I want to quit … but if I leave, my project will die

A reader writes:

I am a creative team lead at a floundering startup. This is the worst-run workplace I have ever seen. There are two people above me, our CEO Lorna and her general manager, Ignatius. Lorna is not a bad person, but she has a tendency to not tell the whole truth and to try and intimidate her way out of difficult conversations through dramatics. She leaves much of her work to Ignatius, who is very unprofessional, highly defensive, and, unfortunately, someone about which Lorna will hear no evil.

In the time I’ve worked here, ever since Ignatius decided to take charge of our project, I’ve been publicly mocked and shamed, used as a scapegoat for everything, and generally treated poorly. It came to a head last week when, after doing an editing task Ignatius had asked me to do (and which is well within my purview as creative lead) I received an immediate and hostile backlash in furious run-on sentences, including boldfaced lies. This went to Lorna as well.

The very next day, my hours were cut by 75%. I am told this this is temporary. Lorna also told me out of nowhere that I must be pregnant, clarified only by a muttered “Oh, I thought it might be hormones.” I can only extrapolate that she means my attitude, although my comments included a lot of positive feedback, the word “please,” and genuine suggestions, whereas Ignatius told several obvious fibs (which I’ve already disproved with screenshots), attacked me personally, and refused to make simple content edits he was responsible for.

To add to this chaos, we’re onboarding new team members, meaning that I am often in the position of having to apologize for or otherwise explain away Ignatius’s mistakes. People are in paranoid meltdowns, not understanding if they have a job or not, because Ignatius (the person responsible for that) tells them a hundred different things or just ignores them. To add insult to injury, I found out new hires in lower-level position now make more than I do. By the way, I haven’t had a contract for over six months.

I’ve been unable to leave due to the flexibility of the schedule and my financial needs, but I am now at a point to disengage. It seems like the perfect time. But if I leave this incredibly detailed project that took friendships, physical and emotional health, and much of my family stability away from me and Ignatius takes over, it’s dead. It’s gone. It will never happen. I carried this project through coronavirus with a dispersed team as a first-time manager working through severe illness, and I want it to succeed. I want to be done, but I don’t want this time to have been a waste. How do I move on?

Oh my goodness, leave.

You’re being abused and lied about, your hours have been cut by 75 percent (!) as retribution for an imagined offense, your co-workers are having paranoid meltdowns, the organization is horribly run, and staying there has already damaged your friendships and your health.

I understand you want to see the project through, but this is not a reasonable price to pay.

Frankly, even if the organization were run flawlessly and none of these problems existed, you still should leave if you wanted to leave. This is the nature of work: These are business relationships, and you cannot have such deep personal ties to your employer’s projects that you prioritize them above your own interests. That’s not to say that you should never get invested in your work or care deeply about it. But don’t lose sight of the fact that you are selling your labor for money, and when it no longer makes sense to do that, walk away without guilt. (Just as if it no longer made business sense for your organization to employ you, they would part ways with you.)

But this goes well beyond that. This isn’t a functional organization that simply no longer aligns with your professional goals. This is an organization that mistreats, even abuses, you. This is an organization in chaos.

I get that you’ve already invested so much in making your project work and if you walk away now, it might feel like it was all for nothing. But you’ve already invested that time and energy no matter what you do now — they’re sunk costs, as economists would say. Those costs remain the same no matter what you do now. What about the future costs you would incur by staying?

Put another way: Does it truly make sense to stay for more abuse — and presumably more impact to your health and your relationships — in the hopes of making it all mean something? When it comes down to it, I doubt that you value your project over your health or your friends and family, so don’t make decisions as if you do. And really, even if you stayed and finished your project, is this particular organization well-positioned to do whatever would come next with that work — promote it, maintain it for future years, and so forth?

Dysfunctional organizations have a way of warping your thinking. After working in one for long enough, practices that you’d otherwise recognize as unacceptable can start to feel normal, or at least not that bad. You end up accepting things that you shouldn’t tolerate at all (like being yelled at or lied about!) and sometimes even questioning whether you’re the problem. Even worse, that warped sense of normal can follow you into your next job, where it can cause you real problems once you’re in a more functional environment. (For example, if your old job berated you for small mistakes, you might stop being forthcoming about errors — and if you do that at a new job with better management, that’s unlikely to go well.)

Just like with other forms of dysfunctional or abusive relationships, when you’ve stayed at a toxic job for a long time, it can be hard to see that you really do need to get out — and it can be easy for your brain to come up with reasons you should stay.

You weren’t in a position to leave before, but now you are. Please don’t let that opportunity go by.

Originally published at New York Magazine.

Read updates to this letter here and here.

{ 196 comments… read them below }

    1. Frenchie Too*

      If your hours are cut 75% doesn’t that entitle you to some unemployment benefits? I think I recall something like that in another post.
      Regardless, use that 75% time to prepare yourself and resume, apply and interview for jobs as well as possible.
      Can you take some sick leave to detox? Because this place is pure toxicity at every level.
      I really hope for a good update from OP. <3

    2. Clorinda*

      You might not even have a choice. They sound ready to fire you. Leave, and let them do what they will with the project.

    3. Neverwould*

      Agree. OP is thinking about the sunk cost but sometimes it is best to cut and run. Maybe OP can do something similar elsewhere.

      1. Koalafied*

        Exactly. Don’t throw good time after bad. Making yourself miserable for longer will not make the the time you already sunk into the project worth more or get you that time back. It just makes you miserable for longer. When you reach the point it sounds like you’ve reached, enough is enough.

      2. RedinSC*

        I came here to say that. The sunk cost fallacy has the OP throwing more time in. Cut your losses OP! Get out now and move on.

    4. Massmatt*

      It sounds like any 1 of the many many terrible things LW talks about would be grounds for quitting, let alone all of them. Horror show is right!

      OP, your perceptions of normalcy are already very warped by the constant dysfunction, as evidenced by the facts that you try to soften your criticism of the awful CEO, and are still wanting to stay. Why do you care more about this project succeeding than they do?

      You gained experience doing this job, that can never be taken away. Take it and whatever other few positives there are at this job and get out while you still have some sanity and health left!

    1. GammaGirl1908*

      Especially because it ISN’T all for nothing. LW has gotten some good out of it in terms of experience, skills, lessons, and knowledge, all of which are valuable.

      The project not coming to fruition doesn’t mean it was all for nothing … especially because it sounds like staying at this workplace to finish the project is going to take way more than LW can afford to give. Take the good that is there now and run.

      Get out, get out, get out, get out, get out.

  1. Kevin Sours*

    It turns out that the Sunk Cost Fallacy doesn’t apply only to money. Forget the past, nothing you decide now can get you back what you’ve sacrificed. Forget the company, they don’t deserve your efforts. Are *you* better off if you see this through? Not in terms of justifying past efforts, but better off than you are today? Because I’m not seeing how that could be the case. You are at a point to disengage, you want to disengage, the company is starting to disengage you. Pull the ripcord.

    1. Leah K.*

      Came here to say just that. All of this, “friendships, physical and emotional health, and much of [my] family stability” are already gone whether or not the OP stays in her current job. If a cost cannot be changed regardles sof a business decision, then the cost is irrelevant to the decision at hand. Moreover, if the OP stays where she is right now, she will be sinking more and more of her mental and emotional resources into this pit. Those are the only costs and sacrifices she needs to consider. Time to move on.

    2. Jaydee*

      I’m going to add to the people mentioning the sunk cost fallacy. The success of this project will not make up for your lost time, relationships, health, and well-being. It won’t. Because there is no way Lorna and especially Ignatius are in charge of something so earth-shatteringly important that it’s success could possibly make up for those. Plus it sounds like Ignatius is actively sabotaging it. So you might not finish the project successfully even if you stay.

