I Did the Worst Thing You Can Do to an Employer… and I Did It Twice
I did the worst thing I could have possibly done to an employer. No, I didn’t embezzle money, or cause a scandal. I didn’t even steal office supplies. (Okay, maybe a few pens jumped into my bag—you caught me!) But besides actually doing something illegal, I’m guilty of the worst thing any employee can do to their boss: I got hired, got trained, and promptly quit. And I did it twice.
The first time this happened, I was just out of college. Legally Blonde was on TV a lot at the time—and I loved seeing Elle Woods find career success, maybe because it was something I was failing to do. I was living at my mom’s house, working at a theme park, and struggling to pay for my addiction to those fancy $3 cupcakes that were so popular in 2013. I had this big idea that after college I would get a great job and make lots of money, but I, of course, wasn’t doing that.
After seeing Legally Blonde for the millionth time, I decided that I should try to be a lawyer. What’s that you say? Going from a theme park employee to attorney is a big jump? Yes it is. But I was serious about it.
I took the LSAT three times: each time getting a lower score (I should have seen this as a red flag), and started looking for entry-level jobs in law firms. As it just so happened, a friend’s mom was looking for an office assistant in her firm, and she got me the position. I was elated. Finally, I had a career path and direction in life.
There was just one tiny problem: I hated the job.
I showed up to my first day at work and spent my lunch period crying. I cried during bathroom breaks. I even cried in my car after the day was over. This was an unbelievably extreme response for me. Usually if I’m upset or sad, I get grumpy, but I’m not a crier. This was the finding-out-you’re-allergic-to-peanuts-while-eating-peanut butter reaction equivalent for a new job. At the end of my first full workday, my eyes were beginning to swell up, my hands were shaking, I couldn’t breathe, and I just wanted to go home. That night, I took the time to think thought about what had happened. Where people mean? Was the work too hard? Was I psyching myself out? No. No. And… possibly yes?
The truth was, everyone was very, very nice. I was pretty much only in charge of answering the phones and sending a fax every so often, so it wasn’t like the work was stressful. There was nothing actually wrong except for the constant dread I felt just being there. The next day I learned everything I could from my trainer, tried to focus, and snuck off to the bathroom every second I could to sob in a stall.
I told myself to suck it up, and for a couple weeks, I did.
In truth, I was doing all right at the job. I was making friends and learning how to use the copy machine. On paper, I was doing fine. But at night I had nightmares of being stuck in small places, of being trapped. It wasn’t until I told my boyfriend about these dreams that I realized what was happening. I had set a new path for myself and I didn’t like it. In my head I’d dedicated the next three years of my life to law school and the forty years after that to being a lawyer, a job I wasn’t even sure I wanted. Sure, the assistant job was okay, but I wasn’t looking at my bosses and thinking, “that’s what I want to do.” It just didn’t click for me. I was no Elle Woods.
On my second Friday at the firm, I sent a short email to my boss that I appreciated the opportunity, but I didn’t feel I was the right fit. Then I got up from my desk and left.
I was embarrassed and disappointed with myself, but I was also young. I think my friend (who got me the job) and her mom understood what was going on, even if I didn’t. I felt bad for letting the team train me for two weeks and then leaving them empty handed, but I simply felt better going. I threw away my law school applications that day, and though I didn’t have a plan for the next half-century, I felt like I could cross ‘lawyer’ off my list of possible careers and move on.
This is the part where one might think I would have learned my lesson: to only take a job when I was sure it was a good fit. And I thought I did. But five years later I did the same thing, and that time, I wasn’t so young, and it wasn’t so forgivable.
I had been working in a flexible sales job where I drove around to grocery stores all day and listened to audio books in my car. Sweet gig, I know. But I had just finished my Masters in Creative Writing and I wanted to do something more ‘writing’ focused. A friend got me an interview, and after three rounds, I landed a job as a technical writer at an engineering firm.
At first, I was thrilled. The job would be something new and exciting. But when I showed up for my first day, it was not what I expected.
The work was dull and complicated and I felt out of place in a world of engineers. I thought it would be fun to write all day, but the technical aspect sucked the creativity out of me so much that I didn’t want to write when I got home. I couldn’t even find solace curling up with a good book after work because I was exhausted after long days of proofing complicated bridge proposals.
This new job was complicated, and my boss, who had a lot of better things to do, had to show me how to do every single step. After weeks of her spending a ton of time helping me, I couldn’t just quit. I knew the kind of time and money that went into hiring and training me, and I didn’t want to disappoint a company that had believed in me.
But I also didn’t want to be miserable. I knew it wasn’t a good fit, and I didn’t want to force myself to wake up and go to an office where I didn’t like the work I did. They deserved someone who would want to grow with them, not an imposter who struggled to come back after lunch.
On a Thursday afternoon, I went into my boss’s office, and told her everything. I could tell she was disappointed, but after I got everything out, she gave me a hug and told me it was good that I was honest. She said that nobody would fight for what I wanted but myself.
I found myself crying in the bathroom again, but this time out of relief. And gratitude. My boss was amazing, and the fact that I couldn’t stick it out to work for her was just proof that I needed to find something else.
I was disappointed in myself after I left that company, but I was thankful I did. Soon after, I was offered a position teaching Creative Writing, my freelance writing career started to gain speed, and I felt like I was finally on the right track.
To this day, I still feel guilty for leaving those jobs. They weren’t exactly tiny companies where losing a new employee was a huge blow, but it was certainly inconvenient. Still, I think that sometimes you have to learn the hard way, and that can mean letting people down. Unfortunately, that’s usually the toughest part.