I Had To Quit My Job, But It Haunts Me
It was an offer I couldn’t refuse.
I should have refused it.
If only I had realized that before I agreed to join, rather than 6 months later. Then it wouldn’t have been two years that cumulated in me having no choice but to walk away.
“Insubordination? How is that insubordination?”
I’ve had many conversations in my life it seemed like we were speaking different languages. I’d been confused before, baffled at what the other person was saying.
This one, though, topped them all.
“Yes, it could be seen that way,” Direct Supervisor replied. “I talked to HR and they agree.”
My head was spinning. I knew Boss — the person over both me and Direct Supervisor — hadn’t been happy with me.
No, actually, I didn’t know that. Boss hadn’t talked to me for a while. Emails were terse and straightforward. Recommendations were all filtered through Direct Supervisor.
But I had a sick feeling in my stomach that something was wrong. And when something seems off, I work harder.
That usually pays off. That usually makes people happy.
Not this time.
“How could it be insubordination?” I replied (calmly in my own head, but probably putting a bit of heat on the words), “I just asked if I had to go to the meeting.”
“No, that part was fine. It’s when you said you were frustrated you weren’t involved in the original planning.”
Let me back up. I’m an accountant. Not because it was some lifelong dream, but because I discovered in college that I was okay at it and that it would pay the bills.
While doing the daily deductions and credits, I found out that my true (work) love was teaching others. Public accounting has it’s downsides, but being able to manage and teach associates the ins and outs of the tax code brought job satisfaction, even if it had too many hours.
Then an opportunity fell in my lap: I could teach a tax class at a community college. It seemed like a great way to scratch that teaching itch, and maybe even open up a new career path into academia if I really loved it.
All I needed was a few referrals to sign some documents. So I hit up an old coworker who was now a higher up in the corporate accounting world. The coworker signed the referral, and offered me a job on the spot. “You’ll definitely have time to teach here,” Coworker promised, preying on that constant worry of time in the public accounting world.
I was hesitant. The new company had atrocious time off policies. The insurance was awful. I would no longer have any associates under me to train and teach. I would just be toiling away in my cubicle.
But it did give me nights and weekends away from work. It would make Busy Season disappear.
Plus Coworker promised to give me extra PTO “off the books.”
So I came up with a mental compromise. I would throw out a salary number I thought would be too high and let Coworker make the decision for me.
“No problem. We can do that.”
Shortly thereafter, Coworker became Boss.
At first, things went well. I made my workpapers by day and designed my class by night. I created some great videos for the class, each one getting better.
Then something changed. COVID, for sure, but something else as well. Something I couldn’t put my finger on.
Which was exactly the problem. I tried to do what was asked of me, but it was never enough. I’d ask for clarification on expectations, I would get suggestions, and I would try to implement them.
And Boss was still not happy.
I wasn’t either. I had been an important person in a small organization that thrived on figuring out the latest business trends in the entrepreneurial community. I got to help people and train people. Now I was a mid-level cog in a large, publicly-traded company.
Things felt wrong. So, like I do when things feel wrong, I put my head down and worked harder.
“I’m honestly not sure what else I can do,” I said late one April evening. I was frustrated. Putting my head down and working wasn’t getting me where I wanted to be, nor was my back up plan of putting my head down even farther and working even more.
Clearly, not the deepest reservoir of options. I hadn’t needed an option 3 before.
So, after writing and deleting a frustration-filled email about fifty times, I decided instead to ask Boss if we could meet in person. This was early 2021, with COVID procedures still in place. A few people would come to the office, but never more than a handful, which meant talking to Boss in person involved complex planning.
“You’re just distracted,” Boss told me in that in-person meeting, “with your classes and everything with your family.”
My frustration grew. Yes, my family life is definitely complicated, but it has been that way for years. And the teaching…not only had that been an explicit promise of taking the job, I wasn’t even teaching a class that semester!
“I’m not distracted. I’ve been putting in more hours here than I ever have before. I’ve been reaching out to third parties for help before I turn in projects. I’ve been going through everything line by line!”
The conversation went on. Boss’s conclusion? “I stick with what I said. You’re distracted.”
Boss wasn’t going to listen. I mentally tuned the rest of Boss’s words out, since they were based on a false assumption — an assumption of MY mental state which I explicitly said was not true.
I wasn’t done yet. I had another boss. Technically my direct supervisor, but since this person had always worked remotely, I had more day to day encounters with Boss than Direct Supervisor.
“I’m going to be vulnerable here,” I told Direct Supervisor. I had recently read Brené Brown’s Rising Strong. I was so out of my element that I decided to give Brown’s suggestions a go. “I’m really trying here. I know I’m not completely focusing on my strengths, since I really prefer working with and training others, but I think I can make this work if I can continue teaching.”
“The story I’m telling myself,” I continued, channeling Brown’s work, “is that I’m not allowed to ask questions. I’m told how to do things once, then perfection is expected after that. I may be the wrong person on this bus, and if you feel that way, I want you to tell me.”
“No, I’m sorry if that’s your impression,” Direct Supervisor assured me. “I’m glad that you told me you’re really trying. I thought you didn’t care about your work.”
“No, absolutely not,” I assured Direct Supervisor. “I’ve been doing everything I can to make this right.”
So then we came up with a plan. For at least 3 months, it seemed to be working. Yes, there were hiccups, but I consistently turned in 40 to 50 hours of work a week which was the best product I knew how to do.
During all this, I worried that Boss still wasn’t satisfied.
Okay, it was a little more than a feeling. Though not much. Like, for example, when I emailed some requested information, Boss emailed back saying I needed to “think,” in what was probably the most condescending email I had ever received.