      Get out while you’re ahead. Don’t burn any bridges, but if Ignatius and Lorna start waving gas cans and lighters around don’t feel like you need to put on firefighter gear either.

      Also, Lorna asking if you’re pregnant because your attitude must be the product of hormones? Are you confident you’re not actually trapped in some horrible workplace sitcom? Like, who does that?!

      If you have a way out, take it! Run! Go! Save yourself! And then if you’re not actually in a TV show, consider writing one.

      1. TaterB*

        “The success of this project will not make up for your lost time, relationships, health, and well-being. It won’t.”

        This resonated with me so much. Thank you for posting it.

      2. Le Sigh*

        That’s the thing — there’s not a lot to inspire me that this project can be successful in this kind of environment. It’s *possible* LW’s hard work could will to success, but…I also think it’s more likely that given the toxic stew the LW is surrounded by, nothing they could do would actually result in a success. And so their one motivation for staying seems unlikely to even pay off. And then what?

      3. MCMonkeybean*

        Absolutely. Plus, the sooner you are out of there the sooner you can work on rebuilding the things you feel you have lost.

    3. Double A*

      Honestly I think sometimes people are MORE dug in about sunk costs when they’re not money. Think of how many people you know (or maybe you’ve done it yourself) who have stayed in bad relationships because they’d already been in the relationship for so long. Or a war that has never ended because as the costs in lives and money keep piling up, there has to be some outcome to justify all that sacrifice.

      1. ProfSummer*

        I use relationships as my example of sunk costs in my intro economics class. I hope that if they don’t get anything else from my class maybe it’ll help someone make a positive life choice one day.

    4. HarvestKaleSlaw*

      Amen. First thing I thought reading this was, “LW, you already know the answer.” My second thought was, “sunk costs fallacy!”

      I stayed in grad school for two extra years and took on debt because I didn’t want something I had invested so much into (time, lost opportunity, effort, ego, work) to fail. LW, I know about not walking when you should walk. Learn from my mistakes – you will be a mess for a few weeks, maybe even a few months, and then you will look back on this time with bewilderment and ask yourself how you got sucked into Satan’s tar pit in the first place.

  2. ENFP in Texas*

    “But if I leave this incredibly detailed project that took friendships, physical and emotional health, and much of my family stability away from me and Ignatius takes over, it’s dead. It’s gone.”

    Let it die. The alternative is to CONTINUE to let it affect your friendships, physical and emotional health, and your family stability.

    1. AndersonDarling*

      And really, what will the OP have if the project is completed? A project. And it will likely become less important with every passing day.
      Not to make light of the OP’s passion, because I applaud them for caring so much about their work, but they aren’t a researcher working on medical research that will save lives. That would about the only time that I would even entertain the idea of taking abuse to complete a project.
      Also, there may be other opportunities to work on this kind of a project in future jobs or as a volunteer.

    2. meyer lemon*

      I also have to wonder what kind of shape that project can possibly be in if it’s being mismanaged this badly. If the only way to keep it alive is for the OP to work to their limit to overcome their coworkers’ incompetence (and now at only 25% of their original hours?) I’m guessing the project is not destined to do well no matter how much the OP continues to invest.

      1. So they all rolled over and one fell out*

        I think the odds of the project actually coming to fruition are slim at best.

        1. Quill*

          And if it does pan out it’s probably going to be more liability than asset with these people at the helm.

      2. RunShaker*

        It sounds like it won’t matter what OP does to keep the project alive due to mismanagement & then OP will be blamed for the project going south. OP, you can’t succeed on this project due to Ignatius & Lorna. They will not allow you to succeed. You’re underpaid & your hours have been cut. Take the project experience & get out please! Your health & sanity is worth it. Good luck.

    3. irene adler*

      Not disagreeing.
      Let it die.

      Maybe there will be circumstances down the line where you can resurrect the project. Or at least a semblance of what it entailed.

      Get out of the untenable situation as quickly as possible. Otherwise, they may get the drop on you and relieve you of the remaining 25% of your hours. Get the last word in on this one.

    4. Momma Bear*

      The cost has, IMO, already been too high. OP should let this go and work to re-establish their health and relationships. A project that becomes your life without reward is not worth it.

    5. Deejay*

      “Let the past die. Kill it if you have to”

      Okay, Kylo Ren may have been an emo Vader-wannabe darksider, but in this instance his advice is sound.

    6. WorkerB*

      Very true. Lousy bosses are really not interested in a project’s success (unless they’re the center of attention and will receive all the credit). If they really cared about the project and seeing it through for the benefit of the organization and/or its clients, they would be supporting you and trusting you and the team to see it through. Cutting your hours is one way to say, “we don’t care.” Lorna and Ignatius are not invested in its success. Work projects succeed not only when they’re well-planned out, but also when everyone on the team is treated with respect and feels valued.

      1. A CAD Monkey*

        ^^^^Exactly. People like this take all credit and pass off any blame to those who actually do the work

      2. Sara without an H*

        Exactly. OP, even if you successfully complete the project, Ignatius is going to take all the credit. And then probably fire you. Go now, while you have the opportunity.

        Oh, and for my money…Lorna IS a bad person.

        1. Ermintrude*

          Yep. Lorna sounds like a shitty housemate I had. Friendly when it suits but then awful when one doesn’t just let themselves be walked on.

    1. Momma Bear*

      Agreed – while OP did the heavy lifting, she will never get the credit she deserves. IMO OP should take whatever is reasonable for a portfolio and bail. OP doesn’t make the $ she’s worth, her hours were cut by 75%….it’s going to crash and burn whether OP is there or not.

      They do not value you, OP. Sometimes the best thing is to realize you have worth and stop the madness. Value yourself because they do not value you.

    2. juliebulie*

      Right. It’s not like you’re abandoning a child in the woods. This project is your employer’s responsibility, and there’s nothing in it for you if it succeeds.

      A company that doesn’t care about its employees and doesn’t care about its projects will eventually get what it deserves. (knock on wood)

  3. Dust Bunny*

    Naw, dude, you don’t owe them blood.

    At one of my old jobs, one of my duties was to check a certain type of laboratory sample every X days for Y weeks and report to my bosses. When I left, I reminded everyone who might possibly be responsible for this that it needed to be done and wrote it in big red letters on the task board. (This wasn’t the worst-run place in the world but they were resistant to training–the reason I knew how to do this was because I had been trained by a previous employer.)

    Months later, one of my former coworkers emailed me about something else and also mentioned that after I left, this task didn’t get done for like two months and they had to start them all over again. Clients were annoyed.

    OH, WELL.

    They knew where the samples were, had been reminded by me verbally, and had it literally written on the wall, and they couldn’t get their act together. Not my problem.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      Frankly, if the project hinges so completely on you doing it, everything is set up to fail already. My boss at Current Job just retired and we transferred everything without a hitch because my current workplace is run by professional adults.

    2. RabbitRabbit*

      Same. I tried to teach a new employee everything I knew. I warned that they needed to establish a new dry ice supplier. Wrote step-by-step instructions in the SOP document on how to handle it. We were only getting dry ice based on a former work relationship where we could use another department’s leftover dry ice, but both the other department’s employee and I were moving on from that work. Meanwhile the new employee was spurning any interdepartmental networking because she literally said she didn’t see the point.

      Yeah, I got a call months later asking about where they get dry ice. And then, could I call the other department and have them give my old department dry ice? No, no I could not.

    3. PT*

      I had a boss who worked in her job for four or five years prior to retirement, building up her department into a large, well-run, efficient, and profitable venture.

      Her replacement trashed that in 56 days.

      There was a valiant attempt to put everything on life support, it limped us through the busy season, and then once that was over, crashed and burned. All those years of work down the toilet, due to fifty-six days of mismanagement.

