10 Workplace Stressors – and when it’s time to quit

Stress. No matter what job you have, at some point, it’s going to be stressful. But jobs with chronic stress can destroy your health and happiness at all hours of the day. I’ve attempted to break out the different types of work stress below, to discuss which kinds of stress is ok (short-term) and which kind of stress should be avoided or engineered out of your life.

  1. Work Quantity Stress — you may like your job, your compensation, your boss, and your peers, but you just have too much to do. Perhaps you’re being scheduled for too many hours, or being handed too many clients than it’s reasonably possible to manage in a week’s work. If you can negotiate a lesser project load or convince your boss that additional resources need to be added, then this stress is manageable. However, if you are working in a situation where this is unlikely to change, it’s best to start exploring new employers within the same field. You should determine if the workload is common across all employers in the field, or unique to your employer. If unique, start planning your exit. If not, determine if your career is truly sustainable.
  2. Job Success Stress — some jobs are second nature to employees. There may be specific projects that require learning new skills or developing existing ones, but no matter what there’s a core set of things that you do well, probably better than anyone else in your company. You take pride in these things and know they are adding value to your employer. If you do not have a core set of skills that add value to your employer, it’s time to look at your career and scope your potential for success. If you’re constantly unable to live up to expectations, and are unable to learn certain portions of the role (i.e. you have to be extroverted but you’re really shy) it’s time to look for a new job or career.
  3. Management Stress (Boss) — your boss likes you give you one direction and then change it the next minute. Goals are never consistent and somehow a contribution you made once that received great praise is, despite being nearly identical a few days later, somehow not considered a win. You are fighting an uphill battle that you can’t win. You should maybe start to look for a new boss. If you can move to another department in your company, this is worth a first step if you still like the overall company and culture.
  4. Management Stress (Direct Reports) — no matter what, you just cannot get the best work out of your team. Maybe you are understaffed (see #1) or you made poor hiring choices. Even if you hired the world’s best team, you still may not be helping them succeed due to your own poor managerial skills. Not everyone should be a manager. It’s ok to take a step back and accept if you are not management material, as they say. You can still lead a very successful career without being in middle or senior management. Take stock of your stressors and see how many of these would go away if you could focus entirely on execution and not on leadership. If the answer is “most of them,” consider a career change into a field where individual contributions are rewarded. Consultants can earn as much or more than middle managers. Don’t be a slave to corporate hierarchies if you don’t fit them well.
  5. Financial Stress (Underpaid) — your life is more expensive than your compensation. Maybe you have a lot of debt, or have to support a growing family, and your work isn’t paying enough to enable you to live the life you want. Just leaving your job and jumping to another role will unlikely solve this, unless you can manage a major pay increase. Examine your career and realistically address your likely compensation over the next 10 years within your role and field. If this won’t help you achieve your financial goals, start to look for a career that pays better.
  6. Financial Stress (Overpaid) — this one may seem odd, but there is a stress that comes along with negotiating well for yourself and making comparatively more than others at your level in the company. You and your own boss may place a great deal of stress on your successes that are in reality much bigger than the cost to the business for the extra couple hundred dollars you make each month after taxes. Determine if you’d be happier making less with less unreasonable pressure. It maybe be better to add a second job or some freelancing work to make up for the difference, versus being expected to give up your entire life for work.
  7. Culture Stress — no matter what, you haven’t been able to find your peer group in your organization. It’s like you joined some super cliquey sorority and you were invited as a joke. Perhaps everyone at the office goes on and on about sports everyday and you haven’t watched a game since you were forced to by your parents in second grade. Or the entire company is made out of male engineers who seem to have a touch of Aspergers, and won’t listen to anything you have to say. It’s ok to admit that the culture isn’t right, and it’s time to start looking elsewhere. If the company culture is causing you so much stress it’s distracting you from getting your job done or enjoying your home life… it’s ok to move on.
  8. Individual Person Stress — is there one employee in your organization who just drives you absolutely batshit? If this employee isn’t your boss, you probably can learn to deal with them, but it won’t be easy. Every company is going to have its fair share of people who don’t jive with your personality, and in most cases you have to learn how to deal with them and be a mature adult about the situation. If the person is related to the company’s founder and is given special treatment, you’re probably not the only one who notices. Remind yourself the job is not forever, and do your best now so you can be better suited for other companies – without this person as an employee – in the future.
  9. Travel Stress — you joined the job thinking you’d be traveling a few times a year, but suddenly you’re called on to travel every day of the week, and some weekends. You feel like you never see your family, significant other, pet or bed. Maybe the travel was fun and exciting for a while, but you’ve gotten to the point where you know the security gate attendant better than your partner. If the travel is creating more stress than reward, consider looking for a position in the same field that doesn’t require constant time on the road.
  10. Office Stress — getting out of the office every once in a while can do wonders to help you improve your work. If your employer doesn’t support your attending industry conferences, sitting in on client meetings, or ever leaving your cubical, you may be stuck in a rut that won’t be de-rutted until you make a move. This type of stress is manageable over the short term. Start to look for other positions which your skills can apply towards which offer more opportunities for travel or being put in front of users/clients. Or, talk to your boss and see if there are opportunities to improve this in your company today.

