On My First Postgrad Job
It’s become one of my daily habits to check Facebook’s On This Day feature. What started as a venture of curiosity has morphed into a way for me to remind myself of what I’ve been up to over the years. If nothing else, sometimes I’ll find old posts to resurrect in the name of self deprecating narcissism.
But today was a little different. Today I logged in to see it had been two years since I accepted my first real postgrad job. It wasn’t my dream job, but it was in my dream field (at the time) and I was sick enough of interviewing and writing cover letters to jump on it. I was too green to check Glassdoor or realize that I could easily make more money somewhere else. I thought this was going to be my big break, my foot in the door. I got the call while I was on the subway after my final interview. I left a voicemail by the newsstand in front of the Astor Place Starbucks, shouting over the traffic that I couldn’t wait to start working for them. My parents each took me out for nice dinners. I wrote a Facebook status announcing I had accepted a job offer and and 128 people liked it. I laid out jeans and a blazer the night before my first day.
I would last eleven months before I quit, with nothing lined up. But truthfully I knew my first week that the job wasn’t for me. Not only was I doing way less editorial work than I wanted, I was working in an environment that was downright hostile. My job was threatened multiple times, I was berated in front of my colleagues, blamed for problems that were my superiors’ faults, and made to feel that despite my hard work I was not advancing. I was expected to intuit the needs of a man who repeatedly withheld information from me and then, when I worked based on what I did know, I was chastised for not asking the right questions. My mental and physical health tanked. My hair started to fall out in the shower. If I could get through a Sunday night or Monday morning without a crying jag, I considered that a victory. When I took the train home on Friday evenings I unconsciously began counting down until I’d have to go back in. At my yearly review, I was told that it didn’t make financial sense to give me a raise.
I stayed as long as I did for my resume’s sake. I thought that if I left when I wanted to it would hinder me from finding work. I think I also knew on some level that I was lucky to have a job at all in this city, this field, this economy. Hell, I even feel guilty for complaining about it now. It’s a sad truth that many employers take advantage of a saturated market and treat their employees like dirt and pay them peanuts in the name of “character building.” I did look for other jobs when I was there, but it was almost impossible to confidently sell myself to potential employers when I was in such a shitty headspace thanks to my current one. When I did decide to leave, I was very fortunate to have been financially able to do so. I was afraid of what would become of me if I stayed. I was lashing out at people I cared about because I felt so fragile and stressed all the time. I was scared I was slowly heading towards a nervous breakdown. Wryly, I thought maybe that wouldn’t be the worst thing, that a stint in the psych ward might be a nice break from work.
When word got around my office that I was leaving, I told one of my work friends that it felt like I was jumping off a cliff without being able to see the bottom. “It’s not a bad cliff to jump off of” he said. My last day ended in a handshake, with my boss saying he was sure if I kept working hard I would find something better suited to me. To his credit, he meant it. I walked out blasting Kanye West’s “Gone” through my headphones, feeling lighter than I had in a long time.
Sometimes I wish I could go back two years and turn down the job offer. Maybe then my heartbeat wouldn’t quicken when I walk through the neighborhood where my old office is. Maybe I would be better at making human errors without falling over myself apologizing. But maybe I never would have gone to that karaoke night with one of my friends I met at that job, and never would have met my partner who happened to be there celebrating his birthday. There would be a lot of great people missing from my life if I hadn’t taken that job. I wouldn’t have gotten the experience I needed to land my next job, where I learned what it’s like to have a good boss. I’ve made peace with the fact that I took that job offer, even though it fucked me up a little. I made the best choice I could with the information I had at the time. At the time, it was exactly what I wanted.
I’d love to say that I’ve fully landed on my feet now, but truthfully it’s been a bit of a rocky road. I did find a job I loved after I quit, but I was laid off due to company restructuring. There’s been garbage in my personal life and times when despite my numerous privileges and cushions I feel like New York is kicking my ass. But I know I could go back to the version of me sitting at a desk at her first postgrad job, and tell her that things will get better. They won’t be wonderful, but they’ll be better. I have to hope that there’s a future version of me who could come up to me now and tell me the same thing.