Q: I am in my third year in a job that pays me well but that I hate. I hate it not because I am not good at it; in fact, I am excellent at it. But I feel an entitlement (maybe wrongly so) to be acknowledged. I have been ignored by my organization and kept out of team meetings, which has affected my confidence.
I am in that stage of life where I can afford to quit to pursue what I think is my calling. I may be mediocre at it, and I know it will not earn me great money, but don’t we all reach a point where we want to devote ourselves to a higher purpose? Do I really need to keep a job, or I am allowed to quit this depressing scenario, say no to the money and explore my craft? — Brazzaville, Congo
A: Having now read hundreds of questions addressed to Work Friend, I am struck by how many of them are simply seeking permission to quit a toxic job situation. These letter-writers often will go on for several paragraphs justifying their hatred of their jobs. Many of their missives run to twice the maximum allowable length of this column! As I’m unable to publish them all, let’s agree to allow our friend in Brazzaville to stand in for job-haters worldwide.
Here is the new motto of Work Friend: If you can possibly avoid it, you should never stay in a job you hate. There is no shame in staying in a terrible work situation when you need the money and/or the health insurance and/or the stability. (Though you should be actively looking for something else). But you, Brazzaville, have the rare luxury of being able to quit a job that makes you miserable in favor of pursuing something you love, and you’re asking a newspaper advice columnist for approval?
Perhaps you are being unfairly alienated in the workplace, or perhaps you do have a sense of entitlement that is leading you to perceive normal behaviors as targeted slights. It’s worthwhile to decipher that answer, but either way, it won’t change the fact that you are unhappy, and that you see a viable path toward happiness. Run and never look back!
It’s almost as if capitalism is … broken?
Q: I’m a high school English teacher. My wife has always been the primary breadwinner in our family, and we recently moved across the country for her dream job, to a place where teacher salaries are much lower. I accepted a job at a new school that I feel excited about, but I find myself dwelling on how much less money I’m going to make — about $25,000 less than my previous job. Obviously, I didn’t get into teaching for the money, and not feeling the pressure of being the primary earner helps, but I’m wondering what my motivation will be like when it comes to grading papers on nights and weekends. Any advice for dealing with this psychological hurdle? Just buck up and ignore it since there’s nothing I can do about it? — T.K.
A: If “buck up and ignore it since there’s nothing you can do about it” worked as advice for anything, I and every member of the Advice Columnist Industrial Complex would be out of a job, so let’s skip that approach. We live in a capitalist society, and capitalism shows value through money, so it’s entirely reasonable to be put off by taking a $25,000 pay cut to do the same work. And when that job is teaching — which in the United States means being chronically undervalued — I have to imagine it feels all the worse.
The key to feeling better about it, I think, has two parts. One is remembering that salaries are often totally arbitrary and in fact have far less to do with your actual value than a million other factors beyond your control. When I went from my second job to my third, I doubled my salary and wound up with significantly less work. Your situation is far less pleasant, but equally nonsensical, and just bearing that in mind will be good for morale. (Especially in a public-sector job in which salaries are set by a government, so you know you’re not alone in getting screwed.)
Part two is feeling great about the fact that you made this sacrifice to support your wife. Dream jobs don’t come up that often, and that you enthusiastically moved across the country so she could take hers is no small thing — especially since it goes against inane gender norms that still hold a frankly shocking amount of power over a frankly shocking number of straight couples. More money is, of course, never unwelcome, but it sounds like you and your wife have enough not to stress about it constantly, which means you can focus on molding a bunch of new minds at your exciting new gig and adjusting to your new city with your wildly impressive wife.
Work Friend is a cheeky New York Times advice column to help with careers, money and the sometimes grim, sometimes hilarious maze that is the contemporary office, from a rotating cast of advice-givers. Email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.