        1. irene adler*

          I’m betting micromanagement. New boss did not -or would not- trust the system to work as it should.

          1. Clorinda*

            Plus, I would guess there were some random changes in process that worked perfectly well, and maybe a couple of really unwise firings of the people with ALL the institutional memory.

            1. Clorinda*

              I mean, to clarify, that the process USED to work perfectly well and the random changes were made for no other reason than to be a new broom, and the new versions were bad!
              After I posted, I realized that sentence was really ambiguous. Apologies.

        2. PT*

          He was massively underqualified for his job, and also a jerk. He made most of the customers and all of the staff mad at him, the staff did not have what they needed to deliver the product to the customers, people saw it was a waste of money, and left to competitors.

  4. PollyQ*

    A start-up company this badly run may also go out of business before the project is done, or shortly thereafter, and then no one will care about the project. And a boss that’s willing to cut your hours for no good reason might also let you go for no good reason.

    Leaving isn’t just the better move for your personal health, it may be the better move for your career.

    1. LilyP*

      I would bet paper money that this project would end up run into the ground sooner or later even if OP stayed. Startups already have such a high failure rate when they’re not an absolute mess!

      1. Self Employed*

        The last time a friend was in a startup like this, his paychecks started bouncing. He burned through a lot of savings trying to stick it out till his stock options vested or whatever. Well, they never made good on the paychecks, they never finished the product, and his stock options were worthless.

  5. CatCat*

    I want to be done, but I don’t want this time to have been a waste.

    Whether it gets done and whether the company wastes its resources is not on you.

    You’re feeling invested and burdened now, but once you let it go, I think you’re going to feel light as a feather.

    The only waste here for you is if you give up your opportunity to get out.

    1. Momma Bear*

      The time is only a waste if you learned nothing from it. You got experience. Consider your Lessons Learned and find yourself a better job.

      1. JSPA*

        Before the time when “save early and often” became a mantra (yes, I’m that old), there were more times than I’d care to remember, that a project I’d worked on for hours, days or even weeks, just… vanished.

        The time it took to recreate something just as solid, leaner, less-self-indulgent, less quirky, and more transparent was a small fraction of what the original time spent, had been.

        OP, your future projects will benefit from the work you’ve done on this one. Your speed will be that much better, your focus that much more honed, your awareness of sticking points, personal preference issues, etc more sensitive, your tone that much more pitch-perfect.

        Pull the plug, mentally. It’s time.

    2. Paris Geller*


      Whatever happens OP, your efforts have not been a waste! You did great work on a project, and you did work and got paid for it. That’s it. What happens to the project is up to them. And while this project might feel personal now–in the end, even if it goes off without a hitch, it’s not “your” project — it’s the company’s. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t feel proud of a job well done and get recognition for it in a well-run place, but you’ve already put enough time and effort into this. No reason to expand more. There will be more opportunities for you to show your skills and expertise at another organization run by competent people. It’s not your responsibility if this project OR this company goes down. Get out and live your best life!

      1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

        Yes! I very much get the feeling of “but if I leave before this task is done, it was All For Nothing.” But there was more to be gained here than the project itself launching. Take some time to list out what you gained from this. What technical skills did you hone? What managerial skills did you learn and strengthen? What did you learn about your own tolerance for BS in the workplace and how to stand up to it? What did you learn about what you’ll put up with, or not, in future jobs?

        You can’t guarantee this project’s success. Even if you stayed at this company until the day you die, you can’t do that. But that’s not the only measure of whether this was Worth It to you. In fact, I’d argue that in five years you’re more likely to feel like it was worth it if you learned how to leave a toxic situation.

        1. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

          This! Even Elon Musk cans projects that were incredibly well run and managed, but the long-term need for them didn’t outweigh the cost. It is so hard to give up our “baby” projects but this ain’t a baby any more, it is an albatross around your neck.

          1. MsSolo*

            Hundreds of researchers around the world have had years of vaccine research cancelled at the final stage because someone beat them to it or the costs didn’t work out cheaper than treating the disease. All those skills they’ve learned, processes they’ve honed, and theories they’ve tested have proved very useful in the past year!

            1. JustaTech*

              “If we knew what we were doing it wouldn’t be called research”.

              I’ve had far, far more projects die than be completed. Some died because my work showed that they wouldn’t work. Some died because of budget reasons, or internal politics (the worst reason) and some because something completely unexpected came up in the middle.

              It does make me ask for more assurances on the business side before I start, but at this point I know that, even if everything gets canned, I can at least write it all up so in 5 years some other poor schmuck doesn’t have to repeat it.

  6. SerenScientist*

    OP, this feels like a classic sunk cost fallacy scenario. You talk about how this project “took friendships, physical and emotional health, and much of my family stability away” from you–it’s natural to want to salvage whatever you can or at least see the project through to the end. We are taught both formally in school and informally through our entire culture that it’s bad to give up, bad to stop something before we’ve finished it. But that can be deeply costly to our mental, physical, and financial well-being. It has been already for you. I’m sorry this happened, but you owe absolutely nothing to this company or project. Saying goodbye and letting go might be the best thing you can do for yourself.

    1. OrigCassandra*

      This this this. Sunk costs — you can’t get any of what you’ve poured into this abyssal workpit back, OP. “Write it off and move on” is unfortunately the only choice you have.

      (Though I wonder super-hard about that pregnancy crack. Gender-based discrimination?)

  7. Paper Wings*

    Hi OP, Alison is so right. There is no cost to consider when it comes to your health. And it’s not a waste – you learned something very important from this job, be it a better idea of your own boundaries and limits, or what you can do differently next time you’re faced with an unhealthy dynamic. We always want our time spent to mean something bigger but that may be about as good as it gets so leave this place in the dust. Best wishes to you.

  8. Neosmom*

    Sometimes those in authority must feel serious pain before even acknowledging there is a problem or taking corrective actions.

  9. Alexander Graham Yell*

    Holy shades of Theranos, Batman.

    Get out as soon as you can for your own mental health. If their project dies, it dies, and the only responsibility you have here is to yourself.

      1. MsSolo*

        Some years ago there was a letter from someone who’d applied to a start up with red flags, and an update that showed it’d been a lucky escape because it actually was There is!

    1. Glitter Spuds*

      I did a “control+F” to see if anyone had commented about Theranos yet…. Because that was DEFINITELY the vibe that I was getting.

      (Also, can you imagine the BONKERS things that would have happened with COVID testing if Theranos hasn’t been exposed when it did???)

  10. joss*

    OP as you mention that you cannot just walk away for, among other things, financial reasons I would say start looking for another job right now. Once you find something don’t walk but run away. There will be other projects in the future. I have a dollar that says that if your project survives after you leave you will not get any credit for that anyway. Do what is best for you and let go of this situation asap

    1. Mockingjay*

      They’ve cut your hours by 75%. That’s a pretty big financial reason. You can’t afford NOT to leave. As others have suggested, use those newly freed hours to job search.

      This company won’t last.

  11. EPLawyer*

    Is this place … Theranos?

    OP, this project is not getting done no matter how long you stick around. This company IS not healthy. If it goes under tomorrow (and it may well) or the Feds raid it (see Theranos) the project isn’t getting done.

    You cannot care more about the project than the company’s owners do.

    1. KWu*

      This is what I was going to say. I’m sorry, OP, but I think this project is already dead. It sucks, and you should get out before it takes more from you and before you have to try to continue to paper over the cracks (canyons?) for any new hires.

  12. Maltypass*

    OP I highly recommend you google Sick Systems – you’re in one. I read that article after leaving a toxic workplace and it was eerie how well it captured the ambient sense that there was a reward down the line that for one reason or another will never tangibly arrive. I hope you can extricate yourself from this situation and gain some sense of closure

    1. Maltypass*

      You know on second thought I’m giving your workplace too much credit – there isn’t really a system in place

    2. disconnect*


      “A sick system has four basic rules:

      “Rule 1: Keep them too busy to think. Thinking is dangerous. If people can stop and think about their situation logically, they might realize how crazy things are.

