Sunday, July 24, 2016

if you can't take the heat

I’ve spent the last few years struggling to find satisfaction in my career. I can’t say I ever loved working as an accountant, but trappings of it felt safe to me. I liked working in a comfortable office. I liked the good pay, paid time off, and benefits. In short, I liked that it provided a very comfortable lifestyle. While I’ve had great opportunities with some great companies, that didn’t always translate to overall job satisfaction.

A couple years ago I was working for philosophy, a skin care company. I enjoyed some aspects of the work I did, but felt apathetic at best about the rest. Overall, though, I loved the company, its culture, and its values. Looking back, I don’t know if I could have found another company in corporate America that was better suited to my personality. (And it didn’t hurt that it was down the street from Little Miss BBQ.) After I had been there for just over a year, our parent company announced that they’d be packing up philosophy and moving it to North Carolina. It was likely that I could have transferred but moving across the country didn’t make sense at the time. So I started a job search and almost immediately I was offered a position in external financial reporting at a real estate investment firm in Phoenix. The job prospect didn’t excite me, but with my marriage on its last leg, I felt like I had something to prove in taking this job that seemed like a stretch for me. And honestly, it just felt good to be wanted. I accepted the job.

I settled in well at first. But after a while, my marriage deteriorated and ended, and my desire to be successful with this company seemed to crumble with it. The harder I tried to convince myself to stick it out, the more I grew to resent the work I was doing and the company I worked for. I felt like I was living a lie — like I wasn’t being honest with myself or the company about what I wanted. I wanted to quit but I didn’t know where to go. I worried that if I moved to another accounting position at a different company that I would be just as unhappy. I knew I wanted to change my career and I knew I wanted to work in the restaurant industry. But I was so afraid to make that leap because I knew of no restaurant job that would pay as well as the job I had, nor were there any guarantees that I would like it or be successful.

Instead, I spent the last three or four months of my time with that company worrying almost every day that I would be fired. I’ve never had anything resembling a panic attack, but on the day of a major deadline at the end of March, my anxiety about getting fired felt near panic-attack levels. So I told my manager I wasn’t feeling well, left, and joined some friends for a movie.

The next day I was fired. Having imagined the scenario in my head a million times, it was a little surreal. I arrived at work and sat down at my desk. I was there for a couple minutes when I got a call from an HR manager. She asked me to meet her in a conference room on the first floor. I was prepared for this: I stuffed my personal belongings — a phone charger and some earbuds — into my pockets and made my way downstairs to the conference room. I was greeted by the HR manager and the head of my department. I sat down. The HR manager told me they had decided to terminate my employment. I stared back blankly as she and my department director rushed over some paperwork. She asked if I needed to go back to my desk to collect any belongings. “Nope. I’ve got everything here,” I said. I handed my badge over to the security guard who had slinked into the room at some point. He walked me out of the building to my car and badged me out of the parking garage.

During my drive home I listened to one of my favorite podcasts, but what I heard in my ears didn’t register my brain. I turned it off and drove in silence. At some point during the day I realized that I never had to return to that building, to that job again in my life and there was a wash of relief.

== == == == ==

Unemployment is awesome, but it also sucks. Suddenly, I had all the time in the world, but nothing to do with my time. I would’ve loved to take a trip but I needed to save what money I had. I would’ve loved to spend time with friends but they were all at work.

There was a lot of Netflix. I burned through eight seasons of The Office in a flash. Some days I felt empty inside. After a while I realized that I needed to spend part of my day exercising and part of it with friends or family. When I did I felt a lot better about life. I looked for work, albeit passively. I had interviews for accounting positions with two companies that seemed compelling, but I could only muster lukewarm enthusiasm for either.

After about a month my money started running out. During that time I had been spending my Friday nights baking with my friend Jared to prepare for the Gilbert Farmers Market on Saturday morning. In addition to baking, he also managed the restaurant attached to his bakery. One day I asked if they needed any kitchen help at the restaurant. They did. He hired me.

On my first or second day on the job, I remember thinking to myself, Wow. It feels like I’m doing real work. It was something that had been absent from so many of the other jobs I had throughout my accounting career: the ability to see, touch, smell, hear, and taste the output of my labor.

Some days are really hard. By the time we close, the kitchen looks like a disaster site and dishes are piled a mile high. But most days — after learning a new cooking technique or knife skill; after completing order after order after order and nailing each one; after having customers tell me how much they loved their meal, how they’ve found a perfect sandwich — I feel like a badass.


  1. Because you are a freaking badass my friend!

  2. This is lovely and raw. Fulfilling employment is so, so important when you spend so, so much of your waking hours doing it. My old job crushed my soul until I felt like a shell -- got to a point where my emotions were so blurred that when a coworker said something funny to me I started crying for no reason because my body was misfiring somewhere in there. (This literally happened twice.) Anyway, blah blah blah, got a therapist to help me unwire a bunch of lurking unhealthy shit from my past religious life ahem, started exercising to rid myself of the anxiety about not taking care of my body and help me feel better day to day, quit my old job and got a new one with warm people who make me feel safe and uplifted instead of anxious and paranoid. Flashy perks don't make the job -- safety and a non-toxic environment make the job. An office job that fits with your background is sometimes 100% less healthy for you than getting your hands dirty in a kitchen and doing what you *actually* love. I'm really happy you're finding a better fit and a better safe place for yourself. Thanks for sharing the hard stuff. Saw this quote recently and it seems to fit with your post: And every day, the world will drag you by the hand, yelling, “This is important! And this is important! And this is important! You need to worry about this! And this! And this!” And each day, it’s up to you to yank your hand back, put it on your heart and say, “No. This is what’s important.”

  3. p.s. I have serious new respect for accountants as I toil through these classes from my personal hell. The fact that you did that professionally for any amt of time......respect.

  4. Make, oh my gosh! I loved your blog entry and am so glad that you found something you love and makes you feel happy and wanted! I know way too well how failing marriages and unsatisfaction in the career feels. It sucks especially when they are so close together. But those sucky moments tend to turn beautiful! And something worthwhile is usually down the road! I'm glad you found it. I still think you should come up a pizza place in slc! ;)

  5. Ps, you are definitely badass!