My Job Dumped Me
When it comes to work, I have a pretty strong ethic. So strong that I can easily let myself be taken advantage of by an employer. I am plagued with guilt anytime I call out even if it is due to illness. I think most Americans feel this way. We want to be seen as reliable and dependable people.
I have only been fired once from a job. It is 2015 and I am living in Chicago. I have taken on several different jobs throughout my living in this city. I am getting burned out on waiting tables. I briefly work for another comedian and his partner at their law firm. The work is hard. I have to trudge through hail and snow while pushing a cart filled with boxes to The Daley Center courthouse. The people working at the courthouse are never friendly. I am beginning to think the only people who smile during winters in Chicago are the poor souls working in customer service.
My friend’s law partner is an aging diabetic with a drinking problem. His assistant is burned out from being yelled at constantly, overworked and underpaid. I feel for her. I have the capability of reminding myself I will always have comedy when I am stuck at a job I hate. Other people don’t have that and my heart goes out to them.
I am struggling to pay my bills working for $12/hour. I have to start looking for a new job. I have mentioned to my friend I need more money but he tells me his partner won’t go for it. I know I am going to have to leave at the first opportunity I get and I hate to abandon him after he’s given me a way out of waiting tables, but my loyalty isn’t paying my bills right now.
I am wrapping up my day at the office when Caroline calls me. She sounds excited to have come across my resume. She owns an apartment leasing company and she needs a new administrative assistant right away. She doesn’t offer any benefits or insurance, but she pays well. She offers to pay me more than I have ever made, honestly. I have to take it. The catch is I have to take it now. She can’t wait two weeks for me to put my notice in to my current employers and honestly, I can’t financially wait either. I hate having to tell my friend I will have to leave his practice so suddenly. He is going on vacation and doesn’t understand why I can’t wait until he gets back and I don’t understand why he can’t pay me a livable wage.
When I start working for Caroline, I am overwhelmed at just how much this job entails. Spreadsheets, phone calls, background checks, credit reports, contacting landlords, finding leads, counting money, making coffee, and the worst part for me...telling people, “no”.
Caroline tells me she knows the position isn’t a typical admin position and with time, I will catch on. It usually takes about three weeks for a newer admin to catch on, but she is concerned I may quit on her and move back to Nashville. I don’t know why she would think I would do that. I’m determined to make this city work for me.
I am stressed out over this job. People are coming to me handing me a lot of money-their livelihood. I am listening to people on the phone give me their sob stories on how badly they need housing and how they’re struggling financially. I feel more like a counselor toward the end of my shift- a very unqualified counselor. Another woman begins working at the office. She is older than I am and probably has a better office resume. Caroline asks me to train her. I train her the best I can for three days.
And then one day Caroline calls me at the office. “I’m going to have to let you go,” she says. “You’re joking,” my response. “No, I’m not. You aren’t catching on.” “But, you said it usually takes people three weeks to catch on. I’m two weeks in”, I bargain. “It’s not working out, Ashley. You’re spending too much time with people on the phone who don’t qualify. Do you have any access to a car? I think you would work better on the sales team.” She knows I don’t. I left my car in Nashville when I moved here. “No, I don’t.” “I’m sorry, Ashley. I’ll pay you next week and I will give you a great reference.” I am humiliated. I feel I am the last one in the office to hear this. I have never been fired from a job. Do I leave now? Do I finish my day? How does this work? This feels so foreign to me. Do I even log my time for the day? Do I finish my task I’m working on or do I just walk out the door? I just leave now, right? I should just leave. Why am I even questioning this? She doesn’t want me working for her then I don’t need to give her another minute of my time.
I gather my scarf, my coat, my purse, my pride and head out the door. My coworker mouths that she is sorry. I fight back tears. How am I going to make it in this city?
I walk out the door and call my mother.
“Mom, she FIRED me,” I say into the phone still in shock. “What? You’re KIDDING ME,” my mother also goes into shock. I’m relieved we both think the world has the same sick kind of humor. I cry and tell my mother I don’t know what I am going to do. “Ashley, it’s time for you to come home. Let your father and I move you back home”.
And for one of the few times in my life, I agree with my mother. It’s time for me to move back home. I have always been annoyed by corporate America. I was raised to believe jobs in America were reliable and dependable. My parents are baby boomers who found decent paying jobs with benefits in the 80s and 90s and retired from them. They encouraged me to follow their lead into the world of corporate America, but the times have changed. A person is merely a number, a replaceable number at that. There is no loyalty. There is little accountability. Jobs will dump you.
We are hired onto jobs who create this false idea of empowerment. They call their employees, “stars” or “champs” or some other lame lingo as if that is going to make us work harder for the mere pennies they pay us. We strive to do our best and as soon as we are unable to meet their unrealistic expectations, they give us the axe or sometimes feel confident they can verbally or emotionally abuse us for failing them. After all, we must deal with the consequences of letting them down. Sometimes there is no time to waste. We must go and another must come in. For me at my apartment leasing job, that other person coming into the job to take my position was the woman I was training. I felt as though I wasn’t seen for the hard working and lovable person I was, but seen as a failure instead. I was unable to help another woman’s business thrive. I was a hindrance to her profit margin. I let it crush me for a little while, but now years later I see that we can all just be seen as mere cogs in a very overworked and tired machine and if I didn’t create the blueprints for that machine myself, frankly, it means so very little to me now. I’ll just go build my own machine.