      “Rule 2: Keep them tired. Exhaustion is the perfect defense against any good thinking that might slip through. Fixing the system requires change, and change requires effort, and effort requires energy that just isn’t there. …

      “Rule 3: Keep them emotionally involved. Make them love you if you can, or if you’re a company, foster a company culture of extreme loyalty. Otherwise, tie their success to yours, so if you do well, they do well, and if you fail, they fail. …

      “Rule 4: Reward intermittently. Intermittent gratification is the most addictive kind there is. …”

          1. James*

            Skinner Boxes have a bad reputation in the gaming world. Grinding is bad enough; Skinner Boxes are usually downright abusive. There are some times when those techniques are justified (Minecraft’s ore system, Dark Souls’ item drop rates, and the like), but generally they’re considered a sign of bad game design at best, contempt for the player base at worst.

            1. KoiFeeder*

              Is THAT why that secret boss was called the Skinner box?! I could never figure that one out…

      1. Cat Tree*

        Wow, this gives so much clarity to a place I worked long ago. Everything applied except #3. Either I didn’t start long enough to get emotionally invested, or I was lucky enough to maintain hope of something better so it didn’t suck me in. There was one coworker in particular who was treated so badly that I always wondered why he didn’t leave for somewhere else. This explains it.

      1. Tired of Covid-and People*

        Dysfunctional relationships and trauma bonding, be it personal or organizational, in a nutshell. Good read.

  13. cleo*

    I want to be done, but I don’t want this time to have been a waste.

    I get that, but OP, there’s more than one way to not waste your time and effort. Even if you leave and the project dies, you don’t have to waste the experience you gained. Use what you’ve learned to move on and run better projects at more functional companies.

    Good luck!

    1. NYWeasel*

      That’s along the lines of what I was thinking. Sometimes success is “I paid my bills until I was able to get out to a better job”. Or “I now will know what to look for in future jobs so I don’t get screwed.”

  14. Colleague’s Dog’s Viking Funeral*

    This project will never happen.
    You cannot will it to life.
    You cannot expect logical outcomes from illogical processes.
    You have no support from Lorna.
    You have active sabotage from Ignatius.
    It is not going to happen.
    You can pound away at it until you break. You can spend every waking moment on it. You can tap out every resource you have.
    It will not happen.
    Ignatius will not let it happen.
    What are you going to do when that happens?
    When you are ready to launch and Lorna tells you Ignatius found X errors and the project is dead.
    And if it is launched, and you’ve been plugging away, what are you going to do when these two power hungry assholes decide, nope. We don’t like it and dump it?
    Walk. Away.

    1. RabbitRabbit*

      “And if it is launched, and you’ve been plugging away, what are you going to do when these two power hungry assholes decide, nope. We don’t like it and dump it?”

      This. They’re going to blame you for failure. Better to bail now than to let it die and then try to run away.

    2. Specks*

      Couldn’t agree more. With a company this dysfunctional, your project isn’t likely to make it anyway. And the longer you stay, the more your sense of normal gets warped and the more time you’re spending with a-holes who will probably turn into negative references no matter how much you do for them. Run.

    3. Self Employed*

      At one of my early jobs, our engineering department was very cranky because every time a project seemed to be coming together it would be put on the back shelf.

      One of the big cheeses in the company wanted to drive down the stock price by making it look like our company was never going to have a good product, then buy out the other investors and get all those projects back on track after they had control.

  15. Naomi*

    In addition to the sunk cost fallacy, it’s worthwhile to keep in mind that the project might fail even if you stay! If it can’t survive without you pouring in this level of blood, sweat, and tears, it sounds like it’s been in a precarious position for a while now. And this isn’t a workplace that is setting you up to succeed. It’s not just whether you can do the project itself, it’s whether you can do the project AND all the additional work of dealing with chaos generated by your bosses. You could do everything right and still have the project tank because your management is terrible.

    You can’t do anything about the time you already invested, but you can keep from throwing more effort down the drain.

  16. WellRed*

    I kept reading expecting to see some shred of why you’d want to stick around OP, but don’t see it? Also, if I’m reading this right, your hours were cut by 75%? Of course your hours are flexible! You barely have any!

    1. Tabihabibi*

      Yes. I was expecting some tale of why the project is so compelling. Even if OP is a professional puppy saver and puppies are at risk, at this point, you’re not even able to work at saving puppies to the capacity you would be anywhere else. Whatever good this project might do in the world (assuming any), it’s not going to happen at the current job.

      1. Quill*

        Also any person (or creature) who recieves this good or service from the project is at risk because it is so mismanaged!

  17. Renee Remains the Same*

    This project is not a human being and deserves no more of your time, energy, or happiness. Also, I’m going to throw out the possibility that even with your superhuman efforts, the project might die anyway since it seems Ignatius will have his way with it. I vote that you avoid being the scapegoat for that when it happens. Or at least that you’re very far away, far removed from this banana pants operation, and restoring your health and happiness.

  18. Elenna*

    If you leave, you will have wasted X amount of time, energy, health, and lost friendships.

    If you stay, then eventually you will have wasted MORE THAN X amount of all of those. I say wasted because even if you manage to finish the project (which seems unlikely, from what you’ve said), what will you get for it? Nothing. It’s the company’s project, you don’t get anything out of it, and I’m sure Ignatius will steal all the credit.

    Run, don’t walk, away from this dumpster fire.

  19. Me*

    Try to reframe. It feels like your project but it’s not. It’s the businesses project. The business is benefitting from your suffering. By staying on for this project the business will continue to benefit and you will continue to get nothing but suffering.

    It’s not your project. You don’t owe a toxic business your own wellbeing.

    1. Fried Eggs*

      Yep. It’s so easy to feel like it’s your project. Especially if you’re someone who takes pride in their work. Especially if you’re at a startup where everyone’s always talking about ‘ownership.’ Especially if it was your idea to do it.

      But in the end, it’s their project. You’re just getting paid to do it (or not getting paid to do it, if your hours were cut).

      You may think having a successfully completed project will reflect well on you. But so will having the smarts and confidence to get the heck out of there. Saving the project is not worth your health and happiness!

  20. H.C.*

    Yeah, use the extra free time to focus on your job search. And depending how close that project is to completion, you might want to consider taking a step back and do the bare minimum to coast it along – especially if it’s something you can’t showcase in your portfolio.

  21. BRR*

    Long story short I went through something similar in being laid off from a toxic employer and everything I worked on would no longer be used, basically wasting years of my life. I think you just have to view the time as a loss. Let the project die and your time be wasted, but you need to get out as soon as you can. I would try and view it as the cost of getting out.

    I don’t know if this applies to your work but for mine, it wouldn’t matter what I completed. The workplace was where hard work went to die. It stunk to give it up but looking back, it was like throwing whatever I worked on (partially or fully completed) into a fire.

    1. LadyByTheLake*

      I don’t think you have to think of your time “as a loss.” The worst job I ever had taught me a ton in terms of organizing a project, learning the subject matter, making connections, etc etc etc. So although I bailed and the business ultimately failed, the time wasn’t a loss — I got a huge amount of learning and connections out of it.

      1. juliebulie*

        Same. There was definitely a “loss” though – the company’s. They paid me to start countless projects, only to have me abandon them halfway through because there was a new director (several in a row) with a whole new set of priorities.

        I got good experience to put on my resume, and I got paid. (Not exactly handsomely, but adequately.) So it wasn’t a waste of my time. Maybe not the best use, but not a waste. It was their time that got wasted – they were paying for it.

