Psychiatry & Psychology--General/My unstable job history


QUESTION: Hello... I am a 45 year old female, divorced twice, no kids...was never able to conceive, but I do have a steady boyfriend of two years. I lost my job last April, after trying for a year to work as the Patient Services Specialistf for the physical therapy dept. In an extemely busy Orthopedic practice. I have a bad habit of quitting jobs that I feel sure I won't be able to handle, or they're too stressful or not an ideal situation for me. Sometimes I've quit jobs without having another lined up, then I had to depend on my husband at the time or parents (like now)... which is humiliating for me. I am thankful for their support until I find another job, but it's getting to be out of hand. I think I've maybe just been trying to do jobs I can't really handle for long... just to make more money. But it never lasts... I will get to a point of work piling up and hard to catch up, even with working OT. I didn't quit that last job, was determined to stay. My boss was getting frustrated with the amount of OT it took me to barely get things ready for the next day. She wanted me to get them ready days in advance, but I could never reach that goal. Finally, she agreed with my suggestion that I needed someone to help me work the front desk. It took her two months to find someone tbat I never met. They hired her & trained her at a different location for 3 weeks then fired me. She became my REPLACEMENT the very next day, according to a co-worker who keeps in touch with me. Well, three months later, that lady quit because the job was too much for her to handle, she told my friend. That made me fee somewhat better to know, but I just quit a temp job I worked for only 6 days. It was as an Admin. Asst. for a Law firm, which I'd never done. It was chaotic to me and I hated the type of cases of Bankruptcy & Divorce. I crimged when the phone rang. I knew I couldn't stay another day... So I told them it wasn't the job for me, was too complicated and quit. Now I'm suffering humiliation because I couldn't handle it...maybe I quit before they could fire me, out of my fear of it happening. I had held an Admin. Asst. job for 4.5 years at an accounting firm before my 2nd divorce. I did well there... But it wasn't easy at first. I stayed, though....but when I moved back to my home state after Divorce, the first job I got... fired me after 4 days. Said I wasn't catching on fast enough. I was humiliated... I had arrived to work early everg day, was nice... Wasn't I worth giving 4 days ? Geez. Anyway... Maybe I don't belong in this line of work ? Maybe need to be a cashier... Something simpler... But I cannot support myself on that pay. Feeling lost, humiliated, like a failure at life, wishy washy or uncommitted, losing motivation... Don't wanna try anymore... But I always do end up trying again... Only to land in another job I cannot do. I'm not stupid, I am just a mess right now, and just always very unstable career-wise. Other people make it seem so easy sometimes... Not everyone runs like I do. Some people handle jobs far more complicated than mine. Any advice ?

ANSWER: It wouldn't be right to diagnose an unseen email-writer, so let me comment in general terms.

Sounds like the writer's problem is a poor self-image. No, she's not generally stupid -- but maybe in this one aspect ....  Should she work on that -- for instance by taking a course in, or seeing a counselor specializing in, bolstering one's definition of personal worth?

I don't think so. It doesn't seem that bad, it seems somewhat situational rather than entirely inherent, and many people admire those who aren't too full of themselves.

But the writer should realize that "success" in any field -- especially occupational -- is somewhat a matter of luck.  And that many job vacancies exist because there's a problem in that workplace.

So here's some general advice. Don't confuse unwillingness with inability. Don't define yourself in terms of fertility, employment history and income, companion status, or other external factors.  After all, when some day you find an ideal job, you'll still be the same person.  

Nothing wrong with wanting to find work, so take stock. You offer a wide range of experience, and you're at the perfect age for an employer who values maturity. See if there's an employment agency ("head-hunter" firm) in your community that will appraise your skills and interests, and provide suggestions and preferably contacts with vacancies. (Often the openings are temporary fill-in positions, but sometimes an employer will use these to appraise a possibility for a permanent position, so try not to sign a contract that would prevent you from accepting such an offer.)

