I’m stuck in a job I hate

A reader writes:

I need your help. I absolutely hate my new job and I don’t see it getting better anytime soon. I work in IT for a regional company. The benefits are decent, the pay is good, and at a 30,000-foot view, I should love my job. But I don’t. The entire IT department is a huge mess, and my team (I use that term loosely) is the most dysfunctional group I’ve ever seen. It’s a split team (some us work in East Town while most others work in West City). I’ve not even been here a year, and I already daydream about just never showing up here again. The team in West City do all the work and then complain that the team in East Town does nothing. There’s a lot of us-vs-them mentality despite the fact that we’re supposed to be on the same team. The poor management and terrible team have made me go from “How can I help this broken environment?” to “How can I make it through the day?”

My tactic so far has been to keep my head down and just do what’s assigned to me and not worry about how terrible things are. The hard part is that simply isn’t me. I’ve started projects only to have them be taken away, changed, and assigned to someone else. It’s broken me down to the point where I just don’t know how to be effective here. I know how to do my job and do it well, but I just don’t know how to be productive in this environment. I’ve talked with my boss (who sees all of the same issues) and I’ve talked with his boss (who has the management skills of a washing machine) and he didn’t understand the difference between not knowing how to be productive in this environment and not having anything to do.

I have learned important lessons at this terrible job. 1) Don’t ever take a job for the money. Almost everyone would be happier at a job they loved that paid less as opposed to a job they hate for better money. Take a job because you believe it’s a great next step and/or you believe in their mission. Don’t do it just for the money. 2) Don’t put all of yourself into a terrible job. If you can’t get your engagement and fulfillment from your work, start a garden, train for a 5k or get some kind of hobby outside of work.

This job has pushed me to go back to school part-time, and I hope to get my bachelors and then my MBA in less than 10 years. (Ironically, my job is the sort of job people go to college to get. I’m going to college to get out of it.) I really want to make the best of what I’ve got, but I’m really not sure how. What can I do to make the most of a job that makes me feel like there’s no way I can contribute any value to the company’s mission?

The biggest thing? Get really, really clear-eyed about what your company is like, what its limitations are, and what you can and can’t expect from your work there.

Right now, you’re judging it against what it should be, and so you’re constantly finding it wanting and experiencing the frustration of the situation over and over again. But there’s real solace to be found in seeing it exactly for what it is — and isn’t — and getting clear in your own head about why you’re sticking it out there anyway.

Here’s what you know: Your department is highly dysfunctional, there’s weird competitiveness and unwarranted blame-throwing, the management is terrible, and if you emotionally invest in projects, they may get taken away from you and given to someone else. That all sucks. But if you go forward knowing that those are the conditions and accepting that — not beating your head against the wall trying to change it or wishing it were different — sometimes you can find a way to drain the situation of some of its emotion and angst. Instead you can think, They’re paying me to do this project today. I might not still be assigned to it tomorrow, but I’m working on it today and I’ll do as well as I can with it while it’s mine. You can think, That was a weird management decision, but that’s how things go here and ultimately it doesn’t impact me that much as long as I don’t let myself get mired in annoyance about it. You can think, It’s too bad that West City is complaining again that we here in East Town aren’t doing anything. It must suck to be so convinced your colleagues are slackers when they’re not. And you can roll your eyes and move on.

Also! When you’re stuck in a job that you hate, it’s really helpful to put the reasons that you’re staying there in the forefront of your mind. I’m curious to know what those reasons are (more on that in a minute), but presumably you’ve determined that whatever you’re getting out of staying is worth the trade-off in frustration — whether it’s the pay or a five-minute commute or the need to build up a solid work history after a decade of job-hopping or whatever it is. So you can remind yourself regularly, “This isn’t how I’d run the department, but I’m here to save up money to pay down my debt, and I’m making steady progress at doing that” or whatever your reason is.

If you’re vigilant about mentally repositioning yourself this way, it can often convert an infuriating situation that you can’t change into something more tolerable. But there’s also a danger to this approach that you’d need to watch out for: It can make you really, really cynical, and over time it can recalibrate your ideas of normal. That can be a problem when you move on to your next job, because you risk taking with you habits and ways of thinking that won’t set you up for success in a more functional office. For example, while you might be well served in this job to keep your head down and avoid speaking up about things you’d do differently, that can be a pretty limiting — and even damaging — approach in a healthier environment. And if you get too used to bad management at your current job, you risk tolerating things in the future that should be deal-breakers. So you’d want to regularly step back and remind yourself of what is and isn’t normal, and that these are temporary adjustments that you’re making for this particular situation for whatever your reasons are for staying, not permanent changes that you should be making to how you think about work more broadly.

However … are you sure you’ve made that calculation correctly? It jumped out at me that your letter didn’t even mention finding a new job as an option you’d considered, so I wonder how seriously you’ve contemplated whether it might make more sense to jump ship than to go through all these mental contortions to survive at a place you hate. There’s some degree of dysfunction everywhere, of course, so you don’t want to just run from any job that isn’t perfect, but you sound pretty deeply unhappy. So whatever calculation you made that told you that it’s worth sticking it out there, it’s worth running those numbers again and checking your thinking — and always keeping in mind that you can leave if you want to. You’re not stuck there.

