I never should have followed my dreams

I quit my steady gig to fulfill my potential. Instead I went broke, and got fired from a job in doggie daycare

Topics: Life stories, Unemployment, Malcolm Gladwell, Advertising, Recession,

I never should have followed my dreams (Credit: alphaspirit via Shutterstock)

“I quit,” I said, my black leather carrying bag already over my shoulder. I’d imagined this scene for years, a triumphant take-this-job delivery followed by my supervisor’s wounded expression.

His face barely registered emotion as he said, “Go tell human resources.”

I worked for a respected social policy research organization, where Barack Obama had applied for a job before he was president. For seven years I’d sat in a windowless office and formatted reports in Microsoft Word. I sauntered to human resources like a movie inmate on his final walk of freedom through Shawshank prison.

Forty-two and single, I was jumping without a net into the potential person I was meant to be. I’d watched Larry Smith’s famous TED Talk about following one’s passion, and enrolled in an advertising portfolio class. I was determined to rebrand myself as a digital copywriter.

“Good for you,” my father said. “We’re meant to take risks. Read ‘Start-Up Nation’!”

That was the book I bought him for his 70th birthday. It reinforced the stereotype of the Jewish genius by chronicling how a culture of irascibility and entrepreneurship made Israel the most innovative country on earth. It was a drug for my dad. A retired production engineer in New Jersey who’d racked up patents for his inventions, he saw himself as the Ashkenazi Thomas Edison. He mentioned the book whenever I complained about my work.

I was thankful for his support. My position was supposed to be a pause from a lackluster music career, not a destination. I read Suze Orman and tried to make myself indispensable by revitalizing the publishing department’s production process. Proactive, I joined my company’s social media committee, where I sat in meetings for endless months. I updated my LinkedIn profile and résumé with the words “deliverables” and “timelines.” Yet my duties didn’t grow, and recruiters never called. I was stuck in the land of the typing dead.

“This’ll be a new beginning,” my father said. “Time to make things happen.”

Denied unemployment benefits for resigning, I contacted a pro-bono legal organization. They appointed a lawyer who believed I had a strong case for collecting on appeal. I imagined rising like a phoenix from a pyre of word processors.

Then my advertising class ended.

“No one will hire you with a spec portfolio,” a well-known recruiter who’d been recommended to me said. “You’ll have to work for free.”

I was disappointed. I hadn’t expected a welcoming party, just an entry-level spot. I had a friend who wrote junk mail at a department store. How hard could it be?

Over the next few weeks, I tweaked my online portfolio and attended networking events. I tried for secretary spots, traffic coordinator positions, and email content writers. Temp agencies said administrative jobs were going to career admin assistants. Full-time recruiters, who quoted Malcolm Gladwell and Thomas Edison in their LinkedIn updates, kept redoing my résumé.

You Might Also Like

Changing one’s career in a tight economy, without the proper pedigree of internships and connections, was like trying to audition for a famous pop band in midlife without an instrument.

“Everything will work out,” my father said. “You’ve got what it takes.”

Five months after my grand exit, I won retroactive unemployment benefits but was still jobless. I started to panic and attended résumé workshops, where I agonized over every bullet point. In my dreams at night I begged my boss, who’d put me on probation three times, for my old job back.

Broke and ashamed, I asked my parents for money and tapped my 401K to make my Cobra payments.

I’d believed that resigning at 42 was the acknowledgment of unrealized potential. Now I thought it was the delusional move of a man child who’d missed out on the party.

Nine months in, with my unemployment payments finished, my parents’ assistance exhausted, I responded to an ad on Craigslist for doggie daycare. Afterward I stood behind an Upper East Side apartment building while a pack of canines ran back and forth over an Astroturf yard.

“You can’t let them bark,” the business owner said. She wanted a six-month commitment after a trial period.

I nodded eagerly as the dogs yapped, woofed and defecated. I scooped, threw rubber balls, scolded and cajoled. They howled for my boss as she squeezed through the building’s back door and went inside.

Her jarring text arrived on my cell a minute later.

“I’m sending you home early, David.”

I missed word processing.

Between anxiety attacks, I decided to try Starbucks. Its lengthy application process seemed fit for prospective NSA employees. A Starbucks recruiter recommended I approach managers onsite. At the fifth branch, where I was able to get a manager, a young Latino, he looked straight at me — a white, middle-aged guy — and said, “You want to work here? You look like you should be a doctor.”

Despondent, I visited my parents in Jersey and told them I wanted to jump off a roof. They put me in the car and rushed me to the hospital.

“You were right to leave that job,” my dad said as the nurses escorted me to intake.

I no longer agreed. I stepped outside of the box to access my latent achiever and start a new career. Instead, I emptied my retirement fund and entered the psychiatric ward.

For a week I sat in group therapy sessions with addicts, self-mutilators and suicide attempters. Before I left, the head psychiatrist spoke with me in her office.

“David, I’m not sure you belonged here,” she said.

After a year of being turned away, it was the first statement of rejection that made me smile.

David Sobel, a Manhattan freelancer, is hoping to find work by selling a memoir about unemployment.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 8
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Sonic

    7 ways Americans have defiled the hot dog

    Sonic's Bacon Double Cheddar Croissant Dog

    Sonic calls this a "gourmet twist" on a classic. I am not so, so fancy, but I know that sprinkling bacon and cheddar cheese onto a tube of pork is not gourmet, even if you have made a bun out of something that is theoretically French.

    Krispy Kreme

    7 ways Americans have defiled the hot dog

    Krispy Kreme's Doughnut Dog

    This stupid thing is a hotdog in a glazed doughnut bun, topped with bacon and raspberry jelly. It is only available at Delaware's Frawley Stadium, thank god.

    KFC

    7 ways Americans have defiled the hot dog

    KFC's Double Down Dog

    This creation is notable for its fried chicken bun and ability to hastily kill your dreams.

    Pizza Hut

    7 ways Americans have defiled the hot dog

    Pizza Hut's Hot Dog Bites Pizza

    Pizza Hut basically just glued pigs-in-blankets to the crust of its normal pizza. This actually sounds good, and I blame America for brainwashing me into feeling that.

    Carl's Jr.

    7 ways Americans have defiled the hot dog

    Carl's Jr. Most American Thick Burger

    This is a burger stuffed with potato chips and hot dogs. Choose a meat, America! How hard is it to just choose a meat?!

    Tokyo Dog

    7 ways Americans have defiled the hot dog

    Tokyo Dog's Juuni Ban

    A food truck in Seattle called Tokyo Dog created this thing, which is notable for its distinction as the Guinness Book of World Records' most expensive hot dog at $169. It is a smoked cheese bratwurst, covered in butter Teriyaki grilled onions, Maitake mushrooms, Wagyu beef, foie gras, black truffles, caviar and Japanese mayo in a brioche bun. Just calm down, Tokyo Dog. Calm down.

    Interscope

    7 ways Americans have defiled the hot dog

    Limp Bizkit's "Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water"

    This album art should be illegal.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

Loading Comments...