I don’t want to have a boss

A reader writes:

How can I stand being employed by someone when I don’t want to have a boss? I’ve always had trouble working for authority; my experience with authority, and this isn’t just a perception as I’ve tried changing that too, is they walk all over me, getting what they want, leaving pennies in the end.

You can skip the rest if you’d like, but it provides more insight into why I have trouble with having a boss.

As most things, it does start as a child. I’ve seen too much indifference; in school, it was bullies getting away with things and me the one punished.

In work, it’s bosses allowing other employees to do less work and still earn more. This may sound arrogant, but at my previous job I knew more about IT (that’s my field) than the system admin did; this in turn had me teaching him, and yet, he was earning far more than me. Eventually, that job turned into three jobs (development, graphic design, and marketing).

My previous employer asked me to help with a lot of things, not just writing software. I ended up taking work away from an outsourced graphic design agency, saving the company money, and getting a meager raise that didn’t change along with the workload. I found out too much, and discovered the company was being held on retainer for more than 3x the amount of my yearly salary, which didn’t include the costs for the projects they did have.

People asked me at that job, “How can you stand it?” I guess I should have left sooner. I was even told by my managers that they could replace me with someone else. My personal problem was how I handled frustration, but how can I hand frustration when the owner of the company literally (yes, literally) sat behind me for 3-5 hours of the day, telling me how to move my hands on the screen. I eventually left because I’m tired of doing work that I don’t want to do anymore, and I feel terrible that I’m not getting anywhere in my life.

The truth is, I feel great writing fiction and non-fiction. I wouldn’t mind doing stand up comedy, but I don’t have any experience performing in front of others — I was the kid who pulled the curtain during the school play. I did manage to write and self-publish a fiction novel, with humor, and I might publish a book under a pseudonym that I’d use as a stage name, too.

Yeah, this is a lot; it’s why I shoved it down here and away from the point. I apologize if it comes across as annoying, or someone who’s ticked off. I am, a bit. I’ve quit every job I’ve had over the same reason: I severely disagree with management, burn myself out, and can’t even get a single break to say, hey, let me get things organized.

I don’t have a job at the moment, and inside, I really don’t want one. I’m tired of listening to people talking down to me like I’m garbage. I mean, if your own employer has the gall to talk about prospective employee’s pay (exactly dollar amount), with someone who has no business knowing, wouldn’t you feel terrible? That was the last I needed to hear from them, and the rest fell into my mind, and I had to leave.

Now, I’m not lazy. If I were, I wouldn’t be seeking help in any form or another. I’m just tired of it, and it makes me irritated when I think that I less than a month’s worth of money left, and I can’t stand the thought of getting a job.

Well, no one is going to force you to get a job. It’s a choice that you make if you want the things that come with it — a steady stream of income, primarily.

If you decide you’re willing to forego the steady stream of income, there are other options. You can start your own business (which is categorically not for everyone, but an option for some). You can find some other way to pay your bills, like marrying someone who’s willing to support you. Or you can have no money at all and rely on the taxpayer-funded social safety net, which means a very low standard of living, obviously.

So you need to decide which of these options is most appealing to you — or, probably more realistically, least unappealing. What’s your bottom line — are you willing to deal with a job and boss you might not love in order to have a paycheck? And can you see them them as a direct trade of one for the other?

Most people decide they’re willing to get a job and have a boss, even if it doesn’t make them especially happy, because they want what comes with it. And in fact, for most people, work is not a source of pleasure and fulfillment. It’s a source of income. We often talk here as if it must be the former, but that’s a very privileged viewpoint that we’re lucky to be able to have. Many, many people work solely as a means of putting food on the table.

I think you need to get clarity around exactly what your choices are and what trade-offs you’re willing to make in order to have a home or disposable income or whatever it is that you want in life. Everyone makes these calculations a little differently; what’s essential is simply that you make them.

Additionally, do some thinking about your own role in your experiences so far. When someone has never had a job or a manager that they’ve been satisfied with — to the point that they’re considering not working at all as a result! — there’s often something going on with them, whether it’s an inability to be satisfied, or a problem with authority, or an anger problem, or difficulty getting along with others, or something else entirely. (And frankly, some of your examples in your letter sounded … well, a little naive. For instance, yes, companies charge clients more for your work than they pay you. Sometimes a lot more. If you don’t like it, you have the option of trying to go into business for yourself. So I do wonder if you have unrealistic expectations, at least in some respects.)

There’s also this, although I don’t know how to say it diplomatically:  People who are really good at what they do generally build up options over time. If you’re good enough, you can pick and choose so that you end up in better workplaces with better managers. You can leave bad situations, and you can often avoid them in the first place. After a certain point in a career, if you’re really good at what you do, you shouldn’t need to consider sweatshops where your boss treats you poorly. So it’s worth looking at your own work to try to figure out why you’ve haven’t worked your way out of this spot. It could be that you’re in the wrong field for your strengths, or it could be that you under-value yourself and so never try for something better, or it could be something else — I don’t know. But you should try to figure it out.

(And please know that I’m not trying to imply that you’re some sort of incompetent buffoon who is incapable of earning better treatment — I’m not. But something’s going on here that would be useful to examine.)

In any case, as is true of so many problems, this comes down to being ruthlessly realistic about what your options are. For instance, most people can’t make a living off of writing fiction or doing stand-up comedy (even the very few who do generally work a day job for years while they get their careers to the point that they’re self-funding), but maybe you’ll decide you’re willing to deal with having a boss for eight hours a day and know that your fulfillment will come from writing on the side. Or maybe you’ll decide that you’ll forego a steady paycheck, do odd jobs, and drastically lower your standard of living. There are a bunch of different combination of options, all with their own consequences.

The key is to take a brutally honest look at what’s important to you and what’s not, and what trade-offs you’re willing to live with, understanding that each choice means not choosing something else … whether it’s money, security, a boss, absolute autonomy, or something else entirely.

{ 171 comments… read them below }

  1. Sandrine*

    Yup, you have to think about things very carefully and make sure your priorities are in order.

    Before taking my current job (customer service rep) , I was so fed up with my job search that I started thinking about having my own one person company (they have a special status for that here in France) doing translation work. I have a friend doing that freelance and she does that in Spain, but we could work together and be awesome at it and weeeeeee life would be nice.

    No sooner had I handed in the papers to get the status that I got my current job. Since freelancing doesn’t always pay off right away, I chose to stay at the office job. And, well… it continued.

    See, I realized that while I don’t always like rules and stuff, it was far easier to deal with an office job than doing some of the paperwork and research on my own. I saw pretty quickly that I couldn’t be as efficient as my friend. Of course, the steady income helps a lot (my friend makes a little more than me on average, but that’s an average and I think I would have a hard time adjusting my spending habits) .

    So just think about what matters most, what you can do, what’s realistically feasible… and if you choose not to get a job and adjust to a lower standard of living, also be prepared for the judgment from others that might come along with it (I remember an etiquette forum where a woman was on food stamps but apparently needed a coffee pot. Something worth 30 USD, maybe. The backlash was terrible) .

    Best wishes to you, OP!

    1. Anonymous*

      No it wasnt an inexpensive coffee maker, it was a kuerig. They cost at least $89 American. She also complained about how they had no money (except for the welfare checks) but all she and her husband did all day was play video games. She’d complain that she it was so hard to care for her son but instead of taking precautions had another one (and another welfare check) I wish I could game the system like that!

    2. Anonymous*

      Yeah, it was more like a $90-$100 coffee pot because she didn’t like making coffee in a regular coffee pot because she only used 1 cup of coffee and would waste the rest (never occurred to her that you don’t need to make a full pot). So she thought it was a better idea to get the expensive coffee maker that requires expensive pods so she could make just 1 cup at a time. That whole thing was ridiculous.

      1. Anonymous*

        And then she argued that she deserved this expensive, top of the line coffee maker because she was just going to spend $3 buying a fancy coffee latte at Dunkin Donuts every day any way. Also, you forgot to mention that the entire story was posted because she was indignant that the store clerk dared to utter something like “I wish I could afford one of these” when she checked her out.

    3. nyxalinth*

      On Livejournal, there’s a forum called poorskills. It’s a great community, except for when it devolves into Poverty wars, I’m Poorer than Thou self-righteousness, and Who Can Live On Less Wars.

      There was also once 3 pages of wank over whether poor people should have anything but basic utilities, shelter, food, clothes, and transportation (nothing for fun, not even a free book or the like, should be selling all your free gifts on ebay, you lazy sap!) and if they had any time for a life outside of work, they weren’t working hard enough. Some people even said you shouldn’t have internet and a computer, never mind the fact that many places don’t allow walk-in applications anymore!

      Thankfully, new moderators were put in place, and this nonsense settled way the heck down.

  2. Malissa*

    There’s a lot of crap that circles in retail, food service, and other low-skill jobs. That’s just the nature of those industries. I also read a whole lot of “why me” in this letter as well. The fact of the matter is that unless you are willing to stand up and speak, nobody knows what’s bugging you. One of my greatest career assets and detriments is that I long ago gave up the fear of speaking up. In some cases this has brought me much grief in my jobs. In the good cases it has brought me great rewards as well. In one instance speaking up to the right person got me out of a miserable explosive situation to some of the best working conditions I’ve ever had.
    Long point short, have you really looked at your role in all of this? If you find yourself ever thinking I wish I had said….. Then really you should be speaking up more.
    Also if you are going to be a stand-up comic, there’s a ton of material to be gathered from horrible bosses. Think of it as research.

