Whether we want to or not, most of us spend a significant amount of our waking lives working. Those who write to Heather Havrilesky, the writer behind the Cut’s advice column Ask Polly, are thinking deeply about work-related issues and how to spend their time. From a desire for satisfaction with their work, to straining to get over professional jealousy, Ask Polly’s readers want to be their best selves at the office: not broke, settled on a career path, and fulfilled. Below, our list of the best career advice from Ask Polly.
A woman who calls herself Lawyer in Love wants to know what she should do about hating her job, even though she appreciates the material comforts that come with it. Polly prods her to look deeper into what she’s really saying. “You want another kind of a life, that’s all,” she says, “and you believe that makes you bad and lazy.”
A reader writes to Polly in the wake of being laid off, expressing mixed feelings about taking the opportunity to change careers. In taking the next step, is there a balance to strike between personal desire and family approval? Not really, Polly says: “I would throw yourself into your brand-new path, with all of your energy.”
A reader identifying as professionally miserable and financially struggling wants to know what to do. Polly wastes no time: “You should definitely either find a job that pays better or resolve to scrape by doing something far more interesting.” The reader can either make a large, sweeping change, or find smaller, still satisfying ways to fit daydreams in with the rest of her life.
What if you know you need a job, but you’re worried you’re going to hate every single one? Polly informs a reader that approaching this question means facing an important reality. “The truth is,” she explains, “you can be polite and back down and go with the flow without losing your sense of yourself or losing your ability to see the bullshit clogging up the machinery around you.”
Just Another Petty Writer opens up about her jealousy of others’ success. How can she move past what other people are doing to concentrate on pursuing her own work? “You can work very hard to support others — and you should,” Polly says. “But that doesn’t mean that you aren’t competitive and arrogant and nasty sometimes.” The key, Polly reminds us, is to stop distracting ourselves and start concentrating on telling the truth.
A woman who thought her professional answers meant grad school, only to decide to drop out, wants to know what to do next. “Don’t be afraid,” Polly tells her. “Because even though you’re lost and anxious, this is a moment of enormous opportunity.” While none of us are capable of knowing the future, we are all capable of knowing each moment as it happens.
Drained feels strung out from her demanding job, and describes disarray in her personal life. Will she ever stop feeling the way she did as a child — poor, stressed, without hope? Ask Polly recommends looking around and taking stock of what’s happening now. “So do an audit of your life,” she says. “Take the mob of voices that say you’re a wretched bankrupt mismanaging overtaxed disappointment and drown those voices in a lake forever.”