I prefer to write about less personal things, such as how to pitch freelance markets and edit your dissertation. I want to provide value and know that the best way to do so is with high quality articles NOT about my personal life. However, people always ask me why I left my high paying corporate job to strike out on my own. I realize now there’s value in this story.
I started my career as a proofreader in the editorial department of a very small newspaper. The job was okay but I’m a fast learner with low tolerance for baloney. When a position proofreading for the art department at a large promotional products factory came up, I took it. In some ways, this was my ideal job. A large quantity of work sat on a shared table in the middle of the room. When I ran out of work, I got up, grabbed more work, and sat down.
The art department kept careful tabs on us from how many orders we completed and how accurate they were. They didn’t care how many orders we completed, as long as it was over a certain amount. Here I thrived because I was never bored. I found a comrade, so we tried to beat each other’s numbers, in terms of number completed and accuracy. I developed a system because efficiency’s important to me. I wanted to win. I figured out if you batched similar tasks together, you completed many more orders. It thrilled me to watch my completed per day rise past the standard 170 to 330+.
The problem with this job stemmed around the reality of working in a factory and the type of career progression I could have here. When a job became available at McKinsey & Company (and subsequently Nielsen), I took it.
Boredom Makes Me a Miserable Human
Both McKinsey & Company and Nielsen are stellar companies most people would be ecstatic to work for. I was…in the beginning. For the first few months, there’s the learning curve that came with new jobs. However, once that was over, I wanted to do more work. I finished the work quickly in the day and didn’t want to be bored. I asked my (albeit young) managers for more work. They praised my performance, so I figured I could have more work and make more of a difference.
Except, that isn’t what happened.
Instead, I was told I had my fair share of work. I must be working too fast. Truth is, I do think, work, and talk fast. True. But a large part of my speed when compared to my co-workers was that I didn’t spend the morning on Facebook and reading the news. I worked. Consequentially, after my two or three hours of scheduled work, I was so bored I could impale my own eyes out with a staple remover.
After a while, I gave up. I took smoke breaks with my co-workers, bringing along my fake candy cigarettes. I noticed everything in the office (they put an INTJ in front of a glass-walled manager’s office…they should have seen this coming). I enrolled in every webinar, professional development module, and club I could. I watched stupid shows on Hulu that rotted my brain a little more. I made a complex planner system with 10 different pen and highlighter colors that required a printed legend. I helped my co-workers on any project they needed help with.
I’m not proud of this, of course, but it’s the truth. I became a miserable human being, truly. My managers didn’t care because I performed well for them. I even got substantial raises for my performance, more than my co-workers-turned-friends. I couldn’t tell them the truth.
Sometimes my boredom turned into good things, not just wasted energy. Once my manager accidentally threw out a stack of printed faxes. She cried, threw a fit, and whatnot because now she’d have to call each of the vendors to have them refax it or to see if they faxed anything over at all.
I’m not one for crying or seeing other people who are emotionally unbalanced. From my extreme boredom, perhaps, I happened to notice a number on the top of an old fax. I didn’t mention anything to her, but I went over to the fax machine and reprinted all of the faxes from the fax machine’s memory. I handed them to her. Instead of being grateful, she hated me from that moment on.
The Irony in Being Paid by Performance
I decided that despite great corporate benefits, I couldn’t rot in an office like this. I needed opportunity to learn, grow, and be busy. If I couldn’t make it work at these two great companies, I couldn’t make it work at any of them. I quit my job and said bye to amazing corporate benefits. (Corporate-sponsored health insurance, I still miss you greatly).
Becoming self-employed was so different than my work in corporate America. I used to get classified as “High Performing” or “High Potential” by HR departments, but I’d get stuck without work to do. I’d get paid the same as everyone else and sit there. They should have leveraged my drive to have impact (or undiagnosed workaholic tendencies?). It would have cost them the same.
Now, I get paid for the work I do or by performance. Let’s just say, economically that’s been a much better arrangement for me. I can always get more work when I want it and I get paid for doing more work. I learn and invite challenges into my work day in a way that was never allowed at my corporate jobs.
Are you considering making the jump from corporate America to freelancer? If so, consider my freelancer coaching program where I can help you get started.