The Job Downward Spiral: There’s a Physics to my Employment

Either I’ve done a better job overall this time around or things just move slower in public companies. I think it’s a mix of both. But now a year-and-a-half in and it’s clear I’m past the phase of newcomers victories and excitement and well into the phase of “I suck at this.”

I’ve been assigned a few larger projects to manage and after failing at one or two my boss was really hoping I could pull off the latest and greatest, but nope, I fell right on my face. Looking back I see a few areas where I could have improved, but overall I just feel lost. I don’t know how to help drive collaboration when I’m unsure what the expectations are. I did uncover these expectations along the way (and feel I could do a much better job managing a project like this next time) but the problem is I seem to keep missing the obvious and not getting what I’m supposed to be doing… which at my level, as my boss points out, is not acceptable. She used nicer words, but that’s what she meant.

The good(?) news is that I’ve been assigned a slew of projects that I HAVE been successful at. Unfortunately, these projects are one-off “do not make any sense on a future resume” type of projects. Maybe it’s time I stop caring so much about said future resume and just try to do what I do best–which is run with the punches and take on creative projects that no one else would have the foggiest how to manage versus trying to become a manager of cut-and-dry processes and failing time and again.

At 35, it’s no longer cute to fail or figure shit out. I should have it figured out by now and it’s clear I don’t. I’m scared because without resume-building projects I have no where to go after this. It’s hard to have that conversation with your boss because you aren’t supposed to be thinking about “after this.” And it’s less about moving up at this point and more about maintaining some semblance of a living wage once this job is no more. Maybe I’ll stay in this role until I retire with inflation-based raises, but that’s unlikely. I know my boss sees that I can do SOME things well (otherwise I’d be OUT already) but is that enough? I don’t want to be the easy to cut person in the organization and without adding clear value I’ll be cut sooner or later.

I just wish the last project didn’t end up the mess it was. I really don’t know how I could have done it all better. I still am not sure I could really do it better if I started over, which is the scary part. I don’t know how to get teams inspired to do great work, or to collaborate. Everyone seems to think I go off and come up with ideas on my own and decide everything without consulting others, but I keep asking everyone else what they want and I’m not getting any answers. I guess I’m not asking them in the right way. Or… they just hate me and don’t want to collaborate. I don’t know. My one co-lead on the project was super nice, but he also ended up driving things down a path that made it all more complicated and took away my control–which, funny enough, is what my boss wanted me to have… control to make the project great, but then also be collaborative and get everyone else’s input, but to lead. At the end of the day, I’m a shitty leader. But I’m not going to stay in a senior-level role without BEING a leader in my field. Independent contributor is not worth much and I’m way overpaid to be one right now. Good problem to have? I guess. It makes me feel like crap every day. I can’t even look my colleagues in the eye anymore.

I’ve set 7 time-based goals for myself to stay in the company and just try to survive. And by survive I mean do great work that keeps me employed, but also do not try to move up or gain resume-building experience… just do whatever my boss(es) want me to do and stop trying to do the things that would help me move up but do not come naturally to me. That’s 7 dates across 33 months that I need to survive and then, as long as there isn’t a major recession, I’ll have some sort of flexibility to figure out my next steps… I mean, not a ton of flexibility because if I have a mortgage and another kid, flexibility is out the window unless my husband is willing to move to a lower cost of living area and he isn’t.

It is just all so suffocating… I’m so fortunate for all I have and I know I’m in a much better spot than many others in this country, but I just can’t breathe. I don’t want to get caught in this self pity crap but I also don’t know how to be better. Once I start thinking this way it’s hard to focus and be productive. Every little thing I do I self doubt so much that I slow down my output and my output gets worse and worse until I inevitably get let go. Fired. Whatever. That’s what I do. It’s not funny. It’s not poetic. It’s just my life.

But with a toddler and wanting another child, it CAN’T be my life. I’m really fucking scared right now. I don’t know if I’ll ever see the day I have a. job where I’m not worried about getting fired. This is the best situation yet as the head of the department likes my work and has given me the opportunity to do projects seen by our senior leadership team, but that still doesn’t make me professionally immortal. And I know even if I can hold on for dear life these next 33 months, there’s still after that… if my resume has nothing on it other than weird projects that make no sense at another company, or would be comparable to what a much more junior person would do with a much lower salary, I don’t know what I’ll do —

I was talking to my husband and we agreed that our mortgage should be no more than $5000 with his father adding another $2000  in rent (basically $2500 for each of us per month plus $2000 for his father.) My husband really wants his mother to go in with us on the property but I’d prefer to buy separately and just have his father rent from us (his parents aren’t married, it’s complicated, but I am comfortable living with his dad if he is renting from us and it’s clean cut like that.) So we can put down $300k on a $1.5M property which is about $7k a month. That might be doable even if I lose my job, but it will be hard to maintain 30 years of a career that can support $2500 a month. And it’s going to be very hard if not impossible to find a place that costs $1.5M that has a good place for his father to live.

Ugh. When will my life not be a mess?

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3 comments

  1. Lisa M says:

    “Maybe it’s time I stop caring so much about said future resume and just try to do what I do best–which is run with the punches and take on creative projects that no one else would have the foggiest how to manage versus trying to become a manager of cut-and-dry processes and failing time and again.”

    Yes, this! It sounds like you’re trying to make yourself fit into roles that don’t really inspire you and aren’t a good fit with what you’re good it. I think if you try to focus on what you’re good at, you could find that you naturally carve out a niche for yourself that might not have been part of the original plan. And with new technology and products coming out every day, maybe there will be a future job that’s a perfect fit that doesn’t even exist yet.

  2. Is this your first time managing a team? Some minor notes that might help:
    – Get to know your team and let them get to know each other. Have team lunches and other informal ways for you all to bond outside of formal meetings. Include an ice breaker in your kickoff meeting for the project.
    – Schedule one-on-one lunches where you don’t talk about the project at all, just get to know them as a person: what they like to do (at work or in their spare time), their personal goals, etc.
    – Most of the time, you should help explain the underlying business justification (the “why”). Allow your team to give input into the “what” and define the “how” (but guide them, obviously) so it feels organic and not just something you’re dictating to them.
    – Always trial balloon big ideas in one-on-one meeting with team members before exploring with the broader group.
    – Your team will come up with solutions you disagree with. Learn how and when to disagree and commit (and model it for the rest of your team).
    – Fail loudly and get advice from your manager if you think you’re going the wrong direction. Again, model this for your team.
    – Hold retrospectives after big milestones to understand what went right and what didn’t.

    This article goes over some key points to remember, though not all may apply to your situation (mostly centered around product management for software development): https://www.mindtheproduct.com/2017/11/guide-collaborating-motivating-engineering-team/

    1. Joy ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

      I don’t actually manage a team. I manage projects that involve collaboration with people from other teams. And as of now they all don’t want to work with me. So it’s probably too late to fix this.

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