9 to 5 Culture

My Last 9 to 5 Job

I’ve had a few people ask me what my last traditional office job actually was like. Where did I work? What did I do? Was that the job that pushed me over the edge?

The answer to the last question is a resounding “yes”. In fact, the day I lost that job, I sought solace in this site (The Great Office Escape) almost the minute I got home. I needed to write, and to vent. My good friend “jobot” made a comment in the comment feed that day that immediately put me in a better mood. As it turned out, my getting fired from that job was the best thing that ever happened to me.

So, what was the job?

Helping Rich People Get Richer

There is nothing quite like being kicked in the head day after day than being paid $13 an hour to help millionaires add to their portfolios. It isn’t even about the money, really. More about feeling like your talents are going completely to waste. The truth is, I was like a lot of you: I simply didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, and so I chose to work as an Administrative Assistant to make ends meet. This was in the fall of 2007.

I spent my days doing what good admin assistants do – keep track of files, organize drawers, fold documents on the dotted line, tear documents on the dashed line, send mail to clients informing them that the yearly company wine tour was upon them once again and make large rubber-band balls in my spare time.

Watching the last, beautiful days of autumn in Portland tick by while I was wasting away in a depressing office was hard enough. But doing work that will certainly be replaced by computers and automation (and it should) soon is humiliating. To make matters worse, my co-workers and employer were the biggest bunch of uptight prudes I’ve ever worked with (save for the CEO of the company – he was ok.)

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I was allowed a 30-minute unpaid lunch “hour” and if I wasn’t back by 1, the company henchwoman (I will call her Prudence) would get upset. I’m not talking back at 1:15 – I’m talking back at 1:01! Prudence was an interesting breed – the physical representation of everything that I believe is wrong with many middle-aged people in this country. She liked to spend as much money on her toys as possible (car, house TV etc.) while working 9-to-5 every day to “get ahead.” She seemed to define her self-worth with by prestigious college her son was thinking about applying to and bragging about the upcoming marriage of one family member after another, day after day until I wanted to tear my eyes out with the letter opener.

Prudence treated me like a lackey, constantly double-checking my work, undermining my efforts and making me feel like I couldn’t do the job up to her standards. She was a bad boss personified.

One day I came back from a rare excursion to the outside world during company hours (trip to the post office) and caught her on my computer “looking for a file” when I knew for sure that she was actually checking my browser history. Who the hell does this?

“Don’t you have anything better to do? Do your damn work, then go home to your fifty-five engaged family members,” I felt like telling her.

I actually did a pretty good job with my work, all things considered. I worked fairly hard and kept things together for the firm. I just think Prudence didn’t like me because I was too interesting.

The Day I Got Canned

Friday, November 9th, 2007 was a particularly nice day in Portland – it was sunny, a rarity that time of year. I came to work nonchalantly, expecting another day of cold-calling forty or fifty clients and reminding them to make an appointment to have their portfolios examined when Prudence called me into her office.

Sensing something important, I walked in, sat down, and she let me go immediately. First words out of her mouth. I remember the moment well, because my first reaction was interesting. I was happy.

In that moment I wasn’t worried about how I was going to pay my bills, or how I was going to find more meaningful work, or anything else. I was happy that life had given me a kick in the pants to get out of that awful place. But then something interesting happened. Prudence said the following to me:

“You can stay to work out the day if you’d like, or you can leave now. But if you leave now, write down the number of hours you worked today so that you can be paid accordingly.

You are kidding, right? Not only do I not get any kind of severance, but I don’t even get paid for the day unless I sit around in your mildew-filled office? There was no work for me to do at this point. I wasn’t about to call a bunch of company clients after I had just been fired. I had never felt so insulted. At that moment I swore I would never work a 9-to-5 job that I hated again, and I’d never work for such a selfish, stuck-up clown in my life, no matter what it took. I left Prudence’s office immediately, muttering something about how I wasn’t happy working for her anyway. Didn’t say goodbye.

The Journey Begins With the End

My entire life eclipsed. I left that company with a new resolve and determination.

Days became weeks, and 2007 became 2008. I worked for a great company for a year, fine-tuning my web development and design skills. I would study HTML, CSS, PHP and web code late into the night, fueled by the awful memory of my last 9-to-5. I wanted to be good at understanding the web – the best. Soon I began to pick up clients of my own and started doing freelance work. I formed my own web development solo business that year and have been doing it ever since. Today I love the people I work with – I have interesting clients from all over the country who treat me as the professional I am, and I’m thrilled to do business with them.

Sometimes the most beautiful situations can come out of the worst. I have no regrets about working for the financial firm in Portland because it represented the bottom of the barrel for me. Perhaps I would not be where I am today; a happy, energetic business owner and budding entrepreneur if not for this awful work experience.

Trust me; There truly is hope for all of us, no matter how bad things look.

I urge you to look at your job. Do you hate it? What’s the worst that can happen? Maybe getting fired is good!


1 Comment

  • Stephanie January 22, 2015 at 8:17 am

    I left a job yesterday after a situation and manager much like the one you described. I have never been so happy. What a nightmare. The woman actually kept my time, literally marking the minute I walked in. Then I had to sit and listen to her rant all day about absolutely nothing.


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