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Ask Sue
A Weekly Q&A Column About Professionalism, Etiquette and Problems in the Workplace
by Sue Morem

Helpless & Overwhelmed

Dear Sue: I am going through a major crisis at home and work. I've been at my current job for 13 years and I have great company benefits, a retirement fund and an okay salary. I have two adolescent kids, am in a very unstable marriage with little support from my husband and have financial problems.

I am working so many hours overtime that I am miserable. Even though I work for a good organization and know that in the long run the projects I am working on will mean something, right now they don't mean anything to me. In addition, I feel like I'm a mom for 60 employees at work too, even though I'm the youngest one there, because everyone comes to me when they need something done.

What bothers me the most is that I haven't been able to finish school because I'm struggling to handle my workload and the responsibilities of being a good mom.

I called in sick today because I didn't want to hear all of the whining of my coworkers. And lately, all I can think about is filing for bankruptcy, buying a recreational vehicle and taking off with the kids so that we can start some kind of adventure. Of course, that lasts about 15 minutes until I come back to reality. I really hate to be at work and hate being away from my kids so much just to fulfill my responsibilities of a good worker.

Should I leave my job? Should I start a business at home? Should I go back to school? What can I do? - Helpless and overwhelmed

Sue Says: I'm not sure if this is any consolation, but you can be bet that there will be many people reading this who are relating all too well to your situation and comparing it to their own. Thank you on their behalf, for putting into words what so many people feel and struggle with every day.

Unfortunately there are no simple answers to the questions you are asking and the problems you are facing. And as you undoubtedly know, running away from everything is only a temporary solution -- eventually your problems will catch up with you wherever you are.

Try to take control of what you can. Start by accepting the fact that you need to work right now in order to survive, not just to fulfill your responsibilities of a good worker. Rather than viewing your work as taking something away from your children, try to see it as giving them something instead. You can be a positive role model for your children by making it through this difficult time and by not giving up. Make the most of the time you have with them and try not to bring your stress home to them. And don't be so hard on yourself -- you are doing the best you can under the circumstances you are in.

There is no reason you should be at the whim of 60 other people at work. If everyone is coming to you with questions or problems, then you need to find a way either to help them help themselves or find someone to help you. You need to begin to establish some boundaries at work.

Talk with your supervisor or someone at work, and let them know that the responsibilities you have and the overtime you are working is affecting your health and your personal life. Discuss ways in which you can adapt your work schedule to fit in with your other needs and obligations. I think you will find that when you declare your limitations, although some people will challenge you, many more will respect you and try to work with you, rather than against you.

You may think you are being a loyal and dedicated worker by working yourself the way you are, but as you can see, you only end up hurting yourself. Eventually, your work will suffer, so take action now.

Perhaps you ultimately will decide to work from home or go back to school -- who knows, maybe it can happen while you still work where you are now. But for now, work at managing what you have to do now, before adding new stresses to your life. When you begin to take control of what you can and make changes, hopefully, it will have a positive affect on your life at home as well.

I am sure your letter will generate a number of responses from other readers, who also have felt helpless and overwhelmed. I encourage anyone who has been there who has advice to offer to respond, and I will print the responses in a future column. I wish you the best. Please let me hear from you again.

Sue Morem is a professional speaker, trainer and syndicated columnist. She is author of the newly released 101 Tips for Graduates and How to Gain the Professional Edge, Second Edition. You can contact her by email at or visit her web site at

Send Sue your questions by clicking here: Ask Sue
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