ask A.

Common sense advice for life and work by A. from recognizd

Two months ago, I accepted what was supposed to be my dream job. Not even eight weeks later, I’m miserable.

Dear A.,

Two months ago, I accepted what was supposed to be my dream job. Not even eight weeks later, I’m miserable. 

The people I’m supposed to manage are openly antagonistic, and the people who manage me are telling me it’s my problem. 

How do I know when it’s time to leave and when it’s time to double down?

— Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Dear Should I Stay or Should I Go?,

When I was 14 years old, I went with my family to our local Chinese restaurant. At the end of the meal I opened my fortune cookie, and it read: go confidently in the direction of your dreams, live the life you’ve imagined. How cheesy! How obvious! And how wonderful. I still have it in the back of my wallet, some 20 years later. All of this to say, I too, am a big believer in dreams.  

Here’s the thing about dreams though. Dreams are these nebulous, whispery things of the night. We wake, at once fuzzy on the details and yet thoroughly convinced of the way they made us feel. It sounds to me like your dream job fits the description - directionally good, but the details are off. You were right to follow your dreams, to accept this job. But now you’re miserable. And a dream that makes us miserable, is called a nightmare. 

And so, what is one to do? What should you do? 

Your managers are right about one thing: this is squarely, undeniably your problem. When it comes to your question, there are only two things you need to find out: is this thing (antagonistic direct reports, unhelpful managers etc) something you can change, or is it simply a fact to be accepted? If it’s the former, stay and fight the good fight. If it’s the latter, is that acceptable to you? If not, it’s time to leave. 

Do you know why your team is so hostile? Are you perhaps the third new manager they’ve had to report to in as many months? Were any of them perhaps promised your job and were disappointed by your appointment? Is hostility the only way to earn respect in this particular company? Is there a culture of suspicion for newcomers until proven otherwise? Are they truly just terrible humans (the least likely scenario, but, maybe)?

Depending on the reason behind the hostility, you might still be able to turn things around. You were hired for this job by people who almost certainly knew about the nature of your team when doing so. They decided you could handle it - which is also maybe why they’re not being particularly helpful. I’d wager that if you’re already miserable, you don’t have a lot to lose by digging one layer deeper into understanding what’s really going on before deciding to cut and run. You might start by sitting down with your team one by one and showing some vulnerability. I know that’s probably the last thing you feel like doing, giving them more ammunition, but trust me on this. We’re attracted to vulnerability in others but repelled by our own, meaning that going first as a leader and showing that side of yourself, can unlock the most hostile of deadlocks. 

What might happen, if you said to them “I’m having a really hard time settling in here, and I wonder if maybe you had some clues as to what I’m getting so wrong?” 

I’d say it isn’t time to run, just yet. Go slightly deeper, understand the why. At the very least it’ll help you know what questions to ask before taking the job next time (and there will be a next time). But I’d wager you’ll learn something more valuable, about yourself certainly but about the thorny, complex, entirely human members of your team too.

And take heart - remember that leaving a bad situation is an act of bravery, not one of weakness.

— A.