DEAR J.T. & DALE: I am a young professional trying to establish a meaningful career in human resources. I took an entry-level job, and from my first day I’ve gone through straight hell. My co-workers actively try to sabotage my work. Despite this, I have maintained perfect performance reviews, and I always get the top bonuses for my position. I went to interview for a promotion, and the person who interviewed me was rude and obnoxious, and I’ve just had enough. I feel really worthless because I get treated like garbage. I know I can do well, but this has really hurt my self-esteem. – Skylar

J.T.: I’m sorry to hear you feel that way. You actually should be proud of yourself, because what you’ve done proves how strong you are. When you can see your situation for what it is and still do well, that’s a sign of grit. And grit is what it takes to move up in your career.

Dale: Well, grit, plus a decent place to be gritty. You can be a great mountain climber, but if your mountain is in the Grand Canyon, you’re never getting above ground. Of course you deserve a place where you’ll be recognized, appreciated and challenged. But here’s the rub: The worse the boss, the harder to leave. That’s because a bad boss will make it hard to find time to search while continually hammering your self-esteem. The latter can be particularly crushing, because it undermines the fighting spirit you will require. The antidote is a book by my wise old friend Steve Chandler called “100 Ways to Motivate Yourself.” It’s perfect for you, because you’ll need lots of small doses of energy to keep yourself pumped up and ready to find a place worthy of your talents.

J.T.: Start by making a bucket list of employers you’d like to work for in your area and start networking. There must be a young professionals networking group in your area, along with lots of opportunities to go to business networking events. You need to meet some new people and hear about places that treat their employees better. This will motivate you to apply and help open doors. It’s all about the networking. Now that you have some experience and success under your belt, you’ll be able to impress hiring managers with your desire to learn and grow. You can do this, but it won’t fall in your lap. You have to get out there and make it happen. I see great things for you!

Dear J.T. & Dale: My co-worker has started burning candles at work. I have a super-sensitive nose, and it’s giving me a headache. What can I say to make her stop without offending her? – Josh

J.T.: I would pull her aside privately and say: “This is so hard for me to bring up. I really don’t want you to be offended. I am struggling with the scent of your candles. Unfortunately, I have a very sensitive nose, and it’s giving me headaches. Would you consider not burning them? I’d be grateful for your consideration.” You might even want to give her a candle for her home as a thank you for her understanding. In these situations, killing with kindness is the best way to go. The alternative is to go to management, and that would likely create embarrassment and strain your relationship with your co-worker. It’s always best to try to deal with these things personally.

Dale: A candle for her home … genius. That should work, getting her to change without her being too resentful. But if it doesn’t, and she insists, I give you permission to pout for the rest of that day, but no longer. First, as those air freshener ads point out, you’re likely to go “nose blind” to the smell. Make it a challenge. If that fails, get a little desk fan. Do not go to HR. She’ll hate you and so will all those candle-people who, like cat-people, aggressively reinforce one another with the fabulousness of their passion. You must not alienate them.

Jeanine “J.T.” Tanner O’Donnell is a professional development specialist and the founder of the consulting firm jtodonnell. Dale Dauten resolves employment and other business disputes as a mediator with Please visit them at, where you can send questions via email, or write to them in care of King Features Syndicate, 300 W. 57th St., 15th Floor, New York, NY 10019.

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