Over the last four years, I’ve worked more overtime than ever, with no change in my income. I understand that the economy has plunged, but I feel stuck in a no-win situation and do not know how to cope. —Jill
Dramatically quit, sell everything, and spend two years surfing the world’s greatest breaks, eating tacos, reading everything that never made it into the Modern Library, and having more afternoon sex than a bored cheerleader. That’s not what you’re asking, but my Obliteration Contingency Plan is really good, right?
In the meantime, there are ways out of being overworked and underpaid—which is fine and almost necessary when you’re working toward something, but only then—and into the kind of job that makes you feel less like you’re going to die at your desk.
Alan Kearns, the founder of CareerJoy, a career-coaching company in Toronto, says that first you should “ask yourself if it’s the situation, or the sector.” (Your sector is whatever industry you’re in, and your situation is whatever you do in it, obvi.) “Is it a sector that is lower paying, and that’s just the way it is, or is that the situation?” He says, “[Ask yourself,] ‘Do I need to consider a different company, or a different area that might utilize my skills in a different way?’”
If you decide that you want to stick it out at your job for more than a minute, though, you have to re-establish what you do there, and how much, like, right now. Kearns says, “Put together a business case of what you’ve accomplished, what you’re doing, and what value you’ve created. Give evidence of specific results.” Nobody is thinking about you and what you’re doing as much as you are, so don’t assume that your supervisor has been watching you sweat it out and just meanly laughing to him/herself in the corner office.
“It feels personal, but it’s really just business,” Kearns says. Try to get a sense of what they think, and what can be done.
If that resolves it, cool. If not, Kearns says to list your transferable skills, the other areas you’re interested in (he says to think about “where you hang out on Amazon,” like what topics you’re naturally drawn to), what sectors are growing or emerging, and how you might start to network in that sector. (Business people talk like this, I guess?)
That is the Excel-document stuff of making a change; the emotional stuff is going to be harder. I asked Kearns why so many people stay in bad jobs when they don’t have to. “They’re afraid of what it means to say something. They don’t want to lose their situation, or maybe they’re afraid they aren’t doing it well,” he says. “It can be a fear of that, or a fear of change, the same way people stay in bad relationships.” Kearns says that work is a relationship, too, and that “healthy relationships are based on people knowing their value, and being true to their value.” Do that.
My friend started dating this woman and he has changed over the brief course of his new relationship. I’m not saying he’s a worse guy, but he’s different. Should I call him on it? —Blaine
Think about it from his perspective. The best dividend of having a fresh main squeeze is exposure to new stuff, and new ways of doing things—I never ate pineapple, a.k.a. Tree Candy, until I watched my boyfriend cut one up with his shirt off… you know?—and new places and priorities. Sometimes it just happens; sometimes people are looking for change when they hook up. Either way, it’s kind of amazing, like osmosis.
Those tropes, about newly coupled guys dressing better and newly coupled girls getting annoyinger, are just the dark side of a very nice thing, which is love and closeness in action; they also don’t account for how this happens to ev-ery-one at some point, even to smugglies like you. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t a mini torture while it’s happening to your own friend, but you should cool out.
Have a question for Kate? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.