Originally published at New York Magazine.

{ 79 comments… read them below }

  1. Totally Anon Today*

    Hey OP, I feel your pain. I hate my job as well. I have been here about 2 years and have been looking to get out most of the time I have been here. It got so bad I sincerely considered quitting without something else lined up but I am afraid of running through my savings before finding something else. I don’t really have any advice. I dread coming in but try to make the best of each day. Fortunately, other staff see the same issues and TPTB won’t do anything about it. So, I keep looking, and hoping . . .

    1. Berry*

      Solidarity. Hate my job, only reason I’m still here a year out is because I haven’t been able to find something else, and I’m too anxious that it’ll be even harder to find a new job if I quit this one. It’s a frustrating boat to be on.

    2. Not an IT Guy*

      I know the feeling. Been with my company 9 years and they have all but destroyed my professional reputation. I would love to get out but I know 9 years is hovering around the “point of no return”.

      1. NJ Anon*

        Not true! Left my job of 11 years and moved on. No reason to stay unless the $ is too good to pass up.

        1. Jessesgirl72*

          Even then, you will almost always be compensated more by changing companies than if you stay with the same one.

    3. Bad Candidate*

      Me too. I hate my job. HATE IT. I came back today from having five days off and it’s like I didn’t leave. Except my work piled up. The only reason I keep coming back is that I haven’t been able to find something else and I have a mortgage, student loans, and bills to pay. I am so very burnt out.

    4. Elizabeth West*

      Same. I loved this job for three years but it’s not the same job since we got sucked into a different department. I hate the pace, I hate doing all this data entry, and I have no idea what’s going on half the time. I can’t leave right now because I have NOTHING.

      I need a miracle. :P

  2. Jane D'oh!*

    A job like this is all about micro-goals, not macro-goals. When my brother taught at a really difficult, impoverished school, he had to stop thinking “I can’t make these kids show up and stay awake, much less make them meet state testing standards” and start thinking “This boy thanked me for helping him understand tangents and cotangents, and he’s struggled with math for three years”.

    1. Hector*

      I appreciate that. I do have some good moments here but they’re rare. I’ll have to try harder to focus on the good instead of dwelling on the bad I have little/no control over.

  3. AnotherAlison*

    Wow. There’s a lot to unpack in this letter, but a couple things stood out for me:

    First, If you can’t get your engagement and fulfillment from your work. . . There should be no “if” in this statement. I like my job, and I love my family and husband, but none of the above can provide everything I need to be fulfilled.

    Second, like Alison mentioned, why not a new job? It sounds like you’re planning to tread water here for 10 years until your degrees are finished. I am concerned you will hit the 10-year mark and find that you have a lot better opportunities as an IT person than you would as a new MBA grad. I too spent a lot of time thinking that the grass would be greener doing XYZ for my career. There were a couple things I was always going back to, but I eventually looked long and hard at the negatives of making a major switch that required a lot of post-grad education, and I realized I’d give up my career for several years, earn stipend-level pay, and start out making $20k less than I already made, and would have to scratch my way up the ladder for good positions and status again. It took me >10 years to really mentally give up on that and embrace my original career choice, but once I did, I found more opportunities in what I was already qualified to do and am actually pretty happy. Mental game or reality, end result is I am happy.

    1. JMegan*

      Also, an MBA is not a surefire ticket to anything either. OP, what would the MBA teach you that you don’t already know? Is it a requirement for the types of jobs you have in mind? (And, will it still be a requirement for those jobs in ten years?) My understanding is that grad school in general is great if you’re just starting your career and need to substitute education for work experience, but once you have 10+ years of experience, the degree is pretty much useless.

      If you haven’t already, I suggest taking some time to do some solid career planning, see what kinds of jobs (IT and otherwise) are likely to be hiring in ten years, and what you need to do to get into them. An MBA is great if that’s what you really want to do, but it’s not likely to open more doors than the experience you’ll get in the meantime.

      1. ITSpouse*

        “y understanding is that grad school in general is great if you’re just starting your career and need to substitute education for work experience, but once you have 10+ years of experience, the degree is pretty much useless.”

        Husband has always said only get the MBA if you are already in a track at a company and they tell you that you need it to get to the next level. Otherwise, it isn’t worth it.

        There are, however, some companies that have a MBA as a requirement to be a Director or above. No matter what your practical experience or skill, you cannot advance without it.

        1. anon for this*

          I have a family member running into something like this. He has a couple decades of experience in business management, but jobs that line up with his type/amount of experience all seem to require an MBA as well…

      2. Hector*


        I’m not believing that any particular degree will suddenly make my life better in every facet. The jobs that I’d like to do (IT Manager or IT Project Manager), often call for a masters. My goal is CIO/CTO, so I figured that an MBA would help later on when applying for a C-level position. I want to be a manager so I don’t see a degree in CompSci or similar being as beneficial as a degree in Business Management/Administration

        For right now, I just need a degree. The Business part I believe will come into play later.

        1. Pari*

          The fastest way to a c level job is initiating and completing projects/improvements, getting good at managing people, and making decisions that are aligned with where your organization and industry want to go.

          one of the best managers I know told me once about crappy jobs/assignments “you can throw up your hands and have a negative outlook OR you can choose to put them in perspective and see them as challenges that no one else has the character to do.”

