It’s Over Meow

This post is about the worst — and best — job I’ve ever had.

Two thousand, three hundred and twenty-two days is a long time for anything. According to snarky non-millennials on Twitter, that’s an eternity for a millennial to keep a job for. Apparently we’re a generation prone to job hopping, despite the data proving out otherwise. Yet the perception still remains.

For me, however, those 2,322 days is a long time. It’s six years, four months, and ten days, which is…

  • Longer than every relationship I’ve had save for one
  • Nearly double the amount of time I spent on my undergrad and graduate degrees combined
  • Almost three years longer than the next longest job tenure I’ve had…and…
  • Just under four years longer than the next longest full-time job tenure I’ve had

To me, it was an eternity. I don’t mean that as a bad thing either. It was just a really long time to be in the same place.

In October 2011, I was in the first group of people let go in the few months before my then-employer closed its doors. I applied to tens of jobs daily. I didn’t care what kind of job I got. I just wanted to pay my rent and my student loans. In what was a short, but frustrating, job search, I went on somewhere in the neighborhood of twenty interviews before landing a job as a temp1I was on a 90-day contract. This period is one of the most frustrating parts of my employment ever, as my now-former employer refused to count it toward my job tenure, despite the fact that I was doing work for them (not to mention being promoted nearly as soon as the temp period ended). doing front-line customer service and data entry for a technology company. It was a long, though not unmanageable, drive for low, though not terribly low2This statement is mostly reflective of my temp period, however it did three promotions to get back to the pay I was making at my previous employer., pay. But it was a job, which was exactly what I needed.

Over time, my role evolved from being a customer service professional into a trainer, manager, and instructional designer (depending on when we’re talking about). I helped bring on numerous folks into our local office, watched many people — both locally and remote — grow and develop thanks to training programs I designed, and proudly saw numerous folks I helped mentor move up into positions within the company with more responsibility and visibility. For the first four years or so I was there, I genuinely enjoyed my job. I could comfortably say it was the best job I’ve ever had.

There were three main reasons the best job I ever had became the worst job I ever had. The two reasons that I felt the most regularly weren’t even the most major reason to occur3We’ll get to that one in a minute.. It started with being overworked. While there was never anything formal said about this, it felt at times like there was an unwritten expectation that if you were a salaried employee, you should work from home throughout the week in addition to your time on the clock. Though I’m sure the thought process behind this was “in case of emergency only”, I’ve always subscribed to the theory that if there’s still work to be done, you keep working on it. As a result, most of my six years with the company featured my forty hour weeks looking much more like fifty, sixty, or (in rare cases) eighty hour weeks. Though this did improve slightly in my last two years with the company, by the start of year four, I was getting burnt out.

In addition to getting burnt out, I often felt like I wasn’t getting the recognition I deserved for doing my job well. And I was doing my job very well, as I always graded out in the highest grade for my position. But I didn’t want more money. Don’t get me wrong, getting a raise, a bonus, or some kind of additional stipend is wonderful and exceptionally helpful. But when you’re a one person department for four years, the best way to show that department that they’re doing a great job is to help them grow. It was a promise I heard year after year. It’s also a promise that never came. Couple that with the fact that I had to watch someone else get honored for projects I created, designed, and (in many cases) ran, and I felt like my work didn’t matter.

All of those things were bad enough by themselves. Then, a year after the company I worked for was bought, we got told our office was shutting down.

While the employees in our office were (mostly) given a good bit of time to search for a new job while keeping their current one4This was incredibly kind of our new parent company. The fact that they kept telling us how generous it was of them that they were doing this felt like a mocking statement, however., it still felt like the end of something special. Our main office closed down in October of last year, causing most of the remaining employees to move to a temporary office space. I was one of the last people in the building at the main office, allowing me to sneak upstairs to where I had started my career as a temp in early 2012.

