This story starts the same as countless others: A fresh-faced young man graduates college with boundless optimism and brimming confidence that he will immediately land his dream job only to be met with the harsh realities of the real world job market. Okay, now that that’s out of the way, let’s get to it.
The Dream Job
Shortly after college, I landed a career-making job with a company that included a comfortable salary with bonus opportunities, a company car, a company credit card, guaranteed travel, and other benefits that made it sound too good to be true. I’ll spare the details of the company for reasons that will become clear soon. The job required that I move out of state and enter into a months-long training program before being relocated to my final territory. I packed my belongings, said my goodbyes, and hit the road for Texas. Things did not go as planned.
“THAT FIRST MONTH DRAGGED BY LIKE A CAT ON A LEASH”
The first segment of the training required me to work in a factory for a few months to learn about the product and see the process that went into making it. The “training program” was hardly anything resembling as much. I walked into my job on Day 1 only to be told that they did not even know I was coming until days before and did not have any set standards for how I was to be trained. Not comforting news for someone who just moved halfway across the country.
One thing they had prepared, however, was the safety orientation for working in the plant. An hours-long class showed me all the various ways working in the plant could horribly maim or kill me. I went to sleep that night with visions of missing fingers and chemical burns dancing through my head.
lots and lots of alone time
Due to the lack of structure for the program, each day of training was improvised. I would spend a few hours in an area of the plant learning the function of each section on the assembly line. I burned through those pretty fast. We did the best we could with what we had, but my days mostly consisted of me sitting at a desk, reading from books and manuals I had to track down myself, completing online programs, or twiddling my thumbs while waiting for the clock to strike five.
My downtime was not much better; I was staying 45 minutes away from my job in a city where I knew nobody. I could not hang out with coworkers outside of work due to their being on a completely different work schedule than me (they were plant workers working 12-hour shifts; I was a 9-5). The apartment I was staying in did not have internet so about once a week I would become the guy at Starbucks who sits for hours with his head buried in his computer.
Mostly, I wandered around the city alone, hung out in my apartment alone, or, more specifically, drank alone and missed home. That first month dragged by like a cat on a leash. Not the fulfilling experience I had signed up for.
After completing the first couple months of training at the plant, I travelled to Chicago for a group training session with veterans from all areas of the company. This training was actually a lot of fun, and I found that I had actually managed to learn something in my solo training. At times, I was able to help instruct others on the proper techniques for completing tasks and, all in all, was really beginning to enjoy myself.
“The next morning I awoke to a screaming hotel maid telling me that everyone was looking for me.”
Each night, the group went out on the town for a few hours of socializing, connection making, advice giving, all that jazz. I was receiving a crash course in the business and tried to soak up everything that I could. This week was the shot in the arm I had needed. I felt rejuvenated and excited to return to Texas to begin the next phase of training.
The night it all fell apart
On the final night in Chicago, the company sent everyone to a Cubs game where we all really let loose. It was “Friends in Low Places” level drinking. The rapport we built throughout the week really began to shine through. I finally began to feel that I was a part of something special. The long weeks leading up to that night no longer felt so draining and tortuous. Above all else, I was having fun. More fun than I’d had since I began the program.
After the game, a group of people I had become closer to during training wanted to stay out and hit up some bars in Wrigleyville. Though I had planned to return to the hotel immediately after the game, I decided to join them. This was the first exciting night I’d had in months and I didn’t want it to end. So I stayed, and drank, and sang along to an awful cover band, and drank, and danced, and drank. We didn’t get back to the hotel until two or three in the morning. I crashed.
The morning after
The next morning I awoke to a screaming hotel maid telling me that everyone was looking for me. My alarm hadn’t gone off. I was two hours late. I packed my things, got ready in seconds, and began a dead sprint through the streets of Chicago to the company headquarters.
Upon my arrival, I was met by the training manager who, after my heartfelt apologies and explanation, reassured me that it was okay and allowed me to continue the training. During a break I was told that news of my disappearance had spread throughout the building. Everyone was talking about how one of the new guys got lost in the city and probably ended up stabbed in an alley or nursing a hangover in jail. It was a long day.
Once the training day was complete, I returned to Texas with my tail between my legs. I spent the flight trying to convince myself that this would turn out like all the other times I’d been late for something in my life: a slap on the wrist, a lecture about responsibility, and me promising that I would do better next time. The classic trifecta.
As soon as I arrived, I informed my supervisor of what had happened in an attempt to save some semblance of face. He, too, reassured me that everything would be alright, that I had just made a stupid rookie mistake and just needed to learn from it and move on. I returned to work Monday and went about my normal routine. No one mentioned the “incident”.
My training continued as if nothing had happened. By Wednesday, my boss and I were joking about Chicago. On Thursday, a sense of relief had begun to wash over me. I had survived. My bad choice would become just another dumb drinking story I would tell people when I was older. Friday morning I arrived in high spirits. That is, until I was called into my boss’ office. He was eerily quiet and clearly upset.
After a long silence, I was told I was being terminated.
The final call hadn’t come from my division, but from another that had heard about the missing employee and wanted him gone before he ruined the company’s good name. So, despite my direct supervisors being more than displeased with the decision, I was cast out. Essentially told to “Get my shit and get out”. I returned everything I had been given by the company, signed a non-disclosure agreement (hence the vagueness), vacated the apartment, and began the tortuous trek back to Nashville. A twelve-hour drive with nothing but my own shame as company.
The gauntlet of grief (and alcohol)
After that, life went relatively back to normal as far as appearances were concerned. I moved back in with my parents, returned to my job waiting tables, and rejoined my friends who, mercifully, didn’t pry too hard about the exact circumstances of my return. On the inside, however, I ran the full gauntlet of the established steps of grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, and Depression. I’m pretty sure I covered the first three on the car ride home.
I’m leaving Acceptance out for a reason. That came much later. Depression? That one lasted. I was in a pretty bad place for a long time. A lot of self-loathing and self-destruction followed. Or, to be more clear, a lot of drinking.
The catalyst that was a major cause of my current situation was also my chosen means of coping. It was a vicious cycle. I never said I was original.
However, at some point you have to make the choice whether to succumb to the depression and dive in full bore, or to get over yourself and begin to rebuild anew. This is not a quick process. I began job-hunting again and enlisted a job placement company to help. Shortly after, I had a weeklong temp job at a call center. I ended up staying for six months.
I spent each day talking to disgruntled customers and trying to solve their issues in between their shouts and tears. Talk about soul crushing. But I was on the right track. I continued doing interviews and had a couple offers but nothing that truly peaked my interest and I wasn’t about to accept anything that I didn’t feel offered me an opportunity to grow. Then, opportunity knocked.
To be continued…