    1. Sarah G*

      “Also if you are going to be a stand-up comic, there’s a ton of material to be gathered from horrible bosses. Think of it as research.”
      Ha! Love it. I have a musician friend who has a lot of music projects aside from his main band, including a band that does some humorous songs. Some of the funniest stuff I’ve ever heard in my life are a few songs he wrote about a former boss.

  3. KT*

    I wonder if maybe you are working in the wrong field or industry? Perhaps if you were doing work you found more fulfulling, or more enjoyable, you would feel better about your contributions.

  4. Yup*

    I echo AAM’s advice to reflect on your career and think critically about what trade-offs you’re willing to live with. But I also wonder whether you’re considering this question in an overly restrictive way. It doesn’t have to be “9-5 office job with a boss” or “full time standup comedian” and those are your only options. Perhaps your work style is suited to having multiple different ventures at once: occasional IT consulting work, a few ad hoc marketing projects, some blogging or freelance writing, and some assistant hours at a local theater company. It’s tough to juggle time and earnings like that, but some people work best with independent gigs that add up to several small income streams. So when you’re thinking about what kind of work you like to do and the trade-offs to make a living, just consider that it doesn’t have to be all one thing all the time.

    1. Anonymous*

      I agree! Some people–myself included–are happier with their hands in multiple things. Try to think of it not of having to choose one thing, but giving yourself an opportunity to do more than one thing you enjoy or are good at. Your happiness and mental health are important, and no amount of money can make up for being miserable!

  5. Cynthia R.*

    I love AAM’s answer. It really always does come down to choices and consequences.

    I wanted to share one thing I do that helps me to approach my work with a different mindset: I’ve learned to think of my employers and coworkers as clients. And really, that’s what they are. They pay me in exchange for my services. I may not always agree with clients. I certainly will give them suggestions based on my expertise, but at the end of the day, I’m there to help make things better for them, whether or not I agree with them. And, as with a client, if what they are looking for is ultimately a service I don’t provide or do well, either of us can choose to go elsewhere.

    It may sound silly, but this little mental switch really helps me to be more objective. And I have to check in and remind myself to think of this from time to time.

    1. Jamie*

      “I love AAM’s answer”

      It was poetry and needs to be heard by everyone who is in the same place in life as the OP.

      When I got to the end I saw that she followed my favorite maxim – ‘as simple as possible, but no simpler.’ Should be mandatory reading.

    2. Colleen*

      Thank you, Cynthia R. You have made my work life a lot easier–I had never thought of work like this.

      Clients, eh?

      Honestly, this should take some of the edge off the place where I am currently working. Thanks!

    3. Annie*

      Good way of thinking! I tend to think of my manager as a client because she is just as demanding as some of our clients. I need to expand this to the rest of the group. Thanks!

  6. Liz*

    Whoa! I think this response is a good one in a lot of ways, but I am pretty shocked by the “people who are good at what they do tend to create more options…” This. Just. Isn’t. True.particularly natural

    The US corporate world doesn’t depend on good employees. It depends on shareholder value. Good employees aren’t nearly as important to this metric as CHEAP employees.

    People who are very good at print or radio journalism or other dying fields also can’t expect much from the employment market – particularly with the current focus on specific experience rather than transferable skills.

    Obviously there is no excuse for bitterness or other negative reactions that will hurt the job hunter more than anyone else. But let’s not pretend the working world is still Mayberry. It isn’t. And this attitude isn’t helpful for people who have to live with the reality that corporate shareholder value is the most important metric, and salary matters more to that bottom line than almost any other factor.

    1. Kelly O*

      I think this varies wildly depending upon your particular employer.

      As crazy as it may seem to say, there are still plenty of great companies out there that treat their employees well and value them. Not just in the mission statement on the wall in the president’s office, but living it, day to day.

      Shareholder value is always important, I just wanted to take a moment and give some credit to employers who still truly do care. They exist.

      1. Liz*

        That’s a good point. Unfortunately the good companies can’t hire all of us, and in order to get along without becoming as frustrated and counter-productive as this poor OP, I think it helps to recognize that the game is what it is.

        Value = Money. And the more the company gives to employees the less the company has for shareholders (and bonuses for high level staff).

        1. Ilf*

          ” And the more the company gives to employees the less the company has for shareholders (and bonuses for high level staff).” Well, I’ll answer you with your answer: “This. Just. Isn’t. True.” There’s a balance. Better employees create more value for everybody: customers, employees of all levels, and shareholders. There’s a point where the marginal return of a even better employee is too small to cover his extra cost – then there’s no benefit in hiring him or paying him a premium if hired.
          Sure: there are poor managers who are ready to award themselves bonuses at the expense of loosing good employees by not paying them enough. I’ll argue then that they are poor managers because they are thinking in the same terms you are thinking – that the return on investment is fixed, and they will get less if somebody else gets more.

      2. Stells*

        Exactly. There are companies out there who understand that great employees can equal shareholder value if done correctly. Then there are sweatshops who believe that only cheap employees can equal shareholder value.

        I think AAM’s point was that if you’re really good at what you do, and dedicated to doing it in a great environment, you’ll get yourself a job at the former is so you don’t have to work for the latter anymore.

          1. Anonymous*

            Alison, can you do (or have you already done) a post about how to excel and be great in a job in the public sector, where you may be hindered by union issues? I have worked in several libraries, all union positions, and there is only so much I can do to stand out without stepping into someone else’s territory. Certain tasks can only be done by certain people, and you wouldn’t believe that you can get written up for trying to go above and beyond the call of duty.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              I would love it if I knew the answer to that! But I tend to think that in many (not all, but many) union and government environments, the bureaucracy gets in the way of both good management and good performance. My advice for both situations is usually … don’t work places that make it impossible to do awesome work.

            2. Bureaucrat*

              One thing I have hated about calling a big company is getting the runaround and getting transferred to X people before you finally find someone who thinks they are responsible for your problem. Well, Anonymous is right. I now work at a big company and you get in trouble for giving out information that isn’t directly related to your own function, so you have to give people the runaround.

    2. LA*

      But it IS a true statement, and you can see it based on the “dying” fields. I was a print journalist – I love print journalism and the world of newsrooms more than most things in this world, but what I love more than print journalism is the standard of living I was accustomed to before the word “dying” was associated with the job. But I was good at what I do and it definitely created more options for me. I’m now in corporate PR as a direct result of my proven ability to tell a story in a concise manner.

      The caveat is that while being good at your job can create more options you have to be FLEXIBLE in the job market. If I stuck to print journalism, then you’re right, I wouldn’t be able to expect much from the employment market but those transferable skills are everything and a lot of employers are looking for them. You just have to wrap your head around being good at what you do in a different setting or context to see those other options.

    3. EngineerGirl*

      I think I must strongly disagree with you. A valued empoyee absolutely has options and gets to create more. My company values my input. I am highly paid (I would even say overpaid), but I make the company way, way more money than I cost. My field is dying, so my manager et. al. are trying to reposition my skill set for future technologies. Why? They want to keep me around. The corporate world absoltuely depends on good employees, and they treat the good ones well. The corporations that don’t lose them to corporations that do.

      1. Jamie*

        “The corporate world absoltuely depends on good employees, and they treat the good ones well. The corporations that don’t lose them to corporations that do.”

        Yes. Few positions work in a vacuum and a lot of vendors, customers, contractors, etc. know who they would like to poach from the companies with whom they do business.

        Hence all the conversations about what it’s like to work there and how business is, etc. Etiquette dictates that they don’t come out and offer you a gig. But when they make small talk about positions in their org and how they wish they have your skill set there…it’s business flirting to see if you take the bait.

        The market can be tough and yes, many really good people are out of work right now – but the fact is if you are good you will have options.

      2. Liz*

        There’s a difference between saying “Lock your doors at night to help prevent crime.” And “People who lock their doors will be safe.”

        The first is a good recommendation to improve your chances of having a good outcome, and I think you guys are taking AAMs comment in that spirit. But that isn’t what she really said. I thought she came too close to the second, and it isn’t true.

        Also, the anecdotes above don’t support either theory, anyway. Having a boss who likes you happens to good and bad employees. Lots of great writers don’t have the right personality to move into PR.

        I agree that employees should avoid feeling bitter and do their best to be good at what they do. I don’t agree that people who are good at what they do will always have more options. That isn’t reality and pretending it is prevents people from seeing the aspects of the situation that they can control.

        The most frustrated people I have ever met are the people who expected virtue to be rewarded. Virtue is its own reward :)

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Liz, I knew that comment would generate a response like this in some people because it has when I’ve said it here before, but I stand by it. The better you are at what you do, the better reputation you’ll build and the more people you’ll have who will want to hire you. Great work leads to great reputation, which leads to options and opportunities. Certainly more opportunities than you’ll have without great work!

          1. Liz*

            There are more people who do great work than there are opportunities for great people, unfortunately. Denying that feels good but it’s a variation on the exact problem re OP has: substitution of preferred, unsupported theory for reality.

            five job seekers for every open position. Some fields, like print journalism and law, are shrinking to a point that even the most excellent lawyers will not have clients. Companies generally prioritize short term shareholder value over long-term factors like “happy customers.”

            Pretending all the GOOD buggy whip makers can just do something else feels like a kindness, but it’s really just like the OP’s thinking “I did good so I should have good.” The way to get away from that is to be really specific about what being good does – it makes you feel good. It gives you more resources to deal with bad situations.

