What I learned from quitting my first real job
Most 16 year olds are excited to drive, or date, but the moment I turned 16, I knew it meant I could finally get a job. This was particularly exciting for me: I had done some babysitting here and there, but I wanted a “real job” — one with schedules, uniforms, and paychecks. My two older brothers had been employed at sixteen, and it seemed like all my friends were entering the workforce, too. Naturally, I was a bit envious of their new adult responsibilities and I wanted my own.
I applied at a few places, but I didn’t hear back. Then, a friend from art class told me about a popular Mexican restaurant that was hiring. I gave the interview a shot, and I was hired! I couldn’t believe that I had received such an opportunity, and I was thrilled that I could fit in with my friends and their new liberties. With relief, I set down my pen and my many applications. I was trained during spring break as a Hostess and a “To Go” Girl. My first day was definitely a learning curve, but I smiled the whole way through. I still remember feeling so lucky and excited about my future at the company.
Over time, I realized working was a lot less about freedom and more about labor and time management. After spring break, I felt incredibly stressed, but entirely hopeful, even when my shifts read that I had 20 hours to work that week. My boss had agreed to a max of 12 hours at my interview, but I figured I had to work more at first to complete my training, and that was the reason for my full schedule. I let it slide. Time passed and the hours didn’t decrease much, despite talking to my boss about the issue. I didn’t have any time to spend with my family and friends, and I couldn’t recall the last time I’d slept in. I was becoming very unhappy, and it made me wonder if I had made the right decision about getting a job during the school year.
Yet despite my blatant pessimism, I put on my brightest smile when on duty. I didn’t complain or abdicate my work. I worked constantly to please my three bosses. I never idled and when I had free time at the restaurant, I would help someone else with their duties. I began to discover that the more I helped out other people, the less my co-workers did. They left me their tables to clean, their silverware rolling as a closing chore for me, and expected me to deposit their dishes. This was on top of my own tasks, and the restaurant was always busy. I ran to and fro, sweating profusely with the smile still stuck on my face.
I was the Yes Man. I took shifts for people who only wanted the night off to party and I tried to overlook the lack of appreciation that came my way. I kept telling myself to “Be good, be helpful. I need to finish what I started. Wait it out. Don’t complain.” These thoughts kept me in my job. These affirmations seemed to obvious and right, so I swore by them as the antidote to my problems. I became depended on and that made me feel useful, except when I felt plainly taken advantage of. One of the worst examples was the bartender, who knew I was always willing to help out, so he relied on me to finish his chores. He made hundreds of dollars on weekend nights doing the bare minimum, while I hustled to make $7.50 an hour. It didn’t seem right to me, but I didn’t want to complain.
Outside of work though, I was turning into a mess. I ate dinner when I came home from school at 3 p.m. and did my homework after my family was asleep. My shifts never had end times and I couldn’t get a break unless I worked a double shift. You can probably guess how irritable, hungry, and stressed it all made me. One day, a teacher assigned a mere extra worksheet of homework and I burst into tears. I had no time, even after how efficient I’d tried to be. An AP test was coming up and I couldn’t even think about studying. I received poor grades on my math tests and ran late to club meetings. I was exhausted. I couldn’t sleep during class for moral reasons, so I was groggy at work instead. Quitting didn’t seem like an option. It was dishonorable not to “finish what I started,” so I needed to persevere. I was aware that my co-workers (who were all older than me) had much more arduous lives than I did, so confronting them about their slight mistreatment wouldn’t be compassionate.
I awoke every morning feeling like both a good and bad person. I was a grouch to my family and friends, an angel to my co-workers, and a calamity unto myself. I probably strained my relationships with people because I was constantly complaining, something I cringe at now when I recall it. I was verbally abused at work by two employees about small “mistakes” in the floor chart and this was when I first seriously considered quitting. I felt overworked and underappreciated. Summer vacation was quickly approaching and I debated between continuing my current lifestyle and hating it, or giving it up and traveling on an extended vacation to Minnesota with my family. Thoughts about what I should and shouldn’t do running through my head at every moment. I needed to stick with something that wasn’t school, because I have a habit of giving up when I’m not forced to bring something to completion. I had to show myself I could make it through on my own.
Around the beginning of my third month though, my boss offered me a promotion which would make me the supervisor to new hostesses. I would have to go to training in Kansas and give her my word that I would stay with the company for a long period. I couldn’t imagine staying and committing to a career there for the rest of high school. I was struggling to get through a weekday shift! How could I willingly add to my already unbearable stress level? How could I accept such melancholy as my default emotion? I discussed it with my family and I realized it would be ridiculous to continue, that I couldn’t be content there.
It was then that I decided I had to care about myself. The thoughts had to be silenced. I missed my friends and family, I missed eating dinner at a decent time, and I missed enjoying life. I realized I had to do for myself what no one else would I had to stop and stand up. Who else would if I didn’t? Feeling degraded and constantly stressed is a preposterous way to choose to go through life and I knew I couldn’t do it anymore. So, I handed in my three weeks notice and left.
Every day after I quit, I awoke with a sense of satisfaction and dignity. Working my first real job definitely wasn’t the best experience, but it was certainly worthwhile. I learned so many social skills that made me a more mature person. “Finish what you start” is an excellent mantra, and I use it now. It is helpful to me during high school and with college applications. If I hadn’t tried to finish, I wouldn’t have gained as much knowledge about my needs and my limits. My emotions told me I deserved to feel good about myself, and I do now. Quitting was a necessary gateway to my happiness. I still believe in finishing what you start, but I believe trusting your instincts is the best idea.
Sarah Meisch is a seventeen-year-old writing rookie. She loves sunshine, books, and beaches. She has high hopes of traveling the world and learning about as many cultures as possible!