update: when is it time to admit that you can’t do a job?

Remember last week’s letter from the person who was concerned she was in a job that she just wasn’t experienced enough for? Here’s the update.

(Also, a note on the timeline — her original letter to me was from November, so some serious time passed between when she wrote it and when I answered it.)

First of all, thank you to Alison and the commenters for such thoughtful responses. I offered to follow-up because my situation has changed a lot recently and I thought people might like to know how it turned out!

In one way, it was the worst-case scenario: about two months ago my boss sat me down and said “It’s been a year, you’re not improving” and she didn’t want me working with her. Which sucked. It sucked A LOT. However, I was able to move immediately (as in, the next week) to an identical role in a different department, which has actually been fantastic! I’m so, so much happier. And it turns out I’m actually pretty good at my job.

I took some concrete steps that put me in a good place to pivot, but I want to make a quick stop at Imposter Syndrome Town first. A lot of commenters – and Alison – pointed out that I needed to get outside perspective on the situation. One of the most frustrating things about inexperience is not having the tools to judge your own performance. And I’m definitely a classic candidate for imposter syndrome: young, academically overachieving female, new to the workforce, etc. etc.

But in reality, I was failing to live up to my manager’s expectations, she was increasingly frustrated with me and I wasn’t wrong to be worried. The frustration revolved around my fine-grain artistic judgement, so feeling like I was misjudging the work situation as well made me feel completely adrift. It was actually a relief to know it wasn’t all in my head.

So what do you do when you feel like you can’t do your job properly, and every week something is going to be Incredibly Wrong? Well, I did a bunch of stuff.

I took notes of feedback I got from my manager, and stuck post-it notes of the important stuff on my computer. I attended a bunch of internal training workshops and shared some of my strategies. I did a short external course, which work paid for, to get extra skills management wanted more people to have. Most importantly, I volunteered for a month-long secondment to a different department. My company is largely made up of small teams, and it’s hard from the outside to know exactly who’s done what and how much work went into it. All these thing made me more visible to senior and management people, and gave me the chance to demonstrate ability, flexibility and enthusiasm.

After the fairly horrible conversation, I had a meeting with the director about moving to a different role. The timing was good – there were some other shuffling around happening – but he also said I was doing a great job, management thought I was fabulous, and my old boss had incredibly ambitious plans that were completely incompatible with having an inexperienced deputy. A new role was available and it’s a great fit, despite my lacking some subject-specific knowledge.

Fundamentally, it was just a mismatch in a close working relationship. But I also lacked the experience to evaluate the person evaluating me, and tell if their assessment was fair. A lot of it was! I was (and am) very new; I’ve had a steep learning curve; she’s probably one of the best Teapot Designers at the company and I’ve learned a huge amount.

But we also basically didn’t gel. The negative feedback I was getting wasn’t “you didn’t organise this on time” or “when you do XYZ it causes problems ABC”, but “you need to generate more ideas but I hate all of your ideas” and “if you can’t tell this is bad you can’t be a Teapot Designer”. (The last one is verbatim, said loudly in an open-plan office. Oof.)

I didn’t know how to fix the problem but I tried to set myself up as well as I could. Worst-case scenario, the extra contacts and skills could help me find a new job, but there was a solution that hadn’t occurred to me. I was as gracious as possible (I thanked my old boss for being open about the problem, and haven’t shit-talked to colleagues), moved on as quickly as possible, and now going to work doesn’t feel like voluntarily putting my hand in a blender. It’s such a relief.

Me again. If you are this sensible and thoughtful (and wise about what actions to take to get yourself the best outcome) when you are new-ish to the workforce, you are going to be killing it in a decade or so. You will be the boss of all of us.

Seriously, this is really impressive.

{ 111 comments… read them below }

  1. Antilles*

    Sometimes things just don’t work out, but you’ve found a role where you’re better suited, learned some valuable skills, and gotten some good confirmation of your perspective. Sounds like everything turned out more or less as good as it possibly could have. Cheers!

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Seriously. OP’s approach and story are so impressive—especially as someone new to the workforce. It blew me away (in all good ways).

      1. Anon Anon*

        Ditto. I’m almost two decades into my career, and I’m not sure I would have that much fore thought now! Let alone when was a new grad in my first job.

          1. MyFakeNameIsLaura*

            SAME. Like, ugh. OP you rock and I would 100% subscribe to your newsletter or maybe change careers to be your intern or assistant.

  2. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

    “But we also basically didn’t gel. The negative feedback I was getting wasn’t “you didn’t organise this on time” or “when you do XYZ it causes problems ABC”, but “you need to generate more ideas but I hate all of your ideas” and “if you can’t tell this is bad you can’t be a Teapot Designer”. (The last one is verbatim, said loudly in an open-plan office. Oof.)”