        2. Jessesgirl72*

          I would say that the skills you’d learn in Business Management/Admin would be more useful if you have an eye on Management, but oftentimes the people hiring for those upper level positions don’t seem to differentiate.

          If you are on the West Coast, some of the smaller colleges offer degrees specifically in IT Management, under different names, depending on the school. If you can find a school that offers that Masters Program, that might split the difference for what you’re end goal is.

    2. Hector*

      Firstly, thank you for commenting and I appreciate your advice. I’m a person who used to get most of their positivity from work and having a terrible job made me figure out that that wasn’t healthy or sustainable.

      As for the career change, it’s not as drastic as it sounds. It’s more like a pivot. In my part of IT, you either stay technical (in more like an architect-level role), go developer (write the code rather than coordinating the servers/infrastructure the code runs on), or you go into management (Hey, he’s a good SysAdmin; Let’s make him a manager of the SysAdmins!) I’m planning on using my masters to pivot into an IT Manager or IT Project Manager role. If I were going to leave IT altogether, I’d go be a Law Enforcement Officer or get working on my career as a stand-up comic. I’ve worked hard to get where I am and I wouldn’t want to start from 0 in anything else.

      1. MissGirl*

        If you’re the letter writer, I wouldn’t worry about the MBA yet. (I’m currently an MBA student). It’s opposite what they said above about grad degrees. It’s actually harder to find a job with an MBA if you don’t have work experience. Employees want both and if you don’t have the experience, they won’t want you and the degree makes finding more entry level jobs difficult.

        Get your bachelors and get a better job. If a few years down the road, you’re ready to move into management and your company wants you to have it, then worry about it. By that time you may be in a position to have part of it paid for. Start looking for jobs now to see what’s really required. I know a lot of IT jobs require bachelor but yours doesn’t so maybe you’ll luck out in the meantime.

      2. RVA Cat*

        If you have an interest in law enforcement, I wonder if there’s a track where you could go into a more investigative IT role?

        1. kittycritter*

          Ooh yes, we have IT forensic security people at my job. Yeah, some of the stuff they have to do is probably lame (like cleaning a PC after somebody gets a virus), but I know they do high level stuff re: classified data breaches, firewall stuff and cybersecurity (our company is a big govt contractor!) I think it would be really interesting work!

      3. AnotherAlison*

        With the added explanation here and below, your plan seems reasonable to me. I’m in engineering, and it’s similar. You can’t be an engineer without your BS in some engineering field, but you definitely can be a PM or manager without it. EMan or MBAs are popular, but definitely not required. In my experience, the basic requirements (like the bachelors) are not negotiable, or at least are a lot less negotiable, but management roles are as much based on who you know and your experience/assingments/who you wowed with your performance as they are your master’s degree. When you get up to C-suite level, I have seen my company send people to top executive MBA programs if they really thought the person needed those skills.

        I think you’re on a good path and have a lot of ambition to achieve your goals. Don’t let your crappy department hold you back.

      4. Mon Mon from IT*

        If you want to be an IT Manager or IT Project Manager, an MBA isn’t needed, unless you have a passion to get one for other reasons. I’ve been in IT many years, and I’ve been both an IT Manager and IT PM. Real world experience and hands on learning got me various Manager and PM jobs without an advanced degree and without even an PMP! It is true that job descriptions will often say MBA or Masters desired. It’s never stopped me or a lot of my peers from getting hired. So. Go get your PMP or CSM or ACP and combine those with real world learning and experience to make it to the next level! I am currently an IT Portfolio Manager for a well known company and basically report to the CIO. My past project and managerial experiences and success stories with quantifiable results is what got them to offer me this role. They also wanted a cultural disruptor to come in and shake things up. That? That came through with my personality. Not a degree! Also, be aware that not all C-level execs in IT have advanced degrees. That style of thinking has definitely changed over the years and I have seen lots of C-levels with their Bachelors. It’s more about ideation and savvy than the degree getting them to where they are. You can always take specific MBA classes or other certs on their own if you want to delve into a particular subject understanding if you think that would help you in the future. Best of luck to you!

        1. harryv*

          Senior IT Manager here. I manage a global team of over 100 engineers. I don’t have an MBA. Actually, most of my peers don’t have one either. If I want to move to a director role, an MBA may help me get my foot into the door at another company. But if I remain at my current company, my reputation and accolades speaks for itself.

        2. AnonAcademic*

          This is just more anecdata but when my spouse worked in IT in the financial sector in NYC, he was at the VP level doing infrastructure with an associate’s degree, one of his C-level bosses had dropped out of college, the other had an MBA, and the help desk guy he supervised had TWO MBAs. I don’t think the MBA had anything to do with what jobs they held! In the case of help desk guy he was competent but not great, kind of the type of person who you’d expect to have two advanced degrees and still be in an entry level type job. My sense is project experience counts for a lot more in hiring decision than a business degree.

  4. AMG*

    I love this: “I’ve talked with his boss (who has the management skills of a washing machine)” lol!

