The first real job offer I turned down was terrifying.
I was fresh back from Japan, and had realized through my time there that I didn’t want to teach—the thing I’ d clung to as a possible career all through college and my 3 years on the Japan Exchange & Teaching Program. So in my confused state, I flung my net much too wide, and wound up interviewing for a position selling life insurance.
I know, I know: What was I thinking? I hate hard-core sales, I do poorly in corporate structures, cold-calling leaves me feeling slimy and gross, and here I was, interviewing for a position that requires all those things.
The weirdest part is that the guy I interviewed with adored me He thought my jokes were hilarious, treated each answer I gave like it was a profound pearl of wisdom, and generally nodded so enthusiastically I thought he’d hurt his neck. He wanted to hire me almost as much as I didn’t want the job. When I completed the interview, I stood in front of the bathroom mirror for ages and variously introduced myself as an insurance person, and I couldn’t get it to feel anything other than awful. My stomach hurt, and my attempts at smiles looked terrifying. It looked a bit like I was offering to eat your child. I tried saying it every which way, and keeping the parts of the job I did like in mind—for instance, this particular insurance agent who interviewed me worked almost exclusively with people from other countries, navigating US insurance for the first time ever. But I just couldn’t make the unhappy belly and horrible grimaces go away.
Insurance, of course, isn’t an inherently awful profession, but it clearly also isn’t my profession. I couldn’t get it to fit no matter how I sliced it, even though I liked the idea of customizing things for individuals, determining each person’s needs, and helping to create a safety net. I just didn’t want to do the other parts of the job.
So I said no when he called to offer me the job. He offered me increasingly high signing bonuses, too, but I thought back to that version of me trying to smile in the mirror when I said “I sell insurance” and I just knew I had to keep saying no.
I don’t want to make it sound like that was easy. I really felt awful for interviewing and then saying no. I felt like I should want the job, and I felt like the poor guy had wasted his time on me. I was guilty and terrified that that would be my only job offer ever. I was sweating and trembling, and my stomach was in knots almost as bad as the ones I felt when I imagined myself doing the job. I can’t remember for sure, but I may even finally have lied to him, claiming a better offer elsewhere. I definitely created that scenario as a fallback, even if I didn’t actually use it. I just knew that I couldn’t possibly be me and do that job.
And you know what? I don’t regret it in the least! I had to work really hard to get where I am today, but I love what I do. I can be my quirky-ass self and get clients who are on my wavelength. I can dye my hair purple or magenta and still do my job. I don’t have any quotas to meet, and I’m not constantly striving for some carrot of a reward that isn’t even something I value. I am me and I love the work I do.
So say no when you need to. Be you. Life will be better for it, I promise.