“I want to share my story, and I want to know yours. I believe with all my heart that sharing our stories, the real, ugly, broken ones, is one of the most powerful things in the world, because to share our story we must first accept it. We must own it. We must stop running from it or shoving it into the corner when company comes over. To share our story is to admit that we've been changed.”
-Anna White, Mended
Santa Clara, California - October 2012
I’ve had my fair share of odd jobs. When people find out you’ve graduated with an English degree, the most common question is “So you want to be a teacher?” Hell no, I’d say. (But mad props to my mom and sister for the patience they exhibit everyday as a librarian and an art teacher.)
“I want to be a writer for a magazine,” I’d explain. “Oh that's cool!” was the usual response, though often it sounded far more like “Good luck with that.”
I worked at a bakery for a year before I finally got a job as a writer for a magazine about the outdoor industry. It was a small operation—just me, another writer, a graphic designer, and the owner—but it seemed like the perfect fit.
After a few weeks, however, it became quite clear that even though I enjoyed the work itself, I was in a toxic work environment.
There was constant criticism, over-the-top micromanaging, and regular talk about female flaws from my boss. During my interviews (we all worked in one big room) my boss would send a constant stream of messages with questions to ask until finally taking over completely mid-conversation. My confidence was shot, and I found myself having horrible anxiety on Sunday nights at the prospect of another week at work.
After seven months, I was done. I stood up for myself one too many times, and I was let go. It was like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders when I realized I never had to set foot in that office again. But the months of carrying that load had taken a toll. I felt a little broken.
I continued writing for online publications while sending out cover letters and resumes to every writing job in the Bay Area. No takers. To make some money I even did a brief stint as a nanny, which only further confirmed that I am not cut out to work with kids. Finally out of desperation I took a job as a telemarketer for a software company.
On my first day, my new boss sat me down in front of a phone and told me to make a cold call. I started having flashbacks to my old boss hovering around my desk as I attempted to conduct an interview. My face flushed and my chest began to tighten. I made the call, fumbling for words, and when I got the “no thanks” I put the phone down with relief.
“It’s a good start,” he said, kindly. “Now what do you think you could do better next time?”
My new boss worked with the sales team every morning to improve our pitches, and rewarded us each day with prizes for the person with the most sales. He offered constructive criticism and praise equally. He pushed us to be better. Slowly but surely, I felt the confidence I had lost returning. I was self-assured talking to 60 strangers a day, and even to people who were less than happy to receive my call. I was quick on my feet with rebuttals. I could turn a “no” into a “yes.” Though this was not the work I wanted to be doing, the positive environment made all the difference. I was flourishing.
In the same amount of time it took my old job to break me down, my new one built me back up. After seven months I gave my notice as Charlie and I prepared to embark on our journey to Greece.
When I said goodbye to my boss, I told him that he had helped me more than he knew. Sometimes you find inspiration in unlikely places, like in a cubicle in a nondescript building doing a job where you get hung up on a lot. C’est la vie.
Read Comfort Zone - Part 1 here.