    1. Hector*

      I’m the OP. This manager in particular is a very smart guy (he’s a great IT guy), but he perfectly embodies the Peter Principle (the idea that people are promoted to the level of their incompetence). He’s a good SysAdmin so someone decided he’d be a good manager of SysAdmins, ignoring the fact that doing things and managing people who do those things are almost completely different.

      I usually quip that, in usual IT fashion, this guy has the people skills of an uncooked potato and the management skills to match (I specify “uncooked” because most people like potatoes when they’re mashed, baked & loaded, au gratin or scalloped. Saying he’s like a potato in general is unfair to potatoes.)

      1. ITSpouse*

        ” He’s a good SysAdmin so someone decided he’d be a good manager of SysAdmins, ignoring the fact that doing things and managing people who do those things are almost completely different.”

        My husband has been a CIO. If you asked him to actually program anything or even fix the printer he could not do it.

        I am the household “IT department” not him.

        1. Hector*

          That sounds like most directors and CIO/CTO I’ve met. Very smart people but not very technical and surprisingly (and I’m not saying your spouse is this way) often come from more of a finance or business background than an IT/IS one.

          1. ITSpouse*

            Actually, he’s a unicorn inasmuch as what he was doing before IT was even more hyper-technical and nerdy – just in a different arena. (Think brain-surgeon becoming the hospital’s CEO).

            He was spotted back in the day because he could think and talk BUT could also talk to the tech nerds. His employers had a policy of yanking these types of guys (then it was all white and Asian men) and putting them on the management track.

            The firm thought it was easier to train the correct people to do the technical aspects than to take those with technical skills to do the soft-skills.

            This is why you see so many finance and business people running IT than promotion from within. What makes one a good programmer/systems analyst/etc. does not make one a good manager.

      2. Jessesgirl72*

        Engineers/IT often don’t make awesome Managers. I can really sympathize.

        The only bright side is that they often recognize this.

  5. Miss Displaced*

    Yeah. Try to make and keep some achievable goals you can point to on your resume. I don’t know how long it’s been, but try to stick 1 year and then begin job hunting.
    My currently problem isn’t that I hate the job (I like what I do), but rather I don’t like the NewBoss and that is making me resentful and slowly making me hate a job I once loved. It’s a “lots of unrealistic workload, expectations and no budget to execute with” kind of thing. All falls on deaf ears as NewBoss seems only to be interested in advancing himself and his own career and not managing the team. Seems like that would backfire eventually, don’t you think? But meanwhile, everyone else suffers.

    1. OhNo*

      Honestly, setting an end date in your mind can make a huge difference in how you perceive the job (and how annoyed you get by it). Being able to tell yourself “it’s only for a year” or “it’s only for six more months” or “it’s only until five o’clock” can help you get out of the mindset that this job in an interminable slog that you will be putting up with forever.

      Also, think of all the examples you’re getting for future interviews. “Tell me about a time when you disagreed with a management decision” is going to be the easiest question in the whole interview. You’ll be spoiled for choice!

      1. So Very Anonymous*

        Uh, except for when it backfires. I was supposed to be at my current job for 2 years, 3 years max, but the job market is so bad in my field that it’s now been 6 years, I feel like I’m plateauing, and I’m starting to worry that I am really and truly stuck here.

  6. Brogrammer*

    Did you leave a job you liked better but paid less for this job? Or are you fantasizing about a workplace so perfect you’d be willing to take a pay cut to work there? Because I’m pretty sure the perfect workplace is a myth.

    I don’t find my work especially fulfilling, but I sure do appreciate being able to pay the rent and all my bills.

    1. ITSpouse*

      I think our society places far too much emphasis on loving one’s work. This makes it hard for people who don’t and hard to speak up in the face of real issues.

      Even people who love what they do and work for themselves (as I do) have times where they hate the work, hate the customers, hate the process.

      No one loves what they do at all times.

      We really, truly need to start understanding this as a society.

      1. AnotherAlison*

        I really agree with you on this. I think we get really nitpicky on our jobs these days. For me, some weeks, I can easily get hung up on thinking that I’m stuck in an “aqua” job when I should really be doing more “turquoise” work, and life would be so much better if my work was turquoise. I think that’s where a lot of us are.

        Sure, if you’re in a low-paid, overworked, manual labor field and want to move to a high-paid, knowledge worker job, that’s something I couldn’t argue with. But I think I hear more from people who think that moving from accounts receivable to HR is going to be a life-changing, fulfilling experience. I am concerned people make unnecessary sacrifices to make those types of changes and they end up with more of what they had instead of the “dream job” they imagined.

        1. Hector*

          AnotherAlison and ITSpouse,

          I understand the logic behind sayings like “It’s work. You’re not supposed to love it.” While that’s true, to an extent, I think that definition of loving your job isn’t necessarily the same as loving everything about your job. (There’s also the argument of loving what you do being separate from loving your job, but that’s another argument.

          In my letter to Alison, I mentioned loving my job and what I meant by that was a net love. Even jobs that I “loved” I didn’t love them all the time. It was still work but I “loved” my job because I could understand how my work benefited my team, my department, my organization and (in an indirect way), the world. At my newer bad job, I don’t feel like I’m able to bring any progress to the team or help make anything better. That’s what’s really frustrating me. So, when I say that I want to love my job again, I’m not saying that I want to have the perfect workplace. That’ll never happen. However, I do want the opportunity to make things better and at least feel like I’m making the world better, even if it’s in a very small and indirect way.

