I’ve been fired from a job once in my life. I had this cushy part-time job when I was back in college working for campus computing. I got to drive a sweet blue truck around campus to the various computing sites, fixing computers that were on the fritz and reloading printer paper. There wasn’t much to it. If I missed a site or four during my rounds, it wasn’t a big deal, someone on the next shift would probably get to it. Best part of the job was that you could park a university vehicle freaking anywhere: on sidewalks, in the middle of the quad, whatever. Mostly I would just clock in at the beginning of a four hour shift, hit a couple of sites, then drive home in the sweet blue truck and watch tv, then drive back at the end of my shift and clock out. The job was so chill I even scheduled a class during my work hours, during which time I would neither be in class nor working. (Still got an A by the way. Econ 102…cake.) I only got paid $7 an hour, but it was $7 an hour to do nothing.
Anyways, I’d been working there for about a year or so, and our super laid-back boss quit and they brought in this new guy as supervisor. We never got along from the outset, partly because I was talking to girls in the computer lab during his orientation speech (but they needed technical assistance!) and partly because of my rather, uh, casual approach to my job. I showed up late for my 10 am shift one morning, and he gave me a warning. When I showed up late a second time, he unceremoniously asked me to turn in my keys to that sweet blue truck.
Now, this was a job I quite obviously did not give a crap about. It was barely a real job, and a part-time one at that. In addition, I didn’t really need the money all that badly and I had other part-time jobs, and could easily work more at other jobs to make up the lost wages. But, despite all that, I walked home after being fired feeling utterly despondent, like I had been kicked in the gut. Despite the fact that I made no effort to gain approval, why did rejection hurt so much? Thinking back on it now, the biggest reason had to be that by getting fired I came to realize that I did not have any control over the situation. Regardless of whether I thought my boss was a moron (he was) or how highly I thought of myself (very high), I did not have the final say because I was not in a position of power. And that just seemed extremely unfair.
Fast forward to 2011. Early this year, I decided to leave my job. But I hesitated for months, thinking that it would be better to wait until they let me go instead of simply quitting. From a financial point of view, it made perfect sense. If I simply did nothing, I could collect my salary for as long as they kept me on, and once they let me go, I could collect unemployment for several months afterwards. Of course, on the other hand, there was the issue of burning bridges. Well, considering my relationship with my former employer and my negative attitude towards my job over the past couple years, I think those bridges had already been burned. But there’s a difference between burning bridges and nuking the bridge and its vicinity so that no life can survive in the crater for a hundred years.
In the end, I did quit. From a cost-benefit perspective, I left a lot of money on the table in exchange for (a) feeling like my former employer didn’t totally hate me and (b) creating for myself the illusion that I had some semblance of control over the situation. In reality, I didn’t really have any power in the situation, but by at least preserving my fragile dignity, I at least allowed myself to start off the next stage of my professional life not feeling like complete garbage. Which is how I would have felt if I had gotten myself fired, even if intentionally.
Postscript: I actually wrote this post months ago, when I was leaving my old job. Six months into my new job, which I find to be more tolerable but still ultimately unsatisfying, I am now pondering the same dilemma. I think there might be something wrong with me.