Most important, when you get another job, try to arrange -- right at the outset -- regular meetings with management in which both sides can exchange feedback.

Jamie, I don't know how helpful I've been, but I'm glad you asked us, and if you happen to have a follow-up, please feel free.  Meanwhile, all the best to you because it really sounds like you deserve it.


[an error occurred while processing this directive]---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Thank you made some very good points. My history is more complicated, however...just no room to fit it all here. I am conflicted about my self-image...sometimes I am pretty confident in myself and who I am as a person. Other times, like now...after having quit this last job and having lost the one before because they thought I wasn't handling it efficiently yes, it's caused me to second guess myself a good bit. I have always struggled with my self worth due to issues going way back. And I have such a vivid memory for details, good and bad...and so I soak things up like a sponge and hold on too long sometimes. I was born to a 16 year old mother who had already broken up with my biological father before she realized she was pregnant. She was dating someone new and led him to believe he was my father...he was in the military but came home shortly after I was born and they married...his name is on my birth certificate. She never told my biological father...said she didn't want to ruin his life, he was an only child and his parents had big plans for him. But then she and the birth certificate man had a rocky marriage, both so young and he had issues after coming home from Vietnam. I witnessed him coming home and passing out in the floor drunk, his temper rages, he left bruises on me, I've been told by grandmother. So, they divorced when I was 5 and then my mom met my current step dad when I was 7. They married when I was almost 9 years old and have been together ever since. He and I have always butted heads...he has never been a fatherly figure but more like a brother I fought with. He is only 13 years older than ME, making him three years younger than my mom. They had a son together when I was 11 years old. I welcomed him and was never jealous. I have noticed the difference in how their relationship with him was different than with me, however. They were always so involved with his life and were financially able to do more with and for him at the time, and that is just how it they got older, they became more stable that way. But they were always strict with me, very critical...especially my step dad. He likes to roll his eyes and make me feel stupid about something I said or did. He likes to make me feel like I'm a burden and we've just always had conflict. When I was 19, my mom's brother, my uncle that I was close with... asked if I wanted him to find my biological dad for me and I said yes. He looked in phone book and found him, spoke with him and told him about me. He just sounded shocked and said he never knew about me. My uncle finally ended the call by giving him his phone number, where I could be reached if he ever wanted to meet me. A year passed by and no word from him. He'd told my uncle that he was on his second marriage...had two kids with first wife and a baby now with second wife. I imagine his hands were full. Anyway, my friend from work asked me where my real dad was and I told her the story. She took it upon herself to look him up...leave a message on his home answering machine where his whole family could hear...then she told me she did this. I was mad that she did this. He returned her call at our office three days later and I happened to answer his call. I apologized and told her that I did not put her up to that. I told him that she just knew I wanted to meet my real father and she tried to play match maker. He said that we just need to leave things the way they are...that he'd already been through one divorce and didn't need to go through another and so I yelled "fine !!" into the phone and slammed it down. He hurt my feelings so bad. I went home that day and wrote a long letter to him that I never mailed. I never bothered him again and never heard from him. So, I have "daddy" issue...identity crisis, whatever... and these people in my life have made me feel worthless, not loved. My mom had done a good job of turning that around on her part... but sometimes I have my doubts. She is still with this jerk of a man that always made me feel like I was a nuisance. I was rebellious toward him, too. I also struggle with a memory I had from when I was 12 years old and came home from school one day, wearing my short little cheerleader skirt after practice. My step dad was sitting in the floor and he looked at me and told me I have nice knees...that they weren't all knobby like some women's knees. My mom always complained about her own knobby skinny knees. This statement from him made me feel very uncomfortable and I just ignored it and went straight to my room. It was didn't feel like an appropriate compliment and I have never told my mom about it. I'm sure it would have caused problems but sometimes I wish I had