Though my off-centered picture was necessitated by boxes that had been moved upstairs late that afternoon, it was a surreal moment to see the place I’d been to every day for (then) almost six years so empty. My very first desk was the one directly across from the empty desk on the left5Not the one with the chair. The one further back as if you’re moving away from the camera.. My last one (in this building) was a closet-like office where I could hear every toilet flush in the building thanks to the pipes running through the wall in front of me. It felt somewhat like leaving a home I actually liked, even if I no longer enjoyed the job itself.

Between October of last year and April of this year, the vast majority of people left the office. Some left because they found a new job. Others were there until their company-designated last day. But by the second week of April, I was able to take a similar picture of our new space, though with much crappier sight-lines due to five-foot-tall cubicle walls.

I had to stand on top of a desk to take that picture. It was a lot more work by the end…both to take that second picture and to come to work each day.

In six years, between a few moves my wife and I made as well as the temporary office move, my commute length had more than doubled. I had lost the boss who I truly feel was the best boss I ever had. The team that I had developed, nurtured, and watched grow, was mostly gone from the company6A small number of them were fortunate enough to be able to relocate to Chicago for new jobs there.. Meanwhile, I found myself sitting in my car crying against my steering wheel at 7 in the morning most days because I didn’t want to go in. It was, by that point, the worst job I’d ever had.

I’m not being hyperbolic when I say that the job was either the best or worst I’ve had. At times, it was both. There were even days where it felt like both of those things at various points in the same day. But it was time for a change. My mind needed it more than anything else (as evidenced from my post a couple of weeks ago).

I would love to say I left when there was no more work left to do, in keeping with my own mantra. That definitely wasn’t the case. There’s more work to do than ever. But I left when I reached the point where there was nothing left I could do while also remaining sane.

Despite that feeling, I can also recognize that I grew so much while I was there. I kept up with a job that felt like constant pressure for more than six years. I made some friends and got to watch some people grow into exceptional employees and people. It was just time to turn off the lights and leave.

Impostor Syndrome

Disclaimer: This is a bit darker than the typical post on this blog1Aside from the short stories. Those can get dark.. It’s just something I needed to get out of my head. Apologies in advance.

Disclaimer 2: I wrote this post in early March when my job search was at its darkest. Said job search is over now, which means you’ll be seeing me talk about it in coming posts. That said, I decided to publish the post anyway because I’ve seen quite a few folks on Twitter getting frustrated in their job searches. If nothing else, hopefully seeing that others go through this is supportive in some way.

There’s a common experience I hear a lot of my fellow millennials talk about. It’s this idea called impostor syndrome. For those unfamiliar with the term, impostor syndrome is where a person is afraid that they’re not good enough at something and that they will eventually be exposed as not being good at that thing. It’s not a formal psychological disorder, but it is an experience that many people seem to go through at some point in their lives.

I’ve personally struggled with impostor disorder at various points in my life, almost exclusively with my writing. I can objectively identify that I can write well — or at the very least that I’ve shown quite a bit of improvement over the time that I’ve been writing. That said, there’s been countless times wherein I’ll write something, creative or otherwise, only to feel like the piece is inadequate once it’s live. I still struggle with this with my book, even though we’re nearly two years since the point when I published the book. I know that I can work to put out a better work down the line, but I feel like my published work is inadequate — despite the fact that many reviewers have disagreed with that assessment.

Impostor syndrome is not what drove me to write this post. It is, however, the best thing I can use to describe how I’m feeling at the moment.

As I’ve talked about before on the blog, I want to do work that I care about and that does good in the world. I’m the type of person who cares a lot about the work I do. If I can’t feel like my work is making an impact and if I can’t feel proud of the work I do, it becomes extremely hard to that work. I haven’t felt proud of the day-to-day work I do in…two years now? Nearly three years? It’s hard to keep track of time.

