When Quitting Feels Good: My First Job in New York

My first job in New York was working as a waitress in an Irish pub somewhere in the Lower East Side. It was owned by three cheap Irish guys in their early 30ies, who didn’t pay their staff an hourly wage but demanded they live off of the tips they accumulated throughout their shifts. The way our main boss behaved towards us was very foul from the start. I remember having worked there for three weeks only and receiving a text message from my boss, who “asked” me if I wanted to come in today. It was two hours before the shift was supposed to start. I declined that day but when he asked me the next day without given me any previous notice I knew it was a win or lose situation (in the sense of being coldly fired). So I came in, for the sake of some money and for lack of having a better job. Our shifts were brutal during the evenings: I was scheduled to come in at 4 PM and usually stayed until 4 AM – a total of 12 hours. Without any hourly pay and only the tips to rake in, I still managed to earn a fair amount (up to 270 bucks) during good nights. But other, slower days were hardly worth mentioning. One night I even walked out with 20 dollars in my pocket, fuming for ever having gone into this industry.

I held out for about 2 months. More than enough time for me to figure out what I wanted or rather, what I didn’t want.

Of course they needed someone to work during July 4. Since a fellow server had already requested her day off well in advance, I was supposed to do the brunch shift and another gal was working in the evening. The 4th of July fell on a Sunday. I made sure to grab all my belongings the evening before, after ending my final shift. With a cheerful “See you all tomorrow!” I exited the bar, never to step a foot into this establishment again. Sometime on Sunday my boss texted me and wanted to know how much later I would care to show up. Then another text: “It really would be fair to tell me whether or not you are showing up so that I can ask another waitress to come in”. Fair? You dare use that word? It would have been fair to give your employees an hourly salary. And not let them work 12 hours straight. Also, how about shifts that don’t start two hours before you ask them? Fair! Pah!

I never responded because I never wanted him to reply back with the all-so-satisfying words: “You are fired!” In this instance, I had won! I had quit. And it felt good. My German friend said it was karma getting back to that cheap bastard. I guess he was partly right. Self-induced karma. When someone is stupid enough to go according to a nation’s reputation and praise how reliable Germans are just to abuse them as cheap working labor, he doesn’t deserve better.

The relief that comes with quitting is extensive. You feel happy and glorious. Independent and free. And before the onset of financial repercussions show up you are living a fair life. Quitting that job had been my best bet in this city. True, I had some tough three months ahead of me. Finding a real job, going through interviews, and then finally working in an office setting on minimum wage. But I wouldn’t have wanted to trade it for anything. The satisfaction I got for dumping a trashy bar on possibly one of their busiest holidays of the year… How could I not be happy about this? I believe if a job is not making you too happy and if the mental state achieved during this kind of work is outweighing the financial means, it might be a good time to just move on.

Yes, it’s not great to live on barely nothing for an extended period of time. But at the same token, it might give you the right push to look for something better. Sometimes we can feel passive and tired when working in the wrong job, to the point where we don’t have the strength and courage to go ahead and apply for something else. Being away from work, hated annoying co-workers, and meaningless tasks can give us some time to regenerate and focus on how we want to spend the majority of our remaining time. Be it moving to a new city or starting a different chapter in life – a job usually plays a crucial role in how we will define our experiences during this period of life.

Were it not for that one long summer in 2010, I would have never known how beautiful the Brooklyn beaches can look on a weekday – completely deserted by the hordes of people. Or how rejuvenated I can feel when walking around students through Washington Square Park during the middle of the day. Not to mention that touristy things are less crowded in the week than on weekends. Or how precious free entertainment is for those who cannot afford much else.

Sometimes we forget that we are here to make the very best of our time. That when we choose a time-out in life, we cannot have a daily routine let it go to ruin. Never giving up on our dreams is and should be the main goal of life. So creating some distance between this thought and the other responsibilities we think we owe society should also play an important role in our lives.

After all, isn’t “life about the moments that take our breath away than the number of breaths we take?” (quote by Hilary Cooper)?

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