I seriously think I’m not cut out for traditional employment because something always goes awry, or someone pisses me off, and I end up hating my job, my manager, my colleagues or all of the above. But I halfway admire those who can work at the same company for 40 years before they finally retire.
I’ve worked for at least 13 different companies during my 20-year work history and the most I’ve ever given an employer is nearly five years of service. I actually impressed myself with that one because my average cutoff for professional positions is two years before I’m disgruntled and crafting a well-written fuck-you-and-this-job.
Most times – seven out of 13 to be exact – I didn’t even make it to the letter-writing phase; I simply quit. No two weeks’ notice. Not even an e-mail or phone call before the time I was supposed to clock in.
I vaguely remember the position but vividly remember the near-freezing temperatures at the poultry plant during the summer of 1995 right before my senior year of college.
“Oh, that’s an easy department,” said those familiar with it.
I don’t do cold work spaces. But I bundled up for five weeks, even wearing thick cotton gloves under my rubber gloves. None of that protected my right ring finger from becoming stiff and periodically aching until early 2000, though.
Apparently, assembly lines aren’t my thing either. One evening, I was cross-trained and paired with an employee who sent trays of chicken down the conveyor belt towards me but she moved quickly like a damn robot. Never mind I was one of the new girls and she had been there for a decade.
For some quality control reason I can no longer recall, I held a tray, simultaneously stopping the trays behind it the same way I witnessed another employee do it. But I must’ve held it a few seconds too long because yellow Styrofoam, wings, drumsticks and thighs flew upward and outward like a mini water fountain.
I continued to hold the first tray. “Let it go!” the older employees yelled while they grimaced at me. How rude. How about you, I don’t know, helpme? I didn’t return the next evening or any other night. Who’s gonna catch your chicken now?
I graduated from college in 1996, when pagers were still popular, so I ended up working part-time for a paging company while I searched for a job in my field. It was a call center environment where callers phoned us with their messages and we typed and sent them to the recipients. The job was fast-paced but I prided myself on my fast and accurate typing skills from my high school keyboarding class.
There was one woman who had just gotten married and wanted to send a short message to her new husband. I could hear her smile as she relayed “I love you.” How sweet, I thought, as I bid her “Best Wishes” and all the other cliches you say to newlyweds.
Once I confirmed the page was successfully transmitted, she quickly hung up. As I heard an immediate beep in my ear indicating the next caller, I happened to glance back at the screen and gasped. That last word was not “you.” But there was no way for me to go back and change it or even send a new page.
Three simple yet powerful words and I somehow messed them up. I could only imagine the look on the groom’s face as he asked himself “Who the hell is Lou?”
I was off my game for the rest of my shift, which was exacerbated by the fact that we lose our seat any time we go on break. What the hell? I have to pace the floor looking for an empty chair like I’m at a seat-yourself-buffeteria? And so I added customer service and call centers to the “no” list with assembly lines.
Ten years after I first walked out of a job, I started working for a food service company. I was already annoyed that I didn’t have a proper workstation because there were no available cubicles. I had a flashback but I dismissed it.
Later in the week, I e-mailed the human resources representative a benefits and payroll question. She promptly responded and I thanked her for her assistance. Not even 30 minutes later, my manager approached my open makeshift table, er, desk and berated me for contacting HR. “Next time you have a question, you ask me.”
I stared in disbelief as my colleagues shot me an “ooh-you-done-fucked-up-now” look. But since when was it inappropriate to direct an HR question to HR? Did this woman tap into my e-mail or did HR complain because direct questions were only limited to orientation?
“I’m your manager,” she added icily but with a smile.
And from there I became her former employee.
So yeah, I’m the discourteous chronic quitter. But I’m also the one who calls bullshit on that loving-your-job chatter. (Or maybe I’m just jealous.) I have yet to find a standard nine-to-five that I remotely like, unless perks such as long lunches and monthly happy hours count.
Perhaps that’s how I tolerated my most recent role, ironically as manager. The thought of one of my team members abruptly leaving me as my karma wasn’t a real fear, though. If someone did, I would’ve assumed she suffered the same ailment as me: She hated her job. Or she hated me.
I remained in that position for four years before I decided to leave on the next to last day of 2011. But strangely, I was reluctant – nervous even – to hand in the carefully-drafted letter of resignation. And it wasn’t a two-weeks’ notice; it was a full month in advance!
My VP asked me to take the weekend to think about my decision. I did.
My problem was less about the jobs and more about me. I hate confinement, inefficiency, constant interaction and routine. I’m more project-oriented than task-oriented. Oh, we’re done with this? Then let’s move on to the next thing and never revisit it unless it’s for improvement.
I thrive in solitude and need autonomy, flexibility, variety and creativity in my day-to-day duties. Structure and status quo stifled me. Customers and colleagues often overwhelmed me. Policies and politics annoyed me. Yet I kept settling, panicking then fleeing.
But I can’t fake it. I don’t know how to play the game. Work in the traditional sense just isn’t my thing.
I’m simply not meant to be an employee.
Follow Teronda as she navigates the freelance writing world at @skinnydcwriter.