  22. Aggretsuko*

    This reminds me of a friend of mine who retired. She ran a room in her business and it has been neglected for the last ten years (let’s say that friend was an assistant and the actual person retired ten years ago) and she has asked over and over and over, what is the future of the room. She never got an answer. I told her, that’s your answer. So they will probably close it permanently now that she’s gone–though I’m sure Covid is also a factor there since it was a “walk in and research” specialty room. But what can you do? You can’t hold up the tent poles forever and you’re not in charge of the project anyway. Management will choose to let it die and they can do that.

  23. LGC*

    …so, how much snow did YOU get, Alison?

    (Which is to say, the letters these past couple of days have been WILD.)

    That said – I think one thing that’s coming through is that…LW, it reads like you’re putting this all on Ignatius because they’re objectively a jerk, and you’re staying in part because of Lorna. (I just noticed you didn’t use a gender for Ignatius, hence “they” – even though the name is gendered.) I’m getting that because of the way you talk about them (Lorna “is not a bad person;” you didn’t say anything in defense of Ignatius). But also…like:

    1) Lorna sounds like she’s a habitual liar (“has a tendency to not tell the whole truth”) and is prone to histrionics (she often tries to “intimidate her way out of difficult conversations through dramatics”).
    2) She also sounds like an absentee manager – she “leaves much of her work to Ignatius,” and doesn’t humor any criticism of him whatsoever.
    3) She accused you of being pregnant after you got a deranged email from Ignatius and had your working hours cut to a quarter of what they were. Because clearly, your feeble woman brain is affected by TEH BAYYYYYBEEEEEZ and not by a wildly abusive work situation where your pay is likely being cut to 25% of normal. /sarcasm

    That is to say: Lorna and Ignatius deserve each other.

    Also, I know pretty much everyone else has said this already, but: this project is going to fail. You already know it’s going to die without you. What it seems like, from the letter, is that you don’t know that it’s going to die even if you do stay on as well.

    (And I know this is on The Cut, but hoping you drop by here and read the comments!)

  24. Cassidy*

    Holding on to a project for dear life at all costs.

    What a toxic work environment does to a person.

    1. pancakes*

      Thinking of Lorna as “not a bad person” despite a heap of reasons to believe otherwise too, probably.

  25. Bernice Clifton*

    I believe you’re correct that your project will go down in flames once you leave.

    I also believe Ignatius is setting said project up for sabotage anyway while you’re stuck watching it happen. You won’t win this.

  26. Essess*

    The company doesn’t care if the project dies or else they wouldn’t have cut your hours by 75%.
    They don’t care about you and how you will survive. You need to put your life and future ahead of absolutely anything else. No one will care if your project succeeds except you at this point. It sounds harsh, but they have already shown they will not reward you for it. Ignatius will take the credit for any success. You will only get blames. Since you are going to be the scapegoat no matter what, do what gives you the best future for yourself.

  27. Bacillus*

    Think of it this way, it won’t be all for nothing. Even if the project dies you have the experience you gained from it to carry with you into your next role. Best wishes in that endeavor.

  28. A.*

    One thing that’s always struck me when leaving jobs is how little I care about things that seemed so important to me while I was there. Yes, the project I was working to me was really important at the time and I enjoyed doing it and thought it was worthwhile–but at the end of the day, they were work projects, not personal ones. I was being paid to care, and once that obligation was gone, you know what? I wish it well but it’s not my problem or burden.

    As I’ve moved on in my career, it’s been really important to draw that line between things I care about and things I’m being paid to care about. Knowing what’s in latter category helps me maintain a work-life balance and keep some much-needed perspective as well as not be too precious about anything I’m working on. I still put a lot of energy and passion into my work! I really like my work! But my projects belong to my work, and have to stay there if I’m going to maintain any sanity whatsoever, day to day or in the long term.

    1. juliebulie*

      I remember driving home after being laid off from a job I thought I loved. As I drove, I could feel my shoulders loosening up for the first time in five years. It was rapidly sinking in that all these things that I had felt were so important were now irrelevant, and I could let them go.

      Ever since then, I’ve sort of kept all of my work-related stress in a mental filing cabinet, ready to be jettisoned the minute I get that dreaded phone call/email “there’s no easy way to tell you this…” BAM that filing cabinet will vanish.

      Let it go, OP! Let yourself go.

      1. A.*

        Exactly. There’s so much you don’t realize that you only care about because someone tells you to! I’ve never been let go but for me it’s always the last two weeks of a job. I always do due diligence and leave a good solid foundation for the next person, but my own personal investment is always just gone.

        There are still some projects that I spearheaded that I’m really proud of, but I’m also relieved not to be working on them anymore. That’s the past! And there’s always something new and interesting to work on in the future!

        And that’s exactly what I do, too. If I were to leave tomorrow, I would suddenly not care about any of this, and that’s a freeing feeling! It’s a good boundary to set with yourself, especially in moments of stress.

  29. ArtK*

    Please, for your own sake, get out and leave the guilt behind. You can’t fix this one and staying to keep it alive is going to hurt you. If a project is so disorganized that one person leaving will kill it, then it probably didn’t deserve to exist in the first place.

  30. Madtown Maven*

    Please, OP, get out now! This job is costing you your non-work life’s joys. You have far greater value than these ridiculous employers are acknowledging.

    (After you’re out, you may wish to consider counseling. Figure out why you’ve been accepting this kind of treatment in your workplace. I’d guess that the money piece is not the real reason.) Best wishes.

  31. Esmeralda*

    Sunk cost fallacy.

    Throwing more of yourself (your time, your energy, your health) into this project will not rescue it. There is no way that you will get a return on the investment (time, energy, health) you have already put into it. Cut your losses. Abandon this sinking ship while the rats haven’t figured out it’s going down. They’re already throwing you overboard…

  32. James*

    LW, the company cut you to 25% of your former hours. That’s them pushing you out the door because they are too cowardly to fire you. Firing someone is a giant pain, so some companies do everything short of it, but let the employee take that next step. This isn’t an uncommon tactic in my experience: reduce the hours to the point where the employee can’t afford to continue working there.

    You owe no loyalty to a company that’s actively engaging in kicking you out the door. I’d try to be professional as you leave, but mostly because it’s likely that when this company goes under (and it will) they will try to blame you somehow. You want to be reducing potential legal liabilities as much as possible at this point.

    If my boss came to me and told me that my hours were being reduced by 25% (not TO 25% but BY 25%) my resume would be out the door within the hour. I love my current job, I love the work, I love the people–but I’m here for the money and there’s a lot of people willing to pay me what I’m worth. If they told me they were reducing my hours by 75% I’d email the resume before they finished talking.

    As for the project ending, the reality is that it happens. I’ve had projects end while I was in the middle of them–the client went a different direction, someone else on the team did something stupid and we lost a contract, a higher-up decided it didn’t align with our overall strategy, etc. It sucks, but it’s not a waste. You’ve gained valuable experience (granted, it’s in the line of “what to avoid” in this case). You can take that to your next project. Every project kickoff call I’ve done includes a “Lessons Learned” section for discussing historic problems; you’ve got a few good ones here! My point is, this is part of management–therefore you shouldn’t view it as a reason to stay in a situation that’s bad for your physical, mental, and emotional health.

  33. Zelda*

    “Lorna is not a bad person, but” [many details that demonstrate that Lorna is, actually, kinda a bad person].

    She may not be responsible for the genocide of millions, but she IS responsible for this mess. She is certainly not a fabulous person. I like TheTallestOneEver’s correction above; past time to make this Not Your Problem.

