What Do You Say to Friends Who Feel Stuck in Their Careers?

This week, we’ve decided to test out Branch, a new site that allows you to invite people to join you in conversations online. We’ve decided to try it out by using the topic of friends and disappointing careers, and after we started the conversation, a few people from the Branch community asked if they could join the conversation, so we open the gates. Here it is.



23 Comments / Post A Comment

If I don’t get Tumblr, is there any chance I’m going to understand the purpose of this?

MuffyStJohn (#280)

@stuffisthings This makes even less sense than Tumblr because there are no cat pictures.

Mike Dang (#2)

We agree! This was totally an experiment, and we agree it didn’t work for our weekly chat. We may use it for a different kind of post, but not these. Also, Logan and I don’t know those other people. They’re from the Branch community who wanted to join our conversation, so I let them.

Yeah, I’m not so fond of this exercise. I like the chats though! This feels like something a more ‘stodgy’ blog might do…

Fig. 1 (#632)

Mike Dang! How do you know what I’m thinking about? Sorcery? Sorcery.

sony_b (#225)

I’m not sure I see the point of Branch. Don’t we already do this in comments?

My advice is figure out exactly how you’re stuck, and define what being unstuck would look like – is your job a dead-end at your company or in your field? Are you stuck because everybody else has a degree or certification of some kind but you don’t? Are you stuck because you don’t look/dress the part of what your goal job requires? A plan for getting unstuck should present itself based on those answers.

MuffyStJohn (#280)

ON BRANCH: I’d probably be more interested in this exercise if the participants were, like, experts or something? Or people I had some background on that would make me interested in what they have to say? Instead I just assume that these are only People Who Are Friends With Mike Dang (not that this is not a privileged class!). Also, my next assumption is that all People Who Are Friends With Mike Dang are either journalists or writers writers and I think we could do with some non-journalist non-writer perspectives around here maybe?

ON TOPIC: As someone who worked in career roles she hated for years (administrative assistance, how much you suck), telling someone their shitty job is a blip on the radar is fine for the first 1-2 years. Encouraging them to take steps to get on a better path is also good (like going back to school, applying for other positions, etc). After about 2 years of earnest effort into changing things, though, if that person is still unable to find a position that doesn’t make them want to set themselves on fire every Monday morning, DO NOT TELL THEM IT WILL GET BETTER SOON. That’s the point when all you can do is listen sympathetically and say “you’re so much better than this shitty job.”

katiekate (#1,051)

@MuffyStJohn “After about 2 years of earnest effort into changing things, though, if that person is still unable to find a position that doesn’t make them want to set themselves on fire every Monday morning, DO NOT TELL THEM IT WILL GET BETTER SOON.”

YES THIS. I graduate from grad school last year and have pretty much been unemployed/underemployed and very, very depressed since. And have been doing my best to present a humorous front to people about it. A very well meaning friend has a habit of saying you’ll be fine! You’ll beautiful and educated and live in a great city! and, the kicker, “don’t throw yourself a pity party just yet!”

When people say this, these people are all in very hopeful, employed positions. They don’t understand that actually, no, i could be borderline homeless for many, many years. There are so many people out there for whom it did NOT get better. And it makes you feel like you’re doing something horribly wrong when nobody can comprehend why youre still unemployed.

kellyography (#250)

@MuffyStJohn Augh, you are not kidding about administrative assistance. I got into it thinking it would be a step up to other, better jobs, and instead, it’s been six years doing roughly the same thing at a few different places and all I’ve gained is the ability to be a kickass assistant with absolutely no drive to do it, because it is the worst. Did you get out of the cycle? If so, HOW?!

MuffyStJohn (#280)

@kellyography You are me from a year ago!! God, what a load of bullshit about admin jobs being the first rung on the ladder. They’re the first rung to more admin jobs – that’s it.

I did get out, finally, about a year ago. I developed a resume that underplayed everything administrative I ever did. I was lucky that my last title didn’t have “Administrative” in it and played that job of as something different than it was. I was fortunate that my last admin position was at a public health organization, so I applied for a lot of entry-level jobs in other public health orgs. I had a ton of interviews and eventually landed my current job, where I never have to pick up anyone’s lunch ever. Oh also I moved to DC.

