update: I lied about a meeting

Remember the letter-writer who lied to their boss and said they attended a meeting when they really hadn’t (#4 at the link)? Here’s the update.

Thanks so much for publishing my question, and for your commenters’ advice along with your own. I do have an update on this, although ultimately the meeting didn’t matter as much as my overall performance. My boss wanted confirmation that it was being handled, not so much that I had met with the person. But, as I mentioned in the comments, this was part of a larger pattern. My performance had started to slip due to my husband’s layoff, my career transition earlier in the year, the first anniversary of my father’s death, and the holidays in connection with his death more generally end of last year. I had also taken on some work after hours from a friend to make ends meet due to the layoff. It had been a terrible year, and I was suffering from more burnout than I was willing to believe. I hadn’t informed my manager of my mental health struggles up to this point — she knew about my husband’s layoff, but not about anything else — so my mistakes piled up over the month, culminating in a sloppy work product for a bigger project that I pushed through out of anxiety over being potentially late. This further culminated in a teary 1-on-1 with my boss where I finally let her in on what had been going on.

My manager and I were able to begin working towards improving my performance, but some bumps remained. Looking back, I was very concerned with it as reflecting poorly on my work and work ethic, but there was also a training piece to this — I have a fairly complex job that has a lot of very different processes, and in retrospect, I both should have received more training on some processes and asked more for more support when it came to the project I really stumbled on. I had a misplaced feeling that I should have “gotten it” by now (that was thankfully corrected by my manager) and a tendency on the part of my boss to be pretty hands-off that made me hesitant to ask for help. My department is fairly new, so I think it was a learning experience both for me and my boss.

Unsurprisingly, too, a big portion of this was facing up to the mental health piece, and I sought and found a good treatment for my depression, which was massively feeding into my selective attention and overwhelm. But another piece of this was realizing that I maybe didn’t like my job all that much to begin with. This job was a huge pivot for me after spending seven years in the same (toxic) field. My interim solution to the toxicity of my previous work was “take something that you DON’T care about in roughly the same field” … which backfired, sticking me in a job that was basically adjacent to my previous position with a lot of the same problems.

So I ended up quitting my current position for a new job! I am starting a position that’s a little more in line with my competencies and interests, with a not-insignificant pay bump (enough that I don’t feel like I have to take on anything extra while my husband is still job searching, which has helped ease my burnout). It is, thankfully, only tangentially related to my old field. I’m still figuring out how to do something I’m passionate about without becoming fully enmeshed with my job, however, which will be a longer process. I’m learning to not see my mistakes as complete failures, and I’m learning to ask for help more readily with the expectation that help will be offered rather than scorned.

I appreciate all of the thoughtful comments and your advice!

{ 22 comments… read them below }

  1. Aeon*

    I think that we have probably all been in this situation at some point in our careers. But it feels so awful and shameful when it’s happening to you. And it can be so hard to assess your performance accurately or think outside the box about what a good course correction would be when you are so burned out and really going through it like OP was. I’m glad to hear that they got help dealing with the issues and found a more suitable position.

  2. marymoocow*

    OP, I feel for you so much when I read this. Anyone would have been overwhelmed in your circumstances! I hope you know that. I’m really glad to hear things are better and hope your husband’s job search goes well.

  3. ferrina*

    I love this update. OP had so much going on, but it sounds like they were able to address it and work through the various issues. I’m sure it will take time before everything is fully resolved, but I am so impressed with what OP has done in the last 3 months!

    I hope OP is able to take a nice relaxing vacation soon. They’ve been taking care of a lot, and I hope they are able to do something nice to take care of themself.

  4. Not Tom, Just Petty*

    This situation was not about making a mistake as much as making a bad choice. (or making a bad choice about what to do about making a mistake.) I’m sorry that OP had to spiral so far to see that it was a symptom of a bigger problem. But I’m really happy that you were able to see it as a symptom of your situation and not as a part of yourself.

  5. Michelle Smith*

    Sorry you’ve been going through so much, but I’m happy that things are now looking up!

  6. Goldenrod*

    This is an awesome update! OP, you showed so much insight and maturity in how you dealt with this situation. I’m so glad you figured out that this job just wasn’t for you. Keep us updated!

    One word of advice pertaining to this:
    “I’m still figuring out how to do something I’m passionate about without becoming fully enmeshed with my job, however, which will be a longer process.”

