update: I have a weird patchwork of responsibilities and feel unqualified for anything else

Remember the letter-writer who didn’t feel qualified to find a new job? Here’s the update.

Last year, I wrote in saying that I felt unqualified to search for a new job because my nonprofit job of several years had so many unrelated responsibilities, many of which I’d had to learn on the fly. I kept seeing job postings which assumed that a person at my level of experience in any one of those responsibilities would know x y and z, and in many cases I only knew x, or only x and y. You advised me to look for jobs where I met 80% of the qualifications.

That was a great starting point for me, but the thing that really began to shift my thinking was reading through your archives and posting a bit in the open comment threads. That was how I started to realize that my main problem – the real reason I felt unqualified for most of the job postings I saw – was not the ad-hoc nature of my job responsibilities. It was the fact that my workplace was an incredibly demoralizing place to work. It constantly demanded more than I could really deliver, which led me to more or less constantly feel like I was failing at my job despite pulling increasingly frequent 10 or 12 or occasionally 18 hour days. My work was also consistently given multiple rounds of extensive edits by my grandboss, so I felt as if the work product I was managing to turn out was also just not good enough. Honestly, I felt like I didn’t even deserve to work there.

Your archives and your commenters helped me begin to accept that my issues at work might not be all my fault. This article – How To Keep Someone With You Forever – was also incredibly validating, and was what finally made me realize that my work environment was really not normal or OK.

When I finally started applying for jobs, I rewrote my resume and cover letters using your free guide, and I also took your advice about applying for jobs I was 80% qualified for. I also forced myself to play up my skills, even when it felt awkward, and I stopped discounting certain types of work experience just because I’d only done them a handful of times or they weren’t the majority of my job.

I wound up getting a call back from more than half the positions I applied to. I got two offers, and the one I turned down – which would have almost entirely involved a task that made up 10% of my old job – sounded legitimately disappointed when I told them I’d accepted the other position. At my new job, I’m making 15% more than I made before, and most mindboggling of all… my new boss loves my work, and tells me so, and treats me as an expert in my field, and expresses honest concern for my wellbeing, and would never in a million years dream of making me work an 18 hour day.

I am still getting over some mental and physical health issues I developed at Old Job, and I am still working to recalibrate my sense of what’s normal at work. But I am so incredibly happy with this change. And I would like to encourage anyone who feels incompetent and never-good-enough at work to consider that maybe the problem is not with you and your work at all, but with your workplace.

{ 60 comments… read them below }

    1. Specialk9*

      That article you linked to was like getting kicked by a horse… But in an educational way. Wow. Yeah. That’s something I wish I had read when I was younger.

  1. Adlib*

    Fantastic update!

    Also, hooray for open threads! This update is more proof that Alison is doing great work here.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Agreed! This is the heartwarming update I needed after reading the Worst Bosses of 2017 post :) I’m so proud of and happy for OP.

  2. CatCat*

    Yay!!! Love that you have moved on to bigger and better things and were able to gain perspective about was really going on.

  3. WellRed*

    Alison, updates like this really highlight the value of what you do. I mean, the wacky letters are fun for us to read, but so many more people find themselves stuck like this writer and you help them get unstuck.

      1. Ann O'Nemity*

        Haha I’m the opposite! I found AAM in 2011 from an internet search for career advice on a specific topic and ended up binging on wacky archive questions.

        Now I appreciate both – the wacky WTF letters and the solid career advice. I can honestly say I wouldn’t be the manager I am today without this site.

  4. zora*

    YAYYY, I am so happy for you!!!

    Also, OP, I totally identified with you, I had a similar situation at my last toxic job, and actually, reading your letter and the responses really helped me start to realize that I have been in a similar place and need to have more confidence about my abilities, which is something I’m finally making progress on!

    so THANK YOU for writing in, your letter has helped this internet stranger a lot and I am so grateful to you!!

  5. Cassandra*

    As another toxic-job survivor, I could not possibly be any happier for you, OP! Rock on with your amazing self!

  6. Woodswoman*

    This is wonderful news, OP–congratulations. By sharing this update, you’re no doubt helping others in comparable situations to recognize that they can also leave difficult workplaces, and move into better situations themselves.

