Since graduating with my degree fifteen years ago, I've always been the assistant. I was an assistant to the assistant as an early graduate. Then I was the Assistant Buyer in my twenties. Then in my later twenties I was an Assistant Manager at Victoria's Secret. I was always the bridesmaid, and never the bride, or always the assistant and never the manager if you will. No matter what I did to prove myself, to better myself, to rise in the ranks, there was never a real opportunity for me to become a manager. Sure I could have left each of those companies to be a manager somewhere else, but I always liked the companies where I was employed. So why leave? Still, I always wondered what it would be like to be a manager.
That is why my eyes lit up with the prospect of managing a small business, when the opportunity presented itself last April. Not only would I be managing a small staff, but I'd also (according to the business owner and friend) helping plan special events, revamping her social media, and even having a hand in buying. Buying. Being a retail buyer in Fresno California was a dream that died when I left a regional retailer back in 2002. Plus that regional retailer closed it's doors years ago. At this point being a manager was going to be icing on the cake. In my mind this truly was going to be the job I had always dreamed of.
I won't bore you with the details, but this dream job turned into a nightmare. For starters, my start date was pushed back by two weeks. Then when I started, I went in blindly, with no set training or info, and basically observed the daily operations for three days. The communication I had with the owner was that I was just there to observe, create an action plan around areas of opportunity, then touch base with her the following week. The staff I was observing was told that I was just the new gal, there to learn the ropes and basically be a consultant. They had no idea why I wasn't doing a single thing but taking notes.
It didn't take long for me to realize that the other employees hated me. They didn't understand what I was doing there, and took offense to the fact that I was eventually going to be their manager. They had no desire to show me the ropes or teach me the daily operations in the absence of the owner. They were also quick to talk behind my back to the owner. Ultimately the owner cut me off at the knees, didn't back me as a manager in any way, and ultimately tested me on "business plans" and "marketing plans" that she wanted me to create, and if I'm honest with myself, she was never going to use. Four weeks into my new "dream job", my gut told me that this was a bad idea. My gut told me that I really should have looked before I took that jump.
Hindsight tells me that I should have gotten my employment agreement in writing. Hindsight tells me that if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Hindsight tells me that somethings just aren't meant to be.
Six weeks after quitting my full time job, my hours were cut. Shortly after that my pay was cut. The atmosphere was toxic and there was no team. It was every (wo)man for herself. I was never given the opportunity to flex any of my management muscles. I was never able to utilize my almost fifteen years of retail experience. The toxic environment made me timid, it made me doubt myself in a way I hadn't in years. Again, fear and anxiety reigned, as I began to regret my decision. Did I really just throw away a really good job and really good pay for a dream?
The truth is, I wasn't any happier than I was before. The only difference was that this time, I didn't have any kind of job security. If anything I was more stressed by my job than ever before, because I was so afraid of failing. I felt like I had failed at my opportunity to be a manager, that I had failed in making a smart decision in the first place, that I had failed in taking a leap of faith. I was so afraid to admit that maybe I hadn't made the best decision. And I held on to that fear. I let it guide me. I let it hold my tongue. I let it tell me lies. I let it take control.
Then one morning as I was working at the counter, helping clients, I made the wrong person wait. Someone the owner knew. Someone important. There were two other associates in the building at the time, and they both acknowledged this person, said hello to him, and went about their business. The owner was in a meeting at the time, so I told him that he would have to wait. When he couldn't wait any longer, I took a message for him and he left. This was something that happened daily. Everyone always wanted to talk the owner. I thought it was no big deal. I couldn't have been more wrong. As soon as the "important" person left, one of the other associates asked me what he wanted. I told her, and gave her the message. She disappeared into the back and less than a minute later the owner came out and yelled at me. Yelled. When I tried to explain, she told me "I don't care", and walked away. It took every fiber of my being not to walk out, but damn if that altercation didn't light a fire that had long been extinguished. Not only was the writing was on the wall, but my gut was now screaming at me. This team of people obviously did not have my back, they obviously were not interested in training me or showing me new procedures, and they were so obviously never going to work with me as an peer or a manager. I was done. This was not the place for me. And so I decided to go with my gut.
I left work that day with a new resolve. I was done here. No matter how badly I had wanted the job, I couldn't wait to leave. I asked for a week off before the girls started school, knowing good and well that I wasn't going to return. When I got home that night, I did something I should have done months before. I contacted blog friends and peers and asked them if they needed any writing services. I was honest and said I was looking for writing jobs, because I was going to be unemployed very soon. Before the night ended I had two. It was exactly what I needed to know that there was a way out, and that even though I felt like I was falling, I certainly wasn't failing. The next day I called my old manager and asked her to coffee.
That coffee date turned into an interview the following day, and I was so grateful that she welcomed me back with open arms. I left that coffee date and sent a text message to the owner. Yes, that's right, a text message. I was as professional as you can get by text, but basically said I wouldn't be back. I felt so light after sending that text, and even though it's probably the most unprofessional thing I have ever done as an employee, it was also the most freeing. After spending the summer with extra time on my hands, I knew exactly what I wanted. I wanted to work part time, I wanted to ghost write, and I wanted to be happy. Was that even possible at this point? The kids started school, I went back to work, and life returned to our brand of normal again.
In May I quit my job for a new job. In August I quit the new job. In September I went back to my old job, but this time would be different. This time I'd go back and work instead of manage. By doing so, it would change everything about being an employee and a working mom. Today I'm happier than I have been in almost two years. Quitting my first job seemed like a mistake all summer, but hindsight and my gut say it's the most important mistake I have ever made. With every mistake, comes a silver lining, and I have to tell you that this silver lining sparkles.
Stay tuned for Part three:
The Silver Lining
Read part one of this story here
Read part one of this story here