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Why I Quit Working in a Not-Quite-Right Job Past its Use-By Date

Humility is important, but not at the cost to your wellbeing.

By Justine CrowleyPublished 3 years ago Updated 2 years ago 23 min read
Top Story - June 2021
Why I Quit Working in a Not-Quite-Right Job Past its Use-By Date
Photo by Tyler Nix on Unsplash

Being a barista, wearing a face mask, and standing on your feet is no easy feat; also while making sure the milk does not overheat, and the hopper grinds the right amount of coffee beans for a 30ml espresso shot.

Even if you have never been a barista before; I am sure that the majority of humanity out there have stayed in a thankless job way beyond expectations, even though that job served you well in the beginning. You do not need to even work at Starbucks with an arts degree to figure that one out (just riding a point home here, that is all.)

By Spenser Sembrat on Unsplash

As per the theme of Vocal Media's Remarkably Real challenge; this challenge (and my article) is speaking out to the entire human race in relatability terms. It is common for all of us to feel like a fish out of water sometimes, and all out of place like a square peg in a round hole. Authenticity starts from being aware that you are feeling like this.

It happens to all of us at some point. You find fit, healthy, and strong people in hospital unexpectedly. You find a gifted student studying at the wrong tertiary institution, as well as being in relationships where your partner fails to commit to you, despite understanding their love language. Sometimes our homes can be too small (or even too big) for our needs. Just to name a few examples. I am sure you get the drift here. Therefore figuring life out is not linear. It is difficult.

By Yann Allegre on Unsplash

It is up to us to work on our values system to be authentic, and to figure ourselves out by being remarkably real; and in a world of divisiveness and rules (sure, rules exist for a reason) we would not fit in if we were the only people in a train carriage not wearing face masks, while everyone else is. This brings us back to the system.

The system ingrains in our skulls that we need to go to school, get good grades, and then get a great job. Then we are expected to meet the right person, and get married and settle down with a mortgage on a house with a dog and 2.5 kids. Can you see a problem here?

By Ben Wicks on Unsplash

For example, my partner was brought up in a class system in New Zealand. He is 14 years older than me. The school system at the time classified you as either being academic or non-academic. Luckily for him, the system classed him in the academic camp, while his two brothers weren't as fortunate. Anyone classed as non-academic was kicked out of the school system, and sent on to learn a specific trade. In other words to (not) go to university (college in America). Some people realise their potential later in life, and such a system can set some people up for failure. In my partners case, he is a blooming success, as he has been a successful lawyer for over three decades now. He is following the system. (Divorce aside, otherwise he wouldn't be with me.) Hopefully the system over in that country has now changed, even just a little bit.

Never in this mindset does it say to quit school early, enter a trade, or start a business. Or to get any job that helps you make ends meet while at a career crossroads/transition period. Or to engage in work that you love. This system does not tell you to buy an investment property either, or crypto for that matter. It sounds like a heavy burden if you dare get off the treadmill of that system.

By Abbie Bernet on Unsplash

Life is not linear. None of us clearly expected a global pandemic that forced us to self isolate at home, and get swabbed at the sign of a runny nose. No one expects to fall ill, or to get downsized, or to go through a divorce to name. These life events rock the plan that that system wants us to grind towards, with no clear end date. Never in that plan does it say to change careers, or to take a rest. Or to grieve after the death of a loved one.

By Harry cao on Unsplash

An unexpected moment when s**t literally hits the fan, is a constant reminder that we do not fit into that system that was designed for us. If we did fit into that system (as in following that plan to a t), events still happen that rock your world, which could cause you to not fit in, and to feel like a square peg in a round hole in a new environment, as in a new social group, job, or home to name.

By Luis Villasmil on Unsplash

If we can't keep the pace with our group, then it definitely feels like we are not fitting in. If you get left out of groups, you also know that you are not fitting in.

