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Question: How can I perform above and beyond expectations at work AND be a great mom to two little kids? Is it even possible?
Question: I’m being asked to move up in my company – and that’s great. But will I still have time for my spouse and family?
Question: I hate my job but I’m afraid I’ll lose all my flexibility and balance if I start a new job.
Question: Do I have to wait until my children are grown to really go after my career goals?
Answer: Well first of all, you’re not alone.
According to a study published last week by Seattle-based Fierce, Inc., a whopping 70 percent of survey respondents cited work-life balance as a major cause of stress. Nearly 50% said the stress was causing health issues including depression (34.5%), weight gain (45%), and/or loss of sleep (45%).
Don’t Bother Waiting for Today’s Work Culture to Change
Work-Life balance is clearly still a problem – especially for working parents and caregivers. A great debate continues in political and corporate leadership arenas: How can a work culture support the well-being of individuals AND be good for business at the same time?
But don’t bother waiting for today’s work culture to change. Here’s why:
- You may be waiting a long, long time.
- At the “Best Companies to Work For”, work-life balance remains a personal challenge for many.
- Even outside the world of work, EVERYONE IS BUSY. I know retired people who never have enough time in a day.
- Work-Life balance is personal and subjective. You need solutions for your specific situation that help you meet your needs, your aspirations, and your goals (financial, career, family, etc.)
When you’re in a toxic environment, you KNOW it.
Yelling, emotional outbursts, chaos, instability, backstabbing, and a general lack of integrity. And there seems to be zero consequence for repeated bad behavior.
You’ve tried to fix it, and have concluded it’s not fixable – not by you anyway. You KNOW it’s not healthy. The stress is hurting your focus, your work products, your patience, your body, and your sleep.
But still you stay. And stay. And stay. While the situation slowly chips away at your confidence and makes you forget your self-worth.
So you start to wonder if you’re even good enough for a better job. Or if this is the best you can get. Until it just feels too hard to even try for something new.
Hey – I’m not judging. Because I’ve stayed in unhealthy places WAY too long myself. Several times.
The trap isn’t money or opportunity. The trap is fear.
Fear sounds like this:
- “What if I don’t know how to start over somewhere else?”
- “What if I don’t even get any interviews?”
- “Am I too young/old, technical/non-technical, slow, inexperienced, unskilled?”
- “What if this is the best I can get?”
This kind of terror makes your stomach tense up and your throat tighten just thinking about it. That’s why the “Call recruiters” task stays on your To-Do list day after day, month after month. You feel stuck.
Stuck sucks. But it’s an illusion. You can do better.
Here’s what I learned (the hard way!) about why you’re stuck in that toxic job – and how to get free:
Step 1: Know the Ugly Truth
Toxic jobs and toxic relationships never do the right thing. They never just set you free. So THEY aren’t going to leave YOU. YOU have to leave THEM.
Maybe you’re waiting for the hammer to fall – some PROOF that your boss or your company is undeniably messed up…or perhaps just waiting for a final insult like a layoff. “I hate this place – I wish they would just lay me off!”
Sometimes “getting the boot” seems like the only way out. Why is that?
Well, a great job – like a great relationship – propels you forward. It feels like an adventure, pushing you on to use your talents and feed your motivation. It has your best interest at heart.
Toxic jobs – like toxic relationships – are DESIGNED to keep you down – hold you back – suck you in – make you doubt yourself. Already prone to internalize others’ problems or overdo self-blame? Toxic jobs are super effective at draining you and making you question your value. And who feels like updating a resume in that mode?
So the first step is awareness. Look around at your toxic environment – and see it like a mini-ecosystem trying to keep you stuck as long as it can by limiting your sight, diminishing your value, and squelching your optimism.
Now, start carving out some mental space where the toxic crap can’t invade – and use that protected space to take stock and rebuild your self worth. Steps 2 and 3 will show you how.
Step 2: Do a Reality Check
Client: “Ann Marie, can I get a better job than this crappy one I have? Am I good enough?”
Ann Marie: “I don’t know. Are you? Good enough for what?”
Toxic jobs cultivate low self-worth. Self-doubt takes over,and drowns out the logical, practical thinking you could be doing to check out the job market and where you fit into it. Feeling lost without answers to important job-change questions makes you feel even more stuck, confused, and foggy about moving forward.
Don’t put up with it! Do your homework. Use the mental space you created in Step 1 to see reality and your possibilities a little at a time:
Do you know for sure what you want next?
Do you know why you want it? How will the RIGHT job help you accomplish what you deeply care about in your life. (Hint: “I’ll show those jerks I can do better!” is not good enough here!)
- Do you know for sure what you want next?
- Do you know why you want it? How will the RIGHT job help you accomplish what you deeply care about in your life. (Hint: “I’ll show those jerks I can do better!” is not good enough here!)
- Can you find any job postings that appeal to you?
- What would it take to get hired into positions like that?
- What skills, experience, and qualifications are required?
- What additional skills do you need? Can you get these in a class? Or at your current job?
- Does your resume say loud and clear how you’re qualified? If not, do you know how to fix it?
- Are you currently overpaid or underpaid?
- What can you expect to be paid elsewhere? Does that pay cover your spending?
- Is it worth it to cut your spending to have a better job?
Take it slow and easy. Even 10 minutes a day spent on these and other key questions will quickly begin to rebuild your confidence and self-worth. You’ll see options and opportunities emerge that were otherwise lost in the fog.
Step 3: Defeat Fear with Evidence
After exploring your options in Step #2, you’ve likely discovered some great sample job postings that sound like wonderful new opportunities.
But the fear remains: “What if I’m not quite good enough? What if don’t have what it takes?”
