This Saturday will mark my first unemployment birthday. Well, my first “not-working-full-time-for-someone-else” birthday to be honest, because it’s not like I have been slacking for the past year, on the contrary.
So here is everything I loved about my full-time job, followed by all I hated about it, in no particular order.
- Having a fixed amount of money on my bank account each month. What a luxury! Knowing you will get paid even if you didn’t perform as well this month as the previous one feels very reassuring.
- My colleagues and our inside jokes, our little lunch routines too. I worked with extraordinary people who always supported me and helped me grow both as a human and as a professional.
- The Friday free breakfasts and the free coffee. Each last Friday of the month we had a ginormous breakfast to enjoy, organised by our office manager. Those days, things went slowly, people stopped to chat and shared good food and a sweet moment, away from the stress of the job, even if most of the conversations were work-related anyway.
- Friday afternoons. Yeah, you guessed it, Fridays were a special day for us. On Friday afternoons, we would have workshops organised by some team members. Most of the time, it would consist of a presentation about a specific topic related to digital marketing, or sometimes a discussion about a new design for a website. In any case, those were long moments dedicated to learning and sharing good practices, and I believe they were the reason why this particular team performed well.
- The daily passionate discussions with like-minded experts. Related to the whole learning and knowledge sharing topic, having people super excited about their job and happy to share their knowledge daily meant a lot to me.
- Teaching my interns about this ins and outs of the job, still with a strong sense of knowledge transmission. I had a great time sharing my work with my interns and witnessing their progress each day. Luckily, I still have great relationships with them, and I’m proud I was able to play a part in their training.
- Being encouraged to innovate every day by my manager. In my team, we had room to try out new things and discover new ways of doing digital marketing, and I think this is very precious in any organisation.
I could go on, but those are the main things that made me wake up every morning. As you can see, they are very much related to the people I worked with, and in case I didn’t stress this enough, they were the reason I stayed working there for two years.
Now for the fun part, let’s move on to all the things I hated…
- Not being able to earn more with more work. Even if I put in extra hours and outperformed, I couldn’t make more money. Well, of course, I would have to wait for my annual review to try and negotiate some extra income with my manager, who by the way didn’t have much of a say in this. In the end, pay raises when they were approved of were very low in this company and in no foreseeable future could I have earned substantially more.
- Not being able to save money because I lived in an expensive city. Mind you I had a decent salary, but I was always on a budget. That’s one of the main reasons that pushed me to change my lifestyle. With a decent income in Paris, living with my boyfriend in a 28m2 apartment, paying out my student loan (which was quite low compared to what some close friends had to pay each month), without going out, no bars, no nightclub, the occasional pizza delivery, no movies, very rare drinks with colleagues after work, no smoking and a lot of home-cooking, I barely saved any money. After a year and a half of work and the occasional weekend at my parents, I wanted to go on vacation with my boyfriend, something nice and relaxing but not extravagant. We took a 10-day vacation in a hotel in Greece, at the very end of September, just before they closed for the winter. I paid for this vacation with money I had made on weekends from my freelance gigs, not from my 9-to-5 job. That was a wake-up call for me. This life was not sustainable long-term.
- The politics of work and the tens of hours spent debating on someone’s behaviour at the coffee machine. The daily gossip and the fuss around minor events that happened around the office take away a lot of time in the day and don’t benefit anyone.
- Having to shamingly ask for vacation days months ahead of time, feeling judged if you’re taking them when it’s not right for the company and stressing about whether or not they will be accepted. Also, not feeling allowed to take a day off without notice because you are unwell. You could go to the doctor to have a day off, but in France, if the doctor says you can’t work for three days or less, you simply don’t get paid. So if you need a day to get over the first day of your period, you better have a very understanding manager and thought of taking your laptop home beforehand to work from home. And be sure to be marked as “available” on Skype all day to avoid any criticism from co-workers once you get back. That little green dot has a lot of power.
- Office hours. I am not a morning person, never was and never will be. After months of working for myself, I discovered my productive hours are 9.30 am to 1.30 pm and 5 pm to 8 pm. I am useless after lunch, and won’t get anything useful done no matter how hard I try. But I wouldn’t go back home most of the afternoon to recharge right? Or leave the office to read a good book in a café nearby? No, I would stay at my desk, open some spreadsheets and suffer all afternoon trying to get something done, and suddenly, past 5 pm, when people are slowly starting to go back home, have a Eurêka moment and do all I had to do in a couple of hours maximum.
- Open offices and their war to get the best chair or spot to work from. That’s the big issue with open offices and hot desks. You never have an ergonomic space to work from. People will use your chair if you are away for a day and change your settings. You will have to re-adapt your workspace each day. Also, you probably won’t ever get a high-end chair adapted to your needs or standing desk setup for the sake of uniformity. The ones that manage to negotiate for better equipment are generally frowned upon.
- Like I just said, you can’t choose your hardware, and you have to select software to use that is in the not much up to date list from the IT department. Needless to say, if you wanted to try a new software — which happens a couple of times each year in digital marketing — you’d have to test it on your personal computer.
- Having to wear makeup every day — not that I had an obligation to. Clothing and makeup are very important in the workspace, and any change you make to your style will be noticed and discussed. Not in a bad way. I have never heard of someone criticising someone else’s new haircut, but just the fact that it has to become a discussion topic is tiring. There is more to people than a new shirt.
- The routine. Waking up every day at the same time, often super tired, taking a quick shower, spending time doing my hair, putting makeup on to hide the bags under my eyes — which will eventually receive some comment during the day anyway, choosing an outfit, maybe having a coffee if I am early-ish, running to the metro and squeezing in with other tired people, some of which definitely don’t live by the same hygiene standards as I do, running in the cold to my office and sitting at my desk after saying hello to some friendly faces while also catching a few judgemental looks because it’s 9.15 am, and I’m 15 minutes late, that’s not what I call a happy start to the day. Around 11.30 am comes the eternal question of “What will we have for lunch?” That moment when most people doubt where to go, no one wants to eat alone, even if that means spending 13 euros on a croque-monsieur and industrial fries you will stuff yourself with hoping it will bring you enough energy to stay awake for the rest of the day. By 4.30 pm things start to move gently. Young parents leave the office of tippy toes, on the verge of saying sorry for leaving early but at the same time eager to fetch their true purpose at the daycare. Around 5 pm, some confident guy will stand up and leave with a big smile, heading for the gym after a perfectly productive day. At 6 pm, a quiet rumble of chairs moving and tired “good evening” leaves the office too, ready to cramp in overcrowded metros and trains for an hour of a ride back home in the suburbs. And by 6.30 pm, only the ones working on massive projects, or the ones with different circadian rhythms and a sense of professionalism stay up to 7.30 pm. After that, if you are caught working in the open office when the top manager comes downstairs, you might get the chance to have a quick chat with him, and he might remember your name when the annual reviews come up.
As you probably have understood by now, I didn’t leave my 9–5 job because I hated it, but because I am not made for the way traditional businesses are run. A year ago I decided to stop sacrificing my lifestyle for safety nets I didn’t have use of. I re-evaluated my real needs and ambitions and took the leap towards a different future. Maybe not a better future, but at least one I have chosen for myself and on my terms.
I probably won’t have a collection of branded business cards to display on my big marble desk at the top of a Parisian skyscraper by the end of my career. I guess I won’t either ever receive a medal for my seniority in a company — yes, you can get those in France sometimes, like, proper decorations, like in the army! I suppose my path in life will be filled with ups and downs, turns and zigzags, but that’s okay. I don’t mind taking risks in my career if it means staying true to myself, to my values.