Burnout 101: Why I Walked Out on My Job … and Don’t Regret It

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Leaving JobPeople have a lot of opinions about money.

In our “Money Mic” series, we hand over the podium to someone with a strong opinion on a financial topic. These are their views, not ours, but we welcome the opportunity to spark a constructive conversation about money. 

Today, one woman opens up about why she walked out on a job she hated … even though she didn’t have a Plan B. Below, we have advice for her–and people like her–from a Certified Financial Planner (CFP).

Whether you’re a money maven or still learning the ropes, we share these stories to let you know you’re not alone. This is just one person’s story; for LearnVest-approved advice on what we recommend you do in a situation like this, check out our note in the end.

I’ve walked out on one job in my life.

I had been in NYC for just over a year when I saw a Craigslist ad for an office manager/executive assistant for a fashion designer management agency in SoHo. I immediately jumped at the opportunity to work in fashion.

Although the book version of “The Devil Wears Prada” was already out, I had not read it, and the movie adaptation was still a year away.

Believe it or not, I had zero idea about the stereotypical catty world for which I was about to sign up. When they offered me the position, I gave my current job notice, dusted off my one pair of Jimmy Choo pumps and prepared to take my place in the world of fashion.

I had been making $28,000 at the previous job, and although the new one only paid $2,000 more, it was still more, and the work, I figured, would be far more exciting.

The Good, the Bad and the Fashionable

Admittedly, working in fashion had its perks. I got free shoes and an occasional lunch at Balthazar, a trendy French brasserie downtown … but I also had to deal with incessant screaming phone calls from designers, and the sting of everyone from industry insiders to my own boss questioning my intelligence (he would call me “clearly brainless”).

Making matters worse, I was not psychic.

I was supposed to somehow know my boss never flew American Airlines, never used condiments and had not one, but three phones—when he had never actually given me any of this information. I learned the hard way when I booked his trip to L.A. on American, got his turkey sandwich with mustard and gave out the wrong number to his BlackBerry. Each screw-up resulted in being pulled aside and reamed out for not figuring it all out on my own. I began to doubt myself: Maybe I was the idiot he claimed.

RELATED: 9 Signs You’ve Got a Bad Boss

I won’t even get into the female agent who often opened her drawer of enemas and offered me a few to help with my weight problem. I don’t think I have a weight problem.

It was an emotional year, to say the least.

Then Things Got Even Worse: My Breaking Point

Just before Fashion Week in September, things got even worse. The once passive-aggressive ridiculing by my boss had started to take place in the main office, rather than in private. It was as though he got off on berating me out in the open, for everyone—even designers I had followed for years in Vogue—to see.

Every tiny mistake led to him asking if I was deliberately trying to get fired. When I asked for a raise because I was working 10-11 hours a day and was almost always at his beck and call, he literally laughed in my face. I countered that I was making $30,000 and putting up with emotional and mental distress on a daily basis. He suggested I get a therapist like the rest of New York; I politely said I couldn’t afford one.

Halfway through Fashion Week, one of my favorite designers came by the office. That same day, my boss was scheduled to fly to Miami, but his flight, as well as every other one, was canceled due to a hurricane. There was nothing I could do about a natural disaster. But to him, of course, it meant I didn’t try hard enough.

When I broke the news, he launched into a tirade of insults. I watched the interns cower, the other agent roll her eyes and I did everything within my power not to cry. (After I saw “The Devil Wears Prada,” I started to wonder if he was taking tips from it.)

The designer, whom I had long admired, stared in horror and shot me a sympathetic glance. Other than that, no one said a word. I walked back to my desk and told my intern I was going for a walk. As I said it, I had already decided to never step foot in that office again.

As I walked toward the elevator choking back tears, my boss told me to pick him up a Starbucks coffee while I was out. I nodded silently and left.

