The feeling of a large woman standing over you is something you never grow accustomed to, especially when it happens on the job and the large woman is your supervisor.
With eyes focused on me, she made it clear she hadn’t come for my pot-toking, car-speeding neighbor in the next cubicle.
“Jean, I need to see you”
I had just graduated high school, and thanks to a football buddy, landed my first job, as a telemarketer. I told everyone I was an Outbound Sales Associate. I remember wearing a dress shirt and tie to work everyday, dreaming of the future, when I’d be exchanging jokes with the big wigs on the executive floor—but it didn’t seem like I’d be promoted today.
“You haven’t met your sales quota,” she began, sitting across the office I’d been called into. I stood stood there dumb, as she went on about the grand opportunity she’d given me and how I had squandered it, falling short of all expectations. Then she ended it. “I can keep you on one more day…if you make a sale by tomorrow you can stay. OK?” I nodded obediently and left that office curiously energized, I was going come in the next day, ready to sell the world—that is—until my older sister gave me a quick tutorial on how one keeps their self respect. I called into work, and said ‘no thanks.’
Optimism, struggling and loathing, the progression of the average work experience. I would love to contend that things radically changed for me since that day at 17 years of age; but I favor telling the truth.
In & Out of Employment
I left telemarketing to work for a shady transportation company as a hotel clerk in the city. The owner would have me collect the day’s money in an envelope and drop it off in some box off an abandoned road. I was never paid. Following that, I worked for a local theme park, per Central Florida tradition. On my best days I was publicly berated by management for eating a mint on the sales floor, and on my worst days I worked until 6 AM which required me to skip classes at college. My most poignant memory working there remains working outside in the cold rain on Christmas Day. Thankfully, after that stint in the theme park, I quickly completed a vocational degree, though was disappointed by the outcome.
A specialized medical education opened a few doors, however failed to deliver the ever-important self-respect of my superiors. Every complaint against me, required a stern sit-down with management, no matter how minor. All therapists were expected to work overtime each quarter without any extra pay. Lunch breaks, which I received working minimum wage, became a luxury that could be taken away at the receptionist’s suggestion. Low morale quickly infected the workplace, resulting in a daily eruption of quarrels. We were professionals, though witnessed coworkers slamming doors in each others’ faces and emotional outbursts among clinical staff. To add to the mess, was the consistent presence of new hires because old hires were understandably walking off the job. It became discouraging learning new names only to have people leave, several of which were good workers, just frustrated.
Many of the individuals I have worked alongside in the last nine years were amiable people that actually wanted to share knowledge with their companies and improve them. They had in mind, something more simple than a paycheck: respect and recognition. Unfortunately their superiors turned them a deaf ear, that is, until they walked.
According to a recent Met Life survey cited in USA Today, slightly more than one in three people plan to exit their jobs within the year. This is occurring throughout all pay grades. Greg Smith, once a vice president at Goldman Sachs, averaging a salary of $350,000, chose unemployment in a climate where 14 million people can’t find jobs. His former employer is calling him “disgruntled,” and belittled Smith by referring to him as one of 12,000 vice presidents. Few us will ever make money like that, nonetheless, the message is clear: its not just about having a job, its about feeling like you’re building something. That’s why I no longer want to be employed.
In my late twenties, I’ve left the professional grind in order to attend university as a double major in English and Ministry Studies. I imagine that adding a 4 year degree beside my two year will make me more of a force to reckon with, but I don’t expect it make my dreams reality. I plan to do that.
I work for myself as a freelance writer, designer and marketer…
…when I’m not studying. Is it frustrating at times? Heavens yes (I had to move in with family for the time being), but the satisfaction is overwhelming. For so many years, I had grown accustomed to being ordered around and bullied: told when to eat, when to use the restroom and when to leave. I lived under the constant fear of being unemployed, or that I might step on the wrong person’s toes.
Unemployment is one of the best things that’s ever happened to me. I look forward to work days now, because I’m building something, not just for me, but for my children, and theirs. No longer am I just stacking up paychecks.
I’m sculpting my dreams, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Jean-Marc Saint Laurent is a freelance writer and designer in the Orlando area. You can catch at him at his personal site jsaintlaurent.com or blogging about how to keep money in your pockets at SaveThatDough