            But good work can’t give you a good result.

            That is affirming the consequent, in logical errors, and logical errors are not typical of this blog :)

            1. LA*

              Not all companies are beholden to shareholders, though. There are many private companies across the country who treat their employees like gold – and a lot of them are not known to the general employment population which is bad for both sides as these companies can’t find the best person for their positions and those looking for work can’t find these companies. Everyone is trying to turn a profit, but not all companies are out to screw their employees over and there are a lot more of them out there than we give credit for. It’s all about finding them though. Like AAM said, doing good work means that you leave a good impression behind so you can get a good referral which in turn can lead to more opportunities.

              It’s not lip service – if you’re bad at what you do or you act entitled or you annoy the wrong people then you are not going to have the same opportunities as the person sitting next to you who always steps up to the plate and does outstanding work. That doesn’t mean that just because you do a good job it means you’ll have a bajillion job offers, but it sure as heck means that you’ll have more opportunities than if all of the people around you would tell a future employer “oh, her? meh.” or worse “I would never hire her for a position ever again.”

              1. Liz*

                I know plenty of people who I would consider a “meh” who have jobs, and plenty of people I would rave about who don’t.

                You can assume good work could lead to some rewards. You can’t assume the presence or absence of rewards indicates the presence or absence of good work.

                Haven’t you ever met an idiot who thrived in an environment that frustrated a good employee? I have. I’ve even been that idiot :)

                1. Chris M.*

                  “I know plenty of people who I would consider a “meh” who have jobs, and plenty of people I would rave about who don’t.”

                  Liz, one thing I can tell you for sure, having been successfully employed for 25 years and never having to settle for a bad employer:

                  The people you consider “meh” have something going for them (probably the ability to create strong relationships with other people), and the people you would rave about probably lacks in things like the ability to network.

                  I’ll give you an example. Someone from my office was recently let go as part of a corporate wide layoff. She was not a great performer (and that’s why she was the one chosen from her group to be let go even though there were more recent hires).

                  But THREE PEOPLE who know I am friends with her immediately offered to connect her with other employers. She was extremely well liked by everyone because she was nice, social (in a good way), always getting involved in volunteer work, always helping people connect with someone who could assist them at work.

                  That is her “super power”. Right before she was let go I had the first opportunity to work with her, and wasn’t impressed – she did not deliver something I asked (nor let me know in advance as I asked her to do if she was unable to fulfill my request). But she was a great connector — whenever you needed to find out “who in the company does X” she would know or figure out for you. So she became well liked and sure enough, found another job a couple of weeks after been laid off, because of her good recommendations.

                  Just something to think about — the people you think are great at their job, may not be great of other things that are important as well — being helpful, connecting with people, etc.

                2. AnotherAlison*

                  Hate to beat a dead horse, but I’d like to add that there’s a difference between good and great, and that sometimes being great today doesn’t reward you until the future. The universe just doesn’t hand you what you want when you want it. You put in the hard work; it decides when you reap the benefits. You might be a technical superstar, but until you work on your soft skills, rewards don’t come. You can’t always see that that is the bigger picture that’s happening until you are past it.

                3. EngineerGirl*

                  I wanted to echo AnotherAllison

                  A lot of people think they are way better than they are. Or they have the technical skills but not the soft skills. Or they can perform specific tasks, but not see things in the whole. Or they are great at what they do, but aren’t proactive. When we say “good” employees, we actually mean “great”.

                  The payoff for being a good employee (not a slightly above average one) usually comes after years of hard work. It takes a long time to establish a reputation. Even if you have a mediocre boss in the beginning, others see your hard work and you may get the rewards 10+ years down the road.

                  Stop seeing things in the immediate. A career spans 30-40 years, so you should be planning on that.

                4. Liz*

                  This is for Chris M., but I’m not sure I’m replying in the right place :)

                  For every anecdote you have about the employee with a super power, I can match you one about a great employee with excellent people skills who doesn’t have an opportunity because that opportunity doesn’t exist.

                  Math negates your anecdote. There are more great people than there are jobs.

                  I know I’m being very insistent on this point, and that is because your world view necessitates some really problematic assumptions that in turn lead to a really unpleasant society where a lot of productivity is wasted (one that is more like the original version of communism and less like the original Adam Smith capitalist society than I think most people who believe in it would like to admit).

              2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                There are not more great people than there are great jobs. There are actually relatively few great people, at least the way I’m defining that bar. In fact, I suspect we’re defining the bar differently, which is what accounts for our differing views on this.

                1. AnotherAlison*

                  Yes! Let’s not say the MATH proves there are more great people than jobs. Using the normal distribution curve, there are not that many great people!

                2. Jamie*

                  Out of curiosity what percentage of employees would fall into the great category?

                  For me it would be maybe 2%, if that, where they are so valuable that it would take more than time and money to replace them…you’d also need a lot of luck.

                  Those are what I call the “oh sh*t” employees. Because that would be the first response if they resigned, and the odds are you’d have to restructure the job or settle for less in replacing them. Actually, less than 2% IMO.

                  Now good employees – that percentage is much higher.

                3. Liz*

                  This is what you said that I just don’t think is TRUE though: ” If you’re good enough, you can pick and choose so that you end up in better workplaces with better managers…. After a certain point in a career, if you’re really good at what you do, you shouldn’t need to consider sweatshops where your boss treats you poorly.”

                4. Rob*

                  Alison – Can you define a ‘great person’? I can’t find a prior article if you wrote one (but please provide a link if you have)! I’m still fairly young in my career and the small sample size I have to work with has shown that the ‘great persons’ are the brown-nosers. :(

                5. Jojo*

                  “I can match you one about a great employee with excellent people skills who doesn’t have an opportunity because that opportunity doesn’t exist. ”

                  Great employee/people often time create their own opportunities.

            2. Joshua*

              Logic is great for deriving possibilities, but what I want is data.

              How many highly skilled / highly likeable workers (moderately skilled / highly likeable, ect.) rate their jobs and bosses as satisfying?

              Does this differ across industries?

              Are highly skilled / highly likeable people more likely to be happy regardless of work environment?

              Anecdotes are interesting and logic confers possibilities, but neither represent reality.

              1. Jamie*


                Above link is to a 2011 SHRM survey. It doesn’t answer your questions about the correlation between likability and job satisfaction, but there is a lot of interesting statistical info on the topic.

                Fwiw relationship with direct supervisor tied with company financial stability for the third most important aspect of job satisfaction, behind opportunities to use skills and abilities and job security.

                Relationship w/ supervisor was ranked higher than compensation (4th) which surprised me.

          2. Natalie*

            I think this is really, solidly true when it comes to educated, middle class professionals, but that is already a position of privilege.

            My partner’s family is an excellent example – he grew up in Flint and his whole family still lives there. His uncle was absolutely fantastic at what he did (something skilled in a factory) but no one is going to interview an out of state factory worker, or pay relocation costs, and he can’t afford to move.

      3. Anonymous*

        Just for future reference, “et al.” only has one period. Please forgive the grammar nitpick, because I know this is so inconsequential; it’s a pet peeve from too many years of Latin classes.

        “Et” is a full word that means “and.” “Al.” is an abbreviation for alia/aliae/alii to get around an annoying gender implication that doesn’t work in English. It means “others.”

        1. EngineerGirl*

          You might have noticed swapped letters too. I know what it means. Typing it is a different story. The dyslexia keeps me from typing easily. It gives me a huge advantage when working in 3-space, because I can rotate things in my head.

    4. Tater B.*

      I’m so glad someone said this. I raced to the comment section for this very purpose. Though I agree that the OP comes off a little *ahem* egocentric, I’m sick and tired of trying to fight the fallacy that if you’re a “good” employee, you’ll have a job.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        To be clear, I didn’t say that if you’re a good employee, you’ll have a job. Lots of good people don’t have jobs. What I said was, “if you’re good enough.”

        If anyone truly doesn’t believe that you can reach a certain point of greatness at what you do and have it start to pay off with better options, I’m mystified.

      2. fposte*

        I think there’s a difference between “if you’re a good employee, you’ll have a job” (aka “if you don’t have a job, it’s your own fault”) and “people who are good at what they do tend to create more options.”

        However, I also think the latter gets truer the longer you’re in a workforce, because you’ve had more opportunities to demonstrate your merit to a number of people. It’s not just being good, it’s about people having seen that you’re good and knowing that they’d benefit from having you with them. So it doesn’t just mean “If you’re capable, things will come”; it means “the more people have seen you being capable, the more likely you’ll know people who want you to work for them.”

          1. nyxalinth*

            It really is!

            I’m a great writer. I still have some areas that need work, but overall, I’m great. I know this.

            Other people don’t, because when it comes to writing creatively, I’m extremely hesitant to put myself out there. So no one ever sees it, and thus nothing happens.

            That’s why the distinction is really important. I can be the next Robert Jordan/Stephen King/Jodi Picoult, but no one will ever know it unless I put myself out there.

        1. Liz*

          Two words Fposte: Age discrimination.

          Sorry. I know I’m really being insistent. This issue just bothers me a lot.

          I think believing that we have control when we don’t is EXACTLY how the OP ended up so frustrated and hurt that he/she barely made any sense. The one theme in that rambling, self-pitying screed was almost a flip of Alison’s comment about good work. “I did good work and I’m smart but I had a bad result…” Sometimes that just happens, and pretending it doesn’t just fosters the puzzled feelings and negativity that led the OP to become so self-destructive.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            No one is arguing people have total control, just that when you’re awesome at what you do, you generally have more options. And that’s true. You generally do.

