Last Updated on April 7, 2022 by ThoughtsStained
Oh, friends. It has been a week. Which was prolly obvious to guess, considering that I’ve literally posted nothing this week, until today. Despite having a slew of posts I want to be working on. Not to mention other creative endeavors that have laid dormant all week. That, and just some general musings of late, have let me to today’s topic: my struggle between career and choice, which really is the struggle of juxtapositions, illusions and relationships (or more conflictions) between the two.
What do I mean by all that? Let’s dig in and see if I can find a way to accurately figure it out myself. 😅
So. Discussing my day job and my complicated relationship with it is not a new thing on this blog. Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on how much you enjoy reading about this particularly situation. (oops.) BUT, for those who don’t know, I’ll try to make the context of my career and choice struggle brief.
For my day job, I work at the university upon which I graduated. I’ve worked here since 2016, working first at one of our libraries. Then, in the winter of 2019, I switched to academic advising. It was a great move and one I still don’t regret doing, as I was over working nights.
Yet, in the span of two and a half years, a job environment I loved quickly became toxic. And complicated.
Obviously, working in an toxic environment is not ideal. It’s the furthest away from ideal. Personally, it’s especially frustrating when I love the job itself. I love working with students, mentoring them by using a blend of personable and organizational skills that I enjoy (and excel at, tbh). I could see myself doing it as a long-term career. However, toxic leadership, university politics and the slow pace of change in academia leaves much room to be desired. And my mental health is struggling because of it.
Then, I complicated it by starting to slowly work on my masters in Fall 2020. Currently, I’m track for a Spring 2025 graduation date. Yet, I have my own apprehensions with that, too (a lot of them).
Going even further, looking past the toxic environment and academia apprehension, the struggle deepens. Due to not being able to work fully remotely, we’re location-locked in a place I don’t want to settle permanent roots. (Let’s not even get into the housing situation and how we couldn’t buy, even if we wanted to.) Plus, my partner has a steady job here that pays well, even if it’s also a less than ideal environment for him, too, with his own toxic challenges and bullshit.
So: what does all of this mean?
The past couple weeks–let’s be real, this could extend to months, if I’m being honest–I’ve been teeter-tottering. One day, I’ll settle and dig deep. I think: I can manage the toxicity I’ve learned at my day job. My apartment that’s overpriced and poorly managed by our landlord, I can organize and spruce up. The partner and I can handle living in a place with no forests, no oceans and no landscape that we dream of. I can stay here and complete my MFA and it’ll be worth it.
But, those days and those thoughts are becoming less frequent than the other side of the coin. The days where the gaslighting and the micromanaging start to affect my mental health more severely. When I dream about living in a home out in the woods, the environment that brings me a joy so pure, I’ve never felt it anywhere else. Dreaming about a remote job that will give extra protection to handle my disability and more flexibility to move away from the state we want to escape.
Yet, when I dream, the problems in the previous section arise, coming to the forefront and grounding me back in reality. On top of the constant job searching (I’ve applied for close to 50+ jobs in the past two years) and consistent rejection, which is demoralizing. Not to mention the impossibility to afford moving while trying to also pay off 2+ years of medical debt, yet also feeling stuck with no options where we’re at.
I am just…very overwhelmed, friends.
Honestly, I’m not sure what the “point” of this post was. I don’t have any witty summations or life lessons. I don’t even have a decision of which career and choice I’d make, if given the chance to have more options than where I’m at: stuck in a toxic workplace, in a state I don’t enjoy, in a living situation that’s less an ideal and drowning in debt.
But, I think I can confidently say that, teeter-tottering as much as I have, for as long as I have, is a sign that I need to change in some way.
I’m just not sure how. Whether it’s having the means, the bandwidth, the opportunity, I just don’t seem to have enough of it. Or, even sometimes, just the bravery to try, feels too ellusive.
And so…we continue, day by day, in the constant battle between wondering if there’s more (and if it’s better) or fearing that this must be enough.
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Melissa Caruso says
Oof, that’s rough. Based on what you’ve said, it sounds like it’s really worth trying everything you can to find a financially feasible way to make the leap and get out of there—out of the toxic job most importantly, because that kind of situation is like posion for your mental health. I know there can be that sunk cost feeling on your MFA, but unless you want to teach you absolutely don’t need one (which I say as someone who has one and does not feel it’s been helpful in my career), and even if you DO want to teach you can always get it later, honestly. I’m so sorry that a job that was going well turned so sour! That’s the worst. I really hope things get better for you ASAP, and that you’re able to find a way to move into a better situation as soon as possible.