On the day that Vocal Media's Social Shock challenge on this platform was announced roughly six months ago - as at the time of writing this; I went to bed, only to wake up with an unexplained migraine like headache, that even a pain killer failed to alleviate. This is when I knew I had to tell my story of not fitting in, in my career in the not too distant past, in order to help others. Yes, I did not fit in as a non-Starbucks barista at one point, in a dead end job where I had to wear an apron, despite being semi academically gifted. The tattoos on the barista in the first image gave me some comfort in sharing my story, knowing that my new role in IT (solely working from home, and at cafes when freelancing) has allowed me to come home (like I have finally arrived) in my career - where I could be authentic and ultra (and so remarkably) real about pandemic (and recession) proofing my life, and not having to work with weirdos all the time. And not to deal with the constant industrial action upsetting Sydney's train network at present. When you break it down, authenticity shines in blocks and passages of time and reflection.

By Brett Jordan on Unsplash

That is only the beginning. I work in IT (while being a freelance writer on the side) because I love it - not purely to earn money for money's sake. Just saying. (Although yours truly will try out a new corporate opportunity from the 15th of February 2022. Ebbs and flows. Yet the freelance UX work remains on solid ground.)

By Austin Schmid on Unsplash

It all makes sense to write about not fitting in, in our careers. Work is our avenue for self expression, and self fulfilment. Most of all, the majority of our waking hours (even if you do not work full-time, and even if you are unemployed) are spent at work, or in the case of being unemployed, in looking for a job. After all we need to work in order to provide for many of life's needs and comforts beyond food, shelter, and clothing. (Thank you middle school commerce.)

I am sure you, dear reader can relate to not fitting in at some point in your career, from working in a job that is so not right for you, to a job that may not be challenging enough, or maybe too challenging. You could have also worked in a toxic working environment, or in one that led to career burnout. You may have worked in a profession that is right for you, but perhaps working in and for the wrong team, department, boss, or company. The culture was not right. You may have worked in a role that gave you too much work, or one that does not give you enough work.

By Julien L on Unsplash

I am sure that many of you have applied for a job, even when you made it to the final stage of the recruitment and selection process, only to be told that you are not the right fit for the organisation and/or for the job applied for. Even if an employer or client tells you that they have chosen to "change direction" in response to your application: it is plain simple. They do not want to hire you. They are being authentic on the trajectory of where they are heading in return.

Rejection is always the higher order protecting us. That can either be true, or it could simply be the recruiters opinion and perception. As I said, nothing makes a grain of sense, and nothing is linear. If I was given $1 by every recruiter that has told me any of the above in response to one of my unsuccessful job applications; I would have paid off my house by now.

As us human beings change and evolve (that is the point of us being here, in order to learn certain life lessons); our ability to fit into our current job/career/business, relationship, friendships, family, and even right down to our living situation to name may no longer be a right fit for us, because our ambitions are growing. We are growing. That is healthy and natural. It is ok to outgrow people and things in general.

By Kyle Hinkson on Unsplash

In terms of not fitting in, I once fitted in so nicely, working for a corporation in the finance sector, where I was in charge of after-sales and retention. In the beginning, so far so good. As time progressed, I knew I no longer fitted into that role and the company, as I was a target for gossiping behind my back; and on the occasions when I was not such a target; I knew that some of my colleagues were, and it was awful to hear such words spoken out of their mouths (not fully cognisant that their words become flesh), while I was trying to concentrate on some mission critical tasks. Towards the end of my time in this role, I was also bullied by the person I directly reported to. I also saw a pattern when it came to the deterioration of my health, and I knew that something was not right. Even though I did not receive a pay rise for over ten years, despite adding more value to the business; I tolerated that as the money was so good, and as per the system, it isn't good to keep chopping and changing jobs frequently.

In addition to the bullying, as well as an abundance of internal and external demands that caused my hours to increase (even working 14-16 hour days in their busiest month of the calendar year); my health started to take a turn for the worse, when I noticed private healthcare costs (outside of Medicare) hitting the roof on dental and optical expenses in particular.