            And it seems pretty likely that OP isn’t entirely a victim here — based on the letter, it seems likely that his own attitudes played a role in the situation (whether it’s being too quick to be frustrated or under-valuing himself or whatever the issue might be).

            1. Liz*

              I tried to post a response, and the server crashed.

              What you seem to be saying is that there are only a few great people. That implies that most people aren’t great, by your definition, and then this is where we differ, those hordes of average aren’t opening up continuous employment opportunities for themselves.

              Do you see where that takes a turn from the original Adam Smith? It implies a world where a few people are ok and the vast majority aren’t. That in turn has a lot in common with societies that have failed – Communism for starters, where the most dedicated, elite, and special were rewarded according to criteria set by opaque networks, and complainers were punished for being less dedicated or accepting… (thanks for a chance to cite info from all those college classes no one ever wants to hear about…)

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Whoa. Yes, most people are not great — by definition, most people are average. That is the definition of average!

                That doesn’t mean that most people aren’t okay. It means that really great ones have more options. Which is what I’ve been saying all along.

                I think we need to agree to disagree at this point.

              2. Liz*

                Sigh. Looking at it again, I realized the above comment made more sense in my head.

                Please ignore the detour into college history classes that have counter-intuitive implications for post-cold war societal structures… and blah blah…

                I’m trying to say that what you’re describing implies a world I don’t want. Not because of some ideological hope I foster about everyone getting a medal. But instead because I absolutely, practically think it doesn’t work, EVER, to have a society where a few people get rewarded for their specialness while the rest struggle.

                When you encourage frustrated people to just be really special, and then add in explanatory comments that most people actually won’t be really special, I’m not sure it’s helpful to the kind of frustrated, disordered thinking the OP demonstrated.

                1. Anonymous*

                  Liz – I think your stance is a bit of a cop out. It’s the “everyone is a winner” idea that doesn’t hold people responsible for their actions. If someone thinks that he or she is really great at what he or she does but he or she is not being rewarded or finding opportunities to advance then he or she needs to evaluate it. That’s what AAM was saying to the OP – consider your responsibility for your own unhappiness. A person may be great, but that doesn’t make him or her a great employee. I’ve worked with a lot of people who were very smart and had many gifts but who did not understand business or see how they fit into the bigger picture – they weren’t able to see why they weren’t successful. I agree that the OP demonstrated potentially disordered thinking in thinking that he/she was so much more skilled than everyone around him/her. Perhaps it’s true, but I think AAM was trying to make the OP really think about it. You do have control over your career path and happiness – not always, and not easily, but overall.

              3. Jamie*

                I think it’s important to draw the distinction between great people and great performers in the workplace.

                There are a lot of people who are wonderful and yes, great, human beings. I’m sure we all have family who think the world of us.

                But just as in school the majority had average aptitude and a small percentage were gifted – the majority of employees are average and a small percentage are exceptional (not that there is a direct correlation between the two). That’s just the law of statistics.

                Of course there are people struggling to find positions who would be good employees and it’s a shame that everyone who wants to work can’t find a job that’s a good fit immediately.

                But I just think its important to distinguish that acknowledging that exceptional employees are rare isn’t diminishing the quality of character or humanity of everyone else.

          2. LA*

            I want to preface this comment by saying that u do not believe this is the case with the OP as I do not know them or their situation. But I think that what you’re seeing in this situation and what others who are discussing it are two different things, You are saying that someone who believes “I did good work and I’m smart but I had a bad result” is the honest truth. People are notoriously bad at self-assessment, they want to believe that they are above average and at times this is a false assessment of their skills that will never be changed by feedback from others. If an employee is of the mindset that “I’m awesome and they’re screwing me over and not recognizing that I am so awesome” they might not hear it when a manager provides feedback to the contrary. In fact, it feeds the defeatist attitude that the manager is dumb and doesn’t understand the brilliance of the employee.

            Again, I repeat I’m not saying that is what is happening in this specific case, but I think that a lot of those “good” or “great” employees sitting out there who either aren’t finding a job or not seeing options open up while currently employed may not actually be good or great. It’s great to have a high self-image and do your best work, but listening to feedback is so essential (and giving feedback if you are a manager) so that people can grow and improve in their positions. But again, that feedback will not soak in someone’s mind if they already think their manager is pointless.

            If someone is sitting there saying, “it’s not me, it’s them” repeatedly, it’s probably actually the “me”.

            1. Liz*

              And what you’re describing is exactly what I said Alison’s comment implied: Most people are getting what they deserve and the results can be used to estimate the probably merit.

              I disagree. It’s illogical and in today’s economy it’s inaccurate to assume the results have much to do with “the me.”

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                I never wrote most people are getting what they deserve. I wrote that you can work yourself in a position where you have more and better options. At this point it’s starting to seem like a deliberate misreading of the words I actually wrote.

                1. Liz*

                  I didn’t say you said that, I said it’s the logical implication of what you said.

                  And the comments are filling up way too fast for me to keep up too :)

                  Bottom line: The OP was pretty nuts, but I think the whole “great people…” thing needed some distinctions that weren’t made in either the original post or the follow up comments.

                2. Charlotte*

                  So, I’m sure this isn’t as much fun for you as it is for us observers, Allison, but one of the most fun things about this blog is watching the techniques you use to keep us all under control…I’m a huge process consultation freak, and while I hate drama, I always get to the edge of my chair when this stuff happens, because then I get to watch Allison do her thing.

                3. Bureaucrat*

                  I agree with Charlotte! I was thinking that Alison was walking her talk by demonstrating good management behavior in the face of opposition and if she can do this in such a public forum, then I gotta to really be able to do it with my employees in private.

              2. EngineerGirl*

                This is not true. I graduated when unemployment in my town was 37%. Getting and keeping a job was tough. I had to make some serious sacrifices to get the job. That paradigm holds true in this economy too.

                For a long time I blamed my career stagnation on “its them”. But I listened and listened. And I realized that most of the problem WAS me. Ironically, once I figured out the problem, my career took off.

                There are so few people doing the extra that it is easy to excel and become the special ones. Start looking for and creating opportunities. Look to see how you can add value. Do the little bit extra. Decide to like your boss (yes, I used the word decide). Decide to like your job.

                And for heavens sake, quit saying it is the economy. As hard as it is, people are still getting hired in this economy.

            2. Tater B.*

              I think a lot of people are trying to comment, because my responses keep getting eaten.

              So I’ll just limit my reply to this word: WOW.

          3. fposte*

            I don’t understand where you’re going with your two words, though. Sure, age discrimination happens, but it doesn’t mean talent can’t open doors. The theory wasn’t that being capable would protect you from bad things; it was that it made good things much more likely. It’s the difference between control and influence. Do you have control over what happens in your work life? No. Do you have influence over it? Yes. If you fail to realize that you have some input into what happens, you also end up in a pretty unpleasant way.

            And also I think you’re postulating a really homogeneous private sector that doesn’t match with my experience, nor does your characterization of the nonprofit world. Neither the world nor what people are saying about it are that absolute.

    5. Xay*

      I have to agree with AAMs statement.

      2 months ago, I thought I was going to be unemployed right now, today, August 2. I’ve spent the last two years working hard next for a client of my company who respects my work, but being supervised by a company that only cares about the bottom line. But in these last two months I’ve learned that there are still places where hard work and reputation do pay off and that there are still people who value good employees so much (and that companies who do not respect their employees often show the same disrespect to their clients) that they will do what is necessary to keep them. So now I’m getting ready to switch from a company that is so focused on the bottom line that they are not only losing talented employees that they are also losing clients to a company that is known not just for identifying talent but furthering the career progression of their employees because they recognize that a successful employee that leaves the company is a potential client or at least a reference.

      There are bad employers. There are always bad employers and in this economy, the worst instincts of those bad employers are magnified. That doesn’t mean there are not alternatives and options out there.

  7. mozandeffect*

    As I was reading your thoughts, OP, I was completely shaken.

    I was in a similar place 5 years ago. You sound angry and upset, like the whole world is against you, and you are doomed to fail. That’s the way I was.

    Please heed the third to last paragraph of Alison’s response. It sounds like money is tight, but if it is possible to see some kind of counselor or therapist, I think seeing someone would go a long way to help you understand where this anger is coming from. It can help you to a point where the choices you have now – even though they don’t seem like great choices now in the head space you’re currently in – will feel like better choices, because you will feel more in control. Like Alison, I’m not trying to imply anything, just offering friendly advice to someone who’s been there.

    I agree with her statement, “for most people, work is not a source of pleasure and fulfillment. It’s a source of income.” While freelancing sounds great because you don’t have someone hanging over your shoulder , you should also consider there are tons of reasons why some people cannot be freelance – for example, if you need major group health insurance coverage. If you aren’t bound by such a restriction, then you have more options, boss or no boss.

    1. AnotherAlison*

      “if it is possible to seem some kind of counselor or therapist…”

      Or just go see Peter Gibbons’ therapist.

    2. COT*

      I second the suggestion for counseling–perhaps try a career counselor or life coach. You might be able to find some free counseling nonprofits in your area that could help.

      At times, when my life has felt miserable and it seems like improving it is completely out of my control, counseling has really helped me feel and function so much better, even when the external circumstances are the same. A good counselor won’t be about “let’s diagnose your mental health problem and treat you like a sick person.” They will be positive, able to lend concrete suggestions, and focused on helping you best use your strengths. I can’t recommend it enough.