  34. AnotherSarah*

    OP, you’re operating on the assumption that if you stay, the project won’t fail or disappear. Are you sure that’s the case? If you’re the only person who cares about it and can do the work, and you have such terrible coworkers, are you certain that whatever it is would be rolled out/produced/whatever correctly and well? You think you know what will happen if you leave and if you don’t leave, but you really only have a sense of what will happen if you leave (and even then, not a perfect sense). Act on how things are *now*, not how they might be in the future.

  35. Anonymooose*

    It seems like the project will die, whether or not you are there. Ignatius and Lorna are just about guaranteeing that the project will fail and that you will be blamed, no doubt.

    I think what is before isn’t how (of if) to leave….it’s how to leave while ensuring no retaliation, no damage to your reputation, and no stain on your time which, for sure, one or both will attempt.

    From how you have phrased some things…it seems like you have let yourself get sucked into the dysfunction and have not been able to manage it, be proactive nor shut it down. This isn’t a criticism, please understand. I am pointing out that you need to change how you operate so you can manage them for the brief amount of time you have left. You’ll need to do this to assemble documents, proof and other storytelling materials to effectively stymie any post-resignation attempts on their end to trash you to employees or anyone else in the industry. Getting a lawyer to issue a serious warning might be necessary but for anything you do to have teeth…you need documentation, you need proof and above all, you need to NOT be sucked in to things so it doesn’t blur the lines and be a, “well, he did exaggerate the conversation but you also a that XYZ is a good option, why are you now claiming that you were blindsided”

    good luck and I hope things work out

  36. Richard*

    Unless this project is a couple weeks from curing cancer or otherwise contributing incalculable good to humanity or the earth, it’s not going to be worth seeing through to the end.

    1. I edit everything*

      Just what I was thinking. What’s so great about this project that makes it worth this level of sacrifice and torment, not just for you, LW, but the rest of the employees?

  37. Delphine*

    Be free, OP. Cut your losses now. The project has already cost you too much. It makes no sense to pour more of your life into it.

  38. Akcipitrokulo*

    Run. Run now.

    Do not let your excellent work become a ransom keeping you a prisoner here.

    You did good work.

    Now run.

  39. AdAgencyChick*

    “you cannot have such deep personal ties to your employer’s projects that you prioritize them above your own interests.”


  40. e271828*

    The 25% hours cut sounds like constructive dismissal; LW may be able to collect unemployment, depending on state/jurisdiction, I think?

    As for “I don’t want this time to have been a waste. How do I move on?” Step 1. Understand this: Your time has been wasted by your employer, the wasted time is in the past, it’s gone, you don’t get it back and you don’t get more time or credit for wasting more time. You won’t get credit or recognition for your project. Step 2. Check into that filing-for-unemployment situation (document, document, document everything) and begin job hunting. You’d better drop a resignation letter and just walk out, when you’re ready, because it sounds like your bosses may try to push you down the stairs if you give notice.

    You owe these people nothing, LW. They don’t respect you and they never will. Get out.

    1. RabbitRabbit*

      With the mention of not having a contract, they might be classified as a contractor and that might make things more complex. Or, they might be *misclassified* as a contractor which might allow for interesting Department of Labor reporting.

      1. LGC*

        I actually read it as that LW wasn’t in the US, to be honest – it sounds like at the very least, she’s an employee.

        Although if she is misclassified…well, I’ve already got some popcorn.

    2. Hapless Bureaucrat*

      A significant cut to hours can in itself be grounds for unemployment, and yeah there’s a case to be made for constructive dismissal depending on the state. As the poster below says, it’s possible OP is a contractor. Regardless, your advice is the way to go.

      Get out first, OP. Take documentation with you of the changes and conditions and go.

      If you need a positive beyond “regain my health and sanity,” consider your coworkers who are also being driven slowly insane. Sometimes, watching someone in a key position walk out the door can be the sign you need that you’re not screwed up, the system is.

  41. kewlm0m*

    Please cut your losses and leave – and then come back and update us so we can all celebrate your escape!

  42. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

    Not your zoo, not your dodos. Flee before you donate anything more to the lost cause.

  43. I edit everything*

    If the project “took friendships, physical and emotional health, and much of [your] family stability,” don’t just let it die: Kill it. Kill with fire!

  44. Hawkeye is in the details*

    I think I know these people. I have escaped these people. The company went from 10 people to only those 2 within 2 years, because of them. I would not be surprised if they rebranded and started over.

    Run. Run now. Your project is not worth your sanity, and every day you stay, your norms will be shifted just a little bit further, until you don’t even know what’s okay and what’s egregious, abusive behavior anymore.

  45. Strong Independent Acid Snake*

    OP if you are holding onto the hope that if you somehow manage to deliver this project successfully (and I say somehow because you are NOT being set up to succeed here) then things will magically improve at work between you, Lorna & Ignatius please abandon that line of thought. If you are successful with this project I do not see you getting the recognition and praise you would deserve.

    I can see this project means a lot to you- and in such an awful work environment I can understand why you need something to direct your energy and focus on- but that energy would be better spent looking for a better job. Take the reduction in hours as a gift to use for looking for a new job that won’t demand sacrifices like friends and family.

  46. Magenta Sky*

    “Lorna is not a bad person, but she has a tendency to not tell the whole truth and to try and intimidate her way out of difficult conversations through dramatics.”

    These two statements do not seem to be about the same person. She’s only “not a bad person” by comparison to Ignatius, perhaps, but compared to normal people, she’s a bad person.

    More important, she’s a bad *manager*.

    In the long run, leaving and killing the project, and perhaps the entire company, will be doing everyone a favor except the bad bosses. And they got not favors coming.

    1. Lacey*

      Yeah, I think the OP’s perception is being distorted by this job. Lorna is not a great person and she’s an awful CEO.

  47. Dream Jobbed*

    I know you can sue if you are pregnant and your job cuts hours, denies promotion, etc. for no other reason.

    But can you sue if your hours are cut 75% because your boss thought you were pregnant?

  48. Bob*

    I don’t know what this project is that you are so invested in but if it succeeds, you will not get credit, you will be further used as a punching bag. It will embolden these abusers to think they are geniuses and you are trash. Hence you are inadvertently enabling these evil people by protecting them from the consequences of their own actions. Its not easy to walk away from something you have in invested so much in, but whatever success it is having is not worth your sanity or your future.
    And if you can recreate it yourself after leaving even better. But if you can’t take solace in the knowledge that you are capable of achieving great things, but fate delivered you into a hell that you need to escape. Today.

  49. Mike on the Mic*

    If OP reads this: why does it matter to your career that this project lives on after you’ve left the organization?

    1. Lacey*

      Exactly! The project will belong to the company, not the OP, so what possible benefit is it to continue the project?
      Get out!

      1. Mike on the Mic*

        It’s gotta be some sort of architecture or design job: they want their name attached to the project once it’s complete.

        1. Self Employed*

          I would bet money that OP’s name will be nowhere on that project. Maybe not even on blueprints or any other files that can be updated.

  50. learnedthehardway*

    GET OUT!!!!!! Immediately!!!

    Look – as much as you love the project, it’s dead in the water, since the company has cut your hours. And even if it did succeed, you’ll never get credit for it.

    These people are beyond awful – I’m sorry, but Lorna IS a bad person – the whole “you must be pregnant” thing is pure misogyny, and she’s a horrible leader and manager. Ignatius is just flat out abusive.

    Document what you HAVE achieved on the project / mandate you were given, make notes on the metrics (eg. met milestones on time, managed budgets, etc. etc.), beef up your resume, reach out to your contacts, and then get out.

    As for friendships/contacts you feel you’ve burned in the process – reach out and apologize. Let them know you engaged them in good faith, believing that you were working on something that would benefit them / the public / the organization. However, it is clear that the “organization’s priorities have shifted and that the leadership is not committed to this project any more”. It’s absolutely TRUE – use this for your reason for why you’re interviewing for other positions, by the way. It answers the questions of both why you’re leaving and why the project wasn’t finished.

