A reader writes:
I am a dreamer. I have lots of ideas and I can see the big picture easily. While in school I wrote articles and presented at conferences, but was met with lots of frustration with the people I was sharing my ideas with because I obviously didn't know how to fit my improvements into their job. Most complained they were too busy or too bogged down to really implement anything I dreamed. I took a job 2 years ago to gain in-the-trenches experience and really implement my ideas.
The company I work for misrepresented themselves in the interview. While I get to work on many projects, I'm managing other people's ideas and am never given the freedom to implement my own. My boss has reined me in, limiting what areas I can suggest improvements for and now who I can talk to. (When I talk to employees similar to my age, we tend to come up with many ideas but are told that the company can not do them for various different reasons. My boss suggests I not talk with these individuals because then I wouldn't have as many ideas.)
While I find the professional experiences I've gained here very valuable, I'm miserable. However, with the economy the way it is, I'm afraid to apply for new jobs because I've not lost mine, I'm just unhappy. Last year, I was hospitalized for stress-related pain and I'm frightened to apply for a job and lose the health benefits and trust I've built at my current job. What advice do you have?
Without hearing your manager's perspective, it's hard to know exactly what's going on here. There are a few possibilities:
1. You are coming up with good ideas and your boss is shooting them down for reasons that aren't legitimate -- he's lazy, he doesn't like change, he feels threatened by ideas that aren't his own, he takes new ideas as criticism of his own way of doing things, etc.
2. You are coming up with good ideas and your boss is shooting them down for reasons that are legitimate -- for instance, the ideas would require putting time and resources into areas that aren't priorities for the company right now and would pull them away from areas that are.
3. You are coming up ideas that actually aren't that great or that simply aren't good fits for the company.
I have no idea which of these three it is. I've worked with bosses who were horrible roadblocks to change and they eventually drove off all creative staffers who got tired of hearing "no" all the time. I've worked with people who had fantastic ideas and we still couldn't implement all of them, for legitimate reasons (although we implemented quite a few). I've worked with people who had a flow of ideas so constant that it did become annoying, because while fresh ideas are great, it can't get to the point that it's disrupting people's ability to get their work done. And I've worked with people who saw themselves as visionaries but most of their ideas were terrible, and they sulked and sulked because their terrible ideas weren't used, and I'm sure they're out there right now complaining about how their brilliance was unappreciated.
Good managers encourage fresh thinking and create a welcoming environment for new ideas. If they don't, people stop making any suggestions, and that's bad. If your boss is doing that across the board, he's a bad manager. But if he's only doing it with you, it points to a problem between the two of you. (Although if he has concerns specific to you and hasn't raised them candidly, he's also a bad manager.)
Anyway, here's what we do know: The fact that your boss is limiting the areas you can suggest improvements in says that, at a minimum, he wants you to stop spending time this way. I think we can be sure that, if nothing else, you're annoying the crap out of your boss.
If you want to stay at this job and do reasonably well (at least while you're under him), you'll need to change your approach. You can either rein it in, or you can tackle it more head-on. That would mean sitting down with your boss and saying, "Hey, I definitely get that you want me to make fewer suggestions for change. Can you give me some feedback so that I'm on the same page as you about this? Were my ideas just not that good, or were they potentially good but not areas we want to be focusing right now, or something else? I'm open to whatever the answer is."
This will give you interesting information. Be open to whatever he says, even if you ultimately decide you disagree with him.
If you do decide to look for a new job, keep in mind that in many fields, it's pretty hard to find a job that's built around being an idea man/woman. Not in all fields, but many. And often getting that kind of job requires getting more experience first. If you can do it, great. But if you look and you're not finding what you want, be open to the idea that your expectations aren't in line with the reality of the type of work you do. At that point, you might consider other types of work that would fulfill those expectations or even working for yourself (where no one gets to block your ideas).