What Happened After I Walked Out

I went to Starbucks, got myself an iced Americano and proceeded to walk up Broadway to the Flatiron building. I sat down and watched the tourists, thinking about how I would tell my parents what I had done. Even before quitting, I was living paycheck to paycheck. My savings were somewhere around $600.

But in that moment, money wasn’t my greatest concern. I had been so belittled, all I could do was sit there, feel the wooden slats of the bench under me and allow myself to feel freedom instead of fear.

RELATED: Why Women Are Burning Out at Work Before 30

Finally, I got up and headed back to my apartment. On the way home, I received a call from the owner of the company who apologized (very weakly, if we’re to be honest) for my boss’ behavior. He also said I never had a thick enough skin for the job, but he appreciated my hard work and would give me one week’s severance. Not much, but it was something.

I was in no position to haggle. If anything, I was grateful.

My New Lease on Life

After drowning my sorrows in wine that first night, I started my job search with fervor. I also cut costs: no more eating out, no more bars and no more shopping until I got a job.

I didn’t want to tell my parents I had walked out until I had something else lined up. I was hoping we could have a good laugh about it, eventually. I have always found jobs on Craigslist, and once again started my search there. This was before the recession so finding a job wasn’t as difficult as it would be now; after only four interviews, I was offered a job just in time to pay October’s rent.

The job that came next was at a guerrilla marketing company. I was hired to be the office manager, and it was a job I had for over two years before I was eventually let go, along with almost everyone else, because of the recession. Unlike my job in fashion, the marketing company was full of great co-workers, an absent boss (which is always great) and an environment that nurtured our artistic pursuits outside of work.

I made amazing friends, met one of the great loves of my life and learned to have faith in myself again … a difficult task considering the office from which I came. I started a blog based on my office manager experiences, and eventually found the necessary self-esteem to pursue writing as a full-time career after I was laid off with a very generous eight weeks’ severance.

On a good day, I can say things happen for a reason. On a bad day, I don’t know why or how things happen.

While I can say now that having walked out on that fashion job was one of the wisest choices I ever made, I’m not sure I’d be able to say the same thing had the outcome gone in a completely different direction. However, instead of getting into “what if,” I’ll just say having had that job and then leaving it are two important parts of my life.

It also makes for a great story, and as a writer, that’s always a good thing.

Amanda Chatel is a writer based in New York City.

 

 

 

If You’re In This Situation: 

Burnout is real. We get how emotionally taxing it can be to work at a job you hate. If you’re in a similar boat, we urge you to think about a backup plan before making the leap. “It’s best to have another job lined up,” says LearnVest Certified Financial Planner (CFP) Sophia Bera, “but sometimes you just don’t. If you have a significant other or parents who can support you for the next few months, it’s much easier to quit abruptly. Also, you have got to hustle! Put all your energy into expanding your network and set up as many information interviews as possible.”

In meantime, explore ways to make extra cash. “Post an ad on Craigslist or elance.com so you can get freelance work,” our financial planner suggests. “Also, don’t overlook the possibility of serving, bartending or delivering pizzas. These jobs don’t involve working full-time during the day, so you still have plenty of time to look for work.” Of course, many people don’t have family to lean on: That’s why LearnVest always recommends your first financial priority be saving up an emergency fund so you don’t risk going into deep credit card debt, or being unable to pay your bills, should disaster strike.

Here are 5 ways to start an emergency fund, LearnVest’s crash course on savings 101 and what really counts as a financial emergency.

  • don eug

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  • April

    I just did the same thing last week. Luckily I had a job lined up to start within the next few weeks. I hated the place and was miserable everyday. It was hard to know I would go without a paycheck for a while, but it felt good to feel so empowered and to take control over my own future.

  • Scififan

    I was fired ,but I knew it was coming so I had taken all my personal stuff home the previous week. Jobs come and go. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t.

  • Marcella

    I don’t understand why the article title calls this “burnout” instead of “abuse”? Are you kidding? No one should be treated like the author was. Burnout is an entirely different thing.