      1. Kimberlee*

        I agree. I’ve not been to a therapist or life coach, but I can definitely see the value of someone talking you through the idea that if you don’t like where you are, you’re really the only one that can change it. People get trapped in hopelessness when they’re in bad situations, and it’s hard to keep perspective. And a life coach or occupational coach could be just the person to show you how many options you do have!

        (Or you can just write to Alison, and she’ll tell you, like she did here. :) )

  8. Anonymous*

    Bosses, hierarchy, management… it’s all just part of a grand system of control that has turned most people into mindless little drones obediently doing what they’re told, working at a job they hate, to pay the mortgage on a house they’ve been led to believe they have to own and fill with crap they don’t need. Fuck that. Good for you wanting to do something different. Go for it. We can work cooperatively and collaboratively. We don’t needed bosses and subordinates. We don’t have to be a slave to money. We can build our own houses using natural materials that can be found on the land (land that was once ours, the commons). We can grow our own food (saving seeds to provide crops for the following year) and provided services and goods to each other in exchange for other services and goods. Utopian hippy nonsense? Nope, just the way people lived for centuries and still do in a sadly decreasing number of societies. But that can change, we just need the courage and determination to create that change.

    1. EngineerGirl*

      Have you lived with societies that do? I have. They want what we have. Those societies are dying because the young people are abaonding them for the corporate life.

      Living off the land is hard, hard, hard.

      1. Jamie*

        Yeah, and you can be eaten by bears.

        I think the OP’s problem is a little more immediate than a complete overhaul of our society will address.

        Money may not guarantee happiness, but it’s a lot harder to be happy without enough of it coming in.

        1. Shane*

          The real threat is the deer. The bears are just a decoy and a damn good decoy at that. Everyone is told about how to handle a bear attack but nobody suspects bambi.

          Sorry what were we talking about again?

      2. Tel*

        In Spain and Greece people young people are flocking back to farms, actually (no corporate jobs). Beekeeping and snails are all the rage now (no joke). But…yeah. It’s hard any way you slice it. It’s not like the snails don’t take work!

        1. EngineerGirl*

          Excactly. My experience in living off the land is that you get up at daybreak and don’t quit until dusk. Almost all of your time is spent working because you are just trying to survive. There is very little leisure time. It is hard on your body. I enjoyed it, but it was hard.

      3. Anonymous*

        Yes living off the land is hard work, but it is also often more satisfying, sustainable and social. The reasons people are moving away from the land and into cities is often not through choice but through being forced from their traditional land and livelihoods. Many, many indigenous groups and peasant farmers around the world are fighting against this, are asserting their right to live on the land free from the pervasive push of globalisation. Check out http://www.viacampesina.org/en for more info.

    2. Kimberlee*

      I applaud the sentiment of encouraging people to do things differently, though I personally feel that getting people out of the fields and into offices was the third best thing to ever happen to humanity (second to heating and air conditioning). :)

    3. Anonymous*

      Well, I half agree. Modern jobs and corporations are a product of the historically recent industrial revolution. However, another hierarchical work system has existed since the 18th century BC…Babylonian times…you even mentioned the word. I’m referring to slavery. Pre-industrialization, we also had the feudal system. I’m definitely not a historian, but it seems to me that as long as we’ve had organized society, there has been an organized form of work with leaders and subordinates.

    4. Liz T*

      This only works in small societies; once we get into communities of more than roughly 120 people, hierarchies and systems of ownership start to develop. See “Sex at Dawn.”

      1. Anonymous*

        Indeed Liz T, think you are referring to Dunbar’s Number. Although there is no definitive value placed on this, commonly more than 150 people in a group or society and things get more restrictive. Smaller communities with more personal relationships and interactions are what we should be striving for.

  9. AnotherAlison*

    Another suggestion. . .find a field that fits you and become an expert doer. Generally speaking, I mean someone who has a special technical skill within the company (like the number-crunching analyst-in-the-corner type role). In these roles, you don’t need much direction and your interaction with management is to inform them. You know something that others don’t, so you are valued and paid well. . . and pretty much left alone.

    If, like me, you have a grating personality, you will have a hard time making a living on your own. I have a low tolerance for people, so when working for yourself requires 50% working-50% marketing, I’d be miserable 50% of the time. (And don’t kid yourself about writing or comedy – the easy part is the art, to make money you have to market, and these days that is left up to the artist.)

    1. Jamie*

      “If, like me, you have a grating personality, you will have a hard time making a living on your own.”

      I don’t know what you’re like in real life, but I love your posts and generally end up wishing I worked with more people like you…so one person’s grating is another person’s least annoying co-worker, I guess.

      And ITA to the first paragraph as well. If you have a rare, but necessary skill set you can work pretty autonomously most of the time.

      1. AnotherAlison*

        Ha! Thanks. . .IRL people seem to find me amusing, but then again, they don’t think my comments are serious.

        1. Jamie*

          That’s the secret – you can be a truth screamer all you want as long as people think you’re just being facetious.

          Sometimes when I state out loud how much I hate people others laugh and think it’s so cute that Jamie is all curmudgeonly today.

          And this brings up an on-topic point, which is finding a way to make the situation amusing, or at least tolerable. Little stress releases throughout the day. To be fair I have no complaints about my bosses, they treat me very well and I’m certainly aware of that…but we all have stuff that makes us want to tear our hair out from time to time.

          I read once that if you have 2-3 work friends you will have exponentially better attitude toward your job than you if you don’t. It is easy to overlook, but there is a lot to be said for having someone to share a bemused glance with as co-worker A rambles on about nothing…or who will hate the unknown person who used the last of the creamer right along with you, just for sport.

          They don’t have to be friends outside of work – just work buddies and it can make all the difference.

          1. Anonymous*

            That’s the secret – you can be a truth screamer all you want as long as people think you’re just being facetious

            Sort of Cassandra v2.0.

          2. Scott M*

            +1 on the statement “it’s so cute that Jamie is all curmudgeonly today. ”

            Another point for using the word “curmudgeonly”

          3. Sandrine*


            The “buddies at work” thing… a thousand times yes.

            That is exactly how I managed to stay in my current job. I have a few buddies, heck, I even went from Paris to New York City with one I barely knew then, and it was fantastic.

            I’m grateful for these people, not that they’d make me stay if things got really really bad, but I don’t know where I’d be without them.

            (Yeah, it’s THAT cheesy for me :P )

          4. MeganO*

            THIS: “you can be a truth screamer all you want as long as people think you’re just being facetious.” I live by this secret.
            As usual, Jamie, I’ve looked forward to your posts and you didn’t disappoint.
            Also – too many people underestimate the problem of bears.

            1. Jamie*

              Awww – thanks :).

              And I have ALWAYS said that blogs about workplace issues routinely underestimate the danger of bears. I just hope as a society we wake up before it’s too late.

  10. Anony Mouse*

    I think it’s important to keep in mind that EVERY MEANS OF EARNING MONEY, EVER requires you to meet someone else’s needs. Work for yourself? You better do what the customers want. Professional comic? You better give the audience what they want. Getting welfare? You better do what the government says.

      1. jmkenrick*

        That’s why you should be born wealthy, duh. If you have to answer to others, there’s only your poor pre-natal planning to blame.

  11. Kelly O*

    As Alison said, this really does just boil down to what you’re willing to exchange for the level of autonomy you want.

    Take my little brother, for example. He’s really creative. He does electronic music on the side, he works as a DJ, and he goes to music festivals whenever he can. I know that in an ideal world, he would make his living traveling around doing his electronic music thing. But unfortunately it does not pay his rent or provide health insurance (and being diabetic, he kind of needs that insurance.) So, he works in records for an attorney’s office, and does his thing on the side. Is it ideal? Nope. But it works for him, and he uses the fun stuff after hours to motivate him through the tough days.

    There are certainly times I don’t want a boss either. I get tired of being treated like I’m twelve and back in junior high again, with all the office drama, lack of communication, and not being able to manage my own time in a way that works best for me. It stinks. But I need the steady paycheck, and I’m not sure entrepreneurship is right for me. Rather than take that risk, I stay here, look for another job, and evaluate my decision every day.

    Even if you become an entrepreneur, you have to answer to someone. You have to have clients to survive as an entrepreneur, and keeping them happy is almost more important than keeping a boss happy at a “regular” job.

    Even if you become an author, you have editors, book companies, fans, all sorts of people with differing levels of input into what you do. It’s not just sitting around with a laptop writing as inspiration strikes you. (I have a dear friend who is a Published Author, which I feel the need to type in all caps, which is the only reason I know anything at all about it.)

    The point is – there will always be someone to whom you must answer no matter what route of employment you take. I’m not trying to belittle your inner dilemma, because lord knows I’ve thought it. I think we’ve all though it. But realistically a mature adult understands the need to keep bills paid, keep the powers that be happy, and find your pleasure outside of your paid employment, if need be. It’s not the fun answer, but it’s the one that works for a lot of us.

    1. Jamie*

      “and keeping them happy is absolutely more important than keeping a boss happy at a “regular” job. ”

      FTFY :). The only thing I would dispute is the “almost” in the original sentence. A boss generally has procedures and HR and any number of barriers to firing an employee…and has to pay UI most of the time. A client can drop you like a bad habit without a second though…and not only do they not have to pay UI, but can sue you in civil court which is pricy even if you’re in the right.