    Oof indeed. I’ve had the same problem: rock star boss who’s absolutely dreadful at giving actionable, reasonable feedback. In my case, it was my first grad school advisor who was so socially awkward that he had no setting between shy, akward diffidence and “why don’t you ask [somebody else] for help and “Your lab work sucks, you’re not producing any results, you’re making me look bad and I want you the f*** out of my lab!” delivered at top volume.

    Not only did you not gel, she wasn’t giving you the feedback you needed to succeed under her, personality conflicts aside. You can’t make improvements when the problem is delivered as an insult and without useful detail or action items.

    1. Just passing by*

      I’m curious – are you female? Was your boss female or male?

      I really hate to dig into stereotypes, but I’ve run into this in the past as well. It definitely seems to be more of a personality clash than (necessarily) poor management/feedback skills… but it also only ever happened to me with older male bosses.

      I’m female, working in a very male industry. The feedback I got was much more “why aren’t you behaving the way a woman should” than anything else. For example, I was told I needed to be nicer (!), smile more (!!), and be more understanding. I was a PROJECT MANAGER and I got that feedback after following up with a (male) colleague who was failing to provide things on time.

      I considered that it’s just me, but that was the first and also last time I ever got that kind of feedback about my performance. The things this boss had pegged as being too aggressive were, in fact, what made me such an excellent project manager. The men in this office just weren’t accustomed to being spoken to so directly by a woman. It actually took me a while to figure out this was gender-based — took until we hired a new male in a parallel role who did things exactly like I did and got praised for it.

      1. Lily in NYC*

        I’m 99% sure Irritable Scientist is male. I’m pretty sure he mentioned it once when he first started commenting here.

        1. Product person*

          To add to that: I’m a woman too, also working in a very male industry (typically it’s 16 men and I in a room figuring out product strategy).

          I’ve been in this industry for 18 years and only once was told to “smile more” by a C-level executive. I’m pretty aggressive and tells it like it is. Thankfully nobody ever expects me to “behave the way a woman should”.

          1. Chaordic One*

            And then, when you smile more, they think you’re flirting. Or worse, they think you’re hitting on them.

            Really! I couldn’t make this up.

      2. Manders*

        I’ve had communication problems with female bosses too. Sometimes people socialized as women aren’t taught how to give direct feedback, so you can end up in a weird situation where your boss is dropping hints you don’t understand and then getting increasingly frustrated about it.

        This is one of those things where job hunting and dating can be analogous. I’ve had both male and female friends who just could not be direct about what they wanted. They’d stew with resentment for months because their signals weren’t being noticed, because they’d never actually put what they wanted into words.

        1. ElaineS*

          My worst experience has been with women bosses: the Queen Bee syndrome is more prevalent than one would think.

        2. LJL*

          I’m female and have had the same experiences. It was awful, but eventually I found my way to a role that I was much better suited for. Glad that happened to you too, OP1

      3. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Hey, y’all, I’d prefer that we not stereotype managers by gender here. This is just as problematic as it would be to do it by race or religion. Thanks.

        1. Jeanne*

          And I bet if we truly took a poll here we’d get plenty of bad managers of each gender.

  3. Lily in NYC*

    Wow OP, this was so helpful to read – especially how you went about managing the feedback you received. I’m very happy for you – it sounds like you really just needed a different manager.

  4. John Ames Boughton*

    This is great! It’s reassuring to read about someone with this much self-awareness. It does make me wonder about something that I find myself feeling in my job that I don’t see people talking about much – I’ll call it Position Impostor Syndrome, where you know you’re doing the things you’re expected to do well, but you’re pretty sure that those things aren’t particularly valuable, and you have the creeping sense that eventually the company will realize that what you’re doing doesn’t matter, and when there’s any kind of pinch you’ll be the first to go. How would you deal with that?

    1. Future Homesteader*

      I, too, am interested in hearing how to deal with this. And I will add, dealing with feeling like you *could*or *should* be doing more, but can’t wrap your head around what that would be. When everyone *seems* happy, but you don’t feel like you’re doing all that you can.

      1. John Ames Boughton*

        Haha, are you me? Because that “everyone’s happy with me, my boss has no suggestions for what I ought to be doing, but I feel like should definitely be doing more I just don’t know what” is my day-to-day reality.

        1. Frozen Ginger*

          I’m in the same boat!

          Probably doesn’t help that I’m less than a year into my first career job.

