I was studying for a Bachelor’s degree in Melbourne, and I’d gotten a part-time job at a café. Then came the summer holiday and I chose to go home over staying in Australia and gaining extra experience, partly because my parents wouldn’t take no for an answer.
When I returned three months later, I went back to the café one more time: to return my uniform. The manager had found another, more hardworking person to replace me in the easily fillable spot: I had been fired.
Being “fired” carried a certain kind of stigma, so when people asked, I usually just said, “Oh, I quit,” or “I’ve found another gig,” or “I’m busy doing something else.” Being fired meant they didn’t want me, and it hurt.
Naively, I believed that I had to protect my own pride. This pride is probably why I’ve burned so many bridges throughout my career.
I was 21 when I started working for real.
After graduating, I packed my bags and went back to Jakarta. I wasn’t eligible for a Temporary Residency and look for jobs in Australia, so I had to go home. Besides, I had accepted a respectable unpaid internship in the youth division of a media company, and I thought it would be the stepping-stone I needed to start my career in writing.
I quit on the third day.
Why? Well, I was asked to do things I disliked, such as writing for the “What’s in your bag” section, so I started searching for a full-time job.
In two days, I’d gotten one.
Since I was going to be paid for doing better things, I thought I had nothing to lose by jumping ship. I went to the office, expecting that it would be simple: I’d tell the editor my reasons and be on my way. But my hours were almost over, and he still hadn’t come in. I was too eager to go, so I called him. He said he was in the car nearing the office. I said I would just wait until he got here.
He called me into his office five minutes later, demanding to know why I’d called. I blurted out that I wouldn’t be able to finish the unpaid internship, as I had found a full-time job.
He paused. With a mocking tone, he said, “That is not how you do things. You can’t start a placement only to leave like that.”
“I’m really sorry,” I said, my voice shaking. “It’s just that I’ve gotten a good full-time offer as a writer and—”
“That’s none of my business,” he said harshly. “That’s not how you do things.”
Suffice to say, I’d probably burned the bridge with the editor forever. I took the beating, trying to see the positive side. I’d learned my lesson: Don’t burn any more bridges. Do the right thing. Yes, he was probably overreacting, but he was right – it was unprofessional of me to quit after only three days just because I’d gotten a job, even if it was only an unpaid gig.
Yet, by the end of that year, I’d quit two more well-paid, full-time jobs.
As a millennial, I’ve lived my whole life coached by the doctrines: Do what you love. Do good. Passion matters. Don’t settle for less.
Hence, I grew up understanding passion, but I didn’t understand commitment and resilience. I didn’t understand what it meant to “work hard”.
After that job at a nonprofit organization, I was asked to switch to the corporate world, with a better title and pay. I took it with pride, only to realize that I couldn’t stand the corporate world. I hated the daily need to justify a certain action and how it translated into profit. I hated the two-hour commute to the office in the morning, and another two hours to get home. Most of all, I hated myself for hating work, because not many people were lucky enough to secure such a position.
I was throwing away my luck.
After quitting, I took six months off, freelancing here and there. When friends asked me why I’d quit such a good job, I smiled and said I couldn’t stand the traffic. I didn’t like the job. Then my friends would say, “Ah, such a shame. I think you’ve made a mistake.” Yes, I knew. I wasn’t fired, but I felt worse for quitting than for being fired. I felt like I’d screwed up the whole year, burning bridges and making all the wrong choices.
But I realized that it’s not only a matter of choosing right, it’s also about making the most of my choices.
I watched a movie once, about a writer who finds another person’s manuscript and publishes it as his own. It’s called The Words. The writer regrets his decision, but the mistake was done. He meets the original writer, saying that he wished he had never found the manuscript, as it had wrecked his life. The original writer then says to him, “We all make our choices in life, the hard thing to do is live with them.”
While I probably didn’t start my career right, my journey was far from over. I could let the mistakes paralyze me, or I could keep learning from them and go on to take the next step.
I chose the latter.
I decided to focus even more on writing, pitching my work to various media platforms, volunteering as an editor, blogging more extensively, even going back to school for a Master’s degree.
In the end, it all paid off: early this June, I’m officially a published author.
We all make mistakes in our careers, in life. We all face tough decisions and may or may not choose rightly. What’s important is to learn to live with our decisions, and make the most of them.
Marcella Purnama is a blogger who splits home between Jakarta and Melbourne. Despite excelling in all things science, she went to study Arts and stumbled into writing. After graduating from her Bachelor’s program, Marcella worked as a content writer in both nonprofit and corporate settings before throwing in the towel to get a Master’s in Publishing and Communications. Read her words at marcellapurnama.com.