I’d been working as an assistant manager at the airport branch of a busy rental car company since November 2019.
Each day I’d wake up around 5 or 6 a.m. and get ready for work, arriving at the rental car branch by 7:30 a.m. Often, I’d go in even earlier if I was anticipating a lot of vehicle check-ins, or knew I would need to clean returned cars. Then, I’d work until about 6:30 p.m. before returning home to eat dinner, try to fit in a workout and go to bed, before doing it all again the next day.
When the pandemic began, I began to see the car company’s true colors.
First, it started out with what I’d say was a fairly late reaction to the fact that the pandemic was happening. They took months to get us proper cleaning supplies and protective gear and to organize and announce safety protocols. Layoffs occurred at most of the other branches in the area from the top down, ridding us of the more experienced, higher paid managers.
A few months into the pandemic, I was given the option to continue volunteering to work (without hazard pay) or to use the two weeks of COVID PTO they’d given us. But once you ran out of PTO, you were stuck without a paycheck if you were uncomfortable or unable to work due to autoimmune or any other medical concerns.
At this time there were temporary closures at nearby branches to consolidate the staff who were volunteering to keep working and still remain in operation. As an airport branch, mine was one that remained open. While these times were challenging for everyone, the wear on the staff was obvious and little was done to support us.
A few months into the pandemic, the company decided to reopen its closed branches again, but due to the layoffs, each location was understaffed, causing burnout across the board.
There were a few specific issues that arose that I brought up to upper management, but nothing changed. It escalated to HR, but even after a meeting with them, I didn’t feel any better. It just seems as if the company wanted to prioritize their revenue over the wellbeing of their workforce, even though we’d been keeping the company alive during the pandemic.
What really took things over the edge was the fact that we were so understaffed that lunches weren’t being handled correctly. I was left alone at the branch a lot of the time and was told someone was going to come relieve me for hours (yet no one came until 3 or 4 p.m.) when my lunch was supposed to be by 12:30 p.m.
The lunch problem became a major issue because that was the only time I could see my therapist.
At the time I was going to therapy via Zoom to help with my mental state, and because my job’s hours of operation were from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m, I worked beyond my therapist’s hours.
I took the opportunity to reevaluate my options and decided to step away from my corporate job in summer 2020.
My partner had recently just started a web design and digital solutions agency, and was struggling with the many hats he was having to wear. The solution we came up with was for me to work part-time at our favorite local coffee shop, The Nautical Bean, while also taking on a few roles in our agency, mainly managing accounts, sales, and copywriting. Since we’re still an early-stage business, for now I’m paid solely on commission.
I’d worked at Starbucks in college and really missed the coffee shop environment, so I was excited to start my new job in August 2020.
The biggest difference is that now I’m now not working for a corporate company.
Knowing that I work side by side with the coffee shop owner is comforting and makes me feel like I’m a part of my community. And with my partner, we work for ourselves, which gives us the freedom to run the agency however we feel fit.
It may sound silly, but providing coffee to members of my community is also really intimate and also a neat way to network. And working with my partner at our agency is teaching me so much and really progressing my professional and technical skills.
My work now can also be stressful, but overall my mental health has improved tenfold.
At the rental car company, I worked from sun up to sun down and had little time for exercise, hobbies, time with loved ones, etc. Now my schedule allows time to live my life.
On the days that I work at the coffee shop, I open the shop at 5 a.m. and am off by 1 p.m. Afterwards, I finish the workday doing tasks for our agency clients. On the weekends, I get household chores done and spend time with friends and family.
I’ve been focusing more on spending time on self-care and with my partner and my friends.
I still work every day of the week, but at least I have evenings now. We built a little home gym in our apartment, so I’ve been working out more in my spare time.
The team at my coffee shop is pretty tight-knit, although a lot of the staff do come and go often. My manager and I hang out outside of work because we have similar interests, and I hang out with my other coworkers pretty often too. I recently had a birthday and essentially the entire crew came out to hang out at my place afterwards. One of my regulars in the morning even bought me a birthday muffin!
Assistant managers at the car rental company started at a salary of around $53,000 per year plus commission on our branch’s profit. Now I make part-time minimum wage plus tips at the coffee shop and commission off whatever sales I make for the agency. It’s never the same each month, so it’s hard to say how much exactly I make now.
It definitely was a drastic change, but between my partner’s and my income, it wasn’t too bad. Now that we’re working for ourselves, we know the sacrifices are worth it. It’s better to work hard for ourselves than to grind for someone else.
Making more money isn’t as satisfying if you never have the time or energy to do anything with it.
Working for yourself or a small company generally means you have more support and more of a voice. My favorite part of the coffee shop is being an integral part of my regular customers’ day. Plus, in both jobs, I get to meet some awesome people.
I would make the career change again in a heartbeat; however, I was lucky in that I have a supportive partner who could help with the finances and my transition. I inquired and interviewed while I was still working at the rental company. When I got the call the coffee shop would hire me, I was able to put in my two weeks at the rental car company the next day.
Some other colleagues I knew who wanted to leave the rental car place just couldn’t afford to. Most of them are still searching for another job to replace it, or just took the risk and quit to get out of there. Ultimately, my advice is do what’s best for you — and if the current situation isn’t best, do anything in your power to find a better path for yourself. No career is worth your mental and physical health.
Molly O’Brien May 9, 2021 at 05:57PM