Learning to Draw the Line


When you start the job hunt there is a huge emphasis on preparedness. Designing a nice résumé to impress potential employers, writing a cover letter, promoting yourself through your website—there are a million ways you can appear qualified on paper. This pressure to impress is not bad, as a certain amount of pressure is good and hopefully serves as motivation. However, some things you can’t prepare for, and can only be learned through real world experiences.

When I graduated, there were plenty of resources to help me build my résumé, but there were no resources to help out with the issues that I faced on the job. It is likely that you’ll find yourself in situations, like I did, that will feel ethically or emotionally challenging, and you may feel like you’re being taken advantage of. This has happened to me and many of my close friends, and as a young professional, it is likely at some point it might happen to you, too.

This can occur in many forms—being asked to work weekends or overtime without being paid, being asked to babysit for your boss’s children, or maybe you’ll be underworked when the job description you applied for was a full time job. What’s common in each of these situations is that you’re being put in position where you feel like you have to say yes, or “suck it up” in order to keep your job. All of us will have to do this at some point. But how much is too much? How do you stand up for yourself and not seem entitled or selfish?

It is a fine line. People you work for can often be unaware of how much stress they put on their employees. Sometimes your boss may not even realize that they’re asking too much, and sometimes they do. I feel when it’s done knowingly is when it crosses the line into the realm of “taking advantage”. My advice for anyone in a situation like this is to not jump the gun—don’t send a malicious email, or drop a passive comment. Step back and assess the situation. Talk to your co-workers but don’t base your resolution on the fact that they put up with more than you—maybe they’re unhappy too. Ask yourself: Is it worth it? How much does this job mean to you? Is it going to be a good way to make connections and network for the future? Are you being paid enough? Maybe you’ll decide you want to suck it up and just do the job. If you determine that it’s not worth it, it’s best to express this in writing to your boss. Be firm, clear, and always respectful. It’s harder than it sounds to express yourself in a difficult situation, but you should always be absolutely professional. Your future self will thank you if you take the time to communicate well.

Your boss can respond in a number of ways. They may be respectful but insistent with their wishes. Or they may apologize. For the most part, you have very little control over what they may say. However, if they respond negatively and are disrespectful, then it may be time for you to move on. In such cases, chances are that they have a high turnover rate for their employees anyway.

If you’re an empathetic person, it is hard not to want to work harder to help your boss or coworkers, and it is up to you to not overwork yourself and sacrifice all your energy for your job. You have to save some for yourself.

After reaching out for help at one of my past jobs, in probably one of the gentlest manners through writing, I was immediately fired because my boss “did not have time” for me. She told me through email how the work ethic for young people these days is unfortunately “non-existent”. I couldn’t help but laugh at this, thinking back to many of my sleepless nights while at Pratt and waking up early on weekends to work food service jobs. Many of my coworkers were fired the same way, and every time I visit craigslist, I see ads for jobs at this place. I guess my boss has had trouble keeping others around, too.

Hopefully you will never be treated in a ruthless, dehumanizing manner by anybody. If you are, there is really nothing at all you can do but walk away. Again, that happier and wiser future self will look back with a smile and a wave when you stand up for yourself: “Thanks, friend!”

At another job, my boss made advances toward me. He was an artist, and I was his assistant. I still cringe at how cliché this situation sounds—seems like such a classic thing to happen, like from a movie, right? Well it happens in real life, too. And it usually involves a lot of self-blaming and mixed feelings, bad judgment and alcohol. As someone who really does keep their guard up, it still happened to me and I wanted to blame myself, even though it was not my fault. It is your boss’s job to set the tone for a productive work environment and most of all, to be mature and professional.  However, this left a rotten feeling inside me for weeks because I realized that the reason I may have been hired was not for my skills at mold making, but for other reasons. Fortunately I was able to pull myself out of this situation the minute I realized what was happening.

Well there it is, an inside perspective on my post grad work experience. I’m in a much better place now, thankfully, and have a job I absolutely love, which I’ll be blogging about in the future. Although my past jobs weren’t all bad, the good parts definitely weren’t as interesting, and I would feel like I would be dishonest if I said that my experience was great. While I know I have had a particularly rough time, I’ve realized that I’m not the only one. My closest friends have all struggled in the workplace with being overworked & underpaid. Some of them haven’t even been paid for the work they’ve done—and not because they’re interning, but because their bosses have gone bankrupt. I have friends who have been discriminated against because of their color, especially in service jobs. I’ve witnessed it first hand, and unfortunately it happens everywhere. These are just the start of the many problems that can arise.

So, with all the things that can go wrong at a job—what can you do to ensure that you don’t go through the same things I did? How can you protect yourself? Well, you can’t. But, hopefully hearing my story, you will be able to pick up on a fishy scent in your future workplaces and maybe my story will inspire you to trust yourself to tell it like it is. Your bosses will be impressed, hopefully, if you are able to draw boundaries for yourself, emotionally and work wise. If you’re an empathetic person, it is hard not to want to work harder to help your boss or coworkers, and it is up to you to not overwork yourself and sacrifice all your energy for your job. You have to save some for yourself.

I’m going to end with a quote from an amazing book called Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins that may provide some clarity and perhaps a little humor on my outlook. Thanks Tom! Make sure to stay tuned with CCPD Alumni Diaries and check out posts by my fellow bloggers!

From what I have gathered, rudeness on the part of the master is the first part of the test.’ ‘You mean, if you allow the master to be uncivil, to treat you any old way he likes, and to insult your dignity, then he may deem you fit to hear his view on things?’ ‘Quite the contrary. You must defend you integrity, assuming you have the integrity to defend. But you must defend it nobly, not by imitating his own low behavior, If you are gentle where he is rough, if you are polite where he is uncouth, then he will recognize you as potentially worthy. If he does not, then he is not a master, after all, and you may feel free to kick his ass.'”


EmmaKayeEmma Kaye
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Emma was born in Brooklyn, raised in Connecticut and has been living in NYC since 2012. At Pratt, she graduated in fall of 2014 with a BFA in Art History. While at Pratt she explored many areas artistically and intellectually, and ended up focusing heavily on Ceramics in her last two years. Since graduating, she has focused on music, songwriting, and collecting winter jackets.