Jobs naturally are stressful – if they weren’t, we wouldn’t get paid to do them! But there are some stressors that are worse than others. Take stock of what is causing your stress today, and determine if this is something you can manage for a few months or years, or if it’s time to start looking at a company or career change. This post was inspired by a friend of mine who is an occupational therapist, who, despite stresses over resources, really loves her actual job. She explained that it feels good to be really good at what she does. I returned to thinking about my own stresses today in work, and how most of these are due to my lack of confidence in being able to do any of my core job tasks well. By understanding this, I’m able to focus on looking for a new career where I can obtain a role where I can feel competent. Personally, I don’t see this ever being possible in my current role/field for a number of reasons, so I am more convinced then ever that I must shake things up in order to lead a happy life over the long term.

Financial Independence – What it Looks Like to You

When one is on the road to wealth, the dream of financial independence lingers in the distance. Financial Independence means different things to each person. For some it may mean being able to take year-long luxury vacations around the globe and returning home to a mansion. For others, just being able to live a modest lifestyle and not have to work in order to afford it is enough.

I ran into this interesting article discussing financial independence.It posed a few questions which help paint a clearer picture of what this dream would really be like:

  • What time would you wake up?
  • Would you be awakened by an alarm clock or by your body’s clock?
  • Once you arose, what would you do first? Second?
  • When and what would you eat?
  • What would be the main activity of your day?
  • How would you spend the evening?
  • What would determine when you went to bed?
  • What would your home look like?
  • What kind of vehicles would be a part of this typical day?

I thought I’d take a stab at answering the questions, as they probably will help guide in my determining my ideal lifestyle with or without said financial independence. How would you answer these questions?

What time would I wake up?
Probably 8 or 9am.

Would you be awakened by an alarm clock or by your body’s clock?
Body’s clock. I hate alarm clocks.

Once you arose, what would you do first? Second?
I don’t know. If I don’t have work to go to, I tend to just waste time. I’d probably be bored very quickly. I’d likely waste away my days unless I had a project to work on… like work.

When and what would you eat?
If I had “luxury” financial independence, I’d have a cook who would make me healthy delicious fresh food everyday. I’d also be a better cook because I’d have a nice kitchen and a maid who would clean up after the mess I make. I’d frequently dine out – sometimes at fancy places but mostly at modest restaurants. I’d try to eat healthy. I’d have a personal trainer.

What would be the main activity of your day?
Well… other than sleeping and watching television, which would get old fast, I’d want to be working. Maybe I’d take classes. If was wealthy I’d want to just spend my life learning. I’d probably take a bunch of psychology, art and writing classes. Maybe I’d just get a bunch of master’s degrees. I’d spend a decent amount of time floating around my pool. I’d travel and take lots of road trips across the country.

How would you spend the evening?
Cuddling at home with my boyfriend, watching movies, taking relaxing baths in a luxury bathroom that I designed. Sleeping.

What would determine when you went to bed?
What I was tired. It would usually be pretty late. I’d be doing something creative at night and fall asleep whenever, knowing I didn’t have to wake up at any set time in the morning (unless I had class.)

What would your home look like?
It would be in a neighborhood where I had friends who lived close by, who were also financially independent or had more flexible lifestyles. It wouldn’t be giant, but it would have a sizable yard with a private pool (optional) and enough room for entertaining and having guests. I would personally design my own unique kitchen and bathroom. I’d have a robot that does my laundry and folds/hangs my clothes!

What kind of vehicles would be a part of this typical day?
I’m fine driving the basic honda/toyota type car. If I was the rich kind of financially independent, I might buy a Tesla. But I’d be too scared to drive it because I tend to bump into inanimate objects. Maybe I’d splurge on a Lexus or something. I don’t need a Ferrari.

