Most of us have ghosts from the past. I have my own share of skeletons in the closet – memories I'd rather delete from my mind, than let them pop up at the most inopportune of times.
One among them, is my first 'job' (if I can even call it a job that is). Thanks to Facebook Memories, a 'memory' of my first job popped up in my timeline, today. Surprisingly enough, I didn't feel as bad I used to, whenever those memories (or should I say, nightmares?) kept coming to me in the past. Maybe, I've finally had my closure, and I've gathered enough courage to share my feelings to the whole wild world.
Way back in 2010, I was fresh out of college and clueless about life. Things were not going great, for me. I was as passionate about WordPress (as I am right now) back then; and the Work With Us page of Automattic kept beckoning to me, but I lacked the courage, and the confidence to apply.
That was when I got a job offer to join this recently-launched web portal as a reporter. I badly needed a job. I had some experience as a freelance journalist, and I loved writing – ergo, I took up the job with open arms! The Facebook memory I have shared above, itself, should summarize how I felt about the job in the initial days. This was my first story, and I loved writing it. I thought journalism was my calling, and I loved being a journalist!
I couldn't have been more wrong, and I should have realized this back then!
The excitement and the romance with the job, only lasted for a short while. I swept cleaner than the average new-broom, and put my mind and soul into the job. I spent the little savings I had into my quest to get the perfect feature, and put in the extra effort into writing stories I was passionate about. However, very soon, I ended up being branded as the under-performer.
The portal was purportedly a fun place to work at, and had even assigned a Senior Journalist as the 'Chief Fun Officer'. However, only a few people had fun, while the others – people like me, faced the music. The CEO was a dictator by his own right. Good work rarely got any appreciation, minor mistakes were badly reprimanded. The sales team was at the receiving end of all the CEO's ire; there is little you could do to sell overpriced ads on a badly-maintained site, that did not offer a good value proposition for clients (this is a purely-personal opinion) – which were mostly local businessess, and organizations, based in Thiruvananthapuram.
As a result of all of this (the negative work environment, and the culture – or the lack of it), slowly, I started having a problem filing stories on time. I was battling my own demons in my mind. The very reason I joined this company was the prospect that, doing something I loved (writing) would help me resolve some of the conflicts in my head that kept driving me mad. It only made things worse. I tried opening up my colleagues to ask for help, but no one would even bother to listen. I had no friends at office, I was a lone wolf, that was dying – day-by-day.
I was still passionate about the site, and the content they created (there were some really good stories and features, thanks to the talented team of journalists – some of which I still re-read whenever I find time). I tried my best to chip in to whichever areas I could contribute to. I did good work on promoting the site through Social Media (I hope). Their Facebook & Twitter following increased manifold due to my efforts. The site used a custom Content Management System (CMS) which was super-buggy, and non-responsive. I recommended using a regular CMS (like WordPress), even passed along suggestions to the development team to improve conversions; all of which were summarily ignored. I was asked to shut up, and focus on the job I was supposed to do.
The worst part was the pay, which was even lower than the guaranteed minimum-wage in India (and I'm not even exaggerating). True, the pay was the last of my concerns – but I was finding it difficult to make ends meet, with an empty bank account (I was so passionate about journalism that I would go into inane lengths for stories, leaving me with an empty bank account, and an empty tummy). By the end of the first month, I didn't even receive even the miniscule salary that I was offered. I was told that this was because I didn't have a bank account with a certain bank, and they had 'technical difficulties' processing payments to other banks! (Duh)
All this culminated in me going downhill, both mentally, and physically. Everybody from my colleagues, to my editor, to the CEO started reprimanding me. I was an object of ridicule in almost all the weekly-meetings – be it with the editor, or with the CEO. I remember a particular 1-on-1 with the CEO. The editor asked the CEO to 'talk sense into my head' because I was not filing my stories on time. This was a 45 minutes tirade of 'advise' (bordering on condescension) where I had to do my best to keep a brave face, and to prevent myself from breaking down. I remember running into the washroom after the 1-on-1 and silently crying my lungs out, only to get out and act like nothing happened.
Even my news stories were not spared; I remember how the sub editor was googling the weather in Bangalore, to verify a quote about rains I got from one of my friends in the city, for an article on umbrellas and downpours! He apparently had his doubts about the veracity of my quotes, and he was doing this in front of me – just to belittle me, and to prove me wrong! Something snapped within me; then on – I simply couldn't control it, and would break down when confronted. One of my colleagues said I was "too immature to be an adult", when I broke down before her.
good bad things must come to an end, and my tryst with the portal ended too – as unceremoniously as it had started.
I had slowly started battling my demons successfully, thanks to self-motivation, and did some really good stories (not that anybody appreciated me for it! I just felt good while doing them). Some of my stories got good comments from readers, and good visibility in search, thus giving me the confidence I badly needed.
