The One Thing I Regret Not Doing In My Last Job

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By Tee Elle 

I had a habit of establishing myself as a crucial team-player on the job. It was usually unintentional, though. I liked finding ways to make standard processes easier because extra steps annoyed me and I liked working on different projects to break up the boredom that came with crunching monthly sales figures. But I also think an even deeper part had to do with the idea that I had something to prove. Black women are more than capable. We’re not catty and difficult on the job. We get ish done and we can run things better than the white male who earns an average of $21,001 more than we do per year. I wanted those coins. And the maximum annual bonus, too. But my work ethic told my colleagues and upper management a story that was completely different from the one I crafted. 
My last job was pretty flexible. Management allowed us to occasionally telecommute, which meant it didn’t always make sense to use our accrued vacation days because I could log in once or twice during the day, answer emails and say I technically worked. I could save my accrued hours for later. Plus our team became highly visible because we could produce quality reports with minimal turnaround. Soon marketing and sales were reaching out with special requests and I’d filter them, either doing them myself or assigning them to someone else on my team.

We were extremely busy, which wasn’t really a problem because I bored easily and I was quick. The issue was I was tired because I didn’t factor in any real downtime.
 
I found myself listening to my coworker’s tales about their Caribbean cruises and international excursions. I went home and imbibed on their flavored rums and nibbled on their fine chocolates but I didn’t have any stories to share of my own, other than that time my friends and I drove across the border into Tijuana and a member of the bar staff forced gold tequila down my throat or the time my girls and I cruised from Los Angeles through the desert at 100+ miles per hour and had to exchange the rental car by the time we arrived in Vegas. Then I realized those stories weren’t recent.
 
What I had done was taken a “mental health day” here and there, which really wasn’t one because I still worked to avoid playing catch-up when I returned to the office. But I hadn’t taken a vacation in over four years! It made me wonder how in the world everyone else could take one twice per year.

I got my answer when I went out on short-term disability to recover from surgery. I returned home the next day and had settled in my bed to binge-watch the first season of the The Wire. My cell was on my nightstand. I heard the indicator for text messaging and assumed it was another friend or family member checking to see if I needed anything. I picked it up and read it.

“Where did you save the December report?”

For the first time I didn’t reply. In fact I didn’t answer a work-related text for the following eight weeks. I learned no one really cared about my well-being and for several years, I sent the message that I didn’t care about my well-being, either.

I neglected to set appropriate boundaries and allowed my work life to invade my personal space. I showed everyone I worked with that not only was I irreplaceable, but I was also always available even when I’m resting in discomfort after major surgery.

It’s rather difficult to change the narrative once you’ve already written the words. My peers still relied on the fact that I’d always be there, that I’d eventually relent and respond to every single request once I was mobile. I did not. None of it was worth the slight raise or the bonus or my sanity. I resigned less than a year from my return to work and I have yet to return to traditional employment.
 
I recently listened to an episode of the ‘My Taught You’ podcast where host and CurlBox founder Myleik Teele interviewed InStyle magazine’s fashion and beauty editor-at-large Kahlana Barfield-Brown about her rise to her current position. Kahlana shared her story of how she once filled in for an assistant and proved herself to be more efficient during the assistant’s absence. The assistant was soon fired and Kahlana landed the role.
 
“Never take a two-week vacation,” Kahlana advised. “You’re just giving someone an opportunity to take your job.”
 
The moral of her story was to take a day at the beginning or end of a long weekend, if you must, but never stay gone long enough to give someone else the opportunity to do your job better than you can.
 
But my morals are now a little bit different and should I ever return to corporate America, I’m applying them. I can do a stellar job and simultaneously take full advantage of my time off. If the person who assumes my job for a week can do it better, she can have it. We all need a break to regroup. I’m still going to take a real vacation.

Do you have a healthy work/life balance?
                
 

Tee Elle is an east-coast storyteller hoping for her big break west. Her words have been published on xoNecole and Clutch magazine, you can also follow her on Twitter and the blog. When she’s not writing or stalking social media, find her reading a great book, binge-watching reality TV, or pretending to be the next winner of Bravo’s Top Chef.

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