    1. Ladybird*

      That’s wonderful! Seeing others get out of bad situations is really heartwarming, and as Woodswoman said, helpful to those in similar straits.

      I hope things keep going well for you. :)

  7. Jesmlet*

    Honestly super emotional at this update because this was totally me a couple years ago. So happy for you and best of luck shedding all that baggage from your Old Toxic Job. It’s incredible what a difference a decent manager and reasonable work expectations can make.

  8. Lil Fidget*

    This reminds me that for all our talk of “imposter syndrome” (which OP might also want to look at, if they haven’t already) there’s also legitimate crazymaking situations in the workplace, and it’s not always just up the individual to mentally cheer themselves through it.

  9. Maya Elena*

    I’ve had the experience of going from ” needs improvement” to “star performer” overnight with a change of manager.

  10. SilverRadicand*

    This is great! OP, best of luck and enjoy the new job (along with actual work-life balance and sanity and everything!).

  11. animaniactoo*

    This is an awesome update. Congrats OP, I’m glad you’ve found better things for and in yourself.

  12. eplawyer*

    This is a beyond awesome update. I am so glad this entire site was so helpful to you in moving out of your toxic workplace. Congratulations on your new you and new job.

  13. DanniellaBee*

    I agree with this letter writer very strongly when she talks about the realization that it was not her skills that were the problem but the toxic work environment. I experienced this early in my career where certain toxic people made me feel like nothing I did was ever good enough and that I was essentially worthless. I will never forget that within 2 weeks of starting that job I was told by a co-worker I should get on anti-anxiety meds like her because it was how she had made it 5 years there. It wasn’t until I unexpectedly landed a much better job with a higher salary and great people that I realized it was the old environment that had driven me to feel so depressed and had harmed my self image. I excelled at my new job and received bonus money, raises and a promotion all within a year there. Environment makes the job!

    1. Not So NewReader*

      And yet employers fail to see a connection between toxic work environments and rising health care costs. I remain baffled by this disconnect.

      I am very happy you got out and got something better.

  14. Gerta*

    Thank-you for sharing the link to that article, OP. I found it quite illuminating reading – my previous position was not quite as bad as that but a lot of it felt very familiar. (We had a good atmosphere and technical training, but the hours were awful and we had ‘constant crisis symdrome’ in a BIG way.) Since that was my first employer out of university, it helps to give me some perspective as well. That said, sometimes you do have to make a conscious trade-off in order to make your first steps, and I certainly learned a lot, including resiliance! It takes a lot to stress me out these days…

  15. Gerta*

    I should add that atsosphere and people are the critical point between a job building you up and grinding you down, as far as I can see. Of course you can get burned out in a high-pressure environment whatever the people are like but I think you are a lot less likely to come out feeling incompetent when those around you are supportive and you feel you are in it together.

  16. Brando*

    As much as I look forward to the crazy updates, I also enjoy these where things not only work out, but improve. Congrats!

  17. K.*

    Oh YAY! It really makes a world of difference to step away from a toxic situation, and I’m SO glad you were able to do that!

  18. Caboodle*

    OP, I love this update and wanted to let you know how timely it is for me. I’m in the exact position you were in. I found a job posting that looks like a dream job where I wouldn’t say I’m 100% qualified for, but definitely more than 80%. I’m fighting hard that little voice inside telling me I’m not good enough and will never even be considered for the job while understanding that these feelings are stemming from feeling so demoralized at my currently job.

    So thank you for sharing your experience. It’s another booster in my confidence toolkit. And I’m so happy things worked out for you. You give me hope. :-)

  19. Higher Ed Database Dork*

    Congrats OP! I’m so glad this worked out for you, and mostly that you are out of a toxic environment. My career has been much the same way. I spent 7 years in a place where I gained a ton of not-related skills, and it slowly turned toxic, so I seriously doubted myself and what I could do. I got to a point where I didn’t think I could trust anyone’s assessment of my work. But I decided to focus on one area I really enjoyed, did some training on my own time, and then found a great position in another department that utilizes ALL of my skills, and I’m learning new ones. And the best part is that I have an awesome boss and team. :)

  20. This Daydreamer*

    I’m so glad you got a decent boss! And I’m sure your boss is very glad to have you as an employee. I’m pretty sure that most bosses would give their left thumb for an employee with a skill set like yours.

