When Your Dream Job Turns into a Career Nightmare
Career Fit

I Landed My Dream Job—And It Utterly Backfired

by Rebecca Barganier
Photos Ana Raab | March 04, 2016
One writer considers the ways a complete job failure actually got her career on track.
The phone call couldn’t have come at a better time. Peppered with positivity, hope, and a promise of greener pastures (e.g. a raise), my boss-to-be laid out an ideal future—and I clung to our phone conversation like a buoy in a storm. My current company was in the midst of a dramatic coup d’état—one involving a federal investigation—and as one of the last [wo]men standing, I was fully prepared to be told at any moment to pack up my cubicle and go. Suddenly, though, none of that mattered much. A chance to work for the most prestigious magazine publisher in the world had just landed in my lap.

Over the coming weeks, I tip-toed my way through loaded interview questions, careful to use the right jargon and tout (maybe even embellish) my experience in an effort to prove I fit the job description. Despite an uneasy feeling in my gut, I pressed on and made sure I appeared to be the perfect candidate. After all, as a public relations major recently turned human resources professional, it was the ultimate segue into a long and creative career…even if a human resources position wasn’t what I was looking for.

A month later, I’d made it. I walked into the famed offices of three major magazines and a publishing house for my first day on the job. Over the next week, I took tours of film and photography studios, tested top-secret recipes in high-tech test kitchens, and rubbed elbows with editors who I’d once only dreamed of meeting. Not to mention, those storehouses of cookbooks free for the taking. I couldn’t have asked for anything else.
I kept an ever-pleasant, “can-do” attitude around my colleagues, but my family and friends heard a very different story outside of my (growing) work hours.

THE DOWNWARD SPIRAL

Three months into my new role, I sensed something ominous coming my way. My responsibility had grown exponentially almost overnight. In addition to my role as a recruiter, I’d picked up the additional duties of internship program director and personal assistant. I found myself working furiously through lunch every day just to keep my head above water. I left the office only to pick up breakfast or lunch for my increasingly demanding boss. I kept an ever-pleasant, “can-do” attitude around my colleagues, but my family and friends heard a very different story outside of my (growing) work hours. Despite my best efforts to juggle my assignments, my perfect career was crumbling beneath me.

A week before Christmas, I found myself face to face with the Vice President of Human Resources, who had flown in from New York City to deliver bad news—my termination agreement. One fatal mistake in an Excel report was the cherry on top of several oversights I hadn’t even known I was making. Our conversation was the first and only indication that perhaps I wasn’t the one for the job. Interestingly enough, she notified me that my boss, who had signed her name and taken full credit for my erroneous report, had also been terminated. Following my dismissal, I quickly packed my things and left, saying goodbye to no one, not even my collection of beautiful cookbooks.

REDISCOVERING PASSION

Unemployment allowed for a new routine, and except for a first few days when I couldn’t pull myself together (I mean…), I established a daily schedule centered on my new job search. When I wasn’t perusing LinkedIn or Indeed, I spent time reflecting on the disaster behind me and digging deep for honest answers to pinpoint where I had gone wrong. Was I not smart enough? Had my work ethic failed me? I discussed these topics and more with my closest confidantes, but I soon noticed the common thread, a question, that wove them all together:

Did I love what I was doing?

Suddenly, it hit me. I was experiencing the consequences of denying myself a job that I truly loved—not for the perks and glitter but for the ordinary day-to-day. I’d chosen a career path that was convenient and buried my dreams of landing a regular byline in newspapers or magazines.

My unemployment became a time of renewal. I made a decision to actively pursue a job that I loved—not one that was simply available. 

Actively waiting for the perfect opportunity, I completed multiple interviews and editorial tests and turned down two job offers—all in pursuit of an internal communications role with a large national healthcare organization based in my hometown. Nearly six weeks after my termination, I gratefully accepted their offer. By going after something I knew I was good at, I regained my confidence and finally felt in tune with my talents and abilities.

In a few weeks, I’ll hit my one-year work anniversary in my new job. Of the four roles I’ve held post-graduation, none has been more fulfilling than my current role. While I’m grateful for the work I get to do each day, I’m even more thankful to have discovered myself, what I’m good at, and how to connect the two.

What are you doing each day to make sure your identity, passions, and career are in line?