      2. I used to be Murphy*

        This took me a while to realize too. I mean, I do love my work, but I only love it because I’ve changed my own definition of “love.” I am no longer looking for my job to provide all my fulfillment, but rather just a portion of it (and some days that comes simply from the fact that my job keeps me in luxuries like food and housing). It’s been a long road to learning to be less precious about my work and to go with the flow more, but it’s been super helpful to my mental health.

    2. zora*

      Also, there’s a limit to the size of the paycut I’d be willing to take. I worked for a decade in nonprofit jobs where I deeply loved the work I was doing. But I literally just started bringing home a paycheck large enough that I can actually pay my basic living expenses and still have some left over to pay down debt and start saving. I don’t need 6 figures, but I really need more than the bare minimum it costs to live in my city, and the most perfect job and workplace in the world wouldn’t be enough to convince me otherwise.

  7. ITSpouse*

    “There’s a lot of us-vs-them mentality despite the fact that we’re supposed to be on the same team. ”

    My husband has been in IT before it was called IT. He’s been everything from a project manager to a global C-level officer. I can’t think of a single job he’s had that hasn’t had some massively difunctional team, unit, division. If it isn’t intra-IT squabbles, it’s IT v. marketing v. finance. Add to this the constant threat of outsourcing.

    The only reason DH has survived so long is that he can compartmentalize his work from his life.

    I hope you can find another job with less of the B.S. but I fear that you may find that IT – in the current global environment – is either financially satisfying or rewarding, but never both.

    “I should love my job. But I don’t. ”

    As DH says: “No one loves their jobs. If they did, companies wouldn’t have to pay for their labor.” That, however, doesn’t mean you should HATE your job.

    Do not stick with a job that puts your teeth on edge. Don’t think you have to stick it out.

    Start looking now for things that offer you more of what you want and allow you to work on your education. Even if they aren’t directly in IT.

    Finally, just because everyone wants the job title you have doesn’t mean they want that job. They likely don’t know what the job entails. Lots of people want to be lawyers b/c they want to be Atticus Finch, Perry Mason, or Jack McCoy. No one wants to be the one stuck in the file room doing doc review.

    I think you understand this. I’m stating it again because I hope you don’t let anyone push you into keeping a job b/c they think it looks good on paper when they have no clue of the reality.

    1. SarahTheEntwife*

      “No one loves their jobs. If they did, companies wouldn’t have to pay for their labor.”

      How would people make rent, then? Unless landlords are now letting people live places out of the sheer joy of fixing their washing machines.

  8. BRR*

    This is really helpful to me right now. I hate my job. It’s causing my stress and anxiety to explode. My stomach is always upset from it and my health has taken a hit. The dysfunction is preventable but it’s too wide spread to control. I had to take it because I was about to be let go from my last job and this job was actually a next step in my career so it appears fine on my resume. I have to stay in this job for some time. I’m thinking three years. Not sure how I’m going to get through it but I will be rereading this article several times.

  9. Mockingjay*

    The poor management and terrible team have made me go from “How can I help this broken environment?” to “How can I make it through the day?”

    This was exactly my situation at recent Ex-Toxic Job. I was extraordinarily frustrated at the dysfunction and appalled that the company could go on like this.

    AAM helped me figure out that the company and I were a culture mismatch. They were gung-ho, let’s go for the glory right now; then abandon that for the next new shiny project or reorganization trend. I like structure and repeatable processes, and take pride in developing same. I used Alison’s Interview Guide to screen prospective employers until I found one that fit my work style.

    While following Alison’s advice, I also suggest that you figure out what kind of environment you want to work in. If you changed the culture, would you stay in IT? If you are committed to a new career path, what type of environment do you need to enjoy and succeed? Big business? Medium? Small? Government? I used to scoff at the term “company culture,” but it is crucial to understanding why you thrive at one company but not at another, while doing the same sort of work. Figure out the culture you can thrive in!

    1. Betty*

      Yes, not having a degree is tough. I got mine later in life & once I could add it to my resume it made it that much stronger.
      Now things are so much more competitive, that people must have a Bachelor’s at a minimum just to get a chance. Back in the day when less people had degrees, you could get away with working your way up without it. Now no one will even let you move up unless you have the degree as a base.

  10. Hector*

    I’m the OP. I really appreciate the advice from Alison and from all y’all in the comments. Please allow me to elaborate my situation a bit better to explain my decisions.

    I worked in higher-ed at a large public university where I loved my job but was very underpaid (it would’ve taken a $25k raise just to put me in the low-end of the range for fair pay for my work). I decided to leave, not just because of the money but also I had no room to grow at the university. Every job I qualified for was a step down and all the jobs that would’ve been a great next-step wanted a degree. So, I left.

    I interviewed at a private sector teapot company that paid a lot more but I could see lots of issues. When they made me the offer, they’d done a good job of hiding a lot of the bad and I figured that for nearly double my pay, I could tolerate the BS. After getting hired on and being here for a few weeks, I found out that the BS I thought I was putting up with was only the tip of the iceberg. A good company has a dumpster-fire of an IT department.

