How I Learned To Find Value In 'Paying My Dues' On The Job Front
I quit my job three months ago with no real back-up plan and a few thousand dollars to my name. I'd like to say it was in brave pursuit of my professional destiny. However, this would be untrue.
Leaving my first real job was much less an emboldened maneuver for my future and more of a spoiled gal's attempt at ditching the pay-your-dues part of your career. I wanted to head straight for the desk made of mahogany, the softly lit office filled with succulents and the charmingly spastic assistant. In other words, I attempted to skip the professional line.
I'd like to say I came to this realization through a seismic shrinking of my own, sometimes dangerous ego. However, this too would be a lie. I only realized I was a standard spoiled Millennial during an egregiously and almost comically pointless interview. For the full effect, let us take a gander down memory lane:
It was a Wednesday, just about a week after I had left my job of five months as a content writer at an agency. I boarded a bus to a city about two hours from my own. The day was not rainy, but it was undeniably frigid and the air was the kind of cold that immediately numbs your toes. Nonetheless, I opted for a light overcoat as I thought it looked classier than my puffy winter coat.
I caught the earlier bus, dropping me off at destination almost an hour before my scheduled interview. Upon arriving, I found my stomach growling with hunger and I had a craving for something light, such as a simple chicken salad. However, since there were no restaurants in the vicinity, I settled for a PowerBar and some chips, which I ate outside of the gas station while my hands turned an odd mix of purple, orange and green.
Thirty minutes or so later, I walked up a steep hill to the massive office building. I was delighted at the thought that it could very well be my future place of employment. After all, I was responding to a content marketing job which required no prior experience. I had five whopping months of said experience, concluded that anything that could go wrong in the interview would be minor and I stood an actual chance.
I took an elevator to the fourth floor where the smiley receptionist with streaky blonde hair took my ID and handed me a guest pass. I could practically smell the freshly cut mahogany of my new desk.
The man who would be my interviewer came to greet me after a few short minutes and firmly shook my hand. He had a smile like Randall, the slimy lizard from "Monsters Inc.," but I decided I would like him as a future boss. He took me to a little room that was patterned like the checkered black, white, and red race car bed my brother slept in as a child and the shape of the space was nauseatingly cylinder.
Another woman joined us for the interview and the process began as standardly as you can imagine. “We'll tell you a bit about us, you tell us a bit about you,” and so on. Aside from the persistent flashbacks of my brother, I felt about as OK as you can feel in a job interview.
However, at about 10 minutes into the process, I began hearing words and acronyms that sounded foreign. I began to panic. At first, the mystery words were not so pervasive, and I could still make sense of the crux of the conversation. But this did not last.
Fast forward another 10 minutes and the interview was so saturated with phrases, acronyms, industry lingo and jargon that my head was beginning to spin. I assume the interviewers could detect my confusion because they would check every few sentences to be sure I knew what they were talking about. Sometimes I would ask for them to define particular words, and sometimes, when I was far past the point of no return, I would politely nod indicating I understood everything they had just said.
My brain hurt, I wanted to cry, yet I persisted through the interview. I didn't want to cut the conversation short and sheepishly admit to my interviewers that this was clearly not the right fit for me. After all, I am a content marketer, I should know these words.
Needless to say, my answers were lacking substance or perhaps sense altogether, yet the interviewers insisted that I take their test. Already feeling oppressed by everything I had missed during our conversation, I sat down with my computer knowing I didn't have a shot in hell.
Finally, after a grueling two and a half hours, a botched mini-assignment and a hunger deeper than any I'd ever known, the interview ended with an obligatory handshake and a, “We'll be in touch.” I walked stiffly to the bus stop, hugging my body for warmth, choking back tears and thinking that I had experienced hell.
The truth was, I hadn't experienced hell. Rather, it was an awakening vital to my existence as a human being. I didn't have a back-up plan worth more than a penny. My intelligence alone would not bring me to my room-full of succulents. I may have to do the one thing in life that my spoiled self hates most of all: I may have to ask or plead for a company to give me a shot.
I stood at the bus stop, nose dripping from the frigid air, my flouncy overcoat now seeming like the worst mistake of my life, munching on a white chocolate-covered Oreo that Randall had half-heartedly handed me as the company's sliding glass doors shut in my face for the last time ever. Yet, rather than breaking down in tears as I so wanted to do, I made a promise to myself that I wouldn't get discouraged and I wouldn't judge myself harshly for this pathetic experience.
This was my first time I was humbled throughout my job search. It was the first time I was shown I would actually have to earn my mahogany desk and my succulents. I learned that this reoccurring diatribe of “finding the perfect path” and “not settling when you're young” has no basis in reality.
It's what people tell young job hunters to make it all seem possible. What we learn when we're actually out there, looking frantically for bearable job, is for most of us, our “perfect fit” years might be decades away. It may not sound exciting, but I'll choose the fairer route. I will graciously and silently pay my dues.