Thank you so, so much, Melissa! Your words were such a balm to read (especially because, of course, sometimes I think I’m overreacting or imagining my thoughts). And while I would absolutely LOVE to teach, I know that is its own toxic battle right and traditionally is, within academia, so it’s just complicated all the way around. 🙃
Seriously, thank you. I hope you’re doing well and hanging in there and writing kickass books (per usual).
Amber @ The Literary Phoenix says
This probably won’t help, but as someone who works in a toxic environment here are some things I have done/am doing?
1.) We moved further away from our office and commute in from a rural community. It’s about an hour drive and I’m very lucky to be able to drive myself to do this. It hasn’t fixed work, but it has allowed me better mental health through separation on the weekends, the comfort of trees surrounding me, and the ability to see stars at night. I’ve never regretted it, not for a moment.
2.) I broke and went to HR. I’m again very fortunate to have an HR department at my company who cares deeply about eliminating toxic environments. I’m also fortunate to have worked on a team that has bonded due to work trauma (unfortunate) and we have each other’s back. There are currently multiple people working to mitigate the situation and clean up the mess. I have no idea if it will be effective long-term, probably not, but in the moment I’m grateful to have an expanded support system with people I can trust.
3.) In my specific situation, my negative experience falls more to my department than the company, which I fortunately know due to my tenure and my husband’s coworkers. I’ve been seeking internal transfer opportunities (even though I’m not really qualified, I’m learning how my skills can apply to positions). Nothing has come of it yet, but I remain hopeful and have a plan with a time limit if nothing is fruitful.
Obviously these are all very specific to my situation – the environment and circumstances are so different from yours. I very much understand how complicated career changes are from a financial perspective (among many others).
Ultimately, I am just so sorry you are going through this. Is there any reasonable accommodations you can request based on your disability? Under the ADA, your workplace is compelled to accommodate those under most circumstances and the EEOC can look into unreasonable denials. That whole process is stressful as well so I’m not sure it’s a route you’d like to take, but it’s out there.
Sending so much love and strength!
Oh Amber, thank you so, so much for this comment! I am very frustrated that you are also in a toxic situation (I hate how many friends are, it seems). I love that you’ve been able to move into a place that creates that environment for you (it sounds DREAMY) and you’ve been able to get support. I’ve honestly thought about going to HR (but, a previous HR investigation that did nothing a few years ago has me a bit hesitant). Yet, it might be in the cards, especially as applying for other jobs and whatnot continue to not pan out.
Regardless of how specific that was, just hearing about your experience and seeing you take charge was honestly so heartening. Thank you, thank you, thank you!! I really hope your own work situation improves dramatically (hopefully one of those transfer opportunities works out!).
Come to Baltimore!!! There are so many colleges you could work at in the same way. The three of us can go in on a home in the city and split the cost and you’ll be closer than ever to all the things!!!
lol, I mean it’s an idea!
HA! It’s definitely not a bad one! ❤
Captain's Quarters says
Sorry this week has been complicated and there easy answers.
x The Captain
Sumedha @ the wordy habitat says
Hope things get better for you and that a good change happens soon, Nicole ❤️
Thank you, Sumedha!
Kal @ Reader Voracious says
I am so sorry you are going through this, Nicole! The worst feeling is feeling trapped and honestly, my heart goes out to you. I don’t have the answers but I do think it is time to do what you can to get a new job. Either apply to other areas on campus in hopes of a better immediate work situation while you finish your degree or try to apply to other institutions. But I don’t think your current situation is tenable, and it’s time you put yourself first <3
I'm pretty sure we've talked about how I was in a very familiar situation back in 2019 and I wound up straight up leaving my alma mater/job, relocating back to my hometown 600 miles away. Then the pandemic happened. I finally started working again last fall and having come out the other side, I can say that leaving the toxic environment was the best thing I could have done for myself. I know not everyone has the privilege to quit a job without anything else lined up (I wouldn't have had I not needed to take an extended medical leave anyways because of work), but I think we all have a lot more bargaining power now because the pandemic not only shifted priorities but showed that the status quo isn't necessary. The Great Resignation is causing a lot of employers to finally make concessions; the university system I work for just completed a big ass salary study that resulted in the State being told shit's gotta change (we'll see if anything comes of that lol), and teleworking is not officially a thing for my uni/system.
Thank you so, so much, Kal. I agree with you. I’m definitely keeping my eyes open for different opportunities and seeing what is possible! There is a rumor going around that our current leadership structure might be changing, so that might be something I’d be willing to stick around for, but if not, it’ll be challenging, that’s for sure.
I remember this (and you were so kind to share this with me when I was talking about job stuff before, just as your kind to remind me I’m not alone in this experience now! 🖤). I hope that your new experience is a positive one!!!