Don’t tolerate that for one more minute. Get the truth on your side – dig up the factual evidence. Look, if you’re going to ever prove to a hiring manager how super valuable you are, you must prove it to yourself first.
Evidence is not: “Well, I think I can do it. If she did it, I can do it. I did that other thing that one time.”
Evidence is numbers, factual examples, demonstrations, testimonials, recommendations, positive performance reviews, etc.
So, look at those great job postings. What do they require? What do you have to offer?
For example, evidence that you have what it takes could look like this:
- Bachelor’s degree is required. I have an MBA.
- 10 years’ experience is expected. I have 7 years’ experience – but it’s in a very small firm, so my role has been exceptionally broad and deep.
- Excellent presentation skills are required. I’ve been trained in public speaking, and I’ve received several positive feedback emails from my customers.
- I have 4 colleagues willing to write stellar recommendations on my technical skills.
- I’m earning $125k now, and I’d be willing to make 10% less to be happier at work. Or: I’ve been earning 10% less than my peers for years, and correcting this is very important to me.
- I’m qualified for 12 relevant positions on LinkedIn within the 20-mile range I’m willing to commute.
These are just examples. You will have others. It doesn’t matter what they are – as long as they are relevant, timely, positive, and concrete. This will never be a waste of time. This is the very evidence you need for a successful job hunt anyway.
You’re not really stuck – you’ve just been lost in the toxic job fog.
So make a commitment to yourself and your future. And – this is important – make this playful, fun, and adventurous. Like solving a mystery or a puzzle or a treasure hunt.
Gather the facts and lay out all your evidence.
Then you’ll see: You’re not stuck! You’re free. You’re valuable. You have options. And you know you deserve more, right?
I LOVE hearing your comments (and questions!)
So what’s your toxic job story? Have you stayed too long? What’s making you feel stuck?
I hung over the little table where my 2-year-old daughter was having breakfast. She had a bowl of raisins next to her cream of wheat or “porridge” as she called it. One by one she put the raisins into the porridge – right in one big pile in the middle of the bowl. Then she picked up her spoon to start eating…and of course got a big heaping spoonful of almost all raisins.
I couldn’t watch any more. With a mother-knows-best swoop…I grabbed the spoon from her hand and pushed it back down into the porridge saying “Bella, you’ve GOT to stir it. You’ve got to move all these raisins around so you get a raisin in every bite.”
But I Was Trying To Be Helpful
Argh! It was like that feeling you get when you lock your keys in your car and you KNOW the minute you slam the door that you just did something foolish.
I knew I just blew a creative little moment for her….she was playing with the raisins quietly…she was figuring something out…she was going to learn for herself whether SHE likes to have a mouthful of raisins or it’s better spread out.
Now I could lie and say I was concerned about the choking hazard…but honestly it was all about schooling her in what EVERYBODY knows – that you’ve GOT to stir it.
What Everybody Knew About Me
• I should be skinny, smart, sexy and super nice (preferably all at the same time!)
• I should get married, I should have kids.
• I should have a career. I should stay home with the kids.
• I should drive a luxury car.
• I shouldn’t quit my day job.
• I should push my kids into sports.
• I should keep getting promoted.
• I should speak up. I shouldn’t be demanding.
• I should work more. I should work less.
What’s Happens When Everybody Knows?
1. Intimidation When I was 22, a hair stylist in DC attacked me with, “Oh honey, we NEED to wax your eyebrows! You can’t go see your boyfriend like THAT. See- I get mine done…and look at hers…that’s how they should look.” Seriously? Yikes I didn’t know…how embarrassing. Everybody can’t be wrong…I mean, I’m not going to stand up to everybody like the furry eye-browed monster that I am.
2. Noise All this paying attention to what everybody knows didn’t drown out my own voice but it sure did create a lot of confusion in my head. Should I do this? Should I do that? What would people say if I did that? No one else is doing this? Blah, blah, blah. It’s exhausting and can lead to a serious habit of time-wasting overthinking.
3. Paralysis When my mind gets confused, my body doesn’t move. So I’d stay stuck in jobs I didn’t like, relationships that weren’t healthy, traditions I didn’t enjoy, and conversations where I had to pretend I was something that I’m just not.
I’m Going This Way, Everybody
Over the past few years I’ve made a bold conscious effort to be very suspicious of what everybody knows. More specifically, I check in regularly to ask “What does my gut say? Does this feel natural? What sounds most true deep down?” And it’s made a huge difference in my life!
1. Confidence I buy and wear what feels great for me, and have stopped restocking my wardrobe constantly based on the must-have brands and trends.
2. Quiet With a clearer bolder mind, I opened myself to learning yoga…even though in the class everybody knew (except me!) that I should be able to do 10 pushups and hold my side arm balances without toppling.
3. Decisiveness I quit my day job and launched thriving business that I LOVE…with work that suits me to a T!
Come On, Be Reasonable
So I’m not suggesting that you become an overly-optimistic daredevil or a know-it-all who doesn’t listen to sage advice and ignore the lessons learned by others. For example, PLEASE don’t go jumping off your garage with an umbrella for a parachute or run with scissors! (I’m pretty sure your gut would say don’t do it anyway!)
I’m just saying stop before you allow some porridge-stirrer stir to decide what feels right for you. Just a little bit of healthy skepticism will do. Especially if it if sounds like “You gotta….” or “Everybody does…” or “We all love….”
Hey – just remember that once upon a time everybody knew the earth didn’t move and was the center of the universe. Granted, it was pretty darn scary to step up and be Galileo, but aren’t we all glad he was suspicious of what “everybody knew.”
So get some quiet in your own brain. Tune out the noise and play around with your raisins. Take the time to hear and trust your own instincts.
And don’t worry! Your instincts won’t have you running with scissors – they’ll certainly guide you toward the most confident, productive, and fulfilling path – every time.