        2. PeskySquirrel*

          Oh hello, same! This has been my reality for the past six months – however, I have somewhat recently made progress on it. What helped me was
          -realizing that part of the reason I felt so crappy about work was the feeling of not being able to share my feelings with in a safe way (due to some previous traumas during our office transition/merger)
          -giving myself permission to accept that sometimes my workload is lighter than I would want
          -looking around for other jobs and thinking about what next steps would be internally and externally
          -sharing with my boss that I feel the need for more meaningful work, doing the legwork of identifying what feels meaningful to me, and making proposals of how to incorporate that into my role
          -finally having a conversation with my boss where she admitted to not proactively delegating, approved my proposals and gave me some longer term projects.

          I’m not sure how it will all shake out, but I feel like zooming out on “what needs to change for me to be happier and what do i need to do to make that happen” helped me feel more in control than not.

          1. John Ames Boughton*

            Hehe, it’s tricky to accept that you want to do meaningful work when nothing your company does seems meaningful to you. But seriously, congrats in being so proactive! It sounds like you’re getting places.

          2. Fishcakes*

            “-giving myself permission to accept that sometimes my workload is lighter than I would want”

            I’m struggling with this right now. I’m used to working long hours in high-stress positions. Now I’m in a position where I have a lot of downtime while I wait for approval on my projects. I fill up my time researching things that pertain to my job, but still feel anxious about my usefulness here.

        3. Brogrammer*

          I’ve been there! But in my case I was right to be paranoid, because everything was fine until all of a sudden it wasn’t anymore. Now I have workplace trust issues.

      2. k*

        My approach has been to fill that time I could be doing more with looking for a new job so that I can get the heck out before they realize they don’t need me. But I doubt that is the best approach.

        1. John Ames Boughton*

          Honestly that’s probably smart. The thing about that is, when you’ve been in an Impostor position for a long time (three years for me) it can start to weigh on you – since I’m not really doing anything useful here, it’s going to be hard to find a similar position elsewhere (why would it exist?) and since I’m not doing anything here, I’m not qualified to do anything elsewhere. I’m a little discouraged by the situation.

          1. cleo*

            This seems like something where you need to examine the evidence. Are you the things that you are doing really, quantifiably not useful (as in, if your position didn’t exist, they’d function just as well as they are now) or are they useful but not valued by your job?

            1. John Ames Boughton*

              Given the number of days on which I do, if not nothing, a statistically negligible amount of work, I’d say they could probably do without me pretty well.

          2. paul*

            I think that’s why I’m feeling the way I am too. It’s kind of nice to know I’m not alone though.

          3. StrikingFalcon*

            Have you actually looked though? Before you assume it can’t exist, look at what’s out there. Or even, what job descriptions look interesting? What skills are they looking for?

            Also if you look through the archives, AAM has a post on describing accomplishments when your work isn’t qualitative and several on how to set annual goals for that kind of position. Sit down and think about what you DO do well at your job.

            Sometimes there is value in the role that doesn’t fill every hour but is available when something needs to be done efficiently. Like the receptionist is there to greet the visitor when they come in, but may or may not have enough work every other hour of the day. Is your job one of those?

            Also, have you asked about whether you could help out another team or work on a professional development opportunity for yourself, since your boss doesn’t have other work for you on this team? What would it take to feel forward momentum for your career? Can you get there where you are? If no, then moving on is your answer.

        2. copy run start*

          This is what I did once a new manager came on board and started further reducing my duties to drive me out. Management didn’t want to rehire but staff threw a giant revolt, so they did backfill. No idea how my replacement can stand being bored stiff all day long.

          Anyway it ended well for me — retrained for a new career, lept to a great local company and have almost doubled my take-home pay!

    2. Princess Carolyn*

      If you haven’t already, I highly recommend having some kind of conversation with your manager about this. She may have some helpful perspective about how you fit into the big picture, or she may know of some interesting stretch projects that might benefit you and ease the workload on someone else.

      1. John Ames Boughton*

        I’ve discussed it fairly openly with her. The difficulty I face is that I’m the one non-technical member of a fairly technical team – my role, such as it is, is to do all the non-economics stuff, like editing reports, maintaining our Salesforce stuff, and doing a lot of ad hoc stuff. So when I ask what there is that I could be doing, the only things that really spring to her mind are advanced research things that I’m neither interested in doing nor capable of doing, because I’m not an economist.

        1. hbc*

          Anyone who has been without the jack-of-all-trades type of role knows exactly how valuable it is, and the lowest performing technical person would probably be on the block before you. That’s not to say that people never make mistakes and realize two months later that it’s actually not efficient to have a Highly Paid Economist messing up Salesforce, but your position is absolutely valuable.

        2. Paige Turner*

          This is so similar to my job…no advice right now but I totally get it. If you bring this up on the open thread on Friday, I’ll probably have more to say then.