  51. Trillian*

    It’s very hard; I know. I walked away from a creative project that had years of evenings and weekends behind it once I realized that my collaborator was going to feed her own hunger for applause at the expense of the project’s quality and our professional reputation, no matter what I said. (If I objected, she’d just circumvent me).

    But there’s a point where you have to accept that you can’t control the outcome and you don’t own the project, and you have to let it go for your own sake. There will be other projects, in which you can deploy the skills you learned and bring to a successful fruition. There will also be time to reflect on what made the project so compelling, that it consumed you so—and the indicators that you can’t trust people with your passion and full commitment.

  52. RB*

    I was screaming in my head while reading this, Sunk Cost Fallacy, Sunk Cost Fallacy, so I was glad to see that Alison mentioned that concept in her response.

  53. Database Developer Dude*

    Quit. Let the project die. When it’s your time to die, none of your bosses are going to be around for you.

  54. Oaktree*

    Sunk cost fallacy: the letter.

    LW, please, just get out of there. This sucks, but it’s not the last project you’ll ever work on, and it is not worth what you’ve already been through, let alone subjecting yourself to more. Just quit.

  55. it_guy*

    It’s not _YOUR_ project, it’s the company’s project. I understand all the blood, sweat, etc… devoted to this, but at the end of it all, it’s not yours. You don’t benefit from the success or failure. The company owners do.

  56. RagingADHD*

    This project is going to die anyway. Grieve that and walk away.

    A highly skilled individual contributor can push a decent project past incompetent management, if they management stays out of the way. Lorna and Ignatius are actively hostile and sabotaging your work. There’s no way that Ignatius and Lorna are going to allow you to succeed, and if the project is completed at all, they will find a way to maim it beyond recognition.

    There is no winning this fight, and there’s no upside for you even if you could – you’re being drastically underpaid, and you know they won’t acknowledge your contribution (unless they manage to force it to fail, in which case you will be blamed).

    Get out while you have a shred of self-respect and professional credibility left.

  57. TiffIf*

    I get it, I really do–this is something you have put a lot of work and effort into and to see all that work essentially come to nothing can be really disheartening. I have been in a situation where I felt all my hard work went to waste–in my case it was a project that was completed and came to fruition and then…nobody bought the product. What I ended up doing was taking the skills I had learned in working on that project–in my case it was technical skills working with large data sets and testing conditional outcomes–and continuing to expand them and use them in other projects. About three years after I completed that project someone finally bought it. But I learned from that to focus on what I could learn from a project and taking pride not in the product itself but in how I have developed my skills and how I can apply those skills in the future.

    This example is obviously a lot more mild than what you are going through, but putting a little distance on your perspective and focusing on the skills you have learned or can take with you, can help in both cases.

  58. Boring username*

    Leave leave leave leave, please, for yourself. This time hasn’t been a waste – you have learned that working with awful people like this is not for you. You have learned that sacrificing your health, the people you love and your sanity is not worth it. Leaving is not failure, it’s sensible self preservation. No work project is worth your life.

  59. Khatul Madame*

    There are causes worthy of a great sacrifice, like developing a cure for a deadly disease, or ending world hunger. This startup is not doing any of that, or the OP would have mentioned it as a reason for staying. If the project dies, at most it will be a mild disappointment to jerks like Lorna and Ignatius, and maybe some financial loss to startup funders (and I don’t think they were destitute widows and orphans who invested their last penny into this venture). Boo freaking hoo.
    OP should recognize the sunk costs, the damage this workplace has done to her physical and mental health, and get TF out.

  60. Ann O'Nemity*

    I’m so ready to join the “flee for your life” chorus. But first… The OP says they don’t want their project to die. OP, does this project have an end date? Is it well defined? How soon is the end date? How likely is it you can get to that end date given all the dysfunction?

    Best case scenario, the end date is right around the corner with a clear path to get there. In which case, OP, you can pursue project completion and ensure a smooth transition while looking for your next job.

    But if this project is going to drag out – for months, years, or indefinitely – it sounds untenable to stay. And given the dysfunction, even if you *do* stay there’s no guarantee the project will be successful. You could stay, only to watch this project die to prolonged and painful death anyway. And meanwhile, you’re miserable and your professional norms are going to hell.

  61. Calyx Teren*

    OP, this is actually a perfect time for you to leave. If the project dies when you’re not there to launch and tend it, it’s a crystal clear depiction of your value. For resume purposes, make sure you do your SOAR analysis and have “before” metrics (of course don’t reveal confidential info) so you can describe what you accomplished and what you planned.

    Leaving them a well worked out plan isn’t a bad way to go. It’ll be so much worse after you launch your treasured plan and see it sag from lack of leadership support.

  62. Bluephone*

    There is no project because it’s already dead—you just won’t admit it. Move on before you land yourself in the hospital.

    1. AKchic*

      There is a project. It’s called “Saving Myself From Me” and most of us don’t ever see that project for what it is.

  63. arcya*

    Oh man this is like, one of those haunted house movies, where the family is like “we moved into my mysterious late uncle’s creepy mansion and it howls each night with the wails of the Lost, but we’re renovating the attic! We can’t just LEAVE” meanwhile the walls are dripping blood and the children suddenly speak Latin.


    1. Tuesday*

      Get out, get out, and whatever you do, DON’T GO DOWN TO THE BASEMENT! This job is as soul-sucking as the uncle’s creepy house, for sure. Escape, and live your life.

    2. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      Just because it’s called lingua mortua doesn’t mean it’s lingua mortuorum.

      This job, however, deserves no such benefit of the doubt!

  64. Firecat*

    I paid $30 for a movie. For me this was a lot of money and a special treat. It was a horrible movie but I stayed and kept watching.

    At first I was like – oh it will get better – but then I thought – it will be a waste of money if I leave! So I stayed. The movie sucked, and to this day some scenes from it pop in my head and gross me out.

    The reality was the money was gone. It was already wasted. All I could save was my future time and I didn’t.

    Your time at this org was wasted. Staying will only waste more of your time, health, and relationships.

    This is called “sunk cost” fallacy.

    1. Tired of Covid-and People*

      Yes, we walked out early on a play (Book of Mormon, hated it) and while not thrilled about the money wasted, had more time t enjoy a nice dinner. Had we stayed, we just would have been paying to be annoyed and uncomfortable. Not a bargain. The sunk cost fallacy seems reasonable on the surface but doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

      1. Richard*

        I like Book of Mormon, but I can confirm that if you hated the first 15 minutes, literally nothing about the tone or content or anything else changes throughout and you made the right choice.

    2. Quill*

      I’m physically wincing at an $30 movie but I will always regret that my last movie in theaters before covid was ad astra, which wasn’t even worthy of riffing.

  65. Keymaster of Gozer*

    Instead of looking upon it as ‘time wasted’, refactor it in your head as ‘time I spent learning about what is and isn’t feasible/professional’. Or ‘time I spent developing my sense of where my mental health boundaries are’.

    Nobody walks away from a really toxic job without learning something, even if it’s just where their limits are.

    What difference does this project success/failure make to the rest of your life?
    What difference does this company’s success/failure make to the rest of your life?
    What’s better for your mental health? Your home life?

    Self reflection is a hard skill, if you do that you’ll have learnt something from this project/job so not a total loss.

  66. AKchic*

    Your hours were cut by 75% even though this is “your” project? The project you’re only allowed to now devote even less time on (because you’re still cleaning up messes being made by two bosses) will die if you leave?

    The project deserves to die if you’re the only thing keeping it alive. You are being used as life support and right now, you’re 3/4 unplugged and the power is about to be shut off.