By Hush Naidoo on Unsplash

In the busiest month working in this role two years ago (as at the time of writing this, and a few short months before I threw it all in and quit after eleven years); my upper left back suddenly caved in, and pillows and ice packs to ease the pain were not enough. I recall my boss making an appointment with his physiotherapist, where I only had 30 minutes to get there, not knowing that I would go home at the end of the day with a taped back, and another appointment for the very next day, together with a loss of my dignity; not fully comprehending as to why a healthy and fit yogi like me made it to a physiotherapists office; not to mention my medical expenses ballooning, as a result of no longer fitting into the role, the company, or the culture of that company. My workload was also growing exponentially while at my appointments. In all, I needed three physiotherapy appointments, and as I am not a quitter, I stuck it out a little longer in this role until my body was telling me that "enough is enough" - as well as their clients giving me one star reviews for my service. My partner was used to seeing me at home, constantly in tears from my job. My friends were supportive, and telling me that "it is just a job" - yet when you are high up in an organisation, that role feels like your identity, as if you are a part owner in the company, with the bonuses to match, if you are really lucky.

By Hernan Sanchez on Unsplash

I was clearly burnt out, and also ended up in a mental health room in the ED for a few hours on an adjustable bed that felt like a massage table with the entire left hand side against the wall, with only two thin white sheets and a pillow (due to fire risks) the day after I quit due to burn out, and now being diagnosed with depression. My planned holiday in the sun was my saving grace; otherwise I would have ended up spending more time in hospital. Thankfully the treatment I received that day got me to a flying start (no pun intended) towards building my body back together again, even though I knew that a few days in a private rehabilitation facility was still needed at some point.

Leaving a senior role like this one made me feel right out of place, and now I was just Justine, a lady of leisure trying to mend her life back together, with no identity at all, even though I had my sights set on becoming a User Experience (UX) Designer in IT.

Time passed, and right after my two week holiday interstate; I was engaged in a role to help my foster mother out. It was nice to have a family member as a boss, who was tough, yet treated me with respect. It was nice to work in an environment again (on a temporary project for the Government) where bullying and office politics was not tolerated, and I was only working ten hours a week to get my confidence back. It was a shame this project came to an abrupt end, even though I now engage in this project every October/November where possible (if I can.)

By Urel Landetne on Unsplash

Right after working for my mother and with teenagers; I landed a role in telesales for the Opera, and I only lasted a few weeks. I definitely did not fit in this role either, as I did not get any sales, even though all of my phone conversations with prospects were pleasant. It was a shame, as the office was only a five minute walk from home/located in the same street from where I lived, although I was the only female on the team, back in a male dominated environment, even though the culture was healthy. To soften the blow, I was relieved to have been offered a place on the spot to study UX Design at General Assembly, to start a few months later. I was beyond excited, yet this place is classed as the Harvard of tech colleges. No pressure.

Then I started a new team member role, working for a chocolatier (yes indeed, the last not quite right job I quit beyond its use by date - as per the title of this remarkably real and authentic article.) It was heavenly at first, because I wanted a role where I was serving customers face to face, and with the buzz of the Christmas rush. The three month fixed term contract offered to me was perfect, because I was able to finish in time for my UX Design studies to start. At first, I really loved this job, and despite being the oldest worker at age 39, I fitted right in, until I didn't. Due to looking way younger than my biological age, I got away with it, like I was a teenager all over again, working at my part-time job.

By Emily Morter on Unsplash

Time passed on, and this chocolatier employer wanted to offer me an ongoing permanent part-time contract to work in with my studies. My freelance photography business was sinking, so it was a no brainer at the time, as I still fitted in, and I was happy there at that point. (Indeed, authenticity cuts both ways, like a sharp steak knife.)

Suddenly, four days into my studies, and my favourite uncle passes away. Through no fault of my own, I am already diverting away from the plan that the system created. I was fitting in, and now no longer fitting in, as I was missing days away from school to see him one last time in hospital, as well as to attend the funeral, and to process my grief alone. Due to the academic rigour of this program, if you miss a day you are mince meat, meaning that it would be difficult to catch up. This was an utter disappointment, considering the work involved in getting in, and quitting my full-time job (the corporate one, which I needed to anyway to save my health and sanity) in order to join this program for three months.

Then the COVID-19 Pandemic hit, and my studies moved online. I had no choice but to leave General Assembly, and therefore ended up studying online with a cheaper institute. I had no clue what I was doing, in trying to pick up UX Design more independently.

