Fulfillment at Work – What’s Better? Financial or Emotional Values?


Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, there was a teenage me. I worked at a popular fried chicken fast food restaurant. One of my fondest memories was the night I quit working there. It was Halloween night (a pretty big deal for me, and the ONLY Halloween night I ever worked in my life). The night I quit was the same night I had envisioned dunking my rude coworker’s head into the chicken fryer. I was so angry and upset at this woman that I thought it would have been hilarious if I did such a thing. My irrational thinking may sound entertaining or quite bizarre, but I’m practicing vulnerability and showing my true human emotions. If you are at a job or in an environment you hate so much that you want to put someone’s head in a deep fryer, you should probably find something else to do!

Thinking of that night and my other experiences makes me think now of fulfillment in the workplace. Is it better to be happy at work? Or is it better to be paid a higher salary? The only one who can answer that question is you. That thought is something everyone should consider. 

Another memory I have from my teenage work experience is learning to sweep and mop properly. I remember going into those restaurants and the managers having to teach me how to do basic things because those basic things were not taught to me at home. What was home for me anyway? I was on the street most of the time, partying it up with my friends.

With jobs, comes experience, naturally. Of course, we also meet those occasional work friends who we somehow never forget. We remember the wrinkles on their faces, the way they smelled and the way they laughed, and the things they taught us. We remember the heartwarming things that they did. (Or rude things they did in the case of the deep fryer story.)

When I think of caring and heartwarming people at work, I remember Theresa. She was an older lady I worked with as a teenager. She is the one who helped me embrace creativity through food art. She and I decorated cakes together. I was her apprentice. I remember Christmas being her favorite holiday. I also remember her chain-smoking and being dirt poor. Theresa loved her job so much, despite it not paying well. She lived in a suburb just outside of the city, and it seemed that she had a hard life. That was something I could surely relate to, although I was 2 or 3 decades younger than her. Despite my somewhat mischievous ways, she was always there for me. Theresa did not judge me. She was a teacher. She was kind of like a mother figure to me. I think about her sometimes. She would drive me home some days in the blizzards and snow even though she did not have much gas left in her tank. She had enough gas to get home, and luckily for me sometimes wherever I laid my head was in the direction she was going. 

Another memory I have is working at a smoothie place, and eventually quitting because of the pervy manager who decided to sexually harass employees including myself. I applied at a different restaurant down the street due to being uncomfortable, and low and behold – so did the manager who was recently fired from the same smoothie place that I was trying to leave. It just felt awkward! Needless to say, because of me reporting him to both companies, he was fired from each. I think it serves him right considering his actions towards me, and the other female employees as well. It’s unfortunate when people who are in authority positions abuse their power. However, it is likely to happen more often than not.

TRIGGER WARNING – Do not continue reading if you are sensitive to sexual/domestic/violence issues.

One day, I was inside of a breakfast restaurant filling out a job application far on the north side of Chicago. Most of my time was spent on the Northside to be fair. This restaurant was almost on the outer limits of the city. I was around 18 years old at the time.

A man sat alone at a table near me and was eating his breakfast and drinking his coffee. He was a tiny little guy and spoke Spanish to the waitress. He saw me at the cashier counter of the restaurant filling out an application. Back then we had PAPER applications for jobs. What a wild world it was! Some of you will remember, and some of you will imagine. (Someone told me we still have paper applications apparently. I was shocked to know this. I haven’t seen one in years, but I stand corrected!)

I was writing down all of my information on this paper application and the man approached me. He asked me if I was looking for a job. Obviously, and clearly, I was. Of course, I said yes, and I asked why? Why did he ask me? What did he want? Back then I was rough around the edges. I mean, I still am. But my sassiness back then was much more vicious than it is now. I think so at least.

He slid a business card over to me and told me that he owned a nightclub in Lincoln Park. (Lincoln Park has been one of the most popular nightlife destinations in Chicago for a long time.) He said he was looking for a hostess. At the time, it sounded like a dream! He told me that I could start the next night. He told me to dress for the occasion. I was so excited. I picked out new outfits, even spending the money to do so. My mom helped me prepare. She said I looked beautiful.