What is most interesting about this analysis is that clearly I’d be massively bored if I was financially independent. I like to work. In fact, I can’t imagine ever retiring. Still, I want to achieve financial independence. To me, financial independence is $2M in networth, or $1M with a modest lifestyle in one’s 30s/40s that is growing to $2M. It isn’t some super fancy lifestyle. And even if I was financially independent, I’d want to work. I would just want more flexibility in deciding where and when I work. And I’d also want to have the opportunity to take more classes and change careers frequently, not caring about taking lower level jobs to be learning something new all the time. Hmm.

When “I Can’t” is a Fair Assessment of the Situation

They say that the most productive people in the world don’t have the word’s “I can’t” in their vocabulary. When they’re asked to jump, they don’t even ask, “how high,” they just jump as high as they can and try harder next time. Whether or not they have a sociopathic and delusional belief in their own abilities is irrelevant, confidence, even over-confidence, begets success in many cases.

I think back to myself as a little girl and I wonder if she believed in herself – that if she believed if she worked through problems instead of getting frustrated and giving up in a manner of seconds – she’d be an entirely different person today. She didn’t realize that while extreme intellect enables a certain kind of success, not everyone needs to be a genius to change the world.

Little girl me flunked out of her smart kids program in second grade because she grew too frustrated with confusing logic problems and would rather doodle and daydream. Little girl me saw math and science as that thing my dad liked and he clearly wasn’t happy or a person I’d want to be like, so why bother? Little girl me sat and watched the second hand tick by in just about every class I had, waiting for the years to pass by.

My therapist this week said something that struck me in its crystal clarity – those who dwell in the past are depressed. Those who think too much about the future are anxious. It’s best we focus on now. And that is what being mindful is all about.

Then, today, a headline in the New York Times caught my eye – “The Cost of Daydreaming.” The author is a woman in her 60s who considers how much of her life was spent wasted lost in what could be, versus accepting and enjoying what is.

“Ever since I could remember, I had feared being found wanting,” Gornick writes. “If I did the work I wanted to do, it was certain not to measure up; if I pursued the people I wanted to know, I was bound to be rejected; if I made myself as attractive as I could, I would still be ordinary looking.”

Oh, how I can relate! How much safer it is to wrap ourselves in this cloak of disappointment in the now, with all this hope wrapped up in the future. But future is the now of tomorrow. The future will be a now sometime and it will never be enough. I don’t want to get to 60 and realize I’ve wasted my life daydreaming away time.

The essay continues… “Around such damages to the ego a shrinking psyche had formed: I applied myself to my work, but only grudgingly; I’d make one move toward people I liked, but never two; I wore makeup but dressed badly. To do any or all of these things well would have been to engage heedlessly with life — love it more than I loved my fears — and this I could not do. What I could do, apparently, was daydream the years away: to go on yearning for “things” to be different so that I would be different.”

I am already exhausted by yearning. There is some god-awful romanticism to wanting versus having – an art enabled by privilege-fueled guilt cradled by insecurity. The future is this amorphous globule which is so fucking pretty from the perspective of the hear and now, or ugly but salvageable with the grace of time. Then the future zips right up to our present and are we at all the better for it?

Elon Musk, a perfectly imperfect human (and some reporter’s lunch with him.)

I daydream that I’m actually as brilliant as Elon Musk – but I didn’t have quite the right upbringing to set me up to access the brilliance. I know it isn’t true. I was creating websites with a dozen too many iFrames at 14, not building computer programs with lightening speed at 9. We both had pretty insufferable childhoods and hated the structure of school equally. But Elon spent his time voraciously devouring science fiction and fantasy. Something stopped me from reading when I was younger – this strong anti-authoritarian rebellion which made it impossible to given in to anything that I deemed too “adult” or “educational.”

Dwelling in the past leads to depression. True. There are so many problems to solve in the world. In the little time I have left on earth – with my god-given abilities, or lack there of, what can I do to fix them? Or is the best I can do hold my breath and stay out of the way? And does it really matter – my inner Nietzsche rears his ugly head – tells me I can’t do a damned thing about any of the problems and even if we make interplanetary habitation possible, we’re still destined for nothingness as soon as the chance of the universe divides by zero.

Returning to present time, not future worry (anxiety) or past reflection (depression), I ponder on now. What am I now? What drives me now? I give myself permission to care about how I feel in this moment. And I feel broken down. I feel weak in my skin, cut up by a life of scripting persuasion and failing to do the exposition justice.  And I HATE the feeling of being unable to do something, but even more so I hate the feeling of not knowing what it is I can do. It is remarkably refreshing to say “I can’t” as long as it’s true and one can accept this and move on.

Elon Musk doesn’t say I can’t. That’s why he’s Elon Musk and I’m not. And I don’t have to be Elon Musk or Tina Fey or Barak Obama to lead a meaningful life filled with the wonder of the present. And that starts with saying “I Can’t,” and it’s time to start down the path of whatever it is where I can proudly one day say “I Can.”

