Ask Sydney

July 11-17, 2007

Dear Sydney, I’m feeling unmotivated at work. I’ve been here more years than I should, but came for the benefits, which are good. The not-so-good part is that this place is pretty toxic, both in the attitudes around here and in the building itself. For my first few years here, I felt this place was emotionally toxic to the point of being almost unsurvivable, but my spouse would not let me quit. A few years ago, I was given a gift from the universe in terms of an attitude shift, so while much of what happens here and many of the people I deal with daily are still annoying, I no longer feel emotionally and spiritually battered by my job.

In the past year, I’ve made changes. I divorced the person who was “making” me stay here, and I’ve started training for a new career. My problem is that it will be several years before I’m qualified to leave for my new career. I thought it would be easier to keep working here, since I now see an end in sight. It seems to be the opposite, though. I want so much to quit this (fairly high-paying) job, but I feel stuck, since now that I’m training to do something else, I need the flexibility in my work schedule. I also have made a few very good friends here, which is a huge bonus. In the midst of this contradiction, I find myself wanting to shirk the work I am supposed to be doing. I want to visit with co-workers, surf online, take long breaks, anything except do the work! What advice do you have for me?–Contradicting Myself

Dear Contradiction: It seems as if you have finally come to some sort of peace with your place of employment. As this peace was hard-earned and there are many perks–flexibility, benefits, friends and good pay–try hanging on to the job for the next few years while you finish up the loose ends for beginning your new career. It sounds like you just need a vacation. Everyone slacks sometimes. Unless you work in the ICU unit of a children’s hospital, where slacking is not an option, don’t be so hard on yourself. Instead of quitting and then having to find another job with equal pay, stress of retraining, etc., let yourself relax a little. You’ve worked hard, you’ve got a good track record. As long as you’re getting the necessary things done, the world will not melt if you take long breaks. Take a couple of vacations and keep focused on your new goal. This crappy job is just a means to an ends. Don’t give it more energy than it deserves.

Dear Sydney, there’s this girl at school who wants to be friends, but I don’t really want to be friends with her. I’m an A student, and my classes are hard, so I’m busy studying. She’s not in my grade, so we don’t have any classes together, but even so, if she wanted to get together and actually study, that would be OK with me. The thing is, she just never shuts up! I don’t know if she has many other friends. But between my piles of homework, my chores and my part-time job, I am really busy all the time! I don’t even get to see my own friends very much! It’s summer vacation now, but I just saw her somewhere, and it reminded me that once school starts, I have to figure out what to do. Do you have any advice for me? Oh, by the way, she is a nice person, not some stalker. If she was mean, I could blow her off.–‘A’ Student

Dear A+: It’s not your job to befriend the world. The fact that you care, that you don’t want someone else to be lonely, proves that you have a large and generous heart. But the desire to help other people feel better, even at the expense of your own well-being, while it speaks to your generosity of spirit, can end up being a real burden for you to carry. If your start practicing having boundaries now, you will be better off in the future, when you’re dealing with far worse infractions on your personal space. Be friendly, but don’t become her friend because you feel like you have to. Let her know exactly what you just told me. You have a job, you study, you have chores, etc., and that you don’t have time to chat right now or to hang out. Rather than trying to send out the “leave me alone” vibe and hoping she gets it, possibly hurting her feelings even worse in the process, be honest. Tell her you’re spread thin, but that you would love to hang out or chat when you have a chance. Just not right now.

Greetings Sydney, a friend of mine was offered a nice promotion to a position where he’d be managing others, but on the interview was asked this question by his boss: How do you feel about administering a policy with which you personally disagree? My friend felt trapped. If he said he could not do such a thing, he was afraid that this alone would be a deal breaker and he would not get the promotion. If, on the other hand, he consented to do so, he felt that he was setting himself up to be a company ‘yes’ man. I’d like to get your thoughts on this.–Agida or Acidez

Dear AA: There’s a trend in the interview process, from Wal-Mart on up, to put interviewees in the position of having to swear their allegiance either to the Man or to their co-workers and a sense of morality. With the death of the economy boom and the arrival of globalization, there just aren’t that many jobs out there anymore. This puts employers at a distinct advantage. They can ask ridiculous, hypothetical questions that have no good answer. Then interviewees have to figure out whether or not they should be honest, while remaining complicit in the subterfuge.

Luckily, the question your friend was asked is easier to answer than the classic “Would you turn in your own co-worker?” scenario, because he can answer honestly. He can prove he has good, solid morals by claiming, “If the company wants me to begin sending those with delinquent accounts to a gated prison yard where they are routinely tortured, I’m sorry, I would have to quit. However, if the company wants me to implement a new rule, that I may or may not agree with, I am willing to implement the rule, because this is part of my job description. If the new rule seems to be counterproductive for the running of the company, I would then pursue formal means of making my opinion heard, while still working within the boundaries of company policy.” Or he could just refuse the job. The overuse of hierarchical power dynamics in the business world is nauseating. Imagine if all the best workers refused to work under such conditions. Perhaps then we would see change.

‘Ask Sydney’ is penned by a Sonoma County resident. There is no question too big, too small or too off-the-wall. Inquire at or write [email protected]

No question too big, too small or too off-the-wall.

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