This meant that I became more available to my last (chocolatier) employer, working in that not quite right, and past its use by date role, as a result of this sudden change in personal circumstances.

By Sandie Clarke on Unsplash

The lockdowns hit, and my employer keeps his business open, despite chocolate not being an essential business. I dodged a bullet there, yet it did not feel right working in the city, while it was a ghost town, as the Government instructed people to stay at home. On a Sunday, the shop I worked in was only one of two shops opened in the entire arcade. Even the security guards of the arcade were out of work. Same with the concierge. This felt incredibly weird. It was the Australian Governments JobKeeper wage subsidy (passed onto me from my employer) that made my employer act like this. Don't get me wrong, I was grateful, yet I definitely felt like a fish out of water working in a high risk environment through no fault of my own in a global pandemic, as well as technically being on welfare, of which was a huge blow to my dignity, and to virtually everyone's dignity at the time.

Although this job enabled me to save up the right amount of cash to take some time off to be a student, and to attend rehab interstate (only for a few days, and I was given gate passes to go out and enjoy myself while in hospital this time round) from the three month contract alone; I am grateful for that, as well as for this job getting me through the pandemic - as well as allowing me to use up a few days of my annual leave to move into an upgraded apartment nearby the water; yet there was a but. I ended up staying longer than I wanted to, in a role that was not right for me, and is below my ability, even though it is nice to also be humble. It also pays to be flexible for when you need a job, where you are therefore willing to do whatever job you can get your hands on; yet on the other hand, it is better to be unemployed, then to be in a job that isn't right for you. Have faith that things work themselves out in the end, as they usually do. As a result, now that I am working in IT, I have more respect for retail and hospitality workers.

By Alexander Popov on Unsplash

My hands are built for an academic; not to make and pour drinks, scoop ice cream, and handle chocolate. I also felt like I did not fit in, in this particular job when I was staying at a beautiful five-star hotel for my 40th Birthday (still in this pandemic of course), and I had a few too many in celebration of this achievement, making me a couple of minutes late to work the following day. (That was my fault.) Later that day, a lady a few years older than me jumped off behind the lift, and fell down in this same arcade, and took her own life. There was a loud thump on the lifts right opposite the shop I was working in, and having to wear a face mask at the time was hard enough with my asthma. As a result of this unexpected event, I received a trauma counselling session, courtesy of centre management. Gees, I so wasn't fitting in. What a social (and psychological) and remarkably real shock that was, despite being a positive person who generally has her s**t together.

By Conscious Design on Unsplash

A few months later, the pressure at this same job was too much, where I had an unexpected fall the morning that head office from another state came to visit the shop. I was certainly out of place, when my boss asked me to see the doctor, and due to my pride, I do not see them unless it is absolutely necessary. From there, although I enjoyed my new duties, I naturally felt a little out of place when I was not doing the same work that my colleagues would do.

A couple of months later (of which turned out to be my last month of employment in this not quite right, way beyond my used by date role and employer) there were a couple of changes that were implemented that I did not agree with. I was in a great bargaining position, if I needed to be in one, due to generating passive income from my investments, as well as my UX Design business picking up momentum, in addition to having ample money in the bank. Furthermore, double standards from my boss was real and very unfair. I digress.

I felt more like the wrong fit, when a computer determined my roster, where I needed 24/7 availability, and my hours were suddenly a lot less, and the volume of customers did not decrease in line with these changes. It felt like exploitation at its best, with electronic and photographic timesheets to add to this computerised roster system. If that is not insulting, then I don't know what is.

By Sabri Tuzcu on Unsplash

Furthermore, they brought back shared aprons as part of the uniform, except for management. That would feel so out of place for anyone, especially as we are expected to come to work in clean black clothes, of which we had to purchase out of pocket, to then fit us with a shared apron, of which was filthy with chocolate and other stains. Not nice at all. I felt like a sauna in it, and most of all very miserable. Pandemic or not, this is not cool.

