I Got Fired from My First 9–5 Job

And what I learned from the experience.

person in black suit jacket with r ed bag walking beside metal fence

Almost a decade ago, I left my home country and moved aboard. Not because I wanted to, but because I had to. I was halfway through my Multimedia degree when the international college I was studying at ran into legal issues with the Vietnamese government. To continue my studies, I had to move to Australia. And what was meant to be a 2-year study trip turned into an adventure, a new career, and a new home.

After my first year in the country of spiders, snakes, beaches, and heat, I met someone who eventually became my life partner. I didn’t know this by then, but I knew I had to stay and see the relationship through. So I stayed. I stayed even though I knew there was no work in film, what I’d decided to pursue; not for an international student who had no connection.

So I came back to my first love; design (a Multimedia degree allows you to do that, multiple things). I started applying for any design or video production role I could find. No calls. No interviews. No jobs.

Eventually, I got called in to meet with the CEO of a security camera magazine. Not my first choice of industry, but I was desperate, so there I went.
After the first interview, which happened at his house (he was looking for an office), he told me to come back for another round of interview. In the next few days, he never replied to my email to confirm the agreed date and time for the next meeting. I found it odd, but I went anyway. I caught him coming back from his morning run. He hired me.

We later worked in a real office, thank god. He hired a couple of more people. He would berate us for not writing/designing precisely like what he had in mind. No feedback. No coaching. No managing. No leading. He told me “You’re the designer, you should know how to do this. If you can’t do this, I might as well do it myself.” Since I was 18, I’d had panic attacks. My panic attacks started to visit more often during this time. I kept hiding in the smoking area, trying not to feel like I was dying. Sometimes, that happened several times a day.

And yet, I continued. I needed money for my visa. I needed the money to pay my bills. I bit my tongue, and I kept coming to work. The day I realised I needed to get out of there was when he told me I was being lazy and doing nothing during the time he was away in Germany for 2 weeks. Before leaving, he’d given me one design task, provided feedback once, and then disappeared for 10 days. He was “too busy” to reply to my email” and “I should know what to do without him”.

He also told me to take down a design I had posted online to my portfolio (I was so bored and ran out of things to do). Meanwhile, we’d never signed an employment contract or any NDAs. He checked which sites I’d visited (I didn’t even dare to do anything that is not related to design, but apparently I couldn’t browse design sites either). He then made me sign on a piece of paper stating I couldn’t share anything I worked on there. I later found out that he’d downloaded a template and told me it was from his lawyer.

It was about three months since I’d started, all of my co-workers had quit/been fired, it was my turn. I don’t remember exactly what pushed me to leave, or for him to let me go. I remember I was so scared, trying so hard not to cry while having a breakdown in my brain. I uttered what I meant to say when you quit “gracefully” and walked out of the building. Another panic attack had started.

I didn’t have a job for 4 months after that, it was one of the hardest things I’ve done in my life. I had a couple of odd jobs here and there, but it wasn’t enough. My partner and I were so poor, we were living on instant noodles and sticky rice every day of the week.

Eventually, I found a job. The job wasn’t the best, but it was enough for me to pay bills. And the people I worked with was so lovely. My boss at the time taught me about UX/UI fundamentals, enough for me to find more books and online course to eventually get into Product Design. I quit smoking, got my life together, doubled my first salary in 3 years and then almost doubled again more than a year after that.

Sometimes, I wish I hadn’t had to go through that time to learn the lessons I learned. But thanks to that horrible experience, I now understand my worth, and that I didn’t have to put up with a bad boss just because he pays me. I wish I had understood earlier my well-being is much more important than any job, especially in a toxic and abusive environment.

More than that, I learned how not to ever behave in a workplace, and how NOT to be a manager. And when I run into these types of people, I know it’s okay to move on. Some things are not for me, and that’s okay. I also learned how to protect myself better, legally; to sniff out those the bad apples, to stand up for myself and never get bullied ever again.

And last but not least, if I make up my mind about something, with hard work and determination, I will achieve my goals, despite what people may tell me.