It was a loooong process though. It was the third round of non-admin applications I sent out and the first one that garnered me any interviews, let alone stuck. I do not envy your position, but I do understand it. And I’m also not going to tell you it’ll get better soon because fuck man, it’s a helluva hole to dig out of.

nonvolleyball (#305)

@kellyography I also managed to break out of that cycle, but I did it by getting a job at a place with a strong sense of community, where I could demonstrate my beyond-admin-tasks value over a matter of years.

& it did take years–I went from one admin position to another (better, with more responsibilities), & then finally leaped out of that track when a non-admin position opened up in the same organization, & which matched my skills. but that was almost four years after I started working there, & six years into my post-college working life (which started out with two other admin positions).

my advice is to try & find something at an organization you can see yourself with long-term (& ideally with values that you identify with, a place where you can honestly say “it’s more than just a job”), & then try to work your way up. but obviously there aren’t a lot of places that fit that mold, & the ones that do won’t always have a lot of opportunities for advancement. I managed to make things work out for my career (which was my goal when I started at my current organization five years ago), but I can’t pretend that a lot of that success wasn’t just dumb luck.

…so I will wish the same for you: good luck! & MuffyStJohn’s advice seems solid too, if my “win the hearts of your admin-job overlords” strategy isn’t feasible for you.

MuffyStJohn (#280)

@nonvolleyball The unfortunate thing is very, VERY few organizations care about your professional growth. At all. And when they discover that you’re amazing at non-admin tasks, they will happily expect you to perform the work of professional staff without additional compensation or title bump (or taking any of the low-level stuff off your plate). And if you dare ask for a promotion or a raise, you will be knocked down quick.

nonvolleyball (#305)

@MuffyStJohn oh, absolutely. that’s why it’s not necessarily good “advice,” just, “here’s how I made it work.” an organization that DOES value professional growth is worth sticking around, but it’s not like anyone’s actively avoiding jobs at nurturing companies.

in “great, here, now do EVERYTHING”-type situations, though, a title bump can often be the easiest thing to negotiate, since it doesn’t actually cost the employer money. & if you manage to secure that, then your route out of the admin track–being able to apply to a new job where your last title wasn’t “admin assistant”–becomes a possibility.

Jimmy Kibble (#1,603)

How does a person know if they’re underemployed? Is it that you’ve previously held a higher paying job, and then slipped back down the ladder? Or that you don’t work enough hours in a given week? Can a person be considered underemployed if, by their own estimation, they think they deserve to earn more? Can a recent college graduate even be underemployed? AM I UNDEREMPLOYED?!?!

Mike Dang (#2)

@Jimmy Kibble Good question! If you’re working part-time but seeking full-time work, you’re underemployed.

Jimmy Kibble (#1,603)

@Mike Dang That’s so…simple. Thanks!

OhMarie (#299)

@Mike Dang I thought it also covered people who were employed well below what they could theoretically be earning (not like, you think you deserve $10k more, more like someone with a PhD in engineering working odd jobs).

Mike Dang (#2)

@OhMarie Yes! People use it that way too. I guess I was thinking about it in terms of unemployment numbers, which doesn’t include people who are partially employed but haven’t found full-time work.

nutmeg (#1,383)

@Jimmy Kibble I consider myself underpaid and underemployed, in that I am worth more money than I make (my last job was $10/hr and my current is $8/hr; I was/am probably worth at least $15/hr in both places) and also that I deserve more hours (my hours are considered “stacked” if I get 25 a week; I am used to 40 hour weeks, at least); but In This Economy I won’t get more hours or more money, even if I ask my boss. And believe me, I’ve tried.

EmmaRay (#2,069)

I’d like to add, to Sean Everett, that not everyone has the safety net of their parents to “move in with” while figuring it all out. I certainly couldn’t, for various reasons. It is MUCH harder to work toward something better when you have to pay to live and work full-time along the way. Some people don’t have anything to sell, either. Thieves broke into my apartment once and took nothing. Nothing to take. It isn’t as simple as you seem to think, for everyone, or even most people.

Being unemployed or underemployed for more than a couple of months may weaken your morale and it is natural to lose your confidence and feel down but there are many ways to cope up with this kind of situation. When we are faced with a major change in our life which is outside our control such as unemployment or under-employment, most people starts to have negative feelings. Getting angry will not help but a sensible negotiation of your rights and responsibilities may help to make life easier. Developing a plan of action will help you to feel back in control. Build flexibility into your planning. Try to map out several paths to your goal then if one becomes blocked make another available option.

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