        3. Bryce*

          I can see why that would be frustrating. A support role like that is invaluable but it tends to be a lot of little things rather than stuff you can point at and feel proud of.

      2. Future Homesteader*

        I’m currently working on figuring out how to have this convo. Where the impostor syndrome comes in, though, is that I’m afraid she’s going to say “I wouldn’t trust you with more.” The other side of that coin is that I’m also really bored and don’t know how to convey that, a) professionally and b) because, again, I’m worried she’ll say “well if you’re bored, you should be doing better! you’re bored *and* you’re actually performing so mediocre-ly I wouldn’t trust you with more. I just keep telling you I’m happy because my standards are low” (that last part would be more implied, of course).

    3. Product person*

      A good reading when you’re having this kind of self-doubt is the book “So Good They Can’t Ignore You” from Cal Newport. There are plenty of examples there of how to “build career capital” and create an insurance against become easily replaceable.

      One of many examples is of a software developer who started her career in a crappy job as a tester. It was low-level work that made her easy to replace. What she did was to start learning Unix, the operational system the company used, on her spare time. Then she create some automated testing that saved the company a lot of money. Soon she became the head of the testing department, and managed to reduce her hours to 30 a week (the minimum she could without losing her full benefits) to pursue a philosophy degree. Once she finished the course, she opened her own test automation business.

      She found a “white space” to fill and became a valuable contributor that the company couldn’t afford to lose. Had she asked for a 30-h week before becoming so valuable to the company, she’d probably been offered a “zero-hour week” instead. Or, even if she wasn’t after a special request, she’d probably one day lose her job to a cheaper replacement.

      1. John Ames Boughton*

        Thanks! I’ll check that out. I do wonder though – does it talk about how to transfer to another company when your role is kind of ad hoc like that? Sure, what I’m doing may be valuable to this company, but because it’s so specifically a response to what this company needs I have no idea how I’d go about finding an equivalent position elsewhere.

        1. Cedrus Libani*

          I’m an ad-hoc person myself, and it’s a little rough to get hired for. (I’m an engineer who’s spent my career in Teapot Science labs, dealing with the geek stuff so the teapot designers can do their thing.) It helps to have a value proposition…like the above…to unify what can look like a very random collection of job duties. If you’re willing to do startups, that is also helpful – they’re more likely to be explicitly looking for such a person, while a larger company probably has someone who’s shifted into that role after being hired for something else. I’ve had the best luck getting hired through connections, tbh.

    4. Manders*

      Oh, I totally feel this! I’ve been to professional conferences in my field that had multiple hour-long talks about how to justify what we do to people outside the field, so I’ve accepted that is probably always going to be a problem.

  5. Critter*

    I think it is so super fabulous how you managed it and came out okay on the other end – bravo, seriously. But it looks like you had a not-great manager that higher ups seem to be aware is a not-great manager. That is…not great.

  6. RVA Cat*

    Wow. You handled this with such grace, and you took initiative in some useful ways that helped you grow.

    It sounds like your former boss had outrageous expectations. Those quotes sound straight out of The Devil Wears Prada.

    1. Sans*

      Agree. And even if the OP wasn’t the best fit for her original job, her original boss did a pretty crappy job at training her and getting the best out of her. If she could jump to a new dept, doing the same job, and perform well — then that tells you there’s a bigger problem with the old boss than the OP.

  7. De Minimis*

    What a terrific update!

    I agree, the LW has great work habits regarding asking for and evaluating feedback.

  8. MassMatt*

    I am super impressed with your “can do” attitude despite being in a really tough situation, and it’s great that you got yourself to a better place! Best of luck to you.

  9. Amber Rose*

    You didn’t even need advice. Heck, you should be giving us advice.

    Seriously, you rock. You did everything anyone could have possibly told you to do and then some. Way to go!

  10. animaniactoo*

    You did a great job of trying to make an unworkable situation work. Seriously. That absolutely paid off in spades for you.

    One thing that might be useful from a “getting feedback that’s not actionable perspective” – sometimes, you can’t get them to give you anything. But sometimes, if you dig for it, you can get them to tell you *why* they don’t like the design or the idea. For that, smaller prompts can help – “Is it the color? Pattern? What isn’t working right for you?” Sometimes it’s the “feel” – we’ve gotten feedback after pushing to get something, anything, that a design feels too mature, too rough, too cluttered, too blah, etc.

    Often, they don’t know how to describe it themselves, but they’ll find something if you push. So while we don’t know what the person is looking *for*, getting even some sense of how the current design “reads” to them gives us an idea of their mindset, and it gives us an idea of what *might* be a good path, rather than throwing the next strand of spaghetti at the wall to see if that’s the one that will stick.

