Friday, December 21, 2018

In Over Her Head

As happens with some consistency, the letter is far more interesting than the commentary thereupon. The woman who writes to New York Magazine’s Ask Polly is more interesting than Polly herself. Among the reasons, Polly always says the same thing. It does not matter what the problem is, Polly always offers her own special version of ersatz therapy.

As always, the proposed solution is the problem. Anyone who thinks that Polly can offer useful advice has a problem. The letter writer's problem is that she is looking in the wrong place. And, as often happens, she has been working on her problem in therapy… and therapy has failed her. So she writes to Polly in order to find someone who can tell her that she has not wasted her time and money on therapy.

On that score Polly never disappoints. On the question of how to deal with the issue at hand, Polly offers nothing more than recycled cheerleading and warmed over therapeutic bromides.

As it happens, we are ourselves somewhat at a loss… because the letter writer is mired in empty generalization. She offers no real specifics, and without specifics there is little we can do to help her. We do not know how old she is, what her family life is like, whether her partner is male or female, whether she seeks marriage and/or children, what kind of job she has, how many people report to her, what her company’s business is… and so on, ad infinitum.

Given her propensity to generalize we happily conclude that she is failing on the job because she does not address the specifics of the job. She thinks that all she needs is a change of attitude, a new mood, more bloated self-esteem. And yet, that is what she is receiving from therapy... and it isn't working. So her therapist, as a loss herself, believes that the woman is overworked. Now, that's helpful!

I will alert you to the fact that the letter writer uses the word “I” almost as much as Barack Obama. She thinks it’s all about her. She defines herself as a single, solitary, human unit. And then she wonders why she has so much trouble managing people.

Here is her letter;

I will never be who I want to be. Okay, maybe that’s a bit dramatic. But then again, that’s honestly how I feel right now — like all my sneaking feelings of being an impostor, of not being smart enough or strong enough or confident enough to get what I want in life, are becoming demonstrably true, and not just in my head any longer. It’s impostor syndrome, but I really am an impostor and people are just now figuring it out.

I have a great job, a boss-lady job, at which I am performing only adequately. This is not just in my head; at my recent annual review, my boss said I am “struggling.” He is often disappointed in my answers and my follow-through. I am always behind, short of answers, barely keeping up. I don’t remember all the things I’m supposed to manage. I delegate projects and then forget I delegated them. I feel sluggish, stupid, I struggle to make even easy decisions. I feel simultaneously underappreciated and like a waste of space. My workload is heavy, and my therapist says maybe the expectations are not reasonable. But others at my level manage to meet their expectations just fine, so that feels like an excuse. This is the first job where my reviews have been anything but glowing, which I would like to think says something about this job but I think says more about my previous jobs and how little they expected of me. Or how little attention they were paying.

On the outside, I have the life I always wanted. I own a beautiful home. I’m in an amazing, honest, supportive, wonderful relationship. I have an enviable job. I always wanted to be a kick-ass career woman, a boss, someone who accomplishes a lot. I want people to see me as capable, confident, even powerful. And I want to feel good. I try all the things — cleaning up my diet, working out, yoga, meditation. And they help, kinda? But I don’t stick with them. And I come back to feeling like I’m drowning and I just want to run away. I fantasize about quitting my job at least once a week. And my job is objectively great! My instinct is, it’s not the job’s fault. It’s mine. I am just not smart enough, not energetic enough, not strong enough to actually succeed at this level.

I’m not sure what I’m asking of you. How to stop feeling like this would be ideal, but that seems like a stretch. An excuse to just give up would be nice, too, although ultimately unproductive. I guess I want someone to tell me, for sure and for real, that there’s nothing wrong with me and it will get better.

Never Enough

In truth, it is not going to get better all by itself. And she should not give up. She needs some coaching, on how to organize her work, how to organize her time, how to keep track of the workload and what she has or has not delegated. These are not the most difficult skills to master… they require an organized system. If she keeps forgetting things, the solution is to write down what she has done, what she needs to do, what she has delegated and what been completed. Now, wasn't that easy?

It has nothing to do with whether she is or is not good enough. She needs to acquire some management skills… skills she is overlooking while her therapist and Polly send her off on a fruitless journey into her soul.


David Foster said...

This is terrible. She should be seeking advice from an experienced manager, not an opinion columnist.

whitney said...

I have my own business and I have quite a few clients that are boss lady types and vagueness is how they do everything. To get a specific answer from them I have to phrase questions very specifically. Otherwise I won't know what the hell they're talking about. It's insane I frequently think I would hate for them to be my boss. Fortunately, most of my business is conducted through text message so they never hear my tone of voice or see me roll my eyes.

KCFleming said...

Existential problems, being insoluble, are more fun than system problems, which require work and practice.

Anonymous said...

What is the female equivalent of the "Peter Principle"?

Lord T said...


Still called the same but easily confused with breaking the glass ceiling.

However I'm not convinced yet that this is her being promoted for those reasons. She sounds like she was doing well in her previous jobs so she has been moved to a new role. One which she is not prepared for. Happens all the time and not just for women.

IMO This ladys boss should get a kicking. He isn't doing his job. He has a employee in a new role that he admits is struggling but apparently only at appraisal time. He should have a plan in place to help her and be working through it. Sounds like the blind leading the blind here.