I was recently talking with a friend about my last job as the marketing manager for an insurance firm in St. Pete. My last job, like so many before it, from which I was fired. The epiphany about my propensity to get fired is one I only recently had, after over five years of self-employment. Not everyone is meant to be an employee….including me. And maybe you aren’t meant to work for someone else, either. I know so many people who dream about going off on their own but are held back by fears and self-doubt, or are clinging to the illusion of security in the 9 to 5 (there is, by the way, no such thing as job security anymore).
The freedom of working for myself is something I would never trade in for a “stable” job. It’s uncharted territory, sure. There are ebbs and flows that require some real grit. And hustle. But, if you’re willing to follow your heart, overcome your fears, and take a leap into the unknown… the payoff can be enormous.
Before I got the boot for the last damn time, I’d long dreamed of being my own boss, of working from bed as I lounged in pajamas and didn’t brush my hair until 4pm. I was enchanted by the notion of having no boss to report to, of being able to choose my own clients, of scheduling my own days off. I detested being told when I could go to lunch or take a bathroom break. I wanted a level of control over my life that just didn’t seem possible in most jobs. I’ve always been an incredibly hard worker, but I wanted to be the one to reap the rewards of my own hard work, and I needed to be able to do things as I saw fit. I can’t tell you how many times I got chastised for suggesting alternative ways of completing tasks, for bringing new ideas to the table, or for pushing back against busy work in favor of big picture goals. I didn’t see it back then, but I think like a leader. I need to blaze my own trail and there’s nothing wrong with that (although I had a complex about it for years). At any rate, I wanted to share the story about the last job I was fired from, in November of 2012. Maybe it will inspire some of you to take a chance.
My last job was a coveted position with a company that had one of those unconventional and trendy organizational cultures. Incredible, expansive view of the bay. Beer on tap. Pool table. Nap area. Unlimited vacation. Flat organization and a massive amount of autonomy (or the illusion of it, anyways). I was one of about 300 applicants, and miraculously, I got the job. I had been searching for a new job for a LONG time after grad school, but the nation’s shitty economy and astronomical unemployment rate, coupled with my decision to change careers at the worst possible time, made my job hunt incredibly long and frustrating. I had to take some awful positions just to make ends meet between 2010 and 2012. Jobs that barely required a high school diploma and made no use of the expensive graduate education I had worked so hard for. Jobs where I was patronized and treated like a total idiot by bad bosses. Jobs where I wasn’t valued at all and was paid insulting wages. Jobs that forced me to swallow my pride. Big time.
So I was ecstatic when I got the job with this particular company. Finally, all of my searching had paid off. The office was located about five minutes from where I lived and it was in the building next to the studio where I taught spin classes. The pay was shit, but it was a foot in the door and there was a lot of opportunity to grow (or so I was told). It seemed perfect. The stars had aligned. The universe had answered my prayers. I could take a breath and stop stressing. Things were going to be okay.
And they were. Kind of. For about six months, anyways.
The job turned out to be a lot of smoke and mirrors (as many are). From the outside, this company seemed like the Holy Grail of workplaces, but I saw the reality once I got in…and I. Was. Miserable. The CEO got a thrill out of making his employees feel like they were always on the verge of getting fired and would intentionally say things to get a rise out of them. One time, he told me that women who get raped ask for it because they don’t take control of situations to prevent rape from happening in the first place. He would regularly tell me that I was a failure because I had invested so much time in an education that was, according to him, useless. He’d say things like “you’re 29 and this is all you have to show for it? Where have you fucked up?” Then if I showed the slightest hint of defensiveness, he’d tell me I didn’t know how to handle criticism and that I didn’t have the qualities of a leader.
Working for him was a daily mindfuck. I remember coming home from work one evening and collapsing on my couch in tears. I was so upset because I felt stuck — like I was in a position where I had no choice but to put up with the shit. I remembered how hard it was to get that job, how long it had taken, and the thought of losing it and returning to the job hunt made me want to seriously throw up.
So even though I hated the job, I was determined to make the most of it. I busted my ass for that company. I went into the office every weekend (when the AC in the building wasn’t even on). I went in early and stayed late almost every day. I gave that company all I had, which was a lot. I was determined to be successful there if it was the last effing thing I did.
Then, it happened. As I walked into work one morning, the CEO hollered, “J-Bell, I need to speak with you” (he refused to call me Jessica because, by his own admission, he didn’t like my name). As I stepped into his office, he didn’t even give me the chance to pull the door shut behind me before I heard those four dreaded words: “we’re letting you go.”
I was in shock. I stared at him in disbelief and took a deep breath. A panicked flood of a million thoughts blasted through my brain in those first few seconds. Truly, I wanted to cry, but there was no way I was going to give him the satisfaction of knowing I was, in any way, upset. Negotiating my emotions in that moment was incredibly difficult because of the panic I felt. I didn’t like the job. Frankly, I dreaded going into that office every single morning. But I needed a job. I had rent, and student loans, and a car payment… and no fallback. I barely had enough money in the bank to cover rent the following month and the job economy still sucked. As much as walking into that office every morning made me want to stick needles in my eyes, it was a job. I needed a job (or so I thought).
I walked over to the chair across from his desk, placed my bag on the ground, and took a seat. I had to dig deep in that moment because what I really wanted to do was beg for my job back. So in my best attempt to be cool, I asked why he was firing me.
“You’re just not a fit, J-Bell,” he told me. He commended my work, explaining I did a great job and had accomplished more in 6 months than previous people in my position had accomplished years. He assured me that getting the ax had nothing to do with my work output. The problem, he explained, was my personality. I wasn’t “a personality fit.” Yuck.
So I gathered my things, turned in my laptop and parking pass, and left. It was horrible.
I got up the next day with a pit in my stomach, so instead of going straight to the computer and starting the draining process of filling out job applications, writing cover letters, and tailoring my resume…I went for a bicycle ride. It was a beautiful, cool, November morning. I remember riding down a long strip along the water, on a weekday at 10am, thinking, “this is pretty fabulous.” Normally, I would have been in the office at that moment and already started the countdown to 5pm. But instead, I was out riding my bike. And that fucking rocked.
So I made a decision. The freedom to ride my bike in the middle of the day was just a taste of the larger freedom and control I craved over my own life. I didn’t want to ever again experience the gut punch I endured the previous morning. I had no idea how I was going to do it, but as I rode my bike that morning, I decided I was going to figure out how to work for myself.
And once I opened myself up to the possibility of working for myself, the universe quickly acted to help….
*to be continued* (stay tuned…it’s a very cool story).