      Don’t underestimate the amount of power clients hold.

    2. khilde*

      I think we’ve all though it. But realistically a mature adult understands the need to keep bills paid, keep the powers that be happy, and find your pleasure outside of your paid employment

      This makes me think of the book “Quitter” by Jon Acuff (fellow Acuff fan, right?!) :)

    3. Ellen M.*

      “Even if you become an entrepreneur, you have to answer to someone. You have to have clients to survive as an entrepreneur, and keeping them happy is almost more important than keeping a boss happy at a “regular” job.”

      Yes! You may be trading one boss who drives you crazy for multiple bosses who drive you crazy. And some of them you will have to pester in order to get paid, and/or wait a *while* for payment.

      Each option has its pros and cons.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yes. And, speaking as a consultant now myself, you cannot let it show even once if you have a bad day. Grumble at your boss occasionally and it’s probably fine. Do it to a client? Really inappropriate.

        (That’s why I grumble here to you guys instead.)

  12. Drew*

    It sounds like regardless of your job, you will have difficulty with authority. Self-employment will not resolve this, since you will still have to deal with requests and demands (both reasonable and unreasonable) from customers, regulators, vendors, suppliers, financial services, etc. I think it would be very worthwhile to examine what might make you happy and why and then try to match up these characteristics with your career decisions. This is something I have continually done throughout my career (e.g. do I want to work for a small company or large, do I want to choose a technical single-contributer path or a managerial path) with great success. Some things I do on my own time (like play music) and some things I can do and get paid (like write and learn). Good luck and I hope you find what you’re looking for.

    1. Anonymous*

      Mmmm, not until he learns to detach “business” from “personal.” I dunno about you, but I certainly wouldn’t want to work for him as he is in this letter.

  13. Emily*

    Two thoughts:

    1) You may have a combination of perhaps naive viewpoints, yes, but also maybe just a string of particularly bad bosses. This is a good reason to interview your potential employer when they’re interviewing you. Ask questions about the boss’s management style, the degree of employee autonomy, evaluation and advancement policies, rate of employee turnover/average employee tenure. If you get to interview with someone who isn’t the prospective boss, ask them for their honest feelings about the workplace environment. If any of the answers raise red flags, don’t take the job.

    2) Once hired by a reasonable/non-insane manager, stand your ground. If you feel you’re being taken advantage of, say something in a non-combative way. At your annual review (you should have selected a company that has some kind of formal review policy in place), say, “I’ve been doing a lot more X recently than when I was first hired. I really enjoy this work and I believe you’ve been satisfied with what I’ve produced, and grateful for the money I’ve saved the company by not having to outsource. I think a raise of $X would be appropriate to reflect my expanded responsibilities.” Or, “I’ve been doing a lot more X recently than when I was first hired. This isn’t really the kind of work I enjoy or want to pursue in my career, and I want to make sure we’re on the same page about my job duties. I’d rather remain focused on Y and Y-related duties, but if this is going to become a significant part of my role, I think a raise of $X would be reasonable compensation for this added responsibility.” Or something! What you absolutely shouldn’t do is keep taking on more and more work that you don’t like without getting anything in return, or without looking for a new job.

    3) There’s also always http://thefec.org/ You’ll have to work in these places, too, but the culture is a lot different. ECs tend to place a higher value on member/laborer satisfaction and quality of life and a lower value on profitability, aiming to produce enough to be sustainable and no more. Maybe that’s more your speed.

    1. Kimberlee*

      I agree with all of this. I think it’s important to consider that maybe you don’t have a problem with authority, you just have a problem with BAD authorities (and who doesn’t?). Rather than assume you’ll get along with your agent or your publisher or whoever, maybe you should just focus on finding work at an organization that inspires you, or a boss that you respect and that respects you enough to let you do your job?

      Although I have to admit, if your boss spent hours standing behind you telling you how to do your job, it doesn’t speak highly to your assertions that you do great work. It’s very common that people who are less knowledgeable at things overestimate their abilities, while those who are better underestimate them (this is substantiated by several studies). This is just a corollary to what Alison mentioned about being mindful of your role in your work experience.

      Also, I don’t think that talking about salary is as big a deal as you think it is. There is no requirement to keep salaries a secret; employers generally can’t even legally tell you not to share your own, and I think that a lot of problems in the workplace might be helped if people let go of the social idea that salary should be kept secret. Having the expectation that your salary be kept a secret is probably reasonable, but I wouldn’t quit a job over it or anything (not to say you did, but it just doesn’t seem reasonable to be as upset as you are about it).

  14. Jenn*

    It’s one thing if you’re tired of doing work that you don’t want to do anymore. And who knows, maybe doing work you like will dramatically change your outlook.

    But it seems to me that, even if you started doing work that you really enjoyed, you’d still face a lot of these same issues with authority, and other employees “getting away” with more, etc. So while you might want to go off and write novels, or find some other way of making money that doesn’t require you to report to someone else…..the bottom line is, you need some professional guidance. You don’t seem happy, and you seem to be blaming your “lot in life” on other people.

  15. Protest&Hyperbole*

    I’d just like to validate your feelings, OP. I’m kind of in this place right now—in an ill-fitting job, in a unsuccessful, many-month job hunt. I’m unhappy and probably not much fun to be around. And I can’t stand my boss. My state of mind affects my work performance, which makes me doubt my abilities and feel bad about myself. But job hunting requires self-confidence and optimism!

    I daydream about not having to work, because, at this point, it’s hard to imagine a work setting were I would be content. I feel hopeless, and helpless to change my situation. However, this is a pattern for me because I suffer from depression. Part of the solution is taking better care of myself and finding good coping strategies. Since you like to write, maybe writing about your feelings might help you get clarity about what you want.

  16. Hello Vino*

    OP, I’m curious about the size and organization of the companies you’ve worked at. I’m a graphic designer, and I absolutely love working at teensy tiny agencies (3 – 5 people). Personality fit is really important, and the hierarchy within the company is less rigid. In the past, I have also worked in-house at much larger companies where it always came down to the pecking order within the company. It made me absolutely miserable.

    Sounds like you definitely need a change. New job, new company, maybe even start your own business. Keep in mind that even if you’re working for yourself, at some point, you will have to answer to someone. Can’t change that, but there are many other factors that you can change. Good luck!

    1. De Minimis*

      I had not seen that Mr. Money Mustache site before, and it’s very interesting. He has a lot of good tips about frugal living, although some may be too extreme to be practical for a lot of people.

      If you look at the post detailing his timeline on how he got where he was, though, you’ll see that he was in a tech field during the dot-com boom, got to take advantage of a hot hiring market [I think the first four or five years he held something like 3 jobs with each paying at least 15% more than the last] and most importantly, company stock options and the stock market of the dot-com bubble years. Doubtless that his frugal habits and wise saving patterns contributed to his being able to where he is [and to maintain it] but I don’t know if his outcome is that possible today.

      Still a great site as far as thinking of ways to save money and to achieve a more frugal lifestyle.

  17. freeLanceWebDev*

    OP, you sound like you need experience with standing up in front of people and talking. It will boost your confidence. Also, you need to make some contacts in your “real world” — writing. I’d recommend two things to you: (1) for public speaking, you can’t beat Toastmasters — and one of the meeting “roles” is Joke Master, sounds right up your alley! and (2) get yourself to a writer’s group — via local ads, Meetup, or, yes, Toastmasters. Make some contacts and get going on your dream! In the meantime, keep the job that pays the bills. I think you will find, as I did, that having the “escape plan” and acting on it will make the day job much more tolerable.

  18. RJ*

    This reminds me of that Drew Carey bit: “Oh, you hate your job? Why didn’t you say so? There’s a support group for that. It’s called EVERYBODY, and they meet at the bar.”

    1. Jojo*

      Yeah, also reminds me of that Seinfeld episode where George kept losing his job and he wanted to be a talkshow host, or a tv sport commentator.

    2. Laura L*

      I almost bought a t-shirt with this quote on it several years ago. It’s one of my favorites.

  19. Christina*

    I think everyone, to some degree, doesn’t “love” having a boss. Unfortunately, not having a boss isn’t the case with most jobs so, like AAM said, it’s a trade off.

    Should you choose to leave your current job and look for a more autonomous position, really take into consideration your prospective boss’s management style and the company culture. AAM has posted some great advice on asking about this information during the interview. From the information you provided, it sounds like some of your managers might have been more hands-on, while it sounds like you like to work more independently.

    With that being said, I wouldn’t ignore your interests in being an author or stand-up comedian. I would recommend the book “Quitter” by Jon Acuff (you can read the first chapter free on his website). In this book he talks about closing the gap between your day job and your dream job with practical advice. Although I don’t know what my “dream” job is quite yet, his book definitely helped me to enjoy my current job more.

    Best of luck to you!

    1. Christina*

      Oh, geez! Sorry- I didn’t see people had already said many of the same things….but hey, great minds think alike, right?!

  20. Colette*

    I agree with a lot of the comments so far, but here’s one observation I haven’t seen. I get the impression that you go along, not saying anything about problems until it all boils over and you quit – which might be the first indication to your manager that there’s something wrong.

    For example, if my boss told me she could easily replace me, I’d probably say something like “Really? Interesting.” … and then start looking for other jobs.

    If she told me she was hiring someone new for my salary + $X, I’d say, “Hmm, that’s a lot more than I’m making” and wait for a response.