That said, I also can’t just quit my job and dedicate my full-time life to finding a job that fits what I want. I wouldn’t be able to afford that. My wife and I wouldn’t be in a position to live solely off her salary while I looked for a job without having one of my own. So I look. I’ve been looking off and on for nearly two years now — hard for almost a year. Without getting into the numbers2As I plan to do a whole write up on this at some point in the future, as data is fun., I can say that the job hunt I’ve been on has been one of the most mentally demoralizing things I’ve ever experienced in my life. Rejection email after rejection email has come into my inbox. They’re common enough that I can tell you almost word for word what the rejection form messages from a couple of companies look like3There’ll be a post on this too. Some companies do this really well. Most do not.. That said, I’d much rather get a form rejection email than no message at all from a company I applied to4Especially when two of the three companies that you list off as “dream companies to work for” when someone asks are companies that never followed up with you after applying..

At a certain point, I’ve begun to feel like I can’t do my job. I’ve begun to feel like all of the work I’ve put in — the four years of 60-80 hour weeks with no overtime pay, the mass of projects I’ve jumped in on even though they’re outside of my discipline just because someone needs help, the amount of cross training I’ve received, the repeatedly watching other people in my company get awards for projects that I’ve done the bulk of the work for — is for nothing. I know I do damn good work. I can objectively say that in spite of the rejections. I also know that a percentage of the positions I’ve applied for have been reach positions5Positions where I was underqualified, but tried anyway as a way to advance my career.. Hearing no from one company is fine. Hearing no from a handful of companies is frustrating. Hearing no from literally hundreds of companies for roles that I am (generally) well-qualified for? At some point I must be the problem.

I don’t know how to fix this. The longer this drags on, the worse this gets. I do not feel valued for my work by the company I work for. It’s clear that those outside of my company do not value either my experience or my education enough to bring me in. I’m sure I’m self-sabotaging too by wanting to be free from my current job badly enough that I’ve applied to some companies tens of times at this point. I was taught that you’re supposed to get out of bad situations though. Yet, the harder I fight to get out, the more I feel trapped.

I don’t know what to call this feeling that I have. It’s certainly not impostor syndrome. But in a way, it is. I feel inadequate to whatever expectations there are of me as a job seeker. I feel that the situation will not get better at my current job6I’ve done everything I can think of to try to make it better for nearly three years now, with minimal success. If someone from my employer were to happen to read this (likely not, but hey), my door is open. There’s a lot I’m prepared to talk about yet another time if there’s any hope of making it better.. I should be able to do this. I know I have the skills to find a job.

Or so I thought.

I Just Want A Snow Day

Let’s travel to the past for a bit, shall we?

*goofy flashback music and weird scene transition*

It’s the winter of 2003-2004, sometime just after Christmas. I’m a sophomore in high school, and I’m getting ready to participate in our area’s largest wrestling tournament. I’d missed the tourney the previous year with an injury, so I was quite excited to get my chance to wrestle at this particular event.

Two days before the event, the impending threat of snow, ice, and cold caused the tournament organizers to cancel the event. The weather was bad enough that not only with the tournament cancelled, but our return to school was delayed by two days (as the event took place over Christmas break). My dad, brother, and I had no electricity for six days, so we cooked ramen and frozen pizzas over a kerosene stove((this happened more often than I’d like to admit as a child, though usually it was non-payment, not storms that knocked out our electric)).

*end poorly lit flashback sequence*

While there are many differences between being an adult now and being the child I once was, one of the few that I truly miss is the concept of a snow day. Even with a notoriously stubborn school board like my district had, we’d average 4-7 days per year where school would be cancelled due to inclement weather. Growing up in a rural area, everyone got used to driving on snow-covered roads, so it took a lot to close our district down. That said though, I really enjoyed those mornings when my dad would come into the room my brother and I shared, only to wake us up with the message that we could go back to sleep.

Even in college, I was fortunate enough to have a couple of instances where the entire university was closed due to weather. The one that sticks out in my mind was a night where we had 12-18 inches of snow fall on campus, cancelling classes the next day. As the snow began to really pick up (there were 3-4 inches of snow on the ground at this point) my co-hosts and I trudged across campus to run a radio show. We ended up staying on air an hour longer than normal hoping the snow would let up some for our walk back. No one else dared brave the weather, so it’s not like anyone else was going to stop us anyway.

