d missed my chance to jump out.
I’ll admit I kind of panicked. I felt like a fool. I wallowed in self-pity and felt my heart race until my fingers and toes tingled from lack of oxygen and I felt like I was going to die (panic attacks are no joke, y’all).
Then I went through the painfully overdue process of giving myself an ultimatum.
I will leave my job by the end of 2017.
And the job I was at that moment applying for would be the last publishing job to which I ever applied.
The second part of my ultimatum turned out to be distressingly anticlimactic. I interviewed over Skype for this out-of-state job, it went okay, and then I waited. A few months later I had lunch with my publishing friend Angel, and he told me “Oh hey, did I tell you I applied for that job? Yeah, after the online interview they flew me out for an in-person interview. Sounds like I’m in the final three.”
Oh. Ok then. I guess I’m not in the running anymore.
So now I’m going to leave my company of almost eight years and leave the industry to which I have dedicated my entire education and career. NO BIG DEAL!
In a way, making the decision feels empowering, freeing. It’s bittersweet, but letting go of this stage of my life is the right thing to do if I want to increase my income to achieve financial independence and—more importantly—a healthier lifestyle sooner.
Something’s gotta give, especially if it’s my inertia.
I’m nervous to publish this. But you know what? It’s ok to talk about your failures. You don’t have to pretend that everything’s perfect all the time.
You, darling readers, are my accountability partners in this process. I have bared my soul to you, revealed my shameful insecurity. What I ask from you in return is that you be similarly bold on your own behalf.
Admit your faults and failures. Hold them up to the light.
And then forgive yourself.
I don’t know what my next job will look like. Maybe I’ll make make my freelance editing business a full-time gig (though I doubt it, because apparently we’re about to descend into an abyss of medieval era medical care).
I know that I’m going to have to work hard to figure out how to sell my skillset and talents outside of the insular publishing industry. I need to redefine my career, which is terrifying. But it’s also a little bit exciting. I don’t even know if I’m ready for this.
So wish me luck. I’m going to need it.