updates: exercising during work breaks, being under-qualified, and more

Here are three updates from past letter-writers.

1. How do you learn what types of jobs exist?

It’s been a little over four months since I sent in my question, I’m still at the retail job, and I have so much good news I barely know where to start.

To clarify my situation a little more, I’m a bottom-rung manager, and at the time I wrote in, I had been dealing with three major challenges for the entire duration of my employment: lean staffing, weak managerial oversight (in the end I effectively went without a direct manager for nine months), and a problem employee who exacerbated the former and exploited the latter. When I wrote in I was hitting rock bottom. It seemed clear to me that I was never going to have the staff I needed because I didn’t have the support from upper management to get rid of the person who was driving all my good employees to quit. The only way out I could see was to quit myself.

But a few months ago, I finally got a proper direct manager, and their arrival saved the department. I’m sure some things had been at work behind the scenes beforehand, but the fact is, my entire team and I were in open despair at things ever improving, and no one ever seemed to respond with any urgency until they arrived. It was their support, transparency, and consistent advocacy on our behalf that convinced us to hold out one last time for things to get better. And finally, finally things did. Extra hours materialized and additional hires were made. The problem employee was removed from my department and is finally seeing disciplinary action. My team and I are coming to work energized for maybe the first time since any of us were hired, and we’re excited to make our department a place we can be proud of.

I do also want to thank everyone for the comments! While I’m happily staying on in my current position for now, I definitely don’t see myself doing this forever, and now I have lots of ideas for what I could do next.

2. Clothes for exercising during work breaks (#5 at the link)

I chickened out, and just got up extra extra early to work out at home before work. Not the most exciting update, I know. I really appreciated all the suggestions from the commentariat. At the end of the day though, I’m a fat, minority, woman in a field dominated by conservative white men, with lots of ex-military who still maintain the physical standards of their enlisted days. And I just couldn’t overcome the self-consciousness around my body, which I know is an artifact of living in a patriarchal society. Luckily, my regular gym got retrofitted with a more powerful HVAC and reopened with strict covid protocols a few months after I wrote, so I’m back to my pre-pandemic workout plan.

3. How can I increase my chances when I’m under-qualified for a job?  (first update)

I wonder how it feels to get work bulletins through many phases of someone’s career? I wanted to let commenters know that years after my previous move, two very predictable paths have played out:

1) It turns out that people who want to hire junior employees in a small organization based on personal relationships to let them grow into bigger roles can sometimes avoid paying them more or making space for new responsibilities in a graceful, collaborative way as time goes on. But…

2) I was 100% right that the greater responsibility and scope of the role I took positioned me for better things anyway.

Long story short, I was sincerely happy in my new job in 2018 and sincerely very frustrated by 2021. Then, after a few months of job searching and a flirtation with freelancing, the skills I needed to develop at that same job and a million Ask A Manager advice posts snagged me a significant raise at a new organization that comes with huge opportunity to be more visible in my field.

Now I’ve been *there* for a few months, and found this place of course has its own wrinkles! What I’m taking from all this is that it’s fine if your individual jobs are “good enough to grow in” or “good for now” rather than perfect. I look back at my letter from 2017 and remember how hung up I was on that one job. It’s not worth it, new grads! Look for where you’ll grow and make sure you’re still growing. If it stops being good, take care of yourself. There is someone out there who needs you to fix a problem for them.

It’s been stressful couple of years, huh? Everyone hang in there for the rest of 2022.

{ 30 comments… read them below }

  1. Purple Cat*

    I love the series of updates from LW3.
    A job doesn’t have to be “perfect” to be “good enough” and absolutely – once you stop feeling like you’re getting enough growth, enjoyment, money, satisfaction, whatever out of it – move on! I stayed far too long at my old company out of a misplaced sense of loyalty which morphed into a fear that I wasn’t good enough for anything else out there. I’m now in a new role in a company which in a way is Dysfunction Junction, but is also in a transformational phase to become a “real company”. It’s exciting to be able to put my stamp on that.

    1. Cat Lover*

      I feel like that is where I am going to be soon with my current job. 3 year anniversary is today, and while I love the job, coworkers, and company, the satisfaction is low and I find myself increasingly frustrated. I’m looking at jobs out there to get a sense of what I could look to move into in the next year.

      1. Also Loves Cats*

        This is exactly how I feel. My day-to-day is relatively relaxed and I have good coworkers, which has made me feel guilty for wanting a job where I am more fulfilled, but I’m getting better about telling myself that I deserve a job where I am excited again.