    I suggest thinking more about whether or not your job has to be a “passion.” Maybe, for you, it does. But it’s also possible you are putting unnecessary pressure on yourself here. I’m an EA. Am I passionate about being an EA? No, I have other interests and things I care about outside of work. However, the job suits my personality, I feel a sense of competence and satisfaction from doing it well, I enjoy my team, and I do enjoy the work. Not in a “this is my passion!!” way, but in a more low-key way where where it’s part of my life, but not the center. And, the salary is great.

    It might be worth thinking about the option of removing the “passion” requirement that so many middle-class people are conditioned to feel is necessary in a job. Just my two cents. Good luck! :)

    1. Sara without an H*

      This is worth considering. Yes, you want a job that aligns more or less with your values. But it’s kind of tough to make your “passion” also carry the wait of keeping the lights on and food on the table.

      I’ve often thought that the “passion requirement” (great phrase, that!) creates more problems than it solves. Maybe OP should concentrate on finding a job where they can use their strengths and take some satisfaction in doing it well, and then go on and find other activities that use their passions.

      1. Java*

        I work in the film industry. Whenever I talk to people who are interested in getting into the industry because they’re passionate about film I ask them if they’re ok with only working on other peoples projects that they wouldn’t choose to watch in their spare time.

        Because when a passion is a business you’re *always* going to have to make some compromises, sacrifices and creative choices that put the business first.
        Most people do get to work on projects they’re proud of and shows/movies they’re excited to watch, but no one gets to *only* work on those.
        And very few people get to creatively lead a project let alone one that is their passion and be the visionary of it – and oftentimes the ones that are lucky enough to get that opportunity only do so after years of building up a portfolio and reputation.

        If it’s important to find a job that aligns with your passion then it’s imperative to evaluate why you’re passionate about it. What is it about the skill/topic/activity that brings you joy? Because breaking it down into those pieces will open up a bigger world of applying your passions to your work life instead of looking at it as a one-to-one comparison only to wind up wondering why your job killed your passion.

    2. DJ Abbott*

      Completely agree. I didn’t get anywhere with jobs until I realized I needed to find a job doing something I’m good at, even if it wasn’t a life goal or passion. I was already doing things I loved outside of work while I was in support jobs, so I just took the next step or two for a better job.
      Now I’m in the job after that one. I figured out that I needed a lot more contact with people so I wouldn’t feel isolated and bored, so I took steps to get a job that has that. I’m not over the moon passionate about my job, but it’s important – helping people with their finances – and interesting, and I’m much more content than I was.
      So the key is, figure out what you need in a job to be content, and take steps to get a job like that. Of course, the pay and benefits are part of the contentment package. :)

    3. allathian*

      The risk of becoming “fully enmeshed” with your job is much smaller if it’s a job rather than your passion.

      I like my job because it plays to my strengths and I know that I’m pretty good at what I do. But it’s not my passion, and I’m very glad to work for an employer that doesn’t expect the job to be your passion. Sure, I’m invested in it in the sense that I want to do my best, but I don’t want to work so hard that I risk my mental health (been there, had the burnout).

      When you’re enmeshed with your job, it’s so easy to take any constructive work-related feedback as criticism of yourself as a person. If you have the attitude of “this is my job and I want to do it well, which means using any constructive feedback to improve my work product,” you can take the feedback without immediately thinking that your boss thinks you’re a bad person for making a mistake.

      Sure, there are managers who basically tell their employees that they’re bad people when they make mistakes, but that’s not professional behavior.

    4. Nebula*

      Absolutely. My passion is writing, but it was clear to me pretty much straight after I graduated from uni that I didn’t want a writing-based job. I only have so much ‘writing energy’, and if I’m doing that for work, I’m not doing my own stuff, which is what I really want. I now work in data analysis: it’s a totally different skillset which uses a different part of my brain, and I enjoy that challenge, and it means that I still have energy to write at the end of the day, because that part of my brain isn’t exhausted. On top of that, my creative skills, particularly my ability to craft a narrative, are actually very useful at work in that I’m good at pulling out the right information from a dataset and conveying that in an understandable way. I don’t think I’d be nearly as happy and balanced as I am now if I had pursued a career as a journalist or a copywriter or something.

