We have two responses for you today. One is in high-snark mode if you need a dose of tough love to learn your lesson, and another response is cushioned in fluffy pillows of career love. Take your pick (or even better, read them both):
RADICAL CANDOR + TOUGH LOVE:
Dear Peeved in Portland,
I cringed when I read your letter. And I just read it again and winced, again. For someone so smart, assuming you’re going to nail that advanced degree, it’s remarkable how stupid you’ve been.
This feeling you have, the mournful, “Did I waste all this time for nothing?” feeling, it isn’t new to you, is it?
You had that feeling with your last relationship, didn’t you? You spent years hope-thinking that because of that one time early on when you both made a joke about having six kids and six dogs, that it was a guarantee you’d grow old together. You secretly planned the rest of your lives together, even though the signs were there that your partner would be moving to a city with a lot less rain and even less of you. You were afraid to have the real conversation along the way, so you stuck your head in the sand and pretended all was well.
With your work, you thought there were clear employment expectations, and there very well might have been. FOUR YEARS AGO. Bosses are afraid to deliver the truth that’s different today than it was four years ago because a) they suck, almost universally—like all of us when it comes to having difficult conversations, and b) the stakes can be high; if they tell you there isn’t an employment light at the end of the tunnel, then you might leave, and then they’ll have to train someone else to do the TPS report.
In a world where it’s hard for bosses to say, “The budget isn’t there anymore to hire you full-time [and I’m embarrassed that it looks like I mislead you],” or “You haven’t developed in the way we expected you to [and I didn’t train you all that well to get you there],” or “You just don’t fit in [because you never got into GOT, and you’re weird],” what’s a deeply-in-debt grad student to do? REWIND THE TAPE AND INITIATE THE CONVERSATION.
That’s right. The onus was on you during year one to talk to your boss about how you were doing and if they still saw you on track for full-time employment. The onus was on you in year two to ask more about how you could continue to develop. The onus was on you in year three to have a conversation about what the role would look like in greater detail. The onus was on you in year four to inquire—frequently—about what you could be doing to be sharp for the role, what terms and compensation might look like, really anything to have kept the conversation (and your prospects) alive.
Did your boss/ company commit a leadership crime? Absolutely. They should have communicated the status of the job thing through years one – four, just like how it would have been so much more awesome if your former partner had told you that they didn’t feel like having babies or dogs with you anymore. But you’re equally on the hook. You’re responsible for taking control of your destiny and having the candid conversations– not cowering away from them because they might hurt your squishy feelings and highlight that you’re not wanted. Yet at the end of it all, how does it feel today? Now you’re both rejected and disconcertedly unemployed. Sucks to be you!
By now the advice should be clear. It’s probably too late to salvage the wreckage of these last four years (other than asking your boss how you might have handled it better in retrospect, to remain in the loop about the Great Disappearing Job of 2019), but you can commit to asking the questions you really want to know the answers to. Don’t suffer in silence.
Spectacular at Work
WARM GUIDANCE + SUPPORT:
Dear Peeved in Portland,
Congratulations on your impending graduation! The commitment to your education clearly shows your hunger for growth and advancement.
In light of these values you possess, I can understand that it must feel frustrating to have your employment situation seemingly evaporate in front of you. It sounds like your boss didn’t effectively communicate with you along the way about the status of the job, which is a trait you likely noticed with them in the past… they’ve probably avoided other difficult conversations, too.
Whether you have an open or closed boss, it’s a good lesson to realize that it’s hard for many to address awkward topics. Empathizing with your boss for not being forthright is one step for you, and realizing where you fell short of initiating important conversations along the four years is another step. What prevented you from checking in about the status of the job? Were you afraid of getting bad news? Of looking a certain way, like aggressive? Of getting feedback that might have made you uncomfortable? Were you too focused on other things, taking for granted what was right in front of you?
I’m a fan of Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott, which helps put it into perspective that the quality of our careers, relationships, and lives are the result of the conversations we both have and are unwilling to have. Make it a practice to have the discussion. Make a meeting, have an agenda, have your points ready, and go there. It doesn’t help to avoid any conversation that could clear any level of ambiguity up.
In the meantime, it is important to circle back to your boss for insight. Seek to understand where things went awry—not for the sake of placing blame, which would be unproductive—but to learn for next time how to pick up on signals or how to better interact to be up to speed on reality every step of the way. Was it something you did? Did things change elsewhere in the company behind closed doors? (Probably a combo of both). Regardless, you deserve to know where you stand, and usually, you need to be the one to do the sleuthing to find out.
Spectacular at Work