  21. Observer*

    OP, I’m so sad that being treated well and respected boggles your mind. But I am SO happy for you that you are finally in a reasonable work environment with a good boss.

    Thanks for the update!

  22. Umbrella*

    And I would like to encourage anyone who feels incompetent and never-good-enough at work to consider that maybe the problem is not with you and your work at all, but with your workplace.

    Yes, it is.

    Are there any questions/answers about staying too long at a job? Seems like there are a lot about job hopping & being in too many short term jobs. What about too long of a term? (15+)

    1. Bea*

      Are you asking because you’re personally at a place 15+ years and scared to move on? I had to leave after 10+ a few years ago, it’s the exact same scenario. You prepare yourself for “why after so long…” and you worry about unknowingly bad mouthing your current company.

      I’ve learned from leaving after a year this last time, just tell them you’re ready for new challenges and want to bring your experience to an established company such as Job You’re Interviewing For. Or in my case I wished to do more work with start ups and expand my consulting experience.

  23. Bea*

    I’m so glad you’re doing so much better and treated well now. The of job will fade, the toxicity will leave but it takes time to shake off the junk you’ve dealt with.

  24. The OP*

    You guys all rock. Thank you so much.

    I should probably also add – the thing that made it so hard for me to understand my situation was, nobody was being MEAN to me, or making me work longer hours than anyone else had to work (including the ED). It wasn’t so much “work 18 hour days or you’re fired” so much as “we all have to do what it takes to get this work done,” so while I could see that it SUCKED, I couldn’t quite grasp that it was ABNORMAL. (And this situation developed gradually over several years, so it went from a few late-ish nights a month to a lot of them every month.)

    But when I found myself lying to people about my work schedule so that they wouldn’t worry about me, that was when I finally put the pieces together.

    Recently I was in the office at like 7pm finishing something up (this comes with the territory of fundraising in December), and my new boss was getting ready to leave and said in a concerned voice “get out of here soon, ok?” I swear I could have cried!

  25. Grace*

    I totally relate, having been the victim of a toxic place and now happily employed at a sane place where I feel appreciated. So very happy for you!

  26. Not So NewReader*

    Thanks for the link, OP. I lost about an hour reading the comments on that article, also. Very important message to put out.
    I am glad things are better now for you.

  27. Megan*

    This is a terrific update. . . and that post you linked to was clearly written by someone eavesdropping at my job. Wow, what a kick in the teeth.

  28. FeralCattz*

    To the OP, it’s fantastic that things worked out for you! I worked a couple of jobs like that. It was really stressful but it helped me to learn how to prioritize, adapt, innovate, and endure. Sure, anyone can do that to some degree, but most folks don’t get as much practice.

    Now that you’re working for a place that doesn’t demand that you drive yourself crazy, and for a boss that appreciates your work, you’ll find that those same skills are going to make you into a powerhouse. The rare crunch time is going to be a cake walk for you when a lot of folks are losing their minds under pressure. People are going to see that and know that you get things done!

    Best of luck in the new job–may this be the first great upward move of many!

    1. Roz*

      Yes, this! It’s great being the calm one when everyone else is anxious and stressed because you’ve been through worse and can handle anything thrown at you.

  29. Samiratou*

    Great update! I hadn’t seen your first letter, but much of it rang true for me. I’ve got a similarly disjointed background at my company, which already has a fairly non-standard way of doing things due to the nature of our business, but without the unrealistic expectations, workload and micromanaging boss. I really enjoy my job, and it’s becoming less patchwork by the day, but it was interesting to hear from someone with a similar job trajectory.

    Glad to hear you’ve move onwards and upwards, OP!

  30. Roz*

    Yay Congratulations! I’m so pleased to read this update. This sounds so much like me 1.5 years ago. Take the time in your new job to really reflect and evaluate your past experience. In 1.5 years you will feel like a different person!

  31. Traveling Teacher*

    I’m so happy for you, OP! Thanks so much for your update–I’ve been waiting for this one and am so pleased that it’s a great one!

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