After resigning from my corporate job in 1999, most people understood my need to explore the world outside my cubicle. I was thirty years old and had been working since the age of twelve. I had babysat and cleaned houses. I worked at a video store and a church nursery. I worked as a nurse's aide and in a clothing store in the mall.
In the early 90's, I had a job as an accounts payable clerk for a nice family who owned an electrical contracting company on Harry Hines in Dallas. At that time, as a woman, if you were telling someone you worked on Harry Hines, they immediately thought of hookers. Driving up to work early in the morning, it was not unusual to see drug paraphernalia, used condoms and a used woman walking the street.
I left the job on Harry Hines for a better location and better pay, working my way through college. I was always looking for the perfect job because, after all, many in my parents' generation were nearing retirement from long term jobs with great benefits, several weeks of vacation, and steady pay.
By my mid-twenties, I thought I had found what I was looking for. I quickly moved from secretary to mid-level management in a large corporation. I worked with some amazing people with similar backgrounds as mine and life was good. However, as is often told, something was missing.
I had begun having stress related dreams in which I was surrounded by coworkers who couldn't remember my name and even though we didn't have a time clock, I dreamt of punching my card into a huge, gray clock, walking slowly to my desk, slumping over, and dying.
I put together my resignation letter in hopes of finding a temporary job that would allow me some flexibility. It was the dotcom era and many people had begun to have a better work/life balance.
My decision to resign had made its way to higher ups and I was quickly called into a meeting with my boss's boss. She was a director and I didn't know her well at all. Nervously, I walked into her cliche' of an office; corner, third floor, with big windows overlooking the parking lot.
"Why in the world would you want to resign?" She asked, motioning me to sit down.
"I can't explain it." I told her as I glanced around and saw glimpses of her life. She had a photo of her and her daughter standing on a rock, and many gold and silver plaques, affixed to faux wood, engraved with her name and the company logo.
"I just feel like there's a big world out there and maybe I'm not where I'm supposed to be."
Then, I got the feeling that feelings had no business in her office.
"You have everything you could ever want here. Is it money? Do you want more money? We can offer $5,000 more a year."
"No, it has nothing to do with money. That's the point. It has to do with living my life."
She laughed a condescending laugh. "Well, that's a little hard to do isn't it if you don't have the money to do that?"
What could I say to her to explain the gap that money could never fill?
"Listen, you're making a huge mistake." She told me as her secretary's voice erupted from a speaker somewhere on her desk.
"It's your daughter." The voice said wearily.
Holding up a badly manicured finger, she shushed me.
Turning her back, she spoke with her daughter.
"You're home from school? Okay............What? Well just shut the side gate and lock it. I'm in a meeting. We'll talk about this later."
She looked me directly in the eye and sighed. "Well! It seems like you've made up your mind."
There was no turning back. At that moment, I knew I was marked, but I didn't know just how marked until we exited her office.
She handed my resignation letter to her secretary. "Send this to H.R. and tell them she NEVER wants to work in this business AGAIN!" And with that, she stomped back into her office, slamming the door.
I looked to her secretary as she stared at me apologetically.
Making my way back to my desk, I was relieved to be leaving that.
I quickly found a contract tech writing job within the same company. I had a better balance and happily answered any questions that my prior department had. I finished college and soon after that was the dotcom bust. There was a takeover of that company and many jobs disappeared.
I decided to try real estate. I eventually opened my own office and the work was rewarding until the national mortgage crisis hit.
I then took a job selling advertising for a major telecom company. The base pay was poverty level, but promises of big commissions kept me going back. I had been there for a couple of months when my husband and daughter got the flu. My six-week-old son and I were given medication that was supposed to prevent us from getting it too. Instead, the medicine made my son very sick. With no one available to care for any of them, exhausted and stressed, I told my husband I would make the dreaded call to my supervisor.
"I need your help with my business." He said. "You're not even making enough money to cover childcare."
My supervisor answered my call and I told her about my situation, I told her I would need to resign because I needed to be there for my family and my husband's business.
"What are you saying?"
"That I need to resign."
"You can't do that. You will owe us lots of money. You will get a bill in the mail for our training. We have world class training. You can't resign."
"My family is falling apart. I can't leave them like this."
"Well.....just know that you will have to pay. I can't stress enough to you that you will be billed. My son worked for us and he had to pay. He got a bill in the mail and he had to pay."
Oddly enough, I did not receive a bill, but several small commission checks over the course of the next year.
Throughout my life, I have enjoyed working off and on as a genealogist and researcher, but the jobs are not consistent. My son is in school now and I've been looking at tech writing jobs again. It's a job I really enjoy and one that would make a big enough difference, financially, to give my husband a much needed break.
Unfortunately, my past decisions to put family first, have not boded well in my recent job search. A recruiter called a few weeks ago with the perfect position. It was a three year contract job as a tech writer at the same, large telecom company where the supervisor had told me I would have to pay. Years ago, she had entered my social security number into the company's system flagging me as non-hirable. The recruiter ensured me that other people had gone through the same thing and there was a process I could go through to be taken off "the list". I went through the steps to be removed and was told I would be contacted shortly. That was about a month ago.
Still, in this tight economy with many people much worse off than me, I have been lucky. I don't regret my views of working to live instead of living for work. I may not have a six figure salary, but such a salary doesn't have me. Self-employment has been harder than any corporate job I ever held, but it has also been much more rewarding. With many people losing their pensions, the careers of our parents have ceased to be. I'm not sure what's on the horizon, but moments of uncertainty don't deter me.