told her back then and maybe she wouldn't have stayed with him. Then I struggle with...was it really a harmless comment ? Anyway... I have parental issues, as you see. And that kid brother of mine that was their pride and joy...well, he started getting into trouble as a pre-teen and has stayed in trouble since...with drugs, alcohol, weapons, you name it. He is now 34 and has been in jail for a year. Our parents recently started raising his 6 year old son because he and the child's mother stay in trouble. When I was 21, I had an abortion because I was afraid to tell them I was pregnant. I feared their reaction...and I have regretted that decision for the rest of my life so far. I have felt guilt, self loathing, inadequacy as a person or woman compared to others who kept their kids and tried to raise them. I was scared. I had a steady boyfriend who was supposed to do the usual birth control method we'd been practicing (early withdrawal) but that particular time...he did not, for the first time, for some reason. I was ovulating and a month later became extremely sick. Found out I was pregnant and told him. He was in college and had big plans. I didn't wanna ruin his life. How look at a child as something that would ruin someone's life...but that is how I was looked at once upon a time, and then here I was looking at my own pregnancy as a burden, instead of a precious life...a part of me and him. I only saw it as a problem to be rid of, out of fear and thinking that there was no way I could handle being pregnant, labor and delivery, raising a child. I felt so weak an unstable. So we decided to have an abortion. I didn't think twice about it in the clinic, and that is what is really bad. I just wanted it to be done with and get out. After a while, I would come across people who spoke out against abortion and how bad it is...I started feeling bad about myself. I felt so inferior to other women. I started running away from, relationships, everything. I have lately been trying to forgive myself and I still have never told anyone about this, certainly not my parents. I do think I have a poor self image, but at times...I do not. I keep going round and round with these job problems and can't find where I fit in. I had wanted to be a hairstylist/cut hair after high school, but my mom talked me out of it and took me to register for business school, and I went...barely graduated, but did. I hated it... and I have been doing these jobs that fit my training and skills, but always seem overwhelmed and stressed at these office jobs. I thought about trying to get a grant to go back to school and cut hair, but afraid I'd fail at it. I am paralyzed with fear at times. I also would like to write a book, help ladies out who are struggling with the decision to abort or not. I would try to talk them out of it. I would let them know how negatively it's affected me in it destroys your self worth, how it's they may find themselves at age 45 and never able to have anymore family of their own, like myself. And that is sad. But, I'm proud of myself for never having turned to drugs or alcohol, never deal with my issues. No, I fought them head-on, just me and no crutches. I have managed to do a few things right but a whole lot wrong. I am learning but still struggling. And I cannot depend on my parents financially forever...I need to support myself and make it on my own...plan for the future, something I was never able to seem to do in the past. I always lived paycheck to paycheck...never saved a dime. I did manage to pay off my car loan and have a nice vehicle now and have had it for 11 years now. I cling to it for dear of my few accomplishments. Now, I ask you... do I need counseling for all these issues or just try a simpler job ? I know all this info is making your head spin ! LOL... sorry so lengthy, if you even found time to read it.

Thanks for the follow-up, and OK, yes to counseling. Here's why.

Nothing wrong with being introspective -- unless the thoughts interfere with the actions.

Nothing wrong with cataloguing one's problems and pondering what to attribute them to -- unless it becomes a form of rationalization.

Nothing wrong with over-interpretation -- unless the focus on the past deters planning ahead.

Nothing wrong with defining one's history as complex, unless it's under the assumption that everyone else's is much simpler.

What kind of counseling? Given what the problem seems to be, and given your articulate intelligence, I'd suggest a clinical psychologist with training in cognitive behavior modification. (I'd be glad to explain but it would be simple for you to look up.)

Meanwhile, put yourself on the job market as discussed, and assume that there is such a thing as good luck as well as bad.

And if you ever have any questions about the counseling process, you know I'm here.


Psychiatry & Psychology--General

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Alan Auerbach


Taught psychology for 30 years, authored four textbooks. Specialize in introductory and industrial/organizational psychology, but will tackle wider range of areas.

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