    2. SansaStark*

      Agree. Also I think it’s a smart perspective when you think of your career as a whole. There may be some periods in your life where you need XYZ and some periods where XYZ won’t fit at all. “Good enough” might be just the thing you need for a bit.

    3. Chilipepper Attitude*

      I also love the “over time” perspective from #3!

      I learned (very late in life) from my adult son that one key to being happy at work is if you are still learning, if there is room for you to learn new things.

      It all builds your skill set and you might not know where it will take you, but this one idea can really help guide you.

    4. Sara without an H*

      What I’m taking from all this is that it’s fine if your individual jobs are “good enough to grow in” or “good for now” rather than perfect.

      This is a lovely and mature perspective to take! Jobs should never be confused with personal identity. It’s much better to see them as a sequence of opportunities to learn skills and make connections. Yay for LW#3!

  2. OyHiOh*

    LW 3, I was you a few years ago, in mid life. Took a low pay/low skill job, grew in it, made the job grow for me, and left for something much bigger and shinier earlier this summer. Congrats on the new job and all your growth!

  3. CLC*

    Exercising at work— pre-pandemic my company had a large office building with a small gym employees could use for a few dollars a month. It did come in handy if you needed to squeeze in a workout during the day, but for most women working out during the day is just sooo difficult because it takes so long to wash and dry hair, put things like tights back on damp skin, reapply make up (if you’re into that), etc. I would rush back to my desk with wet hair, a bright red face, and still not having eaten lunch. And working out really is a very personal, private thing. At the time I was working out in the office gym, I was in my mid to late 30s and starting to put on a lot of weight from a more sedentary lifestyle from working long hours in the suburbs rather than biking or walking everywhere. I had also spent my 20s engaging in lots of disordered eating and literally working out for hours a day, running at least 50 miles a week, etc., which in the long run made an underlying endocrine issue much worse and that was catching up to me. I was trying to get into the office gym, run for 20 minutes or so, and do a quick resistance routine for another 15 minutes. It was hard for me learn to stop there—in a nut shell I had a lot of stuff tied up in fitness and body stuff I was just getting over. But when you take your workout to the office, it—and your body—suddenly becomes everyone’s business. At the time I was what I would call “small fat,” say, size 16-18, so people would see my gym bag and make comments like “good for you!” Or “you look like you’ve lost weight!” Or actually in the gym people would see me on the treadmill and be like “wow you run fast” stopping short of “for a fat person.” Casually conversation would be like “so have you had time to get your workouts in this week while we’re so busy?” And I kid you not, on three separate occasions, someone would see me in the gym and then later in the day in the hall or the cafe and come over and try to sell me MLM diet products. But the absolute worst was there was one woman who I would say was in her 50s and must have had a very severe disorder of some kind who seemed to always be in the gym or the locker room (she didn’t work for the gym or anything). I did not know or work with this person at all other than saying hi in locker room (I didn’t even know her name) but every single day she would grill me about how much I was working out, why she didn’t see me at the gym yesterday, and on multiple occasions, she stared over my shoulder when I weighed myself. If this had happened at a regular private gym I would have told her to mind her own business, thrown in some choice words, and complained to management. But I couldn’t tell off someone who worked for my company that I could need something work related from in the future. Working out at the office truly is a double edge sword and if you don’t want to deal with a lot crap, it’s probably best to try to do it “off campus” if you can.

    1. WillowSunstar*

      Exercise doesn’t have to be a grueling gym session. On the days I go into work, I walk outside in the parking lot on my breaks. If weather is bad, I walk inside. Either way, still more steps are gotten in at work then at home because everything is spread out a lot more.

      1. Person from the Resume*

        Everyone has a different definition of working out.

        I live in the south in a land of high humidity. It’s really hard to work out without getting very, sweaty and hot more of the year than not. Even if only walking, but especially if working out harder than that.

        Seriously if I’m trying not to get too sweaty I have to go from A/C car to A/C office with a very short walk between the two. Anything strenuous is a no go.

        1. WillowSunstar*

          Well, if it was an 85+ day with high humidity, I would stay indoors in the air conditioning at work. The building is pretty much a ghost town, but we can come in whenever we want now. It’s quite large so east to walk around one floor 3-4 times and get 2K steps in on a 15-minute break.

      2. LW2*

        In my case, pre-pandemic, I was a Crossfitter and also did a lot of social dancing. I totally agree exercise doesn’t have to be grueling, but for me and my pre-pandemic habits, it was (and I enjoyed it!).