  • Black Bart

    Good for you for walking out on that major asshat. I don’t know anything about the world of fashion – maybe it draws those “I think I am better than you because I know who made those fancy pants” types, but the guy’s behavior was pathetic. Who gives a rat’s a$$ if he doesn’t fly American and doesn’t use condiments? Ooo-la-la. STFU, fly the friendly skies patriotically and ingest something you think is bad for you. Have some Burger King even. You weren’t the stupid one, even though he belittled you so much. HE was the stupid one. Zero people skills, not focused on the actual work of the job, and probably committing behavior that constituted harassment. “Get a therapist like the rest of New York?” Who does this dickweed think he is? The goddamned mayor? I am in a similar situation to you – although not as severe I must admit. My wife completed her PhD and we moved back to Boston, my home city. She immediately got hired at a strong university (as her PhD is kick-ass, titanium grade awesomeness), but I struggled looking for work. I had been a high school teacher for 10 years, but had grown sick of disrespectful, sleazy, no-work-doing, no-accountability teenagers, so I chose not to even try to go back into that field. Instead, I landed seasonal work at a country club as a summer manager. The pay was good, the work was fine (mostly maintenance tasks and handling member questions and concerns, some paperwork) and the co-workers were great (mostly high school and college kids with a good work ethic). The first season I was there, we had this amazing general manager named John. He was a dynamo. He’d been there 11 years. He knew everything about the place and everyone in it. He was respected, well-liked, and handled every aspect of his job with impeccable professionalism. Then they fired him out of the blue with no explanation. He was livid (and probably lost about $40K worth of yearly income in the process). The woman they hired was a complete troglodyte. She was a micro-managing dolt who would stand over your shoulder while you washed windows and swept and mopped, giving you little direction and instructions as you worked. It was maddening. I have a graduate degree and I had to listen to this person handle me like I was a 3rd grader. She was also rude and stand-offish. This was a result of the fact she knew she was doing a poor job and that people did not like her. She messed up the scheduling on several occasions. There was a staff of 60 people total with 20 or so on at any given time, so she had to make sure each day had enough coverage, especially in June – August when it got super-busy. There were many times where she just failed to schedule people and the manager on duty had to scramble to not only open the club at 6:30 AM, but wake kids up to ask them to come in to work, frantically making a series of 7AM telephone calls. That is unprofessional and ridiculous. Needless to say the kids’ parents were not happy about that nor were the kids – and I don’t blame them. They had all the right in the world to think less of her and management. It was poor leadership – a complete lack thereof. So, now it is the post-season and I (stupidly) agreed to cover some post-season shifts. The place is open through Columbus Day so the members can go boating on the lake in the fall. Now, some good news: I secured a full time job in sales in the meantime, so I have a new workplace and can get away from this dip$hit of a boss (people usually quit supervisors, not jobs). My new job is amazing – the work, my boss, co-workers, my cube, everything – but I just don’t want to do these shifts I agreed to. Sure, it is extra $$, but I don’t care. I am making a lot a my new job. Also, this douche of a boss all of the sudden has started stacking more hours on my remaining shifts because some of the members want the club to open earlier so they can eat breakfast together. I was not asked, but ordered to come in at 7AM when the original schedule said 12PM – 5PM. She has done this to me several times this season. Now that I have passed in my official resignation letter and will NEVER be coming back, I made a promise to myself – if she messes with the schedule ONE more time, I am walking out on her. I will just send a simple email stating that I feel I have been taken advantage of with all the unannounced schedule changes and that I won’t work in those conditions. Sorry it had to end this way. I will mail my manager’s keys to the club. Good bye. I am praying that she gives me this chance to walk out. I don’t want to sacrifice my personal integrity because I did agree to do the shifts, but I also want my self-respect in tact and this woman has walked all over me (and other employees as well) for long enough.