    1. Sans*

      That’s very true — as a copywriter, I’m good at getting people to focus on WHAT they don’t like. I’ll get them to talk about what the main point is they want to make, what they feel is missing, if it’s word choice or tone or amount of copy or whatever. It’s a valuable skill – to start a conversation with “I don’t like it, I’m not sure why” and end with “Ok, we need to add more information about X and use less industry jargon.”

  11. stk*

    OP, I agree with Alison: you are going to be ruling the UNIVERSE with an approach like that. I hope you feel really, really good about it.

    (If I was on a hiring panel and I heard that story, in the way you explained it here? I’d probably be voting to hire you.)

  12. HR Veep*

    I want to hire like, 2 dozen of you, OP. Your self-awareness is a rare an beautiful gift. Use it wisely!

  13. Princess Carolyn*

    Oh, this is so great, and quite relatable. I’ve also been in situations where the feedback was basically “You need better ideas,” which are really difficult to respond to. I only have the ideas that come to me! And, while some of that was indeed about not gelling with the person giving me direction, a lot of it was about being inexperienced in that area and truly not knowing enough about the subject matter to come up with stronger ideas.

    Like everyone else, I am very impressed with you, OP. Thanks for the update!

    1. Cedrus Libani*

      Ugh, I had that boss. He would send me off to design a teapot with features X and Y, I’d do it, and then I’d come back to be told it wasn’t right and I should do it again. And we’d go round and round, until I finally stumbled upon the way he would have designed it. We both would have been happier if he’d just micro-managed me. As it was, he concluded I wasn’t too bright and a poor worker, and honestly it was so demotivating that I was a poor worker by the end. That reference is ugly, and I’m still rebuilding my career.

      1. RVA Cat*

        You were only a poor worker because he was a poor manager. Sounds like it’s one of those situations where they promote someone with the most skill at *doing* the job into managing others, which is a completely different skill.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Agreed.It is very difficult to be better than our boss’ leadership. This is a parallel to OP’s setting.

      2. Meddling Little Belgian*

        I’m in a similar situation and trying really hard not to end up here. My manager believes and acts on lies a coworker tells about me and it’s very demoralizing. My manager never looks into the accusations, just goes right to telling me I need to do better – but I’m already doing everything right (we have procedures to follow and everything is documented. I’m talking every keystroke I type and every word I say out loud is recorded. Comings and goings are logged. Everything is timestamped. Very easy to check). I love my work, but it is becoming apparent the manager and I are not a good fit. Niche industry, though, and I would have to move my entire family to find another post, so I have to make it work somehow.

    2. MissDisplaced*

      I AM very experienced in my field and you can still get a boss like this that you just can’t gel with.
      Happened to me last year. No matter what I did, NewBoss and I just weren’t on the same page, about anything! Worse, I think he tried to throw me under the bus to hide his own lack of experience. The only thing that saved me is the fact that I was here first and hired under someone all had respected. NewBoss was eventually given a somewhat demoted role when others finally noticed he wasn’t what he proclaimed himself to be. Fortunately, my current boss is ok.

    3. TootsNYC*

      I only have the ideas that come to me!

      There *are* ways to increase the number and type of ideas that come to you. It’s not always easy to figure out what they are, but they exist.

      Creativity, like intelligence, isn’t automatically set at birth or something.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I can agree with this but want to add that if a person feels pressured/put down/not familiar/etc that can cut into their ability to think creatively.

        I found it helpful to go into as many diverse situations as possible in order to train my brain to think in a broader manner for solutions. I have also found it helpful to make this a life habit so when tense situations come up at work, I am more use to considering broader areas for solutions.

        I suspect our OP did a good, solid job as evidenced by upper management’s comments.
        OP, I think in a few years you will have a broader perspective on all this and that will help also.

  14. LesleyC*

    I think your company realized the asset they had in you, and that’s why you were able to find a position in another department so easily. Your approach and attitude are great and you seem like a eager learner.

    It sounds like your previous manager maybe wasn’t the best at developing others. So when your time comes to be a manager, draw on this experience and remember how it felt to be on the receiving end of the zinger–then resist the urge to do the zinging yourself.

    Best of luck to you!

    1. Marillenbaum*

      Ooh, this is such an important point. However valuable Old Boss was at her technical work, she stank like week-old tuna at providing the sort of feedback that enables other people to also become good at that work. But still, congratulations on moving into a new position that is a better fit for your skills!

      1. RVA Cat*

        Yeah. I have a feeling this wasn’t a surprise, either – that position is probably a revolving door, and I’m guessing some of your predecessors didn’t last a years.