    I’ve tried to leave but every job requires a degree. My resume gets circular-filed because I don’t have my degree yet. Since my terrible job gives me virtually nothing to do, I get to spend a fair amount of time working on homework.

    I’m still job hunting and apply for everything I qualify for that would be a good step up or lateral move. However, since those jobs don’t come up often, I’m mostly focused on school. Once I get my Bachelor’s, I’ll have a lot more doors open up simply by having a degree. Once I’m out of this place, I want to continue my education with my Masters and I’d like to transition out of being technical and into a managerial position. I’ve seen first hand how much good a great manager can do. Likewise, I’ve also seen how bad a poor manager can make things. I think I can be more effective as a manager, director and/or CIO/CTO than I could just one of the people up and 4am fixing a down server.

    Even though I mentioned taking the better part of a decade to get my MBA, I’m not going to stick around here the whole time and my estimate of 10 years is on the high-side. I’m realistically thinking it’ll take closer to 8 (half-time, year-round).

    I really do appreciate y’all’s advice. THANK YOU!

    1. RD*

      Not having a degree can be tough, but I know people who were E level without degrees, one in fact who was an executive at multiple organizations without a HS diploma, though that’s obviously pretty unusual, and she did have plenty of college courses, just no actual degree. You may be circular filed for the positions that state they require a degree, but you may not be, if you have a solid resume. It’s worth applying to them anyway. Maybe you are already doing this, but if you aren’t I think you should.

      1. Hector*


        I appreciate the advice. I’ve found that a few employers in my area are big sticklers for requirements. For those companies, I only apply when I do meet the requirements. For all others, I realize that the job posting is more akin to a wish-list than a list of requirements. Afterall, we can’t actually have 5 years experience in Windows Server 2016.

    2. Chriama*

      The degree thing is tough, you’re right. But especially for IT, I’m not sure you need to have a 10 year plan in mind. An associate’s or a diploma – basically any sort of post-secondary credential that says “I stuck with this for a couple years” – should be enough to get you into a different company when it’s coupled with work experience. I would try to look at creative ways to get you to where you want to be that’s not just resigning yourself to 2, 4 or 8 more years of miserable drudgery.

      1. Jessesgirl72*

        +1 for this.

        So much of IT jobs are X degree OR X years of experience. If the OP can get some degree to get his foot in the door, his experience might make up for the other half.

        I’d focus on an associate’s degree that can be added on to, for a full BS.

    3. hbc*

      I think you really have to see this job as a means to an end. You are not working to Help The Company Succeed, you’re working to get money so that you can get your degree. Every day brings you closer to that, and every project taken away without reason is extra time to work on homework and giving you free time.

      You know from your previous and current search that it’s very unlikely you’ll find a place that offers a great environment, good pay, and will let you work without a degree. Own your choice to accept two out of three as good enough. Maybe even keep a reminder with you every day at work–a paystub from the job you left that you wouldn’t take back if you could, for example. Just to remind yourself that you’re not stuck, you’re making a (sometimes painful) choice.

      1. Hector*


        Thank you hbc. I’m not keeping a paystub, but every week in school, I know I’m one week closer to putting in my notice at this terrible job.

    4. Hillary*

      If you can, focus on networking. An internal advocate can get you past the circular file and possibly into the interview. Lots of IT people have a nontraditional background and a good manager will advocate for talent (my dojo coach friend started out supporting mainframes after he was discharged in the navy, he’s on track to finish his BA next year).

      From a psychological perspective, it might help to focus on your tuition reimbursement or the other tangible benefits. It sounds like you’re on the right track in terms of finding something else to consume your intellectual energy/engagement.

    5. Astor*

      You don’t need to worry about it now, but just make sure that an MBA is actually what makes sense for the career trajectory you want. Two of my siblings have MBAs (from different schools) and it’s been fantastic for one (learned a lot that was directly applicable to work, and led to multiple promotions) and frustrating for another (learned stuff that wasn’t at all related to work plans, so a 4.0GPA and new network that didn’t actually effect the career path).

      Your bachelor degree sounds like it will be useful for you. But it may turn out that another training program will be more effective than an MBA for moving into management. As you get close to finishing your bachelors, make sure you take a look at the people you want to emulate and see what kind of training they have. Whether or not it’s an MBA, make sure you look at the specific programs they participated in and the kind of classmates you’ll be learning with, so that you’re using those points to ensure you come out of your chosen program with a good experience and not just a line for your resume.

    6. periwinkle*

      Regarding the degree or lack thereof – been there, done that, got past it! There are many, many ways to earn a bachelors degree. Are you starting from scratch or completing an unfinished degree? Does it need to be in IT/comp sci? Bear in mind that even places that require a degree don’t necessarily require a comp sci degree if you’ve got the experience. This really holds true if you continue on to a professionally-relevant masters. My BS (completed on my own, at age 44, through Excelsior College) was in general studies but then I went straight into a practitioner-oriented MS program and am working happily in that field. Good options for regionally-accredited non-traditional online bachelors are Excelsior, Western Governors University, and Thomas Edison State College. It doesn’t have to take years and years to finish your undergrad.

      And get your next employer to pay for the grad degree!