The issue? I hadn’t answered a question in an email I hadn’t received. I had answered a previous email instead.
When Direct Supervisor pointed this out to Boss, there was radio silence. Was the message received? Who knows. I feared it was not.
Then, finally, The Meeting.
I had a personal meeting on my calendar for Wednesday. A group of us had worked out a few weeks before that we were going to meet up for lunch. It took a bit to plan with the number of people involved, but we were glad to be able to get together with COVID (apparently) receding into the background.
At around 5 pm on the Monday before the meeting, Boss put the conflicting Wednesday meeting on my calendar. No explanation. No notes. No anything except a title for a project I hadn’t been on at that point and for which I hadn’t heard any plan to put me on in the future.
Thinking back on it, I don’t think I’d had more than a 15 minute call and several terse emails from Boss since our April conversation. All correspondence had gone through Direct Supervisor.
I didn’t know how to respond to the calendar invite, and was freaking out how to reply. I had to either cancel a personal lunch and send everything into disarray due to the last minute cancellation, or not go to the business meeting.
I slept horribly, trying to figure out my options. Anxiety attacks had become a regular part of my increasingly tense interactions with Boss. I even considered having an earpiece in during my personal meeting to try to attend both. But I’d seen too many bad TV episodes from the 90s to seriously attempt that.
So, after dragging myself out of bed on Tuesday, I wrote and deleted emails for about an hour before I pushed out this beauty:
“Hey Boss, I saw the meeting invite you sent yesterday evening, and it conflicts with something I had scheduled on my calendar. The invite didn’t have any specifics on what was being discussed, so before seeing if I can reschedule my item, I wanted to see what the meeting was about.”
Those are my exact words with only a small bit of editing to take out names and such.
“What is your conflict/item?”
I’m a typically calm person. Boss has even said he doesn’t understand how I can stay so calm, especially with some of the stories I tell him about my challenging personal life.
Right then, I was livid.
“Why the hell does it matter what my item is?” I wanted to scream back, “I’m asking you what this appointment is about! My item has been on my calendar for weeks. My item is during the lunch hour. My item was clearly on the calendar that you demanded that I share with you in full detail a month ago. You can see very well what the hell my item is! I asked you what your meeting was! I was promised I could ask questions here! Was that all a lie? Were those meaningless words, sweet nothings to cover the truth? Words you said because admitting that you want your employees to be automatons sounds bad, even to your own ears?”
I took a breath. I probably should have called, but I didn’t see how that would go well. So instead I typed as calmly as I could, leaving just a tiny bit of heat at the end:
“It’s a lunch with some old friends. It’s something that I can reschedule, but a bit frustrating with multiple people and could have been avoided being part of the original invite.”
That was it. Again, I copied that right out of my email, with just a bit deleted to not call out names.
Boss forwarded my response HR.
Boss told me to not come to the meeting because I would not be needed. When I talked to Boss later (much later, after the first words out of my mouth wouldn’t be “What the hell?!”) Boss said that their boss would have fired them on the spot if they dared question a meeting invite.
It was insubordination.
Direct Supervisor agreed.
I’m still wondering what the hell dictionary I’ve been using my whole life, because that doesn’t line up with any definition of insubordination I’ve ever heard.
And I’ve watched a lot of Star Trek.
I stuck around for about a month longer. I even considered staying after the PIP came down, stating that I “refused” to attend the meeting. Even after Direct Supervisor told me that Boss would stalk my Skype status to make sure it never went yellow. Even after reading through three pages where Boss had retconned every conversation we’d had about how I could better meet expectations into “disciplinary conversations,” including the ones I had initiated.
But the vague wording of what I would need to do to meet the PIP put me over the line. For example, “during business hours…[I was] expected to be available and focused on company related work,” which is defined in the next sentence as “8 to 5 local time,” though it says it could extend beyond that.
I mean, legally they can’t stop me from taking lunch and breaks…but considering this all blew up because of a meeting during my lunch hour that they scheduled over at the last minute, I couldn’t count on them not using the vague wording to fire me “for cause.”
Besides, there would be no salvaging that relationship after reading through those three pages of heavily biased “disciplinary” history. All humanity was stripped from those words, showing me as the very cog I feared I was becoming.
If that’s how Boss saw me, Boss should be happy for me to go. Then Boss can go shopping for new cogs. Maybe a cheaper one, since that’s the company’s motto.
I found a psychologist while this was going on for advice on what to do. He told me to take my sick days and try to refocus. I was so miserable after I took one day off that I crawled into the office (my back was spasming — likely due to the stress, I was told), dropped off my laptop and ID card, and left.
It’s been about a month and a half since I left, and this still haunts me nearly every day. I’m writing this down mostly in a chance that it’ll be therapeutic, putting my thoughts and emotions together along with the raw facts I have saved in a little corner of the cloud.
Where did I go wrong? Was it taking the job? Was I just the wrong person on the bus? Would it always end with me jumping out the window while the company was on the freeway going 60?
It makes me feel a little better to think so. I certainly felt like I was managing up a whole lot more than being managed down, where I mostly was told, “I know you can do this” without getting direction on the how.
But I still feel like I could have done more — more communication, more asking for help, more vulnerability. Or maybe not. Maybe a vulnerable cog is a broken cog. Either way, I was never going to be happy as a cog at all.
Hi! Thank you for reading! It’s experiences like these that have changed my view on business. I’d love it you’d subscribe to my newsletter where I talk about those kind of things, plus some practical tips I’ve learned as a CPA. Even better, it includes a weekly update about our Service Dog In Training.