Finding My (Work) Love And Happiness

My first post-graduate, “I’m a big girl” job offer came after nearly six months of unemployment. During my two years as an MBA, I’d spent a few nights every week moonlighting as a bartender. While the money had been great, the hours were less-than-desirable. Plus, once I graduated, I had the overwhelming urge to put all that education to work and do more than shake up the perfect martini. Feeling unchallenged and burned out on life behind the bar, I decided to take time to focus on my job search and find my first professional position. Relying only on the “rainy day” savings my tips had created, I went from bartender to professional resume submitter.

Fading Job Juju

While only focusing on job applications worked for a while, my enthusiasm faded into discouragement as cover letters filled my computer files and a few seemingly amazing interviews led nowhere. August blended into September, October and November; before I knew it, New Year’s Eve came and went and I was still seeking my opportunity. It was all starting to feel a little hopeless and a lot like a bad decision.

And then an opportunity materialized almost out of nowhere. Without having to submit anything (no “Dear Hiring Manager” required), a friend texted me, asked if I was still on the hunt and, within hours, I had an interview. It all seemed too good to be true, but as my savings continued to dwindle, every opportunity was worth exploring. I needed a break—and on the surface, it seemed like this serendipitous moment had to be it.

Gut Check

For as fateful as it all seemed, it never felt right. Even during the interview—which I would best describe as highly unconventional—things felt off. Things still felt off again as I rushed to relocate across the state for my uncompromising less-than-a-week notice start date. There was no time to think, to weigh the options, to make a fully informed decision. Looking back, I realize that from the very beginning, I knew it just wasn’t the right fit. There were no questions asked, no formal offer, nothing in writing and definitely no negotiating.

That not-quite-right feeling that I chose to ignore only grew as my first days on the job were anything but comfortable. Everything from the communication style to the environment just wasn’t right. I learned more about organizational behavior in my first days on the job than any class ever taught me.  While it’s not appropriate for me to be more specific, I will say that there were lots and lots of tears shed in daily calls to my boyfriend that almost always ended, “I promise not to cry tomorrow.”

There was no way around it: I was totally and absolutely miserable. I just didn’t want to admit it and instead, I did everything in my power to pretend everything was fine. The truth, of course, was that in the back of mind (or maybe even the front) all I could think of was quitting. Quitting, however, meant failing. It meant not being strong. And it meant I wasn’t following the “stay for at least a year so your resume looks better” mentality that was totally ingrained in me. I had to make it work, because that was the professional thing to do. How would it look if I started out my career path by leaving a job I’d barely started?

Forcing A Fit

I stayed at the job letting each day grind me down more than the last. I worked hard and did what was asked of me and more, but every minute was a struggle. Worse than that, though, my complete dissatisfaction with my employment situation began creeping from the isolation of my desk to life outside of the office. I became sullen and withdrawn. Chronically tired, I still spent most nights unable to sleep. Even things that used to be the greatest joys in my life became either chores or things I just completely stopped doing all together. The gym—one of my favorite places—became a necessary responsibility, rather than a pleasure. My beloved outlets of reading and writing became Netflix binges and insomnia-fueled Candy Crush playing in the middle of the night.

A combination of duty, embarrassment and pride allowed my professional life to completely change the person I enjoyed being. Luckily, much like I’d chanced into the not-so-wonderful job, another offer came my way. Would I have left the position without another option presenting itself? I’d like to say that I would have, but honestly I’m not sure. What I am sure of is that my psyche could never have survived the year I kept trying to force myself into. Eventually, even the most dedicated of people have to realize that there is more to life than work. You exist many more hours beyond 40.

Up, Up And Away

While there’s certainly something to be said for being dedicated and trying to make things work, it should never be at the cost of destroying yourself physically and emotionally. No job is worth losing who you are, regardless of what it looks like on paper. Sometimes it’s about realizing what’s ultimately important—and odds are, it isn’t confined to a cubicle or a corner office.

I’m happy to say that I’m now in a place where I’m satisfied professionally and personally. Work is not a place I dread, but somewhere I actually look forward to going every day. More importantly, however, I’ve started to find myself again outside of the office. I once again love a good sweat session at the gym and finish my days with a favorite book, rather than a glowing television screen. And while it’s taken a bit longer, I’ve even started to find my voice in writing again. It seems that if you can be lost, then you also can be found.

The purpose of this is not for me to tell you to up and quit your job—it’s for me to tell you that sometimes, we have to take a step back and realize the cost of what we perceive to be “right.” As women, we can have a tendency to be far too committed to the idea we have to succeed; to prove something. Whether that something is to others or to ourselves, there’s always a trade-off that deserves to be examined. They say that success has a price, but I’m not always sure it’s a price worth paying.