I Should Have Fired Myself – But the Bastards Beat Me To It

“Office At Night” Edward Hopper, 1940 Oil on Canvas

It sucks to get fired. It sucks even more when you didn’t like the job.

“It’s like getting dumped by a guy you didn’t even like,” my friend said.

“It’s exactly like that,” I said, “Except I’ve never even been dumped.” Now I can add “Getting Fired” to the list of “Things That Couldn’t Possibly Happen To Me But Did:”

  1. Get fat (badminton, Oreos, Ice Cream).
  2. Be mistaken for a man (this happened three times in two years).
  3. Drop out of college (NYU).
  4. Get rejected from the only college I applied to after dropping out (USC. I was either not spoiled or not Chinese enough).
  5. Attend community college because no other college would take me (SAC).
  6. Drop out of community college.
  7. Reenroll at another easier community college (SCC).
  8. Have my first kiss at a club in Las Vegas (Thanks Asian frat guy with a koi tattoo!).
  9. Stay single until 27 (Thanks Tom!).
  10. Get fired from a job even a monkey could do (Some Startup).

But I’m sure you’ve noticed: most of the items were entirely avoidable and within my power to change.

Looking back, dropping out of NYU was me taking control of a situation that I felt had gotten out of hand. I was depressed and anti-social, skipping class and eating most of my meals – in the form of Oreos and Ben and Jerry’s -alone in my dorm room. Four months in, I recognized that, with that mindset, I wasn’t getting anything out of college and decided to leave until I figured out something else.

The same logic can be applied to almost all the items on the list: switching community colleges, not kissing anyone, not dating anyone – all things I jokingly referred to as, “Oh I was just clueless and figuring things out,” but I did have one clue. It wasn’t working at the time, so I cut my losses. Except for being mistaken for a man, which was a combination of too-short hair, poor clothing choices and number one, getting fat, which unfortunately was an integral part of my growth because eating one’s feelings dies down once certain things are figured out.

It’s easy to say that getting fired wasn’t my fault, that the younger girls I worked with had it in for me from day one for unknown reasons, and that the work itself was dull and pointless. It’s easy to say, “I was way too good for that job and they should have recognized it and given me more stimulating projects.”

But I’m a responsible and now unemployed adult who is self-aware enough to recognize the less easy things.

I didn’t like the job, but I should have quit rather than let myself be fired. Considering my past experiences, I should have been ten steps ahead of the situation. My gut was telling me that I wasn’t learning anything from the position and probably would not, within the foreseeable future, learn more than how to operate different printers and shredders. My gut was telling me that I didn’t like the two girls I was working directly with and didn’t care too much about “growing” within their team, but would be an unlikely candidate to join the teams of the people I did like: the engineers, product managers, and finance people. My gut was telling me too, not to confuse people I like with wanting to do their jobs.

Mostly though, my gut was saying – screaming, actually, each morning as I shot up the programmed elevators towards hours of brain-deadening admin work – that I wanted to write. You know, do something with the degree that cost me two years and my parents countless checks and my bewildered internal monologue to bellow, on repeat: “Well what the hell was the point of all that?”

I knew I should have been doing something more worthwhile with my time. But instead of pulling the trigger myself, I got comfortable. I fell into a rhythm (even easier when you’re quickly bored by the tasks) and gave myself meaningless resolutions – procrastination in disguise: “I’ll start looking for another job in a month if this one doesn’t improve.” “I’m still getting to know everyone and learning about the company.” And the worst one, perpetuated by corporate bullshit parroters who want to keep the status quo: “I have to put in the time. Grunt work is part of the learning process.”

Sorry people, there are smarter ways to “put in the time,” and they usually begin with recognizing what your time is worth.

And that’s on me too, because I did put in the time. As an intern, as an editorial assistant, as another intern, and then as an Executive Assistant to a CEO, who when I finally quit after a year, offered me a position elsewhere in the company because, he saw, I had “put in the time” and done the job well. At least the parts that mattered. I chose to leave though, because I realized, “I want to do something else with my time.”

Three years later, I graduated with an MFA in Creative Writing and gave in to the anxiety that comes with being a fresh graduate. I temporarily forgot what kind of person I strove to be: the kind that moves forward and is always learning. I forgot what kind of person I am: someone easily bored and offended too, if one assumes she needs instructions on how to order food on Seamless or how to send a calendar invite.

I forgot too, that a job is a job. And that if you accept said job offer, you should still do it to the best of your ability, with a smile on your face, even if your teeth are gritted. And I forgot that you should always leave on your own terms, when you’re ready.

Because allowing myself to be fired was, more than anything, stupid and irresponsible. The only reason I could walk out of there with a bemused smile and a sense of relief was because I didn’t have huge financial obligations, like student loans to pay off or a family to support. It’s now the other way around. Once again, I’ve become a financial burden not just to my family but also to Tom, who has been supportive in the way I need it most.

“The writing thing,” he said, “Let’s see how it goes.”

I’m finally putting in the work that matters and hopefully, someday I’ll be able to look back and say “of course” I had to get fired to get my writing projects off the ground. After all, J.K. Rowling was fired for writing and daydreaming too much while she was a secretary at Amnesty International as well as Anna Wintour who famously said everyone should get fired “at least once.” But for now, I still wish I had taken control and fired myself rather than let someone else do it for me.

For laughs, a friend sent me this fitting clip from “Seinfeld”:

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