Let down by my mentors

Why won’t my bosses help me, asks a stressed-out letter writer.

Our elder has some career tips to get around a disappointing boss.

Dear EWC

Dear Elder, I am feeling considerable stress about my career. You see, I’m almost 33 and I don’t think I’ve matured in my life, especially dealing with career, and I’m not sure what to do. Mainly, I’m in a job that I’d like but out of my depth. My job is entirely project based, and I took on projects I had no business taking on. My boss is a terrible mentor and he had no business taking them on either. He talks politics all the time but does not try to help with actual work or think of solutions to make projects successful. He is a nice person but had I known his primary focus was on his grudges, I would have never taken this position because that’s not my cup of tea. Moreover, he is using me as cheap labor and doesn’t do his job. Most people in my position would have quit by now, as I’m drastically underpaid relative to market, but I don’t want to quit before I complete the projects. At this point, I just feel overwhelmed and stressed.

My last two bosses were unwilling to help me with practical guidance on how to succeed. What’s more, I’m losing hope. My requests for guidance are few, given that I do not want to abandon my projects I spent considerable time on (two years) but also find a way to sanity in work-life. A) When do I know when to give up and just move on? B) How do I keep focus when I hate being in a stifling environment? C) How do I find identify great mentors for the future? Really, I just want to work in an engaging environment with smart and dedicated people. Thank you.

Denise replies

Thanks for writing to us. I truly understand your stress; I lived it. I am retired now, but I worked in a corporate environment for 39 years and have gone through the same thing you are going through.

First, the positive. You sound like an ambitious person and one that is not afraid to take on challenges. That is a great start. Taking on a project that may be too big for you is a good way to grow.  If you always do things you are best at, you will never learn anything. So the first lesson is: Learn from your challenging assignment. You are also learning how to deal with a stressful environment and you will get through this and grow even more. These are good experiences to share in an interview session.

If you are not getting the help from your boss (assuming you have asked him), then you need to reach out to co-workers or even others in another department. It will give you a good excuse to network and make connections that will help you get your current job done as well as keeping an eye out for other opportunities. It is a slippery slope to go over your boss’s head, so I would only do that if you have no other options.

Does your company have a mentorship program? Some do and if yours does not, it may be a good subject to bring up to your HR team. That would send several messages: 1) you are ambitious 2) you will be networking 3) you will be communicating a problem in your current position without attacking your boss. If that is not an alternative, you can look for local women networking groups.  When I was your age there was a group called Women in Computer Technology. I do not know what your field is, but you can always do some searches.  Also, LinkedIn is a good place to find network opportunities.

But let me try and answer your specific questions:

A) When to give up and move on? Don’t ever give up unless you have exhausted all options. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be looking around. It is a good market to look for a job and many online sites make searching easier. And, if you have tried to make things better but your organization is not interested in helping, then I would look around. It never hurts to keep your eyes open for better opportunities. If you get an interview somewhere, make sure you ask the questions about growth, mentoring and opportunities in the new job. (But also make sure the hiring supervisor knows you are willing to put in the time and hard work before looking to move on or he/she may be concerned you wouldn’t stay long.)

B) Keeping focus in a bad environment is hard. But you can do it. Focus on learning new things however you can gain that knowledge. Focus on the goal and set little goals for yourself every day to get you to the end of the day. If there is any way, find out how to have some fun on the job. Are there extra-curricular activities you can participate in that would ease some of the boring parts? Where I worked, we had an Activities Committee that mostly did fundraisers for different charities, but we had a lot of fun doing it and so did the other employees who participated in the activities.  It was also good PR for the company.

C) Finding a mentor is also a challenge. Above I mentioned talking to HR and looking outside the company to network. If there is someone at work (man or woman) you admire, you could try approaching them and letting them know what you admire about them. And then maybe start with a question on how you could handle a certain situation (make sure your comments are of a positive nature and not complaining).

This will all take a little effort on your part, but you sound like you are ready to make some changes. Any company would be glad to have you.

I apologize if this is too much information, but this is a kind of passion of mine, helping young people navigate the trials and tribulations of the corporate environment. Your hard work will pay off even if you have to change companies.

Good luck to you in your future endeavors; you deserve it!

Letter #: 416304

Category: Career


  1. Hi,

    I am working in IT since 2007 april until now, but not stable in job, working in java technology,I don’t know what to do to get stability in my job,Please suggest.
    Thanks in advance.

    1. Administration Reply
      September 25, 2019

      To request advice please use the ‘Ask for Advice’ page, this is the only way our Elders can reply.

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