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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work-Life Balance

Why You Can't Take a Job for the Perks, According to Someone Who Lives for Free Lunches

My first “real world” job had a lot of great perks.

On top of being granted five weeks of vacation, my schedule was flexible and, ultimately, up to me. I could come and go as I pleased, exercise or visit the doctor in the middle of the day, and not have to worry about logging sick time or telling people where I was.

Time spent in the office was pretty sweet, too. On a daily basis, the cafe was stocked with snacks and drinks—fruit, veggies, hummus, granola bars, coffee, cappuccino, you name it. One time, the head of HR even popped into a meeting and presented us with a six-pack.

Common spaces came equipped with large comfy couches, a ginormous TV, and many video and board games we could use at our leisure. I often walked in to find people battling it out via video game or an intense Jenga match. And the week before I left, almost half the office was gathered in the kitchen to watch the World Cup.

The team worked hard, and we were often rewarded for our perseverance and dedication with in-office celebrations—Halloween parties, desk-decorating competitions, and company-wide happy hours. And the big shebang? A holiday party hosted at a swanky art museum, complete with unlimited food and ever-flowing drinks, reimbursed Uber rides and hotel rooms, and a photo booth with the most props I’ve ever seen. Go big or go home, right?

For the first few months, I was elated. Several times I found myself thinking “I’m going to be at this job for a really long time,” and I felt excitement and security in that thought.

But, two months after cheersing champagne glasses with my superiors at the swanky museum, I found myself crying in a bathroom on Valentine’s Day. And no, my boyfriend and I didn’t break up. I was crying because I got a work email that made me feel like, well, crap.

Sent to my entire team, it announced the promotion of two of my colleagues—one of whom held my same exact role and had been there for about the same length of time as me. This was despite recently being told those in my position would need at least four more years of experience before advancing. It was a confusing mixed message to say the least, and I went from feeling my team had my back and best interests in mind to feeling lied to and skeptical.

This email was, as they say, the icing on the top of the cake. Except this cake didn’t taste very good. Though only a couple sentences long, it brought me to the realization that, though I was saving $15 a week on fruit, I was unhappy. Really, truly, Grumpy Cat unhappy.

And that realization led to some serious soul-searching and trying to figure out how exactly I could be so miserable surrounded by so many perks. After all, it was just one email, one promotion. Well, it turns out all the video games in the world can't make up for the following:

I Didn't See Any Value in What I Was Doing

Other than ordering Panera for big meetings or mastering Outlook’s scheduling assistant feature, I didn’t see the point to my job. And though others expressed appreciation at times for what I did, I often felt disposable. Don’t get me wrong—I completely understood that menial tasks went along with an entry-level job. Someone once told me “Even the CEO has to take out the trash sometimes,” and I strongly agree. But this was more than that. There were times I felt invisible, and I was increasingly convinced that no one would notice if I didn’t show up for weeks at a time.

I Needed a Different Kind of Work-Life Balance

Yes, when I went on vacation, I was told I better not read or respond to any emails. And yes, even the COO went completely off the grid when he took time off. But when you weren’t on vacation, the respect for your non-work life kind of went out the window. I was getting emails at all times of day and night—and more often than not, expected to answer them ASAP. So, by the time my vacation rolled around, I really (really!) needed it. While some people thrive in environments like this, I learned that I’d rather have work-life balance every day, rather than a few concentrated weeks a year.

I Wasn’t Interested in What We Were Doing

Here’s the real kicker—at the end of the day, I just wasn’t passionate about the line of work I was in. The company was (and still is) doing great things, and yet I still didn’t really want to be a part of it. Even if there had been ample opportunity for growth, it wasn’t in an area I wanted to continue pursuing. So after doing this for months and months, I found myself questioning if there was a point to even going into the office.

Looking back on it now, I feel like I pulled the wool over my eyes when I accepted the offer. I let the glam of the fringe benefits mute the voices in my head saying “You never wanted to work in this field before,” “You loathe your job responsibilities—admit it,” and “No, really, what are you doing?” I let the free food and the fancy parties blind me to the fact that I was moving in the wrong direction.

However, while I’m glad I left this job, I don’t regret taking the position because it taught me a valuable lesson about company culture and what I ultimately want. Sure, toward the end I was miserable, but the company showed me how well employees can be treated, and that they should be rewarded for their hard work. Basically, I had one part of the equation figured out—the type of culture I want to work in. But I was missing the other part—doing meaningful work I’m excited about.

So when I looked for my current job, I tried really hard to fulfill both sides of the equation—I looked for a position that had a healthy mix of work I find value in and enjoy doing (most of the time) and some awesome perks. I’ll continue to job search this way in the future, and you should, too. And, if the perfect position comes with free lunch, then that’s an awesome bonus.

Photo of happy co-workers courtesy of Shutterstock.