How having two horrible bosses ended up changing my life for the better
My first really bad boss was the one that caused me to leave a career in corporate America. I’ll call her #1.
A little background information: the company where I was working at that point had a reputation for being cool and hip with a laid back vibe, providing a flexible work-life balance, and doing meaningful work. The interview process was long and grueling, presumably to ensure that only those with “the right fit” got hired. When I found out that I got the job, I was over-the-moon excited. I actually felt special. I used phrases like “drinking the kool-aid”, because that’s what I was doing.
However, after three years of doing the exact same work, I needed a change. I started looking for other jobs within the same company, and I ended up getting a job on another team. The work was challenging and very different from what I had been doing, and that was all I really wanted.
I was on this new team for three months when, seemingly out of nowhere, there was a huge shakeup within the company. I was put on another team, with a new boss, in a role that had never existed before. But it was new and different, which I’m a sucker for, so I went with it.
#1 was my new boss.
Without going into too much detail, other than to say that within a year, I was experiencing anxiety like never before, and I was having panic attacks for the first time in my life. I felt constantly on edge. I would be physically sick and shaky and unable to concentrate. This would happen several times a week, but especially right before and after a meeting with #1. It went on for months.
The idea of quitting had been building up slowly over a few weeks, and then more so over what would be my final days. I would fantasize about what I would say, and how I would act — how badass I’d be — when I quit. For example: “Fuck you!” I’d say as I slammed down my badge and laptop on #1’s desk before walking out into the bright daylight, never looking back. I imagined so many different scenarios of how it would play out. In all of them, I left with a huge smile on my face, feeling victorious and vindicated.
And then one day, I just did it. It wasn’t as dramatic (or as badass) as I’d imagined. There was no swearing or slamming down of office equipment. No dramatic exit. I just told #1 that I was quitting. I will *never* forget the look on her face. On the inside, I was freaking out, but that look was worth it. I didn’t even give her the customary two weeks’ notice. I stuck around for three more days, just long enough to clean up all my projects and notes, so that I wasn’t totally fucking over whoever was going to take over my crap when I left. There was no grand uplifting soundtrack playing when I walked out of the office for the last time (apparently that only happens in movies). On the one hand, I felt free and liberated. But the truth is, I was panicking. I knew I’d made the right decision, but that didn’t make it any less terrifying.
Let me take a moment to say how lucky I am that I married the right person. I can’t imagine what I would have done if my husband had come home one day telling me that he had quit his job, and that he didn’t have another one lined up. He was nothing but supportive. He knew better than anyone else how unhappy I’d been. And, I feel compelled to confess that yes, we were privileged enough to be able to afford it. But barely. It was tight for a while.
I decided that the only way to completely validate this very irresponsible — but completely necessary — decision that I’d made, was to find a job that I would sincerely enjoy doing, and that would not add any anxiety to my life.
And that is how I ended up working for my second really bad boss. I’ll call him, creatively, #2.
He owned a dog-walking business. I spent a day driving around with him, seeing what a day-in-the-life of a dog walker was like. He was easy to talk to, funny, intelligent, and he knew how to handle the dogs and they clearly respected him, which I thought was a good sign. I couldn’t believe that this was a real job. Granted, it wasn’t going to pay what my previous job had paid, but he did promise that I could make a very decent salary. He even said he could provide insurance if I needed it, a 401k, etc. I just had to complete a 3-month trial period. His business was booming, he had plenty of clients, he couldn’t do all the jobs himself, and I would share directly in the company’s profits. So I signed on, and I was psyched! I was going to get paid to walk dogs? Heck yeah.
Except, it didn’t work out that way. I never made the kind of money he’d promised. Not even close. I had to chase him down for the little money that I was making. I asked if he could give me more jobs because I would have these huge gaps in my day with no work to do. I learned from his one other employee that he was giving her the runaround in terms of getting her W2. He started to seem sketchy. He avoided my calls, evaded my questions, and turned out to be less than honest (and that’s putting it very nicely). When I confronted him, he fired me.
I was so mad. And more than that, I was sad. I had spent the last 3 months building relationships with these amazing dogs, spending time with them every day, and now I wouldn’t get to see them anymore. It was heartbreaking.
So, I decided that I would start my own dog walking business.
If anyone had suggested to me, even a few months before this point, that I would ever start my own business, I would have said “no way.” I could never do that; I didn’t know the first thing about running a small business.
But I was motivated. I knew I didn’t want to go back to an office job. Working those types of jobs had taught me that much, anyway. I’d had a taste of what a small business was like, and I knew I could do it. If #2 could do it, I definitely could. I just had to learn a few things first. Ok, a lot of things.
I would like to take this moment to thank the internet and libraries for existing.
Then, I did it. I started a dog walking business. And I have never enjoyed working so much in my life. Coming up with the concept, doing the planning, writing up a business plan (ok that part wasn’t super exciting), designing a logo, and creating a website…I loved the whole process. All of it.
And I got clients. My days started to fill up. I eventually had to narrow down my service area so that I could fit more clients into my days and spend less time driving around. I was hanging out with different dogs all day, getting exercise, making my own schedule and my own rules — it was the best job I’d ever had! And honestly, to this day, I still feel like I’m bragging because I can’t help blurting out “I have the best job in the world!” when I tell people what I do for a living. I walk dogs, what’s not to love? I listen to podcasts and audiobooks, or talk to family and friends, while hanging out with some of the best creatures on the planet. I also take care of cats (I’m actually originally a cat person, full disclosure). And chickens. And guinea pigs. And birds. No reptiles or creepy crawlies. I can say no to those because I’m the boss and I don’t like them.
None of this would have ever happened if it wasn’t for those two horrible bosses. (No, I’m not going to thank them. They were jerks.)
But, they made me realize what I am willing to put up with in my life, and what I am not. I’ve actually learned a lot about myself over the past few years, and I have a level of confidence now that I’ve never had before.
Now, I’m not saying that if you’re completely miserable in your job that you should just quit and you can figure it out later. That is not sound financial advice (unless you can actually afford to do it, but consider this my disclaimer). But if you’re reading this, and you’re stuck in a shitty job that you hate, or with a horrible boss, I can sympathize. Start doing research on what other types of jobs you can try. The freelance market is booming (I’m not an expert on job markets so don’t quote me on that….another disclaimer).
Try to open your mind to other possibilities that you might not have considered before. You’ll never know what you’re capable of if you’re not willing to be a little uncomfortable. Learn to be ok with uncomfortable, because that’s where change happens. And change, when you’re in a not-so-happy place, is exactly what you need.