    2. Anomie*

      I walk at work during my lunch. I read your first and last paragraph. Every step counts and it’s very easy.

    3. Kes*

      Yeah, my office has a gym that opened during the pandemic. Haven’t been there partly because I haven’t been back to the office yet, but also I don’t want my coworkers to see me when I’m exercising (for multiple reasons – I’m self conscious and don’t look great exercising and I don’t want my coworkers judging or commenting on my exercise). And the thing about getting sweaty and sweaty hair for women in the middle of the day is also totally not worth it to me.
      I have gone for walks during lunch in the past though – that is much more workable (pun not intended but acknowledged), I find

  4. 2 Cents*

    LO #2, thanks for your update! I am a fat woman and would not be able to walk past similar coworkers on the way to a shared gym. Heck, I work in healthcare, where there are a range of body types, and I still don’t want to exercise around any of them.

  5. Hlao-roo*

    OP#1 – Thanks for the update! I’m glad to hear things have sorted themselves out for the better at your current workplace. Also, thank you for asking your question in the first place. The answers will probably be helpful to you in the future and I am sure they have already been helpful to a number of other people who are/were in a similar boat.

  6. Lifeandlimb*

    OP #2 or anyone who’s interested in the exercise clothes topic:
    I just wanted to put in a good word for merino wool or wool blend active clothing. I have worn both cotton and polyester a lot over the years, and while they have their advantages, merino wool is AWESOME. It wicks sweat quickly without feeling “wet” AND remains fairly odorless through several uses even while my polyester clothes stink from doing the exact same activity once.

    I know it sounds crazy, but merino wool can actually be pretty comfortable on a warm day.

    1. cbdnyc*

      Just a shout out to vinegar/water pre-wash soak which is amazing for getting odors out of workout clothes, which really seem to hold on to it.

      1. Hen in a Windstorm*

        Interesting. I started adding 1/4 cup baking soda to every load with stinky clothes (along with detergent) and it works perfectly without having to pre-wash soak.

  7. StitchIsMySpiritAnimal*

    LW #2, what are you doing for your at home workouts? I’m in the same boat you are but don’t even feel comfortable enough to go to our apartment’s gym.

    1. Hen in a Windstorm*

      I’m not LW2, but I found a low intensity, low impact group called Team Body Project on YouTube during the pandemic. They use real people (not just instructors) in their fitness videos. And the coach is the most inspiring, kind man ever – read the comments. Totally changed the way I feel about exercise and my body.

    2. LW2*

      I got a pair of kettlebells, which take up very little space and are extremely versatile. I can get an aerobic workout doing kettlebell swings; do strength with kettlebell goblet squats, presses, deadlifts, etc; balance with Turkish get ups; endurance with farmers walks. That plus a set of gymnastic rings for a door frame (ring rows, ring pushups, ring dips) made for a well rounded but tiny home gym for a tiny city apartment.

  8. Anonymous Person*

    Hey OP#2–

    I know I am in a wildly different demographic as a white man, but I work too in an industry with many former military members who are very fitness conscious. I was a fat guy who was interested in being healthier, and was very self conscious about my weight and body (and still am, who am I kidding).

    I found lots of former military members, if you have a amicable relationship with them, will acknowledge that they’re usually very happy to see people trying to get healthier, and aren’t very judgy about a heavier person working out near them or consciously trying to slim down or something. What I’m trying to say is, I totally understand the self-consciousness! The military people might be judging, and the ones that I wouldn’t really want to work with definitely are, but most of them generally think it’s kind of cool to see someone try to do something to be healthier, whatever that is. I have found them to always be very encouraging to me if I have fitness or gym questions, or want advice.

    Again, I know I am in a very different demographic and situation, but many of them really want to root for you!

    1. FormerProducer*

      I know this is coming from a good place, but I do want to point out that this is exactly the sort of judgement I receive all the time as a fat woman working out. I am always assumed to be “trying to get healthier” — actually I’m already perfectly healthy and just enjoy picking up heavy things and running. I’m always assumed to be looking for advice or encouragement — no one ever assumes that I’m an experienced exerciser.

      I know that my thin friends don’t get condescending “good for you” comments or offers of advice when they exercise. Those seemingly supportive things are actually coming from a place of assuming that all fat people don’t know how to exercise and are only doing it to desperately trying to lose weight.

      I’m sure you don’t actually think any of this, I just wanted to tell you how I personally experience those sorts of “support”, and how many many other fat women experience it too, even if you don’t intend it to come off that way.

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