        1. FlibertyG*

          To be fair, there are some roles where you need someone who has a feel for it or a specific talent, and you can tell when it’s off – but it’s really hard to put your finger on why. We had a graphic designer like this. All their stuff just looked … not quite professionally polished. I remember in an early letter folks were saying speechwriting was a talent that people kind of either have or they don’t, and if after a year or so of coaching someone still doesn’t quite have the knack, it might just not be a good fit. It’s terrible all around when this happens.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        Management is not Old Boss’ thing. The company knows it. I wonder why the company let OP go work for Old Boss knowing the boss would just blow her off.

  15. Banana Sandwich*

    Yeah I had a job like OP’s once. I consider myself a smart person but for some reason, I just could NOT work effectively for my boss. Our styles clashed, she was a bad trainer and had zero patience. But I also was genuinely NOT interested in the field nor did I understand it at all.

    Sometimes there are just too many things working against you for you to be successful. The funny thing is, I am now in a much more difficult job with a significantly elevated title and I do the job itself better than most. OP shouldn’t bee too hard on herself.

    1. Jaybeetee*

      I’ve had this too, and it’s really rough. I’m usually a reasonably smart and capable worker, but that particular job, it was like, no matter what I did, it was wrong somehow. Generally EGREGIOUSLY wrong somehow. I’d try to action my previous feedback, and even requested (and received) extra training, but afterwards I was still doing things EGREGIOUSLY WRONG, and I was let go. Frankly it was a good thing. I’m in a position now that’s technically a step below what I was doing over there, but it’s also a completely different line of work, I’m much better suited for it, and I have more chances at advancement where I am now. All my reviews here have been positive.

    2. TootsNYC*

      I had this too.

      I got rave reviews. Then I got a new boss who, it seemed, just didn’t particularly like me. And it seemed that she started every conversation with the assumption that I had done things wrong. Even though once we’d work through the conversation, it would turn out that I’d done it exactly the way she would have wanted.

      At the job I eventually got away to, people were complimenting me all the time.

    3. Whippers.*

      This is so so true. You can be doing a job which, objectively speaking, is well within your capabilities but because of a conflation of factors it just isn’t (i think these conflation of factors seem to arise within small businesses most of all)

      However, you can be doing an objectively much more difficult job and it be much easier, because the factors working against you just aren’t there.

      1. Chaordic One*

        You can be doing a job which, objectively speaking, is well within your capabilities but because of a conflation of factors it just isn’t (i think these conflation of factors seem to arise within small businesses most of all)

        I wouldn’t say small businesses mot of the time. I really think it applies to nonprofits, too.

    4. KTB*

      I’ve had this as well with a former boss. She was a very good program/project manager, but then was promoted to ED of the org. She was *not* a good ED, like at all. I was doing several jobs in one: grantwriting/biz dev/communications/some proj. mgmt/etc. and she was constantly micromanaging my work. I strongly suspected that she micromanaged me specifically because she didn’t really understand what I did, and just assumed that she could do it better. Spoiler alert: she couldn’t, and we never did see eye to eye on much.

      Long story short: some bosses are promoted to the level of their incompetence. Managing people is a skill, and not everyone knows how to acquire it.

      1. Stella's Mom*

        Wow, are you also me?
        Very, very similar experience with the ED of an org, and am glad I no longer work there. It was a good lesson.

  16. Addison*

    Wow, awesome update! I really, really wish I had this kind of perspective when I was in the same place as you were/are. I guess I still sort of am, since it’s only been four years (“only”…) and I still sometimes feel like I just suck all the time, but I’d say I’m sort of closer to where you are now and it’s taken me this long to get there! Seriously, so impressive. This actually gives me a lot to think about too, being as far into my professional life as I am. Absolutely agree with Alison – you’re already amazing, but you’re going to be crazy amazing in a few years or so. :)

  17. Emily*

    OP – I have to chime in to say I’m also VERY impressed. Your dedication and willingness to work hard to improve is simply great.

    Well done, and congratulations on your new job!

  18. Kyrielle*

    Thank you for this update. I love it so much – Alison’s right, you rocked this one, and I’m so glad it had a good outcome for you.

  19. valereee*

    OMG, this could have been me 30 years ago! Fresh out of grad school, took a job with a tiny artisan teapot studio. The two principals could finish each other’s work without skipping a beat, no one could tell where one left off and the other started, and after six months I still hadn’t learned to do that. They called me in one day and fired me, and told me that as I was now no longer working in teapot design I should quit my position as our local teapot design professional organization’s recording secretary, of which they were also on the board. They just thought it would be really awkward for me to stay on. I declined to do that, answered every question from other association members with, “It just turned out not to be a good fit,” and got a job three months later as a teapot designer for our largest client, where I thrived and slowly took over the work they’d been doing for my new employer. For years other teapot-related professionals in our town brought up how gracious I’d been when my former employer was conspicuously being so horrible to me.