By Arion Reyvonputra on Unsplash

Although the majority of customers were pleasant (with the exception of a few arseholes) I continued to receive a handful of comments saying that I am too intelligent to be in this job. Truth be known, they were right. That job served a purpose, and now it was making me miserable beyond belief by not fitting in, even though I got on exceptionally well with management, and with my coworkers.

I had to see out two more weeks, as I was not a casual employee. Despite that, they paid my annual leave payout a week late. That made me realise that I do not fit as a long-term or permanent employee in an organisation in the private sector. Only as an ABN contractor, or as a short term casual employee in the public sector for now. (Although a new full-time opportunity brings some more ignition from the 15th of February 2022.)

By Julian Hochgesang on Unsplash

Usually life events (one or multiple, as in yours truly's career circumstances shared with you, of not fitting in until taking entrepreneurship in the IT industry into my own hot little hands) serves as some hot fertile breeding ground for being remarkably real with your career, and with every area of your life. You are forced to rest, and to take some necessary time out in order to reflect. There are a few lucky souls out there who do not need to experience zero, or nowhere near as many s**tty events and outcomes as I had to, in order to become remarkably real as to what is, and is not working in your short but precious life. Good for you, if you did not need to encounter as many obstacles to being authentic and remarkably real.

By Ian Schneider on Unsplash

Four months into solely working in my own business as a freelance UX Designer (with some writing and brand ambassador opportunities on the side, as at the time of writing this); I can say with confidence that I fit in, even though imposter syndrome is real in the STEM profession. As a junior, I will be mentored for a few more years with my work checked on, yet I know I was (and still am) in the right place, even though it felt strange for the first few weeks. No more uniforms, face masks, rosters, bosses, and dirty shared aprons to wear. Fitting in, it was a small adjustment all the knowing of my new found freedoms of time, money, people, attire, and travel opportunities to name. I no longer needed permission to take time off.

In stark contrast (as at the time of writing this), I am currently freelancing for the same corporation where I was a head of after-sales and retention that led me to severe burnout, but now in an IT support role working from home, where I am left to my own devices, and I am not bullied, despite earning the same money, and not adding as much value to the business, as a result of not being as experienced in my new role. This sparked an interesting question with my partner when I had that particular conversation about fitting in. He asked "are the same people still at the same company?" and "Are you still working for the same people?" Yes I am. The same people, yet now I am respected, in addition to fitting into my new IT career, despite that industry still being male dominated, and hence difficult to break into at the best of times - pandemic or no pandemic again.

By Szilvia Basso on Unsplash

It really makes you think. If you feel like you are wearing a pair of odd socks (metaphorically speaking), and of which is a social shock; then why not change them if you are aware of that?

Truth be told, there are many others like me in the video below. If you listen to the below, the common trend as to why these people left their dream jobs, is because they were no longer the right fit in such said environments. I have done it a few times in the last few years (leaving those ill fit jobs), and so can you with courage and conviction. Some people need to learn the hard way (you know at least one person who has. Yes, you are so welcome) while others gain a shorter route to authenticity by learning from other people's challenges and setbacks.

As an extra aside, I first came across this song within the final months of burnout with the finance company, and I recall it being played on my last day. Receiving a large signed farewell card, with the most beautiful comments (and ironically from the people who bullied me), as well as being taken out to lunch, and receiving a couple of luxury gifts; it felt like I finally fitted in, yet it was too late, and only for this to be taken away on my hospital stay the next day. Fast forward to the day of writing this article, I played this song again on the bus, on the way to lunch, and I bursted into tears, knowing that I have finally made it into a career that is fitting me nicely right now:

Come to think of it, dear reader, you don't wear clothes that no longer fit you while going out for the day, do you? Same with shoes. This philosophy has to be the same with all social and life experiences. Notice the social shock: be remarkably real and catch it, and deal with it, and let it pass through you with time and healing. You've got this. Stay strong and resilient. Be true to yourself, because you are worth it. Be your own best friend, and break the stigma. Be remarkable.


About the Creator

Justine Crowley

Freelance Internet Moderator/UX Writer/UX Consulting Designer/Graphic Designer

Lives in Sydney, Australia. Loves life.

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