What My Professional Low Point Taught Me to Value in a Workplace

POPSUGAR Photography | Kathryna Hancock
POPSUGAR Photography | Kathryna Hancock

If there's any conversation more terrifying than telling your parents you've quit after a brief stint at a prestigious job (that you hated) without a backup plan, it's the one where you tell one of the most successful women in media that you're unemployed. When I learned that part of POPSUGAR's interview process involved chatting with the company's president, Lisa Sugar, I knew I should have been pumped. How often do you get the chance to chat one-on-one with someone who has your dream job? But I dreaded it.

Every interview since joining the ranks of the #funemployed (not nearly as fun as it sounds) had followed the same specific pattern of disaster.

Step 1. The topic of my current employment, or lack thereof, would come up in conversation within the first five minutes.
Step 2. I would panic and spit out a rehearsed bit about how that job "wasn't a great culture fit." This was quickly followed by a rambling anecdote for distraction, usually a synopsis (that literally no one asked for) of my recent Beyoncé concert experience.
Step 3. The hiring manager would respond with a blank stare, then sympathetic nodding or aggressive pen tapping.
Step 4. The whole ordeal would end with a few more generic questions, wrapped up with a remark about the weather to fill the awkward silence as we walked to the elevator.

On the day of my POPSUGAR interview, I was prepared to endure the cycle just one more time. I took a deep breath before walking into the office, already deflated after a string of uncomfortable meetings earlier that morning. Bracing myself for the usual song and dance of awkward silences and furious nodding, I waited for Lisa's response when I told her I was currently 24 years old and jobless. But it never came.

Instead, Lisa told me that she understood why I'd left, that she believed I'd done the right thing. After weeks of guilt and embarrassment, I let myself believe her. If someone so successful thought that what I did was brave, that I was right not to let myself feel disrespected by a job or a boss, maybe it really was going to be OK. She mentioned she was writing a book about her own professional journey and experiences of feeling lost in the working world. I can't tell you how comforting it was to know that even the most accomplished people hit bumps in the road. We talked about the latest section of her book she'd just finished editing, a section focused on the importance of "playing nice and working hard."

Since joining POPSUGAR, I can tell you that the "play nice and work hard" motto we talked about in that interview isn't just a catchphrase — it's carried out by every manager I've worked with, and it trickles down into the work we all produce.

I'm grateful, because I know what it looks like when the first half of that motto is ignored, when "play nice, work hard" morphs into just "work hard."

I don't take for granted that my managers welcome feedback or that I'm encouraged to explore my interests, both within and outside of my job description. I notice and value that my co-workers and myself are celebrated for wins, big and small. And maybe that wouldn't be the case if I hadn't taken one brief, sh*tty detour at a job that really wasn't meant to be.

So, I suppose this "holiday" of National Boss's Day is as good an occasion as any to tell someone you're thankful. So, thank you. Thank you to the bosses who create a culture of kindness and respect. Thank you to the bosses who never miss a birthday lunch and are the first to recognize our successes. Who make sure we get to pursue the projects we're passionate about and ensure our work feels valued. You make co-workers feel like a team and make a team seem like a support system.

I don't think my experience is unique. We've likely all learned at one point or another that bosses can either make somebody's life a living hell or make somebody's dream career become reality. So, to the bosses choosing to strive for the latter, setting the example to play nice and work hard, powering our happy little by little — cheers to you.

POPSUGAR founder and President Lisa Sugar's new book, Power Your Happy, helps you combine your passions and talents for success. Check out her insights on working hard and playing nice in her book, available now.