Don’t Let a Co-Worker Turn Your Life Upside Down

I work in marketing, in a part of the industry that, in my experience, is overwhelmingly populated by white, able-bodied people, with men taking most of the starring roles. The endless microaggressions sometimes build up. Often, I work with my husband, who is a creative director. Recently, we started a project for a new brand selling a lifesaving product. A bit of research quickly revealed that the current market for that product is heavily male-focused. I suggested that the new product could be packaged in a variety of ways to reach women, too.

We brought my ideas to the other creative director on the project. He dismissed my ideas, spoke derisively about a feminine clothing brand and said the client would never go for these approaches. I pushed back a bit, and eventually got so angry I couldn’t take it anymore. I said: “Fine. You men can decide how to market things to other men. I’m done.” And I left.

​In some ways it felt incredibly satisfying. But I also spiked my main source of income and disrupted my marriage. A few days later, I spent an hour or two talking my husband through my experience. He seemed to understand. I just don’t know where to take things. Marketing appears to be about helping mostly white, mostly male capitalists sell stuff. I’ve tried to opt out in the past. But feeling alienated (and without work) wasn’t a long-term solution for me, and now I have a partial disability and a child.

​I am trying to find an ethical and emotionally satisfying way forward. I have a couple of great but poorly paying side gigs. Maybe I could push one of those into becoming my primary source of income? Should I just apologize for my behavior and get back to the marketing work?

​ — Anonymous

Marketing is one of those fields that is tightly bound with capitalism. I’m not sure there is an ethical, emotionally satisfying way forward that doesn’t involve a big career change. In a capitalist world, we are constantly making ethical compromises while trying to maintain our integrity. Only you can decide what you’re willing to compromise and for how long.

It seems that you’re ready to move on from marketing. You’ve had enough of the collateral damage and this is a good time to start figuring out the way forward. How can you make one of your side gigs more feasible as a career option? What are some other career paths you can consider that are well-compensated but demand less ethical compromise? In the meantime, you don’t really have a reason to apologize. But while you craft your exit strategy, return to work because bills, unfortunately, don’t care about our existential crises. I firmly believe you will find a more tenable way forward and I wish you the very best.

I’m fairly new to a position and recently out of school, so “junior” in every sense of the word. I’m working in a cubicle group with about 20 other people. One person I share a wall with, a much more senior employee, consistently listens to music out loud and often sings and hums. This person is not in my department and I don’t really know him, but I know this issue has been ongoing and has caused another senior member of the team to relocate offices. I’m not sure how to approach asking him to stop. Can you help?

— Hannah

Sharing spaces requires a certain amount of patience and flexibility in tolerating the habits of others with a modicum of grace. But being in communal spaces also demands considering the needs of others with some grace, too. It must be nerve-racking to consider saying something to a more senior member of your team, but something has to be said! I love listening to music as much as anyone. In my office, I close the door and play music at an appropriate volume, or I use headphones. This is common sense and good manners. I am guessing his behavior has bothered others but no one else has chosen to say anything.

Just go to his desk and ask him if you can discuss something. Explain that you appreciate his enthusiasm for music, but the way he listens to music and sings along is a distraction. You would really appreciate it if he could wear headphones and resist the urge to sing, though you can certainly understand why he is so inclined to make such joyful noise.

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