 

Mother’s Day: Being Thankful for an Imperfect Mother

Now that I’m 31 and of age to be a mother, I acknowledge that age doesn’t actually poof make you mature enough to be a good mother. Mother’s are just little girls that grew up and made little creatures that they have to take care of – who then go on to become mothers (or fathers) more often than not before they have their own shit together.

I must be thankful that my mother was not a drug addict or alcoholic. She was not a thief, sex trafficker or Russian spy. For all this, I am grateful.

When I see a bunch of my friends post pictures of their mothers on mom’s day and say “thanks to my best friend” I have to wonder what it’s like to have that kind of figure in your life. Don’t get me wrong – my mom and I talk all the time. But we talk at each other. Not to each other. And, without a nurturing bone in her body, she never once was the type of mother who was “there” for me when I needed it most.

My mother embarrassed me time and again in my life in terms of oversharing my “accomplishments,” trials and tribulations to anyone who might be willing to listen – but the worst of it came from how she, along with my father, completely warped my world view and sense of self. I was trained from a young age that all that matters is being brag-worthy. That I’m inherently special and worthy of praise. Yet any shortcoming, any slight imperfection, was not something that I could work on and fix. It was just ignored. Replaced with some story of grandiosity which fueled my oft confused ego.

I’m grateful that despite my mother’s unyielding self-self-absorbtion, she doesn’t have an evil bone in her body. Her acts are just frustrating, inconvenient at best and nails-on-chalkboard annoying at worst. In the most meaningful moments of life, her only though is if she and the others posing around her look good in a photograph. She is just entirely void of the ability to empathize with others. Her own growth was stunted by her narcissistic mother, who is evil and selfish. My mother is selfish but not in the same way. She’ll put her needs above others but she won’t be angry at said others if their needs end up coming first. Her entire life since age 18 has been in an abusive relationship with my father. She’s never cried. Not even behind closed doors. Her emotions seem to have been stunted as a small child, and were never recovered.

There are worse mothers out there. Ones that go out of their way to use their own children. Ones who push their children to do things that they wouldn’t want to do otherwise. Even when I came out as bisexual she cringed but didn’t kick me out of the house (she hoped it was a phase.) And, in terms of being present versus not in my life, my mother was always there – I’m not sure if she was always there for me, but she was always there. Involved in the school PTA, all of my teachers and administrators knew her well. Everyone in the school knew my mother. Her entire identity, at least once I was born, was created by the accomplishments of her children. Without a sense of self, there became an impossible pressure on her kids to be special enough.

My mother did not teach me about love. My mother stayed when my father screamed and threw ice water in her face or when he grabbed her arm and threw her across the room. For all the effort my mother put into outside appearances in terms of dressing nicely and wearing makeup, she didn’t worry about my father’s repeated humiliation of her in public. After being out of the work force for so many years, she was too afraid to get divorced and have to return to the employed life. She enjoyed her life of shopping and lounging by the pool in the long summers and actively involved in her children’s schooling. She saw her own child getting beaten with a belt and said nothing, even though she knew this wasn’t right. She let her young child start to abuse her, because her child learned this was the only way to stop her chronic nagging. She was a victim, still is a victim, and was incapable of escaping the borderline personality disorder eggshells she walked on throughout her life – first with her own mother, and then her hot-tempered, violent husband.

I feel sorry for my mother. Sorry that she will always be incapable of having her own life. Sorry that she does not have the emotional depth to have a fulfilling adult relationship. Sorry that happiness in her life is defined by buying more and more things, even though she’s never actually happy. The normal state for her is anxious, constantly panicking about what needs to be done, yet never accomplishing much at all.

My great worry is that if I do have kids one day, I won’t be able to be a good mother. I know I will try to be more nurturing and caring, more there for them when they need it and out of the way when they don’t. I’d love to be the type of mother who one day, when my children are all grown up, is referred to as a close friend and confidant. I want to be a strong figure, with a satisfying career and sense of personal accomplishment, to show one example of a successful life and ideal, loving relationship.

And all the while I wonder who I’d be today if I was born to one of those mothers who – maybe is strict – but who knows what it means to love and care for her own children – to, outside of financial means, put her children’s needs ahead of her own, especially when they are young and most vulnerable. All of the crazy in my mind – the constant panicking – the inability to get things done without someone telling me I’m absolutely awful, and having to prove them otherwise – my recurring failure to lead a stable, normal life – or to stand up for myself when I should instead of burst into tears – is something that is so ingrained in me, I can’t shake it off. So much of that is due to my mother. My father had quite the influence as well, but since it’s mom’s day I’m writing about the female component of my parental pair specifically.