    You are making excuses for terrible managers who not only use and abuse you, but *will* use and abuse the new staff members that are coming into the start-up. Why? Because of everything you’ve put in? They aren’t grateful. Because of everything you’ve lost/sacrificed for the job/mission? They are the very reason you’ve lost/sacrificed so much and they don’t really care about those loses/sacrifices.
    Quit setting yourself on fire to heat the offices they don’t care to properly manage.

  67. Hare under the moon with a silver spoon*

    I understand the investment in something creative that sounds to me like it has some kind of deep intrinsic satisfaction for you. It also sounds like it’s possibly UI or UX led (I may be way off) or maybe something you feel you can’t achieve without a team or a company environment to manifest this.

    OP whatever the project is, there will be many people who have documented their initial concepts, design plans, processes and their portfolios are incredibly impressive. And to be honest most projects that are completed people only look at one or two images anyway.

    Your skills and creativity are in the process that you can demonstrate in some way through a portfolio you can replicate – even concept designs if you have NDA or work for hire IP assignment on what you have done.

    Other employers will get it and will respect your talent. Start looking and that alone will free you – I’m astounded people such as you described exist but actually you are probably way to competent and a threat for them ever to let you or your project shine – more fool them.

    Best of luck OP!

  68. CW*

    Please leave. Your sanity is more important. And by reading your letter, it doesn’t even sound like a workplace. It sounds like a torture chamber.

    Put in your notice immediately. It’s not YOUR project, it’s the company’s. You were just assigned to it. You have nothing to lose.

  69. Monk*

    Go read Bad Blood by John Carreyou – your place of employment is like Theranos.

    Theranos is now dead.

    In other words, get out and don’t look back.

  70. OhBehave*

    They obviously don’t care about this project! You owe them NOTHING. Get out now while you still understand that this is a toxic workplace.

  71. MissDisplaced*

    I unfortunately used to work at a startup shiteshow much like this. Trust me, you’ll feel better the day you leave!
    When things are this bad, leaving is best.

  72. Certaintroublemaker*

    “Dysfunctional organizations have a way of warping your thinking. After working in one for long enough, practices that you’d otherwise recognize as unacceptable can start to feel normal, or at least not that bad.”

    For example: “To add to this chaos, we’re onboarding new team members, meaning that I am often in the position of having to apologize for or otherwise explain away Ignatius’s mistakes.”

    Instead of saying, sorry, he’s always that bad. You could get used to it, but feel free to run for the hills.

  73. MBK*

    With those two above you on the org chart, the project is likely dead whether you stay or not. There is absolutely nothing in this world worth putting up with that kind of toxicity for.

  74. talos*

    This sounds A LOT like Theranos (the blood testing scam startup). And that went pretty poorly for everyone involved.

    Get out while you can.

  75. cncx*

    this is a lot like sunk cost theory but for your sanity and self-esteem. your project is gonna be dead regardless but only you can act for you at this point. Please cut bait and move on for you as a person before you burn out OP

  76. Paul Pearson*

    Beware the sunk cost fallacy – just because you’ve invested so much into this project doesn’t mean it’s worth investing even more.

    Ultimately the project may fail. And? Do you have a personal reason to be invested in this? Is it “your” project (and I don’t mean did you work on it, I mean do you actually benefit from this project coming to fruition?

    Let’s be clear. YOU didn’t cause this project to fail. They did with their terrible management and by forcing you out. If you and the project mattered they would have worked hard to keep you. They did not. The blame and consequences is on them, not you

    If your employer is content to have these useless people run and ruin the project, so be it. It will fail and that will be on them – why should you be more invested in their project than they are? Why should you show such loyalty and dedication to people who have shown you none? You owe these people nothing, not their business, not their projects, not one thing.

  77. DiscoCat*

    Leave and enjoy the spectacle of them going under. I wouldn’t bother about their references either, people like this aren’t capable of professional behavior and won’t recognise it if they saw it.

  78. RebelwithMouseyHair*

    You sound like you’re really committed to producing good work. That’s great. But you need to do good work for someone who deserves it. Imagine if you pushed through and brought your project into being, the CEO and manager would take all the credit. Do you want that?
    Find a job where you’ll be treated with the respect you deserve, or set up your own business. People with your level of commitment usually do well heading up their own structure, because they absolutely want to see their project do well. And if you’re the boss, you automatically get credit.

  79. The answer is (probably) 42*

    I haven’t seen anyone mention this but once you decide to leave- DO NOT LET THEM TALK YOU INTO STAYING.

    It’s possible that they will be as awful and trivializing of your value when you announce your departure, and you’ll have no resistance getting out.

    But it’s also possible that on some level they know that a large part of the success of their business hinges on you being the only functional person they have and they’d crash and burn without you. They may offer you a raise, or make promises of changed behaviors/better policies/consequences for bad actions. They’ll tell you things will be better if you stick around and give them a chance. Or they’ll do the opposite- try to undermine your confidence, sabotage any way out that you find, tell you that nowhere else would hire you, etc. They might try to make it a loyalty thing, and guilt trip you about how important The Project is and how could you leave at such a time and if it fails it’s your fault. (Reminder: it’s NOT your fault, even if they say it is. They have already shown how little the actual truth matters to them in getting what they want)

    Does that sound kind of like advice I’d give to someone trying to leave an abusive relationship? That’s because that is exactly what this is. Whatever tactic they may try to persuade, guilt trip, or berate you into staying, don’t fall for it. Get out, flee, exit, depart, disengage, run for the hills.

  80. The Starsong Princess*

    They cut your hours by 75%? They fired you but you didn’t get the hint. If you can’t get unemployment, smile at them, agree with everything they say and use the hours you aren’t getting to find a new job as quickly as you can. Their flexibility isn’t worth the crazy.

  81. Observer*

    OP, what makes you think that you can bring this project to completion? Seriously. For one thing, when an organization is this dysfunctional it makes it highly unlikely for complex projects to succeed. Also, if you DO get near success, what’s to say that you won’t get fired? They’ve already cut your hours by 75% – that HAS to be affecting the ability to get stuff done, unless you are (illegally( working “off the books”.

    Also, sot apologizing for anything that ANYONE ELSE does. Absolutely DO NOT “explain away” Ignatius’ mistakes (or bad faith.)

  82. WorkerB*

    I went through this exact situation last year. Thank you, Alison, for your wise words. I reported to a toxic supervisor in a toxic department. She was threatened by my experience and told lies about me to further ingratiate herself with upper management and make me look like a big problem she needed to remove. She couldn’t fire me– my reviews were great– but she made my job very hard. I was the lead on a terrific project that would have gained our organization positive PR and put us in a fabulous light. We had tons of support from all managers, except my boss. Well, she micromanaged it, bogged it down in bureaucracy, badmouthed it, caused confusion. Something that should have been completed within a few months is still stalled. She has no idea how to move it forward.

    I eventually left the organization. I had to for my own sanity. It was awful to leave behind awesome colleagues who needed me to help see this thing through. We all worked so hard on it, but as long as my supervisor was at the helm, the project was doomed. No sense in putting up with all of that abuse for a project when it’s obvious someone is out to destroy it and top management won’t intervene.

  83. Quill*

    OP, I know you don’t want your project to die, but… are you comfortable with these people implementing that project? Because the professionalism here (nonexistent) makes me think that anything this company produced would not be good for clients or customers.

  84. Old Woman in Purple*

    I agree with all the eloquent commentariat: Flee the dumpster fire of evil bees!!

    It is not possible to describe how much I want an update to this letter!

  85. MsRoboto*

    I think there is only one person that cares about this project and that’s you.
    I think we can surmise that when you are gone you will be blamed for the failure. OH WELL…I wouldn’t worry about that.
    Totally on another note when you go from full-time or close to it to 25% hours you might be eligible for unemployment for short wages and with the extra unemployment you might make more either with the 25% plus unemployment or straight unemployment.

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