    1. Manders*

      Oh wow, you handled that well. In creative fields, sometimes it’s *really* hard for newbies to tell the difference between “This is the only right way to do things” and “This is the way the company wants things done.” And I know creative pros who’ve been working for decades who lose track of which is which.

      1. Just J.*

        Yes. This.

        I’ve noticed in my creative field, sometimes the Really Famous Teapot Designers are only capable of designing one style of teapots and only that style. When tasked with working outside of “that” style, they become grumpy or combative or the project fails.

        They have no ability to be creative outside of their own mindset. Nor can they teach or inspire creativity because they only know their one single way of doing things. And if your creative mindset doesn’t quite jive with theirs…….then they become grumpy and combative with you. It’s best to move on.

    2. Hermione*

      I like this story a lot. I love stories where a poorly-treated employee fire-torches a bridge she no longer needs, but it’s never the path I’d choose, so it’s good to hear that someone who acted with as much grace as possible under fire had such a satisfying outcome. It’s like a long slow burn.

      1. TootsNYC*

        yeah, those “bridge torchings” can really backfire, and almost everyone cal tell the difference between grace and nastiness. It can pay off.

      2. valereee*

        Yes, it was particularly fun my first week on the new job when my assignment was to go over to their offices and explain what it was we wanted on a particular project. The expressions on my former bosses’ faces when I walked in was priceless, as they hadn’t heard. The professional relationship worked fine, and I was their main liaison with my new employer for the remainder of the time we worked with them. I hid my enjoyment of the situation as best I could.

    3. FlibertyG*

      It’s especially hard to join teams where people have worked closely for a long time. At my prior job they referred to all of our 600 clients by first name only – and they always seemed to know who they meant! I got so tired of always being the one to say “john WHO” and “Sam from which company again?” and feeling like an idiot.

  20. Jessesgirl72*

    If I had a dime for every time I’ve been told I needed to be more innovative, only to have every single idea shot down- and not just as a new hire. So often it really means “I want you to think up ideas that are just like the ones I would think up!”

    OP, you did awesome under really tough circumstances, and with little experience. I know it was tough to be yelled at in front of everyone, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that didn’t help- word gets back, and it seems like even your Director knew you were a really hard worker, and that Rock Star Teapot Designer that they can’t afford to lose as a designer is a terrible manager. Don’t be surprised if she doesn’t get promoted again, really quickly, to get her further removed from the worker bees.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      A story of a boss yelling at a subordinate goes right around. And we can pretty much figure the spin was NOT about the poor job the subordinate did, rather it was about how scary and awful the boss behaved.

      I have taken some verbal punches and seen others take some verbal punches. Oddly what happens next is the level of respect from peers goes UP, not down. Many people understand how humiliation feels and they can respect a person who keeps trying in spite of public humiliation.

  21. Gov Mgr*

    Oh, you are a GEM. I cringe when I think of how I handled certain professional challenges when I was younger. I like to think I’d handle a similar situation now the way you did, but I’m nearing 40 and have 18 years of work experience. Kudos to you. You demonstrated true grace, honesty, and grit.

  22. Ramona Flowers*

    I’m so happy that everything worked out for you. You sounded so stressed out in your original letter and it’s so great to hear how things turned out. Go you!

  23. The OG Anonsie*

    Oh this turned out to be a really, really good instruction set for what to do when your direct supervisor and you do not see eye to eye: Make your work and skills visible elsewhere (especially to higher levels of management) so that your professional reputation isn’t being filtered entirely through them. This is perfect execution of that.

    You know, in the original post I did wonder if the new manager was a very large slice of the problem since the LW and the previous manager didn’t have any such issues before and she had interned (presumably with favorable results) there before as well. But that seemed like a reach compared to the other possibilities so I don’t think I mentioned it anywhere in the comments.

  24. NW Mossy*

    OP, your story is such a valuable reminder for managers that underperformance often has a root cause of poor communication about expectations. It really struck home for me because I’ve just taken on a new team, and I’ve been getting a lot of second-hand info about my directs’ performance up until now that has a very strong vibe of the speaker trying to influence me to think negatively of my team. However, what I’m hearing consistently from my team is that their former boss was not a good communicator in a myriad of ways. I’m willing to bet that with the application of some better direction-setting on my part, a lot of these so-called “people problems” will be resolved.

  25. soupmonger*

    Wow – I commented on your original post on you maturity in analysing your situation, and pointing out how unusual that was. Seconding Alison’s reply to you – this update is amazing. Full credit to you for identifying your problem, being able to sum it up succinctly in a post, act on the advice and get a positive outcome. You’re going to go very far!