  7. OrigCassandra*

    This is a lovely update, OP. I was worried about you after your first letter, and I’m very glad things are looking up for you.

  8. Sara without an H*

    I had a misplaced feeling that I should have “gotten it” by now (that was thankfully corrected by my manager) and a tendency on the part of my boss to be pretty hands-off that made me hesitant to ask for help. My department is fairly new, so I think it was a learning experience both for me and my boss.

    I spent 35 years in middle management. One of the biggest challenges was figuring out what was an appropriate level of engagement in the day-to-day work of any given employee. Too much and they write letters to AAM complaining about micromanagement. Too little, and you get situations like the OP’s.

    In my own work, I tried to create an atmosphere where people felt is was safe to talk with me, because it’s really, really tough to find out too late that an employee is drowning and didn’t feel that they could tell their manager about it.

    Short version: Managers, make it safe for your people to come to you with problems BEFORE they turn into disasters. Easier for them and, in the long run, much easier for you.

  9. Anon (and on and on)*

    I relate to this letter so much! I’ve struggled with my mental health and it has had a major effect on how I approach work. One big thing is that, like the LW, I tend to blame myself for problems, which makes me want to hide them rather than problem solve or ask for help. It’s a habit I’ve been breaking myself of, thankfully, but I completely get those patterns!

  10. Lucy*

    You know, I’m an awful liar and rarely lie ever, because I have this constant sense that people know and are mad at me and judging me for it. But during my time in an extremely toxic workplace I found that I started to lie and lie. Only about small things, and always because I knew even tiny, tiny mistakes would be picked up and I’d be made even more miserable for them. But I was miserable anyway.

    I’m out of that job now and back to almost never lying.

    So, all that to say, OP, I totally get it, it happens. Whether that place was toxic, or just not for you, bad situations and unhappiness can make us behave in ways that don’t reflect on who we are as people. I’m glad you’ve moved on from there now!

  11. RJ*

    OP, this was a great update and I’m sorry that you went through such a tough time where you were spread so thin. I hope your husband finds a new position soon and that you find meaning in your new job. As for finding passion, this 30 year accounting veteran has come to the personal realization that while I can find meaning in my work, passion is found elsewhere. It’s OK and it’s not a failure to have the two mesh for everyone. Life varies for us all.

  12. PleaseNo*

    Wait! How did the pregnancy with the new job work out? I know you can’t take FMLA until you’ve been a year at the job, so did the new place offer maternity leave?

    1. Tio*

      Did I miss something? I went back and reread both and I don’t see pregnancy mentioned?

  13. Sled dog mama*

    I had a similar experience last year. There are 3 of us and one was expecting. We were prepared for coverage around the due date, baby came 6 weeks early and the other guy was out of the country for two weeks. Left me doing literally 2.5 jobs for 2 weeks. The only thing that got me through those 2 weeks was that it was only two weeks. I could see the end of things and knew when I was going to get to things I had to put off.
    OP you are in a very different place, it really sounds like you have no idea how long this is going to last. You really need an extra pair of hands to take up a few tasks.

  14. HBJ*

    I still think about this and feel a little embarrassed and kind of annoyed about it.

    Over a decade ago, I arrived at my internship and parked in the closet available spot. The spots in that area had signs with our business name followed by “reserved for,” but there were no names in the blank area intended for a specific person’s name or title. The lot wasn’t that close to our building, so I just assumed they were reserved for our business generally. By the time us interns got there part way into the day, they were usually filled except one. I parked there the first day. The next day, the other intern parked there, then left at some point, someone else parked there, I came back, and I parked there. Apparently, after the first intern parked there the second day, the person who it actually belonged to had asked him to move. He did, and she took her spot, then left for lunch, and I had taken it by the time she got back. She was kind of annoyed when she spoke to me, and I said something about oh I’d be leaving soon, and she said no, she wanted me to go move my car now, it was her spot. So I did. Whatever. It’s not that big of a deal. It was embarrassing at the time because I was young and wanting to make a good impression at my internship. Now I’m more annoyed because why wouldn’t you put names or titles on the spaces if they belonged to specific people? And this particular woman had worked there for many years, so it wasn’t a case of she’d just started and was waiting for her sign to arrive. And if you’re not going to put names, TELL PEOPLE whose spots they are, for goodness sake!

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