    Now, if the owner of the company were spending 3 – 5 hours watching me work, I’d look for a new job – because either the owner seriously believes I’m completely incompetent or else the owner is completely incompetent – either way, I need a new job.

    Your letter reads like this is stuff that was imposed on you by your boss – what about your responsibility to yourself? I could be totally wrong here, but it seems like you resent having to work, which could result in you begrudging everything you are asked to do and rebelling (“I’ll show them” kind of attitude) – and that will go nowhere fast.

    As a note, if you want to write, that’s great – but if you want to sell what you’ve written, you’re going to have to deal with agents and editors and such, all of whom will tell you what to do to some degree.

    1. Nichole*

      Excellent point. This is just speculation, but if OP is a person who doesn’t know how to ask for what is wanted or needed, but still expects the boss to know, and pairs that with bad experiences and general mistrust of authority, that stirs up a big cauldron of Unpleasant Working Environment. It can easily go from being not that great to “everyone here sucks”…and the feeling being mutual because the OP has been unpleasant for weeks. Some practice with being productively assertive and a commitment to finding the right culture and being part of making it a good place to be puts the OP back in the driver’s seat and would probably improve his/her stance on returning to work. Having a boss does not mean you’re not in control of your career.

    2. Tater B.*

      YES. It actually took me years to learn how to control the powder keg feeling. But the truth is, there are warning signs way before the serious consequences (quitting, firing, layoffs). I have learned how to pay attention to those from the very beginning.

      In addition, AAM has written quite a few posts about dealing with difficult bosses. I know because I went through the archives and read them all. That could help too.

  21. Elizabeth West*

    Some of this advice was helpful to me, too (I’m not the OP), so thanks everyone and AAM, for the insightful comments. I’m having a crazy time right now trying to see if there is a different direction I can go. Of course, I’m pushing against a learning disability that’s making it hard to find work. The admin stuff I was doing is changing in a way that isn’t feasible with this problem (dyscalculia).

    I too am a writer but yeah, freelance isn’t for everyone. I write novels mostly (not fiction novels, OP, sorry, novels are fiction; bit of a pet peeve there). No one pays you to write them unless you have a contract. So I have to find a decent day job soon. No matter how much I like it, there will be stupid stuff. I can put up with it as long as I can pay the bills and write on my own time.

  22. Anonymous*

    wah wah wah. That’s all I hear. With so many people so desperately seeking employment nowadays (I was one of them), do us all a favour and stay out of the candidate pool. Write your fan fiction or do your stand up comedy. “How can I make everything about me me me!?” 1) by saying I don’t want a boss (because clearly I’ve had every boss in the world and they all suck) and 2) writing to AAM for more attention. “I want to have my cake and eat it too, because I deserve more than everyone else even though I’ve done nothing to earn it”. Cry me a river.

      1. Anonymous*

        I have to agree with Alison. That was uncalled for and rude. The OP is entitled to his/her feelings. I’m also so sick of people saying to just be happy you have a job in this economy blah blah blah. I’ve read a lot of articles about how unhappy people that do have jobs are. A lot of companies are definitely taking advantage that it’s harder to get a job right now and making employees put up with more than they probably would if there were more jobs than job seekers.

        1. Jenkins*

          Everyone here is entitled to their feelings, but this isn’t necessarily about the OP not wanting a job. They don’t want a boss. 2 different things. The OP is acting like every manager/boss out there is a total sleaze or conniving or out to get him/her. Obviously that’s not true. I have a great boss, and know many people who do too. The OP is generalizing and using it as an excuse to feel sorry for him/herself.

          1. Liz T*

            Jenkins, you seem to think that emotional situations are unworthy of discussion. Alison didn’t post this letter so that we could debate whether all bosses are terrible, she posted this because the OP is going through something emotionally and professionally difficult, something to which others might be able to relate. The concept of “feeling sorry for oneself” has lost most of its meaning–why is it such a conversation-stopper?

    1. Jenkins*

      Harsh as it sounds, I have to agree. When you post something for everyone to see (the OP knew there was potential for it to be posted on the blog), you open yourself up to public scrutiny. I think the OP is just feeling sorry for him/herself.

    2. Liz T*

      Note that you have to downgrade the OP’s activities in order to not feel bad about writing this–aware that literature has value, you decided to stick “fan fiction” in there. (I guess you already have a low opinion of stand-up comedy.) This makes your argument a tad less persuasive.

  23. fposte*

    FYI, OP, my salary is published in the newspaper. (It looks like it’s going to be turning up an extra time this year as the result of an audit, too.) It doesn’t make me feel terrible, and I don’t immediately see why a non-private salary makes you feel terrible. (The boss sitting behind you thing, now, that would annoy me considerably.)

    1. Cassie*

      My gross earnings is posted online (a few newspapers in the state publish state gov’t salaries and we are considered state employees). It shows the earnings for the past 2 yrs as well. And it’s not just a salary range for a given title – you type in my name and you can see my exact title and how much money I earned. (It’s a little creepy, but I can understand why they want that transparency). I just don’t think we (in our sector) need to pretend like salaries are this huge secret because they clearly are not.

      As for the boss sitting behind you thing – that would definitely bother me too, but I think it would be something specific to that one boss (or a handful of people with similar personalities) and not every single person who is a boss. I have a boss who is very particular and judgmental – you should do this, you should do that, organize your folders this way, change the resolution of your screen, etc. I’ve had other bosses that simply don’t care, as long as they get the end product. (And then I’ve had a boss who is curious so will be somewhat nosy, but isn’t doing it in a judgmental way, although one might misinterpret his questions and curiosity).

      So look for a boss who has a personality that would work better with your own personality. It won’t be easy but it will certainly cut back on your feelings of resentment.

      1. Jamie*

        For the love of all that is holy, if being a manager meant micromanaging someone’s screen resolution I would immediately go back to school to learn goat grooming.

        I hope that was past tense and you’ve moved on to someone with a little more sense.

        1. Esra*

          I was about to say the same thing. I had a manager try to tell me how to label my Outlook folders and it was like, ooookay, time to get the resume out there again.

          1. Bureaucrat*

            I had an employee who didn’t use any browser bookmarks. When I discovered this, I finally understood why she kept on asking me and asking me about published information! So, I no longer assume that people know how to do the simplest things and I would get nosy too!

    2. Mike C.*

      My company posts the salary ranges for all salaried employees by job title, level and site location. It’s awesome.

      By the way, Finland, Sweden and Norway release everyone’s tax returns. I’ve heard that it stems from constitutional rights to government documents.

      Frankly, I think it would be awesome here.

      1. Anonymous*

        FWIW, in Sweden, if you’re doing any serious business with them, you’ll need their personnummer (roughly equivalent to their SSN), which in turn means you know their date of birth (it’s the first 6 digits).

      2. Natalie*

        I would be completely fine with this. I don’t see anything good coming from keeping salaries a secret.

  24. Kathryn T.*

    When you are self employed, you don’t have one boss — you have a thousand. Every client is a boss.

  25. Anonymous*

    Maybe you need to take your work life down a notch, to a place where you aren’t taking work (or emotional baggage from work) home with you. Maybe that will give you the clarity to figure out what you really need to do.

    When I was younger, I had jobs where there was virtually no interaction with the boss and very little stress. One of those jobs was as a cashier. I’m sure that there are many others. One of my friends who “works to live” works at a warehouse moving stuff around all day. Maybe you should take a job like this for a while, to get yourself into a better emotional state. Then figure out what you want to do with the rest of your life. It has the added advantage of freeing up a lot of time for pursuits like writing or comedy or what have you.

    1. Natalie*

      My brother delivered pizzas for a long time and almost never interacted with his boss. Great job to support a music/art/inventing side business.

  26. Alison*

    I know this isn’t the point but this guy sounds just like the kind of person Gavin de Becker warns against getting tangled up with in The Gift of Fear.

  27. Elise*

    I would say get a day job or whatever you
    need to pay the bills and look into community theater for a side activity. Don’t plan on getting the lead roles, Just look at it as an opportunity to get away from the daily grind while getting performance experience. Even working behind the scenes is a good creative outlet. It’s easier to put up with things you don’t like if you are also pursuing something you enjoy.

  28. Liz*

    Oh my. I just read the whole thing now that I can get it to load,, and wanted to apologize for contributing to one heck of a thread, and for crashing the servers!

    If it helps explain where I was coming from today, shortly before I read the post, I fielded calls/interactions with:
    – a paranoid, unpleasant person who has been very successful despite a tenuous grasp of the rules of grammar
    – a clearly excellent person who I’ve seen getting disrespect in a sexist environment in a way that I think will hold her back from moving to the next level (unless she moves to a different part of the country).
    – a potential employer who asked to borrow my portfolio and now ignores my attempts to get it back

    Oh, and I wrote a college paper on the similarities between the described ideal societies in the novels of Ayn Rand and the elite of the Communist regime that she escaped in her youth :) (Seriously, John Galt’s train looks very creepy in this context…)

    Anyway, I am a nerd who had a rough day. Thanks for a great blog Alison!

    1. MentalEngineer*

      To fully sidetrack the discussion: I just, just finished a Russian history course, oddly enough. I definitely see the parallel that you’re describing and it’s an interesting one, but I think Rand got out early enough that the elites in question are more a feature of Russian society in general than of Communism in particular. She left less than a year after Lenin’s death, before Stalinism had really taken hold, and while the country was still thinking about – and, to be fair, actually enacting – reforms rather than about surviving the Terror.

      1. Liz*

        Yes! I knew there was someone else out there who found it interesting!

