In my early and mid-twenties, I encountered a slew of unfortunate circumstances in the professional world. While not all of my career misfortunes were within my control; in hindsight, the majority of them were. With each perceived failure or redirection I encountered in the working world, I have learned valuable lessons along the way.
Lesson One: Quality of Life Trumps High Pay
My first full-time job out of college was a receptionist job at a wastewater treatment plant. It was a simple, low-stress job with friendly co-workers, but the compensation was very low and it was an hour commute – not to mention, I lived in my parents’ basement at the time. I applied for countless jobs for six months and attended over seven job interviews before I was offered a position in the field I was earning my master’s degree in at the time. Although I didn’t feel fully prepared for the leap in responsibility, nor did I have a warm feeling about the people I would be working with, I was mesmerized by the whopping increase in pay I would receive. I wanted to move out of my parents’ basement and live in a chic apartment in Downtown Durham, which is exactly what this new position afforded me. Within three days of my new position, however, I realized that the organization I worked for grappled with high turnover, uniquely low employee morale, and very little training resources for new employees. With my lack of experience, personalities I had never encountered before, and an absent supervisor, I was more or less given the boot less than 30 days later. Not only was I locked into a 12-month lease with no income; I was also missing the loving wastewater treatment plant family I had left behind for life in the city. Although I wasn’t living the young adult life I had dreamt of while wasting away in my parents’ basement, I had support that money and stainless steel apartment appliances couldn’t buy.
Lesson Two: Where There’s Smoke, There’s Fire
With some divine intervention, and the help of a colleague who had connections and had recently turned down an administrative assistant job weeks prior, I was able to start a new job in telecommunications infrastructure less than two weeks later. I was able to keep my apartment and felt much more comfortable in my new position – at least at first. Around a month in, I started to hear rumblings of impending lay-offs as the project our team was working on was in the process of crashing and burning. No matter whom I asked, no one would tell me the truth about lay-offs, with some managers blatantly lying about the state of the project. Regardless of the reassurance many managers and co-workers were giving me, my gut was telling me not to believe them. With a healthy sense of distrust, I began applying for jobs in the area just to be safe. Sure enough, after I had landed a job interview at an airport from a job posting I found on Craigslist (Yikes!), I was one of the many employees who were laid off a few weeks later. Jobless and defeated, I was fortunate enough to finally land the airport job from Craigslist, and my chic apartment lived to see another day.
Lesson Three: You Can’t Fight Fate
Around a year and a half into my job at the airport, I was becoming a miserable person. There was no opportunity for growth within the company, employees were being verbally abused by upper management, and work-life balance was non-existent. While some individuals handle toxic work environments better than others, I was beginning to experience back and shoulder pain, bouts of anxiety that convinced me I was having heart problems and sent me to the ER multiple times, and my personal life was also in shambles as a result of my poor romantic choices. With all of these factors combined, everyone around me began noticing the toll my job was taking on me. I applied to over 100 jobs of all varieties within six months, but didn’t land one interview. Frustrated, I confided in a co-worker about my aspirations to work in a different field, who later confided in my supervisor as to why I was down in the dumps. Apparently, my performance and tendency to withdraw socially was catching the attention of upper management as well, who took my desire to work elsewhere as the perfect opportunity to replace me. Although I was offered a severance package, nothing beats the trauma of walking in one morning to a job interview with your potential replacement happening in the room next door. As traumatic as the experience was, and as poorly as the termination was handled, God knew I needed to be thrust out of a workplace that was dragging me down. With more divine intervention, my good friend from high school helped me land my current job of three years and counting that actually utilizes my strengths, encourages me to develop professionally, and doesn’t negatively impact my life. My success in my current job thus far can only be attributed to a combination of God’s help and wisdom gained from lessons learned the hard way.