After one of my recent presentations at a CAI event, I hustled to the airport in time to arrive for my significantly delayed flight. I was still energized from the speaking engagement so sitting in silence was not an option. I struck up a conversation with a 30-ish, gentleman at my gate.
John worked in marketing and was flying through Dallas on his way to LA. I introduced myself, sharing with him my interest in leadership and motivation – and describing my enthusiasm for risk-taking. I realized I was preaching to the choir as he opened up about a difficult decision he had made a few years earlier.
John had gone to work for a mid-sized, family-owned business in the industrial coatings industry. He was hired as a marketing specialist and was told he would be responsible for the company’s social media efforts, newsletter, sales materials, etc.… John was young, energetic and passionate about doing a great job for his new employer.
Unfortunately for John, he soon learned that he would be micromanaged by Bill, a nephew of the company owner, and an egotistical, argumentative, contrarian who according to John, was a dead-ringer for the Star Wars Jabba the Hutt character.
Bill made John his errand boy, and worse, Bill seemed determined to make John feel like an errand boy. John was sent to pick up office supplies, sent to drop off overnight deliveries, even sent to run personal errands for Bill. The job offered no flexibility or creativity and no opportunity for growth. Within a couple of weeks, John recognized that the only thing he would be learning to do was to hold his tongue as Bill made meaningless edits to his work.
One of the most aggravating things about the position for John was that Bill would routinely announce late on a Friday afternoon that John and he would need to work the following day – Saturday. There would be no rationale for doing this. There were no pressing projects…nothing that couldn’t wait until Monday.
After this happened several times, John asked Bill to help him establish work objectives for the week in order to confirm that the important projects were on schedule and that regular Saturdays in the office wouldn’t be necessary. With a toddler at home, John looked forward to spending weekends with his young family. But Bill wasn’t interested in John’s family life and resisted the weekly goal-setting idea.
The end came one year to the day that John took the job. He laughed as he told me how a relatively innocuous comment from Bill triggered his response to walk out. He didn’t yell or act unprofessionally; he simply turned and marched to his cubicle. There was a corrugated box in the corner of his office. He put it on his desk and began to pack up his belongings. When his phone rang, and Bill said, “Come to my office,” John said, “I’m busy, Bill,” and placed the handset back on the receiver.
Bill called again. “I SAID, ‘come to my office.’”
John replied, “I SAID I’m busy.” Then he carried his box with him as he stopped to say goodbye to several colleagues before leaving the building.
John had a wife, a young son, and no way to support them. But at that moment he felt better than he had at any point in the previous 12 months. He told me he had wasted a year, had learned nothing, and had struggled to maintain his positive outlook while working for Bill.
The act of removing himself from that work environment was empowering for John. He had another job two months later – with a supervisor who was a true professional.
So, what can we learn from John’s story?
If you’re not growing, you’re dying. Years ago, the conventional thinking was that if you couldn’t hold a job for at least a year, there must be something wrong with you. Today, that’s not the case, and if your job doesn’t offer learning and growth opportunities, it’s time to go – as soon as possible.
If you’re constantly being asked to do tasks that weren’t part of the job description, wake up. It’s going to get worse. Your employer may have intentionally oversold the job’s responsibilities to make it more attractive. Or the company may not be staffed appropriately to handle the tasks that need to be accomplished. Or they may simply be taking advantage of the fact that you need a job and are willing to do almost anything to keep it. But if you feel like you’re being misused, you are.
If your job is undermining your self-respect, get out. In a situation like this, you’re a ticking time bomb. If you work in a toxic environment, you have to leave before you become infected. Make the decision that you’re going to start looking for another opportunity today. Don’t wait for the situation to get to the point where you begin to doubt yourself or you sustain damage to your self-esteem. Your confidence is too important to your career, your professional relationships and your future performance. Walking away from a paycheck isn’t easy, especially when there are people counting on you.
Taking action is the right thing to do. Be smart about it. Prepare if possible. But when you know you’re in the wrong job then just do it. Quit.
You’ll get to the right position that much faster.