    7. H.C.*

      Agree with a few others to wait a little while post-Bachelor’s before pursuing a MBA. Most lower- to middle-management roles would not require it, and you can decide then if you care for managerial tasks enough to pursue it, especially since those grad programs can cost a pretty penny.

  11. Hypnotist Collector*

    I could have written this – and more – and the advice is sound; detach. But how long should you stay, detached or not? At age 59, I’m two years in to a job that is getting worse and worse, and I fear that I’m wasting the short time I have left and squandering my professional identity and credibility by staying longer. In addition, along with 50-hour weeks, my commute is 2.25 – 3 hours total every day (can’t move closer to work because rents have skyrocketed in those two years, and although my job has expanded, no raises or COL increases are being given), so I have very little left over to move the needle on any of my personal projects and goals. I’m exhausted, I’ve gained weight, and my social life is nonexistent. But at 59, do I even have a chance of getting another job with decent benefits? I like the people I work with, but the job is no longer anything close to being right for me or using my talents and experience well.

    1. zora*

      Yes, you can find another job! You’ve been there 2 years, I’d start looking now. If you have the bandwidth to focus on it, there is no harm in looking and applying elsewhere. You might find something, and what’s the downside? My dad has found new jobs many times throughout his 60s and 70s. You should definitely at least try.

      1. Hypnotist Collector*

        The resumes I’ve sent get no response; I admit they’ve been limited because bandwidth is a HUGE factor. I’m taking a class toward a certificate and it eats up the tiny amount of time I have left every week. And in part, I think in true tech company fashion, no one really understands what my job is, and I can hardly explain it myself. The title makes it sound like an entry-level job (it’s not). So – I appreciate the cheery pep talk, but it feels like a morass I can’t escape except by leaving without a job to go to. In my department there have been two massive layoffs in less than a year; I wish I’d been laid off, and could have left with dignity, severance and unemployment benefits.

        1. zora*

          Yeah, I know what you mean. Bandwidth is a HUGE issue. I know it is much easier said than done.

          I’m just saying you shouldn’t let “Maybe I’m too old and no one will hire me” be the thing that stops you. You should definitely look anyway, because older people get hired all the time.

          But I totally hear you on the difficulties, I am dealing with many of these myself, I am not really taking my own advice, either. One thing I’m trying is to make a schedule for myself, if it’s even one day a month you set aside some time to send out a job application, that’s more than nothing. Or whatever is possible to schedule around the work for the certification. I’m also trying breaking things up into teeny tiny pieces and only doing one at a time.

          You could also decide to focus on the certification for now, and wait until you are done to add job hunting to your list, but then remember, That is a step you are taking towards a new job!! Try to spin the positive story for yourself! That is a huge deal!

          Good luck with everything, and consider checking in on the Friday open threads when you can, there is lots of great advice and mutual support there.

  12. Venus Supreme*

    I used to be in a severely dysfunctional workplace at ToxicJob, with the stress becoming so unmanageable I was hospitalized. What helped me move on and get out was attending seminars and workshops and making connections with professionals in my field. I basically forced myself to meet new people other than the two I shared the workday with. I used the “Hey I’m new and I’d love to get to know more about XYZ” to talk to them one-on-one. I got excellent advice. One told me to identify what a normal workplace frustration is, and what isn’t a normal workplace frustration which really helped me identify what was tolerable and what wasn’t. Another connection helped me repair a severely dysfunctional work event that was last-minute thrown into my lap as my responsibility. (Oh, and EVERYONE knew I was looking to get out)

    Through forcing myself out of this negative space, I was able to accurately identify what I wanted out of my next job and what I could do to make the days a little bit better. I’m at NewJob that is healthy and relatively functional, and I still keep those connections I made!

  13. Kai*

    This place sounds a lot like the IT company I left a few months ago. I was not an IT professional there, but I saw many of my coworkers struggle with the same feelings. The thing about the tech industry is how much emotional investment is demanded by the people running the company: they want ‘passionate’ programmers and people who ‘live to solve problems’, and they often expect employees to put in grueling hours and take personal responsibility for even things that are totally out of their control. They love to talk about ‘ownership’. Your ability to get and hold a job at these companies is often predicated on whether or not you buy in to their (stated) mission and how much of your life you are willing to sacrifice for the company, even if you aren’t really well taken care of in return (which is, as the OP seems to understand, not just about money).

    So I really feel for this reader. I have literally seen people in the tech industry fired for not being ‘passionate’ enough about their company, even if their company didn’t give them any reason to be. No wonder he feels so emotionally invested in this job; it’s usually required.

    1. Hypnotist Collector*

      A perfect description of tech company culture, and how it pushes responsibility onto those with no authority and expects you to just keep asking for more. It’s insane.

  14. Apollo Warbucks*

    I can’t remember where I first heard this quote:

    Give me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change and the courage to change what I can as well as the wisdom to know the difference.

    But I really like it and it seems appropriate.

  15. Anon for this*

    My advice would be to analyze the trade-offs you continue to make and make peace with it. If you have decided you need to make more money or keep your time off seniority vs being in a more functional environment, then that’s a choice. Not all choices feel good on all levels, but they are still choices and owning them is far more empowering than continuing to be a victim. My SO has been a victim for 30 years. Somehow he never says “I should have gone back to school” or “I should have opted for the long commute”. I bite my tongue a lot.