As an adult though, snow days are a sweet memory of the past. No matter rain, nor sleet, nor snow, nor hail, there’s no closing down the great money train…even if weather would logically dictate otherwise.

I mean, it's not like it got really fucking cold recently or anything. Image courtesy weather.com
I mean, it’s not like it got really fucking cold recently or anything. Image courtesy weather.com

In my opinion, there should be adult snow days. In a basic premise, businesses within a particular school district would follow the lead of the school itself. If a school district closes down due to inclement weather, all businesses in said district must shut down too. For many parents with children, a closure of school but not work forces parents to take their child to daycare — exposing the children to the same driving conditions that the schools closed to protect them from. Since leaving your children alone at home isn’t usually the best decision, the concept of adult snow days has the potential to help out some parents.

That’s not to say I’m leaving out those of us in the non-parent crowd. After all, parents get enough benefits in life already before this adult snow day plan. Whether it be tax credits for children, store coupons geared toward the fact that their child can’t use a toilet, or any other miscellaneous nonsense, the adult snow day will not be another perk to having a kid. Every adult would receive a snow day under this plan.

There is though one problem that would impact many in the workforce, be they parents or otherwise. Like many people, I work in one school district, yet live in another. Furthermore, I have to cross a fair number of other districts in order to reach my workplace. What if the school district you live in closes down, but the district where your workplace resides does not? This is where you would use some of your flex snow days. Each adult would receive a set number of inclement weather flex days they can use in the event that their school district of residence closes when their workplace district does not.

Is my plan flawed? Sure it is. That said, unless you’re a business owner, I can’t see too many people complaining about the concept of adult snow days.

What childhood experience do you wish you could have more often as an adult? Is it snow days? Naptime? Something else? Sound off in the comments.

The Allure of the Rose-Tinted Iris

“I’ve been around long enough to know what they take for granted and what they consider important. No matter how important you become, your work will be taken for granted because it doesn’t have an immediate impact to the bottom line. Your work takes a long time to pay off. I know you’re looking for a promotion, but I doubt it’s in the cards. Don’t get your hopes up.”

The above quote was told to me((more or less, I may be slightly miswording it five years later)) in the fall of 2009. I was working for a call center in middle-of-nowhere Ohio, and the above quote came from my supervisor’s supervisor. I had just been turned down for a promotion to a supervisory position, despite being the top performer in my entire call center while working our much maligned overnight shift. I’d apply for a similar position three more times over the next year, only to be turned down each time because I was considered to be too valuable in my current position.

There’s a certain beauty to being youthful and enthusiastic. To try over and over again with the mindset that even though you failed ninety-nine times, you’ll succeed on the 100th try — it’s a refreshing way to view life. There’s a certain bliss in ignorance that allows us to be optimistic about the world around us, our current state of affairs, and even our future. It’s the kind of hopeful enthusiasm that allows you to think Red Lobster is a fancy restaurant when apparently it’s not. I’m fully of the mentality that any place that serves cheddar biscuits is a classy establishment, but I’ve been told I’m incorrect.

A small part of me has always believed I can fix anything and everything. In nearly every job I’ve worked in I’ve either made changes to the way things are done to improve how things work, or made suggestions to those in power if I was in no position to do anything myself. Sometimes, my thoughts were taken and acted upon((results were mixed, as is the case with anyone with limited business experience)), other times my input was ignored. Nevertheless, I thought that I could make things better.

I still have those rose-tinted irises((they’re not glasses…I don’t wear glasses)) that I look through on an occasional basis. They’re the eyeballs that give me hope that I can make an impact on the world around me. It’s the excitement of opportunity and the hope that people around me will listen to my advice. My education-heavy words are now becoming impacted by the wisdom that’s formed with years of business experience. I’m getting more gray hairs than I should be at 27((technically 26 at the time of this post, though I’ll be 27 tomorrow)). I’m becoming more and more jaded with the world around me.

And yet…every once in a while I look through those rose-tinted irises and see the world for what it’s full of. It’s full of opportunity. It’s full of hope. It’s full of chances. I encourage you to chase after them.