updates: I work with my awful boss’s sister, afraid to give feedback, and more

It’s a special “where are you now?” season at Ask a Manager, where all month I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past. Here are four updates from past letter-writers.

1. My awful former boss is my new coworker’s sister

I wrote to you a while ago regarding my awful former boss, who I found out is related to my new coworker.

I wanted to thank you for publishing my letter, and thank the commenters for their advice as well. I’m sorry I didn’t get to engage in the comments, but I read them all and really appreciated the insight and support that was offered. (To address something that popped up in the comments a few times, it’s not an issue that Bob and his sister work in different companies in the same industry. My old company did, say, teapot design, and the new company does teapot manufacturing – so we’re not direct competitors and there aren’t any trade secrets being put at risk here.)

My update isn’t super dramatic but I saw your call-out for updates, so I thought I’d share. There was one occasion on which Bob asked me again about my experience with Company X, but because we were in a large group setting I didn’t feel like I could directly address the faux pas I had made with him previously so I gave a pretty neutral response. A few weeks later, though, it came out through general industry gossip (of which I had no part!) that the freelancers at Company X had been asked to work for free due to budget constraints, and while many of them left because of this request a few had stayed on and kept working ‘for experience’. Company X is a large, profitable company, so this kind of news was alarming and made the rounds fast.

One of the people who had been behind this request to the freelancers was Bob’s sister. This became common knowledge in our industry pretty quickly and Bob never asked me any questions about Company X again. For what it’s worth, both he and I have continued to be polite and friendly with each other, and I’m sure we’ll remain so for the rest of my contract with the company.

2. Am I being too self-deprecating at my new job?

I appreciated your advice and some of the commenters’. As I reflected, I know some of the actions in my initial letter were due to new job anxiety mixed with languishing (word from the NYT) through COVID and lockdown. I didn’t realize at the time how much these life changes and world issues affected how I perceived my space and myself until I went through it.

I appreciated the advice that said to say “thank you.” I have been using that a lot, professionally and personally. I also make a point to recognize others’ contributions when appropriate. I catch myself when interacting with people. Instead of saying “I have a dumb question” or something similar – I substitute the word “quick” or “clarifying” or just take out the adjectives altogether. It’s much easier in email, but I’ve been working on it in conversation. I think through my wording and phrasing to be kind to myself and conscientious of others.

Another piece that helped was due to chance. We had some turnover and new hires. I also took on additional responsibilities that put me in a position to get a lot of questions. Knowing (or finding) the answers in my space has helped remind me that I own my expertise and to not diminish it. Having people come to you for your perspective or advice is also a good reminder that you are capable. So, all and all it’s a good place to be in.

I would add that we all have something we are working on. I excel in a lot of subjects. This is just the place where I’m working to improve and it’s an ongoing process.

3. I’m afraid to give critical feedback after two employees threatened suicide

I wrote in to you about a year and some change ago about having to fire two people who then threatened to kill themselves. I got a lot of really positive feedback on that post and your readers provided such amazing resources. I ended up taking some time off for mental health and came back to that position just in time to be laid off due to covid. But I started a new job that is much more in my wheelhouse and I was able to lay someone off today and have it go according to plan. If I didn’t listen to your readers and really delve into that trauma with my therapist, I don’t know if I would have been able to tell my current boss that I could handle that conversation today.

Just thought I’d let you know that the community here is beyond professional advice and I super appreciate it.

4. Success story from a student

I’m the student who wrote to you with their success story during the early stages of the pandemic (what ultimately led to Friday Good News)! As it’s been almost exactly a year since then, I thought it was fitting to send in an update.

I started off surprisingly very stressed (like sobbing in my room stress) as I went from a nonstop pace with undergrad to what seemed like sudden brakes, leading me to feel like I wasn’t meeting expectations (spoiler: the opposite ended up true). I eventually understood that that wasn’t the case, that my own expectations for myself were too high, and though it took some time and reassurance I was able to get myself to a place where I felt good about the work I was doing. Despite that hard mentality shift, my project has been going quite well! People seem genuinely interested in what I’m doing, I’ve been able to build some good connections already, and I’m with a program that will lead to excellent opportunities down the road – I’m excited and hopeful for the future when this is finished! While it’s been slow getting data, I was able to start collecting some recently which feels great and like I’m finally starting to truly “earn” my place here. As well, just this week I’ve given my departmental seminar on my project, which is a good milestone for the first year!

The pandemic has also helped me realize how important it is to prioritize my well-being even as a student. The past summer was truly the most relaxing one I’ve had since I was 15 years old (the last summer before starting my first job) as work cut everyones shifts in half and in-person training was cancelled so I had nowhere to go but enjoy my last summer at home with most of my days free to myself – it was incredible and really made me re-prioritize what’s important to me! Now that grad school has different workloads than undergrad, I’ve made it a point to turn off the computer by 10pm (unless truly necessary) and relax the rest of the night which has been a new yet lovely feeling. I can go to bed before midnight instead of after 1am, I’ve started hobbies that I haven’t had time for since high school, I adopted a sweetie of a cat, moved in with my partner, and I’m allowing myself to have actual weekends instead of half-days off! For the last 5 years, if I wanted a night off with friends, I had to plan my week around it to make sure everything stayed on schedule but now if we want to do an impromptu zoom wine-night I can just finish for the day a bit early without feeling like I’m going to regret it – it’s so great!

All this is to say, while this past year certainly hasn’t been easy with plenty of struggles and frustrations, I’m in a better place than I have been for years and this step has genuinely felt like the best decision for me. While I don’t know if I’ll continue in academia when I finish here, regardless of what happens next I know that I’ll be moving forward with a good understanding of what I want to get out of both work and life!

So thank you for your blog, it’s something I continue to truly love reading and learning from. Maybe one day my next email to you will be my own request for advice as someone fully in the workforce!

P.S. Still haven’t had that graduation but c’est la vie, I’ll get one for this degree! 🙂