So as much as I miss my mother, I’m glad that I moved to the other side of the country. It makes me sad that as the years go by there will less and less time I can spend with her. It’s terribly upsetting that if I do have kids, she will barely ever see them – even though I imagine she’d be a better grandmother than parent, especially if my father isn’t around to scream and make for anxiety-ridden situations. I wish I could flip a switch and suddenly she’d know how to feel – how to care – how to understand that the world doesn’t revolve around her. I know that sounds awfully silly coming from someone such as myself who is also so self absorbed. But at least I have some awareness of the fact that this world isn’t all about me – or my future children – or my life. I’m just a speck in the infinite universe. I’m lucky and unlucky all at the same time, but more lucky than not all things considered. While some of what I have has been earned, most has been obtained through chance.

She would never be able to grasp that. She just doesn’t care about other people – or herself. She is driven by a relentless, all-encompassing need to have stories to tell about others who would want no part in the tale.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I don’t care about money anymore.

For the last almost 15 years of my life since I graduated from high school, I’ve felt overwhelmingly lost. I may as well have been wandering blindfolded through Siberia with my hands tied behind my back. Somehow or other I’ve managed to float from one job to the next, things I never really wanted to do, but it all just happened. I got really good at faking it enough to get hired in only the things I didn’t actually want to do.

I always return to my $325k+ networth, because that’s my one heaping achievement at this point in my life. I don’t own a house. I paid for my used car outright. I live in a relatively modest one bedroom shared with my boyfriend. I have no kids. I barely have a social life. I spend most of my time working or thinking about work or doing something related to work, despite not being nearly as productive as I should be. And I’ve given up on all of my dreams for fame or fortune. Right now, I just want to find my calling. I don’t need a six figure job. Ironically I find the more money I make the less I want to spend, the more I want to save – and I’ve figured out I can get away with about $3k a month in expenses, or less if I was desperate.

Part of me thinks I’m absolutely crazy. I should be fighting for my current life, my current job, with every ounce of my being. It may not be enough – I may just not be intellectually capable of doing a good job in this specific type of role – but I should at least be trying with all my might. I don’t feel like I have the right to be burnt out at this point – it isn’t burn out, it’s just the wrong fit. My whole life has been the wrong fit.

But I see a light at the end of the tunnel. I’m not completely on the wrong path. There are elements of my role, the industry I am in, which are more than fulfilling. I just know that the only thing that stands between me and a life I can be proud of is the GRE. Yes, there’s graduate school as well, but the GRE is the big giant monster standing in my way. When I say this out loud it sounds like I’m throwing a pity party but I’m really not that intelligent in the book smart sense of the term. While I need a billion hour of study on quant to score decently on that section, I feel like I have a chance to master quant if I put my mind to it. I’m terrified of verbal, surprisingly enough, because my comprehension skills are limited.

Clearly I’ll need to study a lot for the GRE. With an undergraduate GPA of 3.2 (barely, it’s a bit all over the place) I don’t know i fan self-respecting graduate program would seriously consider my application without some crazy stellar GRE score. I’m talking top 95%. Or, you know, I just don’t go to grad school, and I figure out something else. But the longer I think about it… you know… 10 years or so… the more it’s clear that I need to go back to school to get where I want to be. There are specific programs I want to apply to, and all of these are at top schools to where I wouldn’t have dreamed of applying for undergrad. And I still think it’s rather funny I’m considering applying to them for grad school. If I were to actually get in, I think that would be the first actual accomplishment of my life that I’d be proud of.

At the moment I’m trying to figure out how to arrange my studying. I’m not opposed to putting $1000+ down on a class, but I feel like it would make more sense to TRY to study on my own and take the test first – see how I do after seriously studying on my own for two months or so, and then go take a class or get a tutor to hone up on the parts I couldn’t learn on my own. The whole prep class thing reeks of scam — the GRE is supposed to be the type of test one can learn themselves. And would 8 weeks of classes really get me where I need to be? Tutors are crazy expensive though. I realize compared to a $100k graduate program spending $5k on getting in is really not that insane. I just don’t think a one-size-fits-all type of program would really work. So I’m going to see what I can do on my own first… probably. I’d like to double down on quant first. Answering verbal questions is frustrating because I can’t go back and “work” them and figure out what I did wrong – other than memorizing words. And I SUCK at memorization.

In any case, the next 4 months of my life = intense GRE study. I need to approach this like a game. The game is the GRE. And I want to win it.