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Miserable in dream job

DEAR CAROLYN: Nearly two years ago I took the dream job I'd been trying to get for years.

I've been pretty unhappy. People are nice, but the expectation is basically perfection all the time. It's a D.C. job, our work is sensitive and the attitude is basically that one public mistake would be the end of the world, and if you do something less than perfect internally — think: put the wrong date on an agenda for a meeting — you might make a public mistake that will bring the world crashing down. This is not a national security-related job that could potentially bring the world crashing down.

I'm exhausted and want to leave. But I don't want to leave just because I'm sensitive and internalize criticism too much. I can't figure out if I need to toughen up because criticism is inevitable at any job, or if I just am not going to be able to hack it here. Recommendations on how to figure this out? — UNHAPPY

UNHAPPY: A therapist or career coach could really help you, since I'm guessing you have enough information but need some objective help sorting it out.

In the meantime, I strongly recommend excising the "just not able to hack it" attitude. You obviously can, since you've been in the job for two years; the issue is whether you want to.

And deciding you don't want to work in an environment like this wouldn't make you a less worthy or capable person than those who do want to. Worry about matching your career to your temperament, not about judging yourself.

Don't stay somewhere miserable just to prove to yourself that you can.

Dear Carolyn: We're planning a small, casual wedding in our backyard. Potluck is very common where I came from, and my fiancee was uncomfortable with the idea, but I was able to convince her that people would much rather bring a covered dish than a gift. Honestly, my family would think we're putting on airs if we had some fancy catered thing.

My fiancee's family have now offered to pay for a catered barbecue since they're appalled by the potluck idea. My fiancee wants to accept but I'm standing firm on principle, since they're trying to shame me for my long-standing traditions.

Besides, it sets a bad precedent of my in-laws running our life. My fiancee and I decided to see what you thought. So — catered barbecue or potluck? — NOT TACKY!

NOT TACKY!: This just sounds like a basic culture clash. Both ideas — both customs — are appropriate and have valid principles to support them.

But it's not just about "a bad precedent of my in-laws running our life," but also a bad precedent of your seeing your values as superior to your fiancee's. Potluck can be lovely, and not just a bid for handouts; catering can be lovely, and not just a putting on of airs.

So, those are my thoughts: Yay to intimate community weddings, and yay to the two of you deciding how to handle this versus buckling under outside pressure — but get back to work, please, on establishing a set of values that feels right not just to you or to her, but that suits you both.

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