Teaching people how to treat me at work.

Hi Brooke. Happy New Year. 🙂

I’m hoping you can help me figure out how to manage my thoughts and move forward in frustration at my job.

I’m entering my third year in a position I was moved into with a mid-sized nonprofit employer. I write federal and state grants, which involves program and budget planning, big technical writing projects, and hard & fast deadlines (literally can’t miss them by one second). The people I work with/for, whose programs I write grants for, very often don’t get me what I need until the last minute, leaving me in the position of either working through the night, working 30 hours over a weekend, or just not making a deadline. When it comes to multi-million dollar grants, not making a deadline means losing people’s jobs, not to mention losing our ability to provide important services in our community. I have loved ones who depend on services like ours, so I have always made a lot of meaning about having no choice but to push through no matter what — I get the work done, but sacrifice sleep, health, and time with my kid. (I’m a single parent, so I make a lot of meaning out of that last one too, as you can probably imagine!)

After the first year of this, I met with my boss and explained that I loved working for the nonprofit and for him specifically, but I just couldn’t work at the hectic and unpredictable pace that was happening because of our lack of firm boundaries with the people we write for. I asked him to find a way to hire a second grant writer — and because I’d just brought in $10 million in grants in my first year, I asked for a raise. He agreed to both things, which seemed like an awesome outcome, so I threw myself wholeheartedly into the next grant season. However, as soon as the nonprofit hired a second person, they also brought on an additional entity for us to write grants for, and my already unsustainable workload doubled. I pride myself in being someone who shows up at work, so I worked my ass off anyway and met my deadlines, even while the same patterns continued with not being given components until the last minute. I brought in even more than I had the first year, but was barely sleeping, feeling like a terrible mom because of how little I got to see my toddler, and buffering with food to beat the band.

Luckily for me, this summer I joined Scholars. I’ve been addressing my emotional eating (life changing!), and trying to learn about how I can set better boundaries, and show up in my job with love and excitement instead of fear, exhaustion, and the constant desire to leave.

But the circumstance is that I’ve talked to my boss, I’ve talked to HR, and I feel confident no further help or change is going to come from the organization — plus I just heard they’re planning to add another entity to our workload in the coming grants season with no additional workforce. Instead of showing up with dread and resentment, I’m doing my best to build the system I need — for all my grants I do tons of advance planning, send people reminders for what I need, and do everything I can in advance. I have empathy and appreciation for the people who aren’t getting me things — they are all people I admire, who work incredibly hard to help others, and are really busy. My plan is to be clear about and then hold my new boundaries if people don’t get me what I need; that if my reminders and pre-planning don’t work, I’ll email anyone who doesn’t get me what I need on time a week beforehand that I won’t be able to meet the deadline for them. I figure this will create the record for why a missed opportunity happens, and hopefully show folks that I’m here to support them but serious about my boundaries.

However, my boss and the other grant writer continue to appear willing to accept last minute, late materials from the people we work for, despite its impact on our team. I have been having the thought that it’s impossible for me to teach people how to treat me & be responsible to my own boundaries if my boss and coworker are contradicting those boundaries to the people I’m trying to teach. I feel frustrated, undermined, and a little hopeless. I’m also worried that my boundary isn’t real, because I can’t actually tell people I won’t meet the deadline for projects when they don’t send me materials on time unless my boss has my back on that. If I just say it on my own without his backing, that’ll be seen as me not being willing to work hard — I will be the reason we fail in the grant application.

I can tell my thinking is messy on this, but I have done models on models and I feel like I’m spinning my wheels in the mud. I want to show up at work. I want to hold boundaries that support my health and parenting while simultaneously getting MORE done for my employer because I won’t be rushing around ineffectively putting out fires at the last minute. I want to keep designing great programs & bringing in millions for this nonprofit I feel proud to work for.