Self-Respect and How I Learned My Limits

This is a story that only close friends and family have heard before, as I was initially too embarrassed to share it with others. But two and a half years have passed, and in that time the embarrassment has faded away and I now consider this ultimate test of my self-respect as one of the most character-defining moments of my life.

A few years ago, I found myself out of a job when the company I was working for did a massive round of layoffs. Always one to look on the bright side of things, I firmly believe that when one door closes another one opens. And just like that, a seemingly dream opportunity presented itself in the form of a position at a prominent juice chain in NYC. A juice chain?! I’m the self-professed queen of juicing and all things hippie, and I was ecstatic about the opportunity! I applied, interviewed, was promptly hired at the tail end of 2012, and was set to start my new dream job just after the new year.

We hear stories all the time about people having gut feelings. How something felt off, how they got a weird feeling in their stomach, or felt a weird energy in a situation. While interviewing, something felt a little off with the vibe in the tiny office, but I chalked it up to nerves and being unemployed.

On my first day, I heard from my other coworkers that our boss (aka the CEO of the company) had a wretched temper and was prone to outbursts of rage which include throwing things and berating people, occasionally making them cry. I thought, “Pshhh, that would never happen to me. I am a hard worker and never have issues in the workplace. I can handle this!” But a little voice inside my head questioned whether or not I made the right decision. I mean, I was hearing this from employees on day one?

A few days went by before I saw the temper in action. He was on the phone with someone screaming his head off, and threw a full water bottle across the office in a fit of anger. The few employees aside from me seemed unfazed by this, so I kept my head down and continued working. Again, I figured that would never happen to me because I’d honestly never had someone get mad at me at work ever, much less verbally abuse me.

How wrong I was.

Two weeks into this “dream job” and I was plugging away at work when I noticed an issue with a digital campaign that was supposed to go live at noon. I’d dealt with this in the past, and as is routine, I alerted the proper team that I wasn’t seeing ads appearing where they should have been. Then, I continued on with my day.

Fifteen minutes later, my desk phone rings. On the other end is my boss, absolutely livid that I flagged the banner ad issue. I tried to calmly ask why he was upset, and what exactly I did wrong. Still to this day I’m not sure why he was so mad…my only justification is that he has major control issues and was pissed that I didn’t let him know first. He was screaming so loudly that I had to move the phone away from my ear. One direct quote that I’ll always remember is, “WHAT ARE YOU, STUPID OR SOMETHING?”

Nope. I am many things, but stupid is not one of them.

I let him continue yelling for a few minutes while I was shaking uncontrollably, trying to hold back tears. When he paused at the end of his tirade, I simply apologized and hung up the phone, then promptly burst into ugly sobbing tears. The three coworkers who were there tried to be supportive, but they’d all been treated that way and worse during their time there, so they tried telling me to shake it off.

Shake it off!? I took a walk outside to call Kristian, then my dad, then Kristian’s dad. I explained the situation to all of them, and wondered out loud whether I should quit on the spot. They all expressed varying opinions from quitting right then and there, to sticking it out for a bit while I looked for something new. But they all mentioned that I should do whatever I thought was best.

So I collected myself, walked back in to the office, packed my bag, said goodbye to the team, and left. On my walk to the subway, I emailed the HR director and gave a watered down version of what happened and indicated that I was quitting because I didn’t think I was a good fit for the company. I then emailed the CEO expressing my gratitude for the opportunity, but said that I didn’t think our personalities meshed well in the workplace:

I wanted to say thank you so much for the opportunity to join [company]. It’s truly a company and a brand that I love and believe in wholeheartedly, so it gives me no pleasure to say that I don’t think I’m the right personality fit for the role. 

Here’s a link to download my deck of social media recommendations for you and the team to use moving forward: 

[insert link here]

If there are any other loose ends that you’d like for me to tie up, do let me know and I’ll handle them. 

Congratulations on the launch of the book today. What a great accomplishment! I can’t wait to see what wonderful things the company will do in the future, and look forward to following along. Again, thank you for the opportunity. 

I certainly wasn’t going to continue spending precious hours of my life in such a toxic environment, willfully letting my self-respect fly out the window. Besides…I would never put up with someone treating me like that in my personal life, so why the hell would I allow it in my professional life? No amount of money is worth that.

Moral(s) of the story?

  1. Always listen to your gut.
  2. Refuse to tolerate people treating you like crap.
  3. Take the high road.
  4. Have enough respect for yourself to decide to leave a situation that does not serve you.

I was initially so ashamed of being unemployed – again – that I refrained from telling people about the situation. But gradually, the shame wore off and I grew to be proud of how I handled myself – with dignity and respect.

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