I was 22 years old, fresh out of college, engaged, and had just landed my first job. It was at a private investigation firm (I kid you not) where I was to work as a writer and researcher.
In my interview, I noticed that the owner had not one but two handguns on his person, the assistant vice president was a frazzled mess with a dog that defecated not once, but twice during that time. After I accepted the position I was fingerprinted and as I walked to my new cubicle I noticed multiple security cameras throughout the building.
But I was ecstatic. I had my first real job.
On my first day, I was given a key, punch code, and biometric card — all just to enter the front door.
Looking back 12 years later I see all sorts of warning signs as to what kind of job this would be, but as a kid right out of college, all I saw were signs of a job well done by landing my first career job.
At any given time the firm had about 8 people working for them. Only 3 had lasted longer than a year which included the owner, VP, and office manager. I worked there for approximately 18 months and during that time 28 people came and went. Yes, you read that correctly. 28. All of us, except the 3 I mentioned above were younger than 30, most under 25.
I had falsely thought the owner carried guns, had so many safeguards on the door, and had tons of cameras in the building due to the nature of his work. While we often handled issues pertaining to copyright or forensic accounting, there was the cheating spouse case we took on from time to time.
I soon learned the true reason for the excessive security was that the owner had been caught sleeping with the VP by his child years ago, who in turn showed up and threatened them both physically. The cameras (over 30 total) were so he could keep an eye on us “Big Brother” style.
He would sit at his desk working with another monitor to his left that had the various angles on display so he could watch us at all times like rats in a cage. At one point he even bought a cellphone scrambler so we couldn’t text or accept phone calls at work.
If we made a personal phone call or did something non-work related for even a minute, he would dash out of his office to confront us.
I soon learned that the moment I walked through those doors I was walking into a prison.
Conversations between employees couldn’t last for more than a few minutes before he would disrupt us. We would hide in evidence rooms (cameras weren’t allowed in there for legal reasons) to talk about work circumstances. Or angle our chairs in the breakroom just to be out of the camera's view for just a few minutes.
Often times I would take to just sitting in my car on my breaks just to feel like I could breathe.
If we made an error in our work — usually in the form of a missed comma or misspelled word — we would be berated in front of the entire office for “trying to destroy his company”. The VP or office manager would often offer pitiful looks or whispered assurances that we shouldn’t take it to heart only to throw us under the bus when he entered the room.
I should have quit as soon as I realized how bad it was, yet I stayed out of fear. I was newly married, a homeowner and the fear of what would happen to us financially kept me tied to a place that was killing my soul.
Pushed Over the Edge
The nail in the proverbial coffin came for me when I left one night on time mind you and was headed to a doctor’s appointment. The owner didn’t like how I stapled a report and called demanding I return to work to correct it.
I feel the need to mention that I was 23 and still too young and naive to realize this was abuse.
I turned back and missed my appointment.
I cried that night after I often did knowing I had to work the next day. I told my husband at the time I couldn’t do it anymore. He told me I could quit. I told him I couldn’t do that to us.
The next day, however, was a different story. He again lectured me in front of the entire staff. Yelled and screamed and then walked back to his office smug at making a 23-year-old kid feel bad.
I was tired of being yelled at for inconsequential mistakes. I had no future there. I saw how he demanded a female coworker cut her maternity leave short to return to work. The problem wasn’t just him though — it was all of us too. In a backward way we all enabled him.
I had had enough. I also knew enough from my father that I needed to watch my back so I printed a ton of the abusive emails he had sent me over the last year and a half and quickly stuffed them into my bag.
I typed up my resignation email telling him I would have stayed if he wasn’t such a disrespectful and rude owner and I wouldn’t tolerate the way he was treating me anymore. I hit send and quickly said goodbye to my coworkers knowing I was about to be escorted out.
I walked out proudly, a weight off my chest.
The Story Didn’t End Here
After quitting my dad encouraged me to apply for unemployment. I did explaining I left because I was being verbally and emotionally abused. I even sent in the emails for proof and was granted unemployment.
I searched for a new job tirelessly, but we all know it often takes time and it did — I found a new job a few months later. But my old boss wasn’t ready to roll over yet. At some time during my employment, we had all realized he pushed people to the point of quitting so no one could receive unemployment benefits.
The evidence I produced, however, sufficed to prove I was deserving of it. I had a great caseworker who made sure I got what I deserved.
And then he threatened to sue me.
I received a letter one day that he had sent to the state claiming I was guilty of libel. The basis of his claim was that I was receiving unemployment benefits which overlapped with his paying me out for my vacation time.
I called my caseworker nearly in tears, explaining he never told me I was going to be getting paid at for that time and had I known I would have started my benefits later. She laughed saying he had no case and not to worry and they denied his claims.
I never heard from him again.
Gone But Not Forgotten
Look, that time was awful. I wouldn’t go back to working for him for any amount of money (he’s since passed on so it’s moot), but I also learned to be more protective of myself and how I allowed others to treat me.
In many ways, my quitting reignited the motivation I needed to get a better job. As I grew in life and in my career it also taught me to stand up for myself at work and not accept or stay in jobs where I was being mistreated or spoken down on. It was because of that I declined an interview going further after a potential employer was rude and belittling upon meeting him. It’s why I’ve screened my potential employers just as much as they screen me.
It wasn’t ideal to quit without a new job lined up already, but it would have been even worse for me to stay. It was hurting my mental health, my relationships, my joy, my career and so much more. No one should spend Sunday nights crying about the impending doom of Monday.
So sometimes — I say it’s okay to quit.