Relearning: How I quit my stable job to take an apprenticeship

Sit back, relax, and let me tell you a story about how I quit my lucrative and high paying career as a Creative Director to start an apprenticeship as a Quality Assurance Engineer.

But first, a little history. I graduated from Michigan State University with not one, but two degrees in 2010. I received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Creative Advertising and a Bachelor of Arts in Telecommunication, Information Studies, and Media. I left school primed for a career in graphic design or media production at the precise time that the job market took a fucking dive.

Like a champ, I deferred my student loans and got a job stocking jeans at American Eagle and moonlighting as a Jimmy Johns delivery driver. Everything was fine since I still lived in a shithole college house that cost $300/month.

After 9 months and some 175 applications, I finally landed a job at the House of Representatives in Lansing, Michigan. I didn’t even care that it was for Republicans. And thus, I began my career as a multimedia production specialist.

Working for the government has some perks – federal holidays, prestige, lobbyist sponsored events with free food and booze. But it’s not without it’s faults – the idea that if your party loses, you’ll be out of a job, mandatory contributions and campaigning that they claim is voluntary but is totally not. Luckily, I worked with the most amazing people ever and even when the job was total shit, they made it worthwhile.

I worked my way up to Digital Media Manager and that’s when I got my first outside interview request. I had built this little teeny-tiny website for the House Republicans and apparently people started to notice the things I was doing. It felt fucking amazing. So when the opportunity came to take a job as a creative designer at a startup in Detroit, well I fucking took it.

Going from the public sector (where everyone could see my fucking salary online) to a private sector job was an eye-opening experience. For one, I didn’t have to wear a fucking suit to work every day. I could literally wear sweatpants and no one cared. Side note: I may have taken that part way too far – I’ve regressed actually. Please see an upcoming (at the time of this writing) post about how I had to sign up for Stitch Fix to get my style back to “respectable adult”. Outside the government and corporate hustle, startups have no rules. They make the fucking rules. And boy, was that something to adjust to.

But I happily adjusted to working from home and basically wearing a trashbag to work everyday. The startup was a software company that made a social CRM (Customer Relationship Management) platform and they mainly worked with the three major automotive companies in Detroit. Everything was great until it started not being great. The other people on the creative team started leaving for other opportunities. Eventually it was just me. It was like I wasn’t seeing the writing on the wall or something. Then the day came when I got called into the CEO’s office and he very plainly told me that they couldn’t afford to keep one creative on the team and that it made more sense for them to outsource my job.

It took me a while to realize what the fuck was happening. He was super nice about it. Very apologetic and genuine. Of course I was fucking pissed, but more confused and not sure what to do. So I drank a bottle of wine on my couch in the apartment I had just moved into and contemplated the choices that led me to this point like any fucking millenial would.

Then my phone started blowing up and it was one of the guys in the office who had left for something else a few months before. He said he and another guy were starting their own marketing agency and they needed a creative director. He had heard about the layoff and wanted to poach me before I started looking for another job. Hells fucking yeah.

The new job came with a sizable pay increase. Not bragging, just explaining the universe provides sometimes, bro. And that was that. I was a big time Creative Director at a successful marketing agency.

While there, I help land some bitchin’ clients, did a lot of really good design work, churned out a couple million in revenue and got to live a comfortable lifestyle. This is also when I started working on me – I traveled, started getting in shape, started taking improv classes, you know just like living the damn dream. But while life was going well, work was getting more stressful.

See, even though we were building a great reputation and landing some seriously amazing clients and shit, the guys never hired anyone else. It was just me. I was working long days and nights and my bosses were setting the most unrealistic expectations – answering emails at 10pm on a fucking Saturday, setting deadlines without consulting me, and agreeing to more work per client than one person could manage. I started loathing going to work. I started resenting my bosses and my clients and even started putting out less-than-awesome work because I was getting bitter.

This was about the point where I started to wonder if I suddenly disliked design work. I would fantasize about a job where I was on the hook from 9 – 5 and no longer. Where I had no responsibilities outside of that window. Something boring as shit like data entry. I knew I was in trouble when data entry or being an administrative assistant sounded so much more appealing that what I was fucking doing.

And that’s when my friend told me about an apprenticeship at the software company she worked at. It was an 8-week paid apprenticeship where I’d learn software quality assurance and then likely get a job onsite at a company (think one of the major auto companies in Detroit that I can’t name that we will just refer to as … Auto Company). Sounded too good to be true, right? Right. Well they were only going to take 8 people for the apprenticeship… out of 375 applications.

So I weighed my options. I thought about what this meant – a full on career change after 7 years as a graphic designer with no experience in software development and no idea what I actually wanted to do anymore. Scary shit.

But I applied. Like 2 minutes before the deadline. And somehow, got an interview. Then another interview. And then an offer. I was excited and nervous and unsure because it was a significant paycut but I was like, I’m going to do this. I want to see what will happen.

Here’s the fuck what happened:

I started the apprenticeship. Auto Company was supposed to hire all 8 of us. They hired 2. The other 6 of us weren’t sure what the fuck to do (we technically still worked for the company that administered the apprenticeship and every single one of us had left a admittedly better job to do this apprenticeship so all our fucking eggs in one basket). Through some miracle, the software company extended me an interview to work directly for them instead of for Auto Company (but only me, not any of the other 5 apprentices). I got hired in at an entry level position for which I was not adequately prepared and making $40k less per year than at my previous job. And the other 5 apprentices were let go. That was two years ago.

Though I’ve been doing QA now for 2 years and I feel more confident in my abilities to actually do it, I’ve realized I hate it. I still love design. I never didn’t love design, I just didn’t love the agency I worked for. But I took a chance and I don’t regret that. Even though I’m still making less than half the salary of what I once was. I know it’s not all about the money. But money is so much easier to not think about when you have it. And I left a great paying job when I had money and I didn’t think about what I’d do when I didn’t have it. That’s the part I regret. Not the risk taking or anything. What I’m saying people is FUCKING INVEST IN YOUR FUTURE AND SAVE MONEY NOW BECAUSE WHEN YOU DECIDE TO FUCK OFF FROM YOUR HIGH PAYING JOB, YOU NEED SOMETHING TO LIVE ON.

Thank you for coming to my Ted Talk.