        I thought that:
        1) Her family was strongly influenced by the same factors that led Stalin to make his “reforms”
        2) Her family closely followed the reforms and mourned heir loss of status and postion, causing her to identify with the oppressors
        3) Both libertarianism and communism accept in-effect limitations on society members’ liberty that can be very severe, including death, as the logical implication of the ideological emphasis on freedom, leading to propound acceptance of seemingly contradictory philosophical arguments at the same time (we must imprisonthe intelligentsia to save their freedom, letting the uninsured die is preferable to an unjust tax).

        You totally made my week! And seriously, there were startling personality similarities between Stalin and Rand, who controlled the sex lives of all around her and so on.. I almost did my thesis on it!

  29. Angela*

    You know, I read the post and I was totally scared for him/her of what the commenters would say, but I’m thrilled that the majority of you understood. I, too, have had issues with bosses. I know that I’ve made mistakes – I try to go with the flow and then I end up exploding when I can’t take it anymore. I do know that I am the common denominator and that I contribute to the issues. However, I also truly believe that I have had some horrible bosses.

    Thank you for being so kind to the OP and, in a way, to me as well.

  30. Anonymous*

    As a Sociology major, I find this post and the comments to it very interesting. To me, while it’s an extreme example (to not work at all), it reflects a lot of people’s frustration with the work world. There are many discussions here about the inequality of job hunting (resume key word scanners, interviewers not calling back- to name a few) and people vent their frustration on here. Yes, there are evil bosses, people who get paid higher with lower skill sets, and even bullies that get away with it. But that doesn’t mean you should stop working altogether to avoid this. There are jobs that treat employees with respect and pay them accordingly.

    While it sounds like you have had bad experiences, giving up on working completely isn’t the solution. My grandpa had a saying: (sarcasm) “To spite the train conductor, I’ll buy a ticket and walk home”. You won’t spite that evil boss by not working at all. Working for yourself is an option but keep in mind, you need money to start this. You said that your financial resources are very tight. Yes, the idea of finding another job you hate doesn’t appeal to you at all but there are many things we have to do in life that we do out of necessity. At a job, you also gain experience and skills (which you can potentially apply to your own business). Like AAM said, there’s a trade for everything and only you can figure out if it’s worth it to work for yourself.

    Good luck!

  31. CJ*

    OP, you may also want to check out CaptainAwkward.com – she has a list of geek fallacies, one of which is the fallacy that “I’m intelligent, therefore I should be able to reason/think my way out of pain.” It creates a self-defeating loop if you think that just because you have X, Y, and Z going for you, you’re going to be able to avoid the crap. Crap is everywhere, and sometimes you have to learn A, B, and C in order to deal with it.

    When I was where you seem to be, all I knew about myself was that I was good at customer service, that I had a vast patience for repetitive questions from customers, and that I did NOT want to do that in a commercial setting like a store. I found a job as a front desk receptionist. Did it suck? Sometimes, sometimes a lot. But the more I worked that job and showed my bosses my aptitude for detail work and organization, I was able to take on more duties. (And yes, I will acknowledge that it was sheer luck that I had a good boss who was willing to let me expand my duties.) That was seven years ago, and now that I have a larger skill set, I don’t have to go back to reception work unless I choose to.

    Work with what you have. Expand your skills, learn something new, and stop wish-thinking that a ‘dream’ career like writing or comedy will save you. You have enough skills, intelligence, and options *right now* to change your circumstances – you just have to put the pieces together.

    And that attitude? “I knew more about IT than the sys admin”? That’s gotta stop. People can see that a mile away, and it isn’t helping you. Get humble, learn to be gracious and get along with others. Play nice. Even though it might be true that you know more, it doesn’t mean that you can’t learn something from each and every person you encounter at work. It’s a big, wide world, and there’s tons of interesting stuff you can learn, but not if you close yourself off from other people.

    1. Colette*

      Yes on the attitude. In my experience, people who “know more than me” about something that is my job are typically people who don’t recognize how much they don’t know – and that means they’ll never learn more.

      It could be that the OP knew more about something than the sys admin – but that doesn’t mean that the OP knew more about everything than the sys admin, nor does it mean that the OP had nothing to learn.

  32. Nodumbunny*

    Anyone, particularly in IT, thinking of becoming a freelancer has to read the Clients from hell site. The mind, it boggles.

    1. Jamie*

      Also BOFH for those going into sys admin.

      I love a good site dedicated to venting about end users.

      The end users we truly love and who give us job security, of course. But if IT couldn’t vent the volume of repressed anger coupled with the technical skills to do something about it would not be good for society.

  33. Anonymous*

    I can very much sympathize with the OP. I don’t like authority much myself, hey who does? But I can tolerate it. I only really hate it when I am not treated with respect and treated like a child and micromanaged. I can’t seem to get/find a job that does not have a micromanaging culture. I even worked at a small company for awhile and my boss was a serious micromanager and just an overall jerk.

    I have a computer degree but I found it hard to make my way out of entry level tech support which is basically customer service. That and the micromanaging culture of call centers is why I decided not to pursue IT. I switched to entry level clerical work and STILL work in a micromanaging office culture! The job itself is easy and I work with a lot of great people, but a lot of times the politics and office culture can make the good things hard to see and just make the job mostly suck. I’ve had my ups and downs here. I try to enact a drone switch so I just come in day in and day out and do my thing. It does wear on you though.

    The thought of switching jobs to me is like great how long will the honeymoon period for this new job last before it sucks just as much? However, I am not looking for another job right now because I am in school working towards a certificate for teaching English because I would love to live in Japan. So I am in the process of trying to do something about it.

    Now teaching English would not be my first choice at all, especially because you have to deal with people and I had burnt out on dealing with people with all the years of customer service I did when I first joined the workforce. However, I have found that international students are such wonderful and interesting people, as there are a lot in my school. And I have found teaching English to be enjoyable. So what started as just a means to accomplish another dream, as it is one of the only main jobs for foreigners in Japan, seems like it could be a decent and enjoyable job that may not feel like a job for once in my life.

    For the time being, while I work towards this dream/goal I have to deal with my current unsatisfactory job. It’s not easy. I wish the best of luck for you OP and hope you can find similar happiness.

    1. Rana*

      Oh, hey now. Sometimes whining is all that keeps us from blowing up. It’s a way to let off pressure.

      Now, one shouldn’t make it a way of life, but some grumbling here and there isn’t a bad thing.

  34. Bureaucrat*

    I’d like to know how many of the people who dislike micro-managers are managers themselves? Such complaints seemed reasonable to me until I became a manager. Then I realized how incompetent people could be without being aware of it. In fact, research says that someone who is incompetent at X in unable to judge competence at X. Yet, as a manager, you have to get people to perform without compromising their self-esteem. Voila, micro-management!

    I suspect very strongly that the contractor I will be talking to shortly will think I am micro-managing her, because I have asked her to re-do work that she has always done on her own and I have specified conditions for it. However, I’m sure she won’t consider what all the other contractors will think if I let her get away with what she did and what the company will think if I pay her for what she did (not do) and simply gave her a new contract.

    By the way, I am not saying that micro-management is always deserved, but I have a lot more understanding for micro-managers now!

    1. Jamie*

      I’m in management, and if I am in the position where micromanagement is necessary I consider that an issue to be addressed.

      People have different learning curves and people have different preferences for managerial involvement (I’ve had someone feel almost abandoned when I didn’t hover – even though their work was fine).

      As I see it my job is to provide clear direction and be available for help and clarification. If there are issues where I have to continually correct errors or follow-up on clearly communicated deadlines that needs to be addressed.

      There is a difference in the micromanagement inherent in training new complex tasks and doing as a management style. I will do the former if needed, but never change to the latter.

      I believe in setting high (but achievable) standards and making sure people have the resources and information to meet them. Hand holding or compensatining for performance issues isn’t my job.

  35. Corporate bitch*

    I can very-much relate to this reader’s experience. It’s discouraging when you know you are more competent and knowledgeable than your boss. They end up taking advantage of it without necessarily recognizing you.

    I was living something similar. No one takes my boss seriously but she still makes way more than her employees. Without us (her team), she wouldn’t be going very far.

    Two years ago, she approached me and asked me if I would be willing to take her place when she retires. Wanting to move up, of course I said yes. I underwent extensive training and classes, travelled to conferences, got mentors, read books and worked really hard.

    One day, something switched in the brain of my boss. She started picking on me, putting me down, micromanaging me, and dangling the promotion like a carrot in front of my face. Every time I took initiative and did something right, she felt threatened, as if I was already taking her place and would get a slap on the wrist. One day, she even said to me that if I didn’t do what she asked of me, she could withhold other opportunities from me because that is how the world works. I tried to change things, submit and make things better, but the situation just got worse.

    This little game became overbearing and I felt like I was being punished for no reason. But again, no one was forcing me to stay.

    So after careful consideration, I wrote a resignation letter and resigned two days later.
    She was shocked and told me I was going to be promoted. I told her that she had taught me many things and that I really wanted to start my own business. So I did!

    I took a few weeks in between to get organized, to relax and go to the beach. I was so sick of the corporate environment that it had discouraged me from working altogether. But once you take a break and realize that you still have passion for what you do , you bounce back easily and you are even more motivated.

    Transitioning was stressful and a lot of work, but it was very rewarding. Don’t let circumstance poison your passion. Sometimes you are doing what you are meant to be doing but you are just in the wrong place. Find your happy place :).

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