  26. BlergArg*

    Wow good for you OP. I wish I could say the same about myself.

    I started out at a position that was totally new to me (essentially tons of paperwork), after spending 3 years in a field that was totally different (social, creative, meaningful non profit). I was having a hard time doing things perfectly, but I did things around 80% right. I was also a little slow and couldn’t take on as much new work as the newer associates could. I think the combination of stress, work, volume, and mistakes made me start making even more mistakes. And I didn’t know it then, but I was sick in a way that was (is) affecting my memory, so this is no surprise to me now.

    Eventually, I made a hugeish blunder that could have hurt my firm but didn’t, and my manager perhaps rightly watched me very closely for a very long time, and to the extent that I got daily emails on the things I was doing wrong. To the point that I felt like she completely lost faith in my ability to do my work at all.

    I started getting sick every week, so that I had to see multiple doctors, all of whom told me my memory was suffering and that I needed to get my stress under control or it’d get worse. My manager seemed confused why I was telling her when I finally shared that information with her.

    One day, after the umpteenth email, I finally decided I just couldn’t take it anymore, felt myself getting sick with stress, and quit. She looked relieved. I eventually felt relieved. And though I’m worried about applying to other jobs now, I know I was right to leave. I don’t think there was any coming back from that blunder.

    I don’t know if I was just not good at this job or if I derailed my prospects with that one mistake, but I thought I’d share about my decision to just leave.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Your old boss sounds like she could learn a few things about managing. It sounds like she let you flounder in big ways and decided to micromanage you instead of giving you REAL guidance.

      Good bosses understand the difference between big mistakes that are caught and big mistakes that are not caught. And they gauge their reaction accordingly. She let her own personal decisions about you interfere with her ability to be a good boss to you.

    2. Oh No, a Goetthhee*

      That sounds like such a horribly stressful situation. It sounds like you made a really good choice, and – not to be presumptuous – you shouldn’t beat yourself up about it.

      I think we hear that sports-movie, motivational-speech mantra of NEVER QUIT so often that it can be hard to feel like stopping doing something is the right thing to do. I hope you frame this as the positive it is: you simply decline to spend the rest of your life atoning for a single mistake and chose to move on to better and brighter things.

  27. copy run start*

    I think this also illustrates the value of internal networking. Had OP not done those things, I wouldn’t be surprised if she was simply let go. But because she made an effort to make herself visible and demonstrate she does have talent (just not quite ready for that role), the higher-ups in the company knew they just needed to get her in the right spot.

    Congrats OP!

  28. MommyMD*

    Good for you. You handled it like a pro. Not everyone is cut out for every position. It worked out for the best.

  29. Jeanne*

    It’s a happy ending. I do hope you realize how lucky you were to be at the type of company where this could happen. There was training the company was willing to let you attend. There was a secondment to another dept which is rare. There was another dept where your skills would transfer. In my experience, that’s quite a combo of events.

  30. StartupLifeLisa*

    I love this OP! And I love her company for how they handled this, too. Safe to say “they deserve each other” and for once, NOT in a snarky way.

  31. Djuna*

    OP, You handled this with such maturity and smarts, any company would be beyond lucky to have you.
    I’m glad that yours realizes that!

  32. MarshaMarshaMarsha*

    I’m not the OP but I may as well be. I can’t move out of my current role yet but the training is so chaotic and the management style is reactive rather than proactive. One day it’s “good job, you’re doing great” next day it’s drama, drama, drama and confusion.
    So, I’m doing much of what OP is doing… any advice on when the time comes to apply for other positions within the company, how to go about it? Should I converse with others in my network at the company who might be able to help, but who certainly know my boss? I’m not sure I trust my boss in my desire to move into another role because she is so unpredictable. I don’t trust her, but I know she will eventually find out when I start applying for other roles.

  33. Melanie*

    I am going to be very cliche and state that it’s wonderful that you managed to make lemonade out of lemons. Your self-awareness and willingness to improve are incredibly inspiring!

    You are wise beyond your years!

  34. Kate*

    I know this post is over a day old now, but I couldn’t stop thinking about how happy it made me. This and the update from the person who had run up so much debt on the company credit card are probably my favorite updates. It just goes to show you how facing an issue head on can be the best way to resolve a bad situation. Kudos to you OP for handling this with such maturity and professionalism. And congrats on the new role!

  35. Stella's Mom*

    Well done, OP!

    I admire your planning and forethought, and your ability to act on those plans. I am impressed too that you are so self-aware and mature! Am very happy for you!

Comments are closed.