  16. De Minimis*

    I have a lot of conflicted feelings about my job. I like the organization, like the people, like the pay and benefits, but I don’t like most of the work I’m doing and feel like it’s a step back for me professionally. I also feel overworked and am not really a match with my supervisor in a lot of ways.

  17. Allypopx*

    This is a lot like my situation. I’ve done very well without a degree, but I’ve probably gone as high as I can go, and despite having good experience from my current job, there’s not many places I can go without that qualification. So I’m sticking it out for now, even though working full time is making the degree process slow and I’m getting more and more mentally checked out as time goes on.

    I try to concentrate on the aspects of my job that still work for me, to learn what new skills I can or otherwise find ways to take advantage of my position, and have really come to terms with the concept of working to live – I need the money right now. Satisfaction is something I can strive for later.

    Good luck, OP. And definitely start looking hard once you get your bachelor’s – the MBA might not be necessary.

  18. Argh!*

    Welcome to the club.

    Having been there, my advice is to update your resume/c.v./portfolio or whatever, and keep an ear to the ground for new opportunities. The red flag that I seen in OP’s letter is that projects get taken away. It means someone doesn’t consider your input essential.

    I stuck it out in OldToxicJob despite a lot of red flags and eventually my position was eliminated and I was given even worse stuff to do. I jumped ship after too much stress, and found a new job with NewToxicJob. It didn’t used to be toxic here, but it’s a sinking ship and I’m paying attention to the red flags this time.

    Good luck. I hope you can find some satisfaction where you are and keep up hope of getting out.

  19. Dr. Briefs*

    You’re based in West City? If you’re looking for a new job in the tech industry, come see me. I work for a huge tech company (Capsule Corp) and we’re always looking for new talent.

  20. Not So NewReader*

    To everyone who feels stuck,

    Try to remember that much of life is an illusion. We think we are stuck then we become stuck. The way out is to look at things with fresh eyes. Pretend you have never seen everything around you and you are looking at it for the first time. It takes a little practice to do this, I had to say to myself “fresh eyes! fresh eyes!”. I am amazed at how many times what I need is right in front of me, I just have to move a few boxes, pull it out, dust it off and there it is.

    When we work in a chaotic/toxic environment, there’s going to be a lot of negativity going around us. This makes it extra hard to plan/create/etc. A good question to ask is “what can I do RIGHT NOW?” Take little, tiny, proactive steps on a regular basis and it adds up over time. The problem is doing it on a regular basis, that is hard when there is so much negative going on. I went as far as using that negative, sinking feeling to remind myself to take yet another tiny, proactive step forward. Yeah, when you feel at your worst that is the very time to take positive action.
    This is not much different than an IRA. If you want a million dollars when you retire you have to put small amounts in on a regular basis. This is more of making small efforts on a regular basis because you know what your going toward.
    This is an odd thing to say, but, do you know what you are going toward? Can you really see it in your mind’s eye? The clearer I could see my goals in my head, the less the chaos around me bothered me. And yeah there were days where this did not work. And that is when I decided that I was committed to the goal even though it seemed far, far, far away.

    Get a clear picture of your goals.
    Make a firm commitment to those goals.
    Take small proactive steps on a regular basis to get yourself there.

    OP, sometimes we have just ourselves that we can believe in. Keep working at things, be your own best ally. Others can and will let us down,but if we let ourselves down that is a whole new and bigger problem.

    I think as you get closer to being able to leave, it won’t be as hard as it is now. You will have some sense of seeing your commitment paying off and all those tiny proactive steps amounting to something. I could feel myself emotionally disconnecting from the problems of the job, I just plain did not get upset by stuff that used to upset me.

    The thing I will say is that Alison is right, jobs like this are not much of a resume builder because you have no identifiable accomplishments that you can put on paper. “I put out ten fires every day.” OR “I saved my company from problems of their own making.” You can’t put this stuff on a resume. Start now trying to pull some info together for your resume. It’s too hard years from now to figure it all out.

  21. ye old post*

    Oh OP I feel your pain! In my old company we constantly played project musical chairs, so I never had a sense of ownership to any of the 25 projects I did in my 10 years of work! It was confusing and horrible.
    I would say start job hunting. But don’t quit yet, start looking through the ads to see how much your skill set matches what they want, it will help you plan the next step (oh all these companies want knowledge of X software, I better try to angle to get some training on that) and also see your value.

  22. Jill*

    You sound like me a few years ago. I focused on what I could control outside of work. Like the OP said – I developed new hobbies, focused more on cultivating new friendships, even got married. Since I couldn’t control my work day (I also was underutilized and often had great projects taken away for no reason) I focused on controlling the parts of my career that I could control. I went back for my MBA. I also volunteered for awful cross-department projects that no one else wanted to do – for the sole purpose of establishing a reputation with people outside my sucky department and to get noticed by managers of other work areas. In the meantime, my director retired and her Chief Minion quit on the same day. I have a great director now – – but I also have my MBA, skills I wouldn’t have otherwise acquired, and a solid reputation among other managers in my workplace. So, if there’s no way out of OP’s workplace, throw yourself into stuff like this that you can control.

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