India celebrates its Air Force Day on the 8th of October, and that was the day my career ended – well, almost. I was supposed to file a story on the same by day-end. I went out in the field, and spent the entire day doing research, and got back home to sit in front of my computer to file the story. Just my luck – my PC Keyboard at home died that fateful day, and I had to resort to using the on-screen keyboard to finish the article, which I sent by the very next day morning (after the deadline). I remember a cryptic email I received from one of the editors of the portal earlier that day (since I had not filed the story on time), and I remember these exact words:
"With this attitude, you won't reach anywhere in life. You are a failure."
I did feel bad (since this was one of the few people from office that I genuinely looked-up to), but I'd learned to ignore taunts and move on. As I was about to get ready for work, I tried checking my work mail to look for something. Incidentally, I found that I was unable to log into my work email id – I had accessed it only an hour ago! Google apps returned a cryptic error message, and it was clearly not an incorrect password error. I called the editor, who would not pick up my calls. I was confused. Another colleague gave me a call a few minutes later, and asked me to check my work mail. He said that there is an important email awaiting me in the. I said that I can't access my email, but I immediately knew what happened.
I was fired, through email.
And they had deactivated my email id, even before I could read the mail which notified me that I was fired! 😂
They reactivated the mail id so that I could read the email where I was fired, only to deactivate it by the end of the day.
Need I say, how depressed I was?
I remember going into a panic attack almost immediately. For the next few days, I stayed in my room, barely talking to anyone, or maintaining contact. I felt like an absolute failure, and I considered ending my life. Nobody from office bothered to contact me either. Some people that weren't particularly fond of me from office, deleted me from their colourful social media life, as well.
Mind you, I had not received a single pie as salary despite working with them for two months.
A few days later, the editor sends me a message in Facebook, asking me come to office to collect my pay-check. I do that a couple of days later, and that fateful day happened to be my 22nd birthday. 😊
I still remember, walking in, drenched from rain, to their office. I just had enough money with me for the bus ride back home; I could not afford an autorickshaw (that's what we call a tuk-tuk around these parts), or an umbrella. My ex-colleagues were giving me smirks of all kinds, and would turn their face away from me. The CEO managed small talk with a smatter of arrogance and anger at having seen my face again. The editor – who is actually a good person, somehow knew that it was my birthday and gave me a bag of chips (yes, literally a bag of chips), to 'share the joy'.
Finally, after distributing chips to 'celebrate' my birthday, and waiting in the office (where I no longer worked) for over four hours, I finally get my first and last paycheck – which was half of the pay I was promised for two months of work. (mind you: this was less half of the current monthly minimum wage, as per government rules in India, as on this date).
What a fitting end, to an unceremonious career! And that too, on my 22nd birthday!
I used to feel bitter about all of this for a long time, but today, as I share my experience to all of you seven years later – I don't feel a tinge of bitterness, anger, or pain.
I'm still friends with many of my former colleagues, the editors, and the CEO (except for all those colleagues that have deleted/blocked me from social media). We keep in touch, and I don't feel any bitterness for them. In fact, I love them all – they are all successful and doing well for themselves, I hear. I try to help them out whenever I can, in whichever ways I can. Whatever happened was not entirely their fault either – I was not the perfect employee, and I screwed up (a lot) too.
So, today, I want to take this opportunity to thank all my former colleagues from my previous job, for letting me go!
In retrospect, the job proved to be a turning point in my life. This job broke me down, but I rose up like a phoenix, to be where I am today. A lot of things happened; I met the love of my life, and got married to her. I finally gathered courage to apply to Automattic, and today I work a job that I love, and a company that I adore, with some of the best people in the world from 60+ countries, as my colleagues and friends.
From being a failed journalist at a local web portal (which is in its death throes these days, I hear), today I make the web better place, by working on the same platform that powers The New York Times, The Time Magazine, Quartz, and most of the popular news portals of the world.
None of this would have happened, had it not been for my first job that broke me down.
This job was the life lesson I badly needed, and it equipped me with all the strength that I needed to battle the odds I face in life. It taught me to be strong, and resilient. It helped me fight all the demons in my mind, and gave me the courage to walk out of the pit of depression.
So once again, a huge thank you, from the bottom of my heart – to the web portal, to the CEO, to the editors, and to all my ex-colleagues (all of them, except the CEO, parted ways with the company within a year of my exit). If you're reading this, we all should catch up someday for lunch/dinner – to relive the good old days.
And I'm paying this time. 😊
And no, we're not going to share a bag of chips for lunch! 😂
P.S. I've deliberately not included details of the web portal, or my former colleagues in this post (for reasons obvious). The last thing I want was to personally offend any of my ex-colleagues, or the portal (which taught me the basic tenets of journalism). My intention was to just say thank you to all of them for helping me face the big bad world (and I'm not even being ironic). I'm sure they had reasons for what they did to/with me (maybe, I was just another douchebag back then, and I deserved all of it 😛 or, maybe I am schizophrenic, and I'm cooking all of this up 😉 My therapist says that I'm perfectly normal these days – but hey, you never know!). If you did feel bad about the post, though – I just want to say that I'm sorry. from the bottom of my heart!