Your Self-Worth Is Not in Your Inbox

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A few years ago, the author Melissa Febos wrote about responding to emails. She shared how she was prioritizing her writing rather than rapid email response, but a lot of what she says is equally applicable to other fields. At first, I bristled, because I’m a people pleaser, but I’ve realized I don’t have to respond to every email and, frankly, I cannot feasibly do so. I try my best to respond to as many emails as possible. I try not to take too long to reply. I accept that I am human and sometimes, I will fall short. Extend that grace to yourself and others, as well. Don’t let email trouble you too much.

I have a fantastic job in my field but I am miserable because my boss is a nightmare. I’m currently hunting for a new job, but it’s awkward. Most of the opportunities aren’t as “good” (well-paid or long-term) as the job I currently have, so interviewers want to know why I would wish to leave my “good” job for their merely OK one. I assume saying “my boss is a nightmare” will raise alarm bells, and some euphemistic version — “I have serious differences of opinion with my supervisor” — is hardly better. I don’t think it would be necessarily immoral to lie in this situation, but I can’t come up with a decent lie. How can I answer this question?

— Anonymous

It is not immoral to obscure the truth about why you are looking for new work. It is practical. You don’t owe potential employers your personal business. Just tell them you’re looking for a change of scenery or new challenges. If you want to tell some version of the truth, you might say that it isn’t a good culture fit at your current job.

I was recently fired for something I did early on and never repeated after my supervisor brought it to my attention; nevertheless, a long investigation eventually called for automatic termination. Getting fired is never fun, and unfortunately this was not my first such experience, so I have that extra personal work to do moving forward.

How do I best deal with inquiring friends, family, and, separately, prospective employers when they ask what happened? There are different answers owed to different parties; in a job interview I know it’s important to engage with the question more honestly, but with friends and family I really think it’s rude to ask, and wonder if there’s a good way to express as much without losing what’s left of my dignity. I would love to get some advice on how to go about it.

— Anonymous, Palm Springs, Calif.

I hope you are fruitful in doing that extra personal work. I know how hard that kind of introspection and self-accountability can be. In the meantime, it’s up to you how you explain your job loss to friends and family. It is rude of them to ask; people are nosy and often feel entitled to information that is absolutely none of their business.

You have a range of options. You can simply say you’d rather not talk about it. You can offer some version of the truth within whatever boundaries you set for yourself. With prospective employers, tell the truth while highlighting how you have changed, what you have learned, and the steps you have taken to not make the same mistake again. The truth will, of course, be a deal breaker for some employers but the right employer will, I hope, value your honesty and accountability and the other professional merits you will bring to their organization.

Roxane Gay is the author, most recently, of “Hunger” and a contributing opinion writer. Write to her at [email protected].

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