Working (and quitting) a job on an English pier

Quitting a job for the first time, the second time or the tenth, can be very unpleasant. Any time I have had to quit a job I have been wracked with nerves in the days before, my stomach and the swirling and crunching knots an ever-present physical reminder of what I have to do.

The first time I had to quit a job, it felt like I would never be able to go through with it. I live in a seaside town with a huge pier. It is very brash and colourful and famous; if you live in the UK it is likely you have been to this pier, or one very much like it. There are mini roller coasters creaking on their rusting support beams, wooden slats on the floor which have to be continually replaced for all the rot and wear. There’s a gypsy carriage with chipping paint where for just £10 you can find out (always positive) forecasts for your future life and relationships, or speak to passed on relatives.

Kids run around and scream on the merry-go-round. Tourists walk around, phones in hand, sometimes live streaming the sea and the pier and the people to their home countries and friends.

Nestled at the end of this pier, in between a food truck and an ATM with charges that people guffaw at paying, was the tiny photography booth I briefly worked for one summer during my undergraduate degree.

We specialised in taking photos of families, hen do’s, couples, children, whoever walked through the door- in old fashioned clothes of different themes and eras. Some fit the scenery- put on Victorian era beachwear, pantaloons and bonnets, add a sepia filter and you too can look like you’re having a stroll down the pier in the 19th century. Some of the themes were a bit more racy or random: the American western theme, complete with guns, chaps and bolo tie for him and saloon girl fishnets and feather boas for her.

I enjoyed the job and I liked the woman I worked for. I witnessed how important it was to her, running her own business, struggling to get in the punters and battling against the ever increasing rent and reduced size of her new unit.

My boss was black, around 45 years old, roughly 5 foot 5, with a London accent. I hadn’t ever worked for a woman who owned her own business before, let alone a woman of colour- and I enjoyed her tenacity and drive. She was extremely direct and confident. She never minced her words and always expected a lot. I spent my first two weeks in slight terror every minute of every shift. On getting to know her, she was genial and relatively easy to talk to.

Surprisingly to me, she held strong beliefs in the supernatural and in superstition, which did make me give her some sideways looks every now and then. It seemed at odds with her direct and practical nature that she would talk about ghosts and mediums in the same conversations as raising rent and brand promotion. It was the only time she was not 100% matter-of-fact, though the way she casually discussed it she could have been talking about shopping or the weather.

I worked for her business for only a few weeks- I had intended to stay all summer- however I was accepted for a paid internship at a brilliant company and therefore was left with the conundrum of telling my boss (who intimidated me, a lot) that I would be leaving quite abruptly.

Whilst working there, three part-time employees turned into two. Somedays she barely made enough money to cover my minimum-wage pay and her friend helped her out for free on the weekends.

I had mentioned on applying and interviewing for the job that I had some basic photoshop skills, and I mean basic. It turned out that my boss took this as ‘is able to use photoshop extremely well, edit backgrounds and errant bra straps’ and a multitude of other actions which I most certainly did not know how to do. I quickly taught myself on the job and by the time I was preparing to quit I would like to think I was (not to brag) the 10th fastest bra strap and ripped tights editor on the entirety of the pier. My boss regularly praised my work and spoke about training me more for the future, which confounded my guilt about leaving.

Obviously it takes time to find, interview and train suitable people for the role, I never did fully grasp which trousers and shirts or dresses and gloves went together for every theme.

It weighed on my conscience that she would have to go through the whole process again. If you work for a big corporation, I am a big supporter of quitting when you need or want to and not looking back. I think too many people feel they owe loyalty to companies which do not care or value their staff enough. This being a one-woman show however, I was more conflicted.

I knew I was going to start this internship however, and my fear of my boss and of disappointing or inconveniencing her was not enough to give in to the cowardly thoughts of just sticking it out and people-pleasing. I eventually went through with it, albeit after a week of putting it off every shift.

After reading all this you may think ‘well this woman is stupid and a coward and it’s not that hard, just quit’. I’m glad you have so much courage and this issue is not one you are afflicted with. However, if you’re like me and quitting makes you nervous, here are some tips that helped me and which I still follow today.

  1. Be honest and to the point (I definitely spent some time waffling on before I spat out what I needed to say, you don’t owe them your work, you have a right to move on!
  2. Tell your employer early on so you have time to work a notice period, if needed ( I worked two weeks after giving in my notice, which is why point 3 is important)
  3. Be polite! You may have to work a notice period. If you don’t, this person may still need to be a reference for you for future jobs. You don’t want to leave them thinking you’re unprofessional or rude when your future employer calls up to ask about you.

Again, you do not owe them your work and you have a right to move on. Its natural for us to feel a lot of loyalty to those we work for, and to not want to feel like you’re disappointing colleagues or bosses who may have become friends.

People, especially women, struggle with the feeling of disappointing others and striving for more in our careers. Never feel bad for making any decision,career-wise or other, which will improve your life in some way.

Let me know your tips for quitting a job or share stories of how you’ve done so in the comments/on the contact me page.

(The origins for this text was composed 18th May 2017 and developed and edited 26th August 2018)

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