When Sacrifice Becomes the Norm: Is It Ever Too Late To Leave?

By Lindsey Novak

September 17, 2020 5 min read

Q: I have a paralegal certificate and went back to school for an MBA, but at a second-tier school. I accepted a paralegal position at a law firm, which turned out to be a job I loved. I learn quickly and became well respected. Six years later, I fell in love with a successful businessman. We married, but immediately afterward, he forced me to quit my job and work for him. He promised to pay me what I was made at the law firm, which he did.

I quit the job and became his assistant.

Oh, the stupid and trusting things we do for love. Instead of employing me for my education and business experience, he treated me like his "arm candy." I had to accompany him to meetings and was told to say and do nothing. The only thing he had me do was resolve computer issues because he was technologically incompetent. I also discovered he could be a mean drunk. There was no physical abuse, but he ordered me around, and I listened. I also had a child soon after we married, but he still demanded I accompany him as his assistant. I did this for 10 years, so I had nothing to add to my resume. We divorced, and I started a job search, but no one would hire me with the 10-year gap showing I was my husband's assistant.

I found a privately owned company drowning in poorly kept records, unfinished projects and no staff. The company president did no work and was the cheapest man ever, refusing to hire necessary personnel to do the work. I was desperate, so I accepted the job. The salary was more than what my husband had paid me but far less than what the responsibilities required.

My immediate boss was a brilliant lawyer from one of the top law schools in the country. We got along well, and he taught me everything. I discovered he was training me as he would train a new attorney, only I wasn't paid an equal salary. I learn quickly, so all he did was review my work and approve it. Within six years, he retired. The president hired an attorney, a man from a very small town who knew nothing of the type of work we did. I had to train him like my boss trained me. He is a very kind person, but he learns slowly and completely relies on me. We are the only two on the staff assigned to do the work. All my work should be done by an attorney, but I am the only one who knows what to do. I am honest and tell clients I am a paralegal. If I leave, this new guy will be sunk in his position. I feel bad because he has a family with a wife and several children to support.

I don't know what to do. When I think of my past, I know I passively accepted the 10 horrible years with my husband, but now I see I am placing my new boss and this sinking company over what I need, and that is to quit. I am so overloaded with doing all the work that I don't have time to look for a job. My new boss calls me every night with questions because he is not catching on to what needs to be done and how to do it. My son is now old enough to take care of himself, but I am worried about what he has experienced with having a bad father. I don't know where to turn.

A: Your troubles likely stem from your lack of personal confidence due to poor or no emotional support in childhood. You are a quick study and capable of carrying out all you learn, as you know from your work performance. Your goal is to realize you have the right and ability to speak out when a situation is wrong or detrimental to you. Overall success depends on knowing how to do what is best for you — not on becoming the sacrificial lamb.

Join a support group such as Al-Anon where you will meet others with similar personal life stories — people who have taken on responsibilities and succumbed to the effects of having alcoholic partners. Once you see you are not alone and meet people letting go of such situations, you will be aware of the dangers before allowing similar patterns and values into your life again at work or at home.

Email career and life coach: [email protected] with your workplace problems and issues. Ms. Novak responds to all emails. For more information, visit www.lindseynovak.com, and for past columns, see https://www.creators.com/features/at-work-lindsey-novak.

Photo credit: Alexas_Fotos at Pixabay

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