I wore a small black mini skirt, black stilettos, and a white blouse that was a bit low cut and sleeveless. My hair was put up in a giant long ponytail before the Ariana Grande ponytail was ever mentioned. I wore a black cardigan to cover the tattoo on my back.

I remember it so well. I remember thinking how lucky I was to just have a job fall right into my lap, and not just a job, but one where music would be played all night and people would dance all night. The only thing I would be responsible for was to help collect tickets at the door and put roses on the tables and light the candles. “Make it feel romantic.”, he told me.

Ah yes. I will never forget. That is exactly what I did!

The first and only night there at the club, I thought I scored big. After the tickets were all collected and everyone was inside, I danced with the customers! I danced all night! Luckily for me, the guy who hired me, who now I can’t even remember his name, also danced. It was a big party and I was the luckiest girl ever in the world because I got paid for it! I was offered drinks and shots multiple times, but I never drank back then. It worked in my favor.

Finally, the night had to come to an end. The nameless man told me that I’d be able to leave around 1 am, as the local bars closed around 2 and everyone would be heading home around that time. At the end of the night, I approached the mysterious boss man and asked him for my pay. It was pretty good money too, for being so long ago, and it was in cash. As a teenager, it was a sweet deal to me. He told me that my money was down in the basement. He wanted me to follow him down there in the basement of the club, right to his office.

I can’t remember now if I thought anything of it. Naturally, as an older adult now typing this and reading it, you can see how shady it sounds. We got to his little room (“office”) in the basement of the club. It was summertime and extremely hot. The fans in this little room did absolutely no good. My feet were killing me at this point and I just wanted to go home.

Now, remember, I told you he was small. Smaller than me, and I’m a whopping 5’3 and must have been at least 5’6 with those heels. I remember asking him for the cash and telling him I needed to leave. He kept fiddling around with paperwork and money. I was standing near a desk, or a wall. I cannot remember now.

He kept telling me how good I did. But that’s when it started to feel awkward because in reality I hadn’t done shit (compared to other jobs) but light some candles and make a romantic atmosphere, with roses. You can’t forget about the roses! I collected some tickets from people who didn’t even speak the same language as me.

He kept telling me my greatness, and how beautiful I am. He had the envelope of money in his hand. He handed the envelope closer to me while his mouth wouldn’t stop talking, and I snatched it from him (out of instinct because I felt what he was about to do) as he pushed me against the wall and pressed his lips on mine. He tasted like sweat and alcohol. He tasted like FILTH. I pushed him off of me so hard when he did that and ran out of that place like I was running from a blood-thirsty animal. F*cking a**hole, I thought to myself. I ran towards DePaul University, the train stop was right near there. Fullerton. The feeling of wanting to escape is something that still haunts my dreams and I’ve felt it so many times. Not just this time. I remember actually, once I was far enough from the club I took those heels off and ran barefoot to the CTA train hoping not to step on any glass or needles on the ground. I never saw that guy again. Not once. And I hope I never do. I can’t remember his name, but I do remember his face. 

He did fall backward when I pushed him. That is how I will remember his face. Because the look of shock on his face has stuck in my head like dried jelly on a jar. He must have thought I was weak. Did he think I would let him? That is never the case. It will never be. My only thought now, is what if he was bigger? What if I did not escape? What could have happened? And the worst part is, this is only one story. 

I’d never been myself if I didn’t knock him on his ass that night. And this is why you shouldn’t talk to strangers. Right?

The jobs I talk about before always lacked something. Which makes me wonder about true fulfillment in the workplace. How much work do we need to do to be fulfilled? What kind of work do we need to do to be fulfilled? What does being fulfilled mean to you as an individual?

If you feel very unfulfilled at work it might be time to reevaluate what you are doing. It’s important to find something that you love to do and gives you an ample amount of room to grow as an employee and an individual. If you can’t find the opportunity that you are seeking then you need to create it yourself. Be your own boss. Don’t let yourself hit a dead end. I’m trying to build my path and career where I can help others, impact them positively and be financially and creatively free. Having a work and life balance is important. Life is too short to be unhappy!

One of the best jobs I had, as far as being happy and emotionally fulfilled was when I was a cake decorator. The only problem is I never had formal or professional training (besides Theresa), and the jobs I worked decorating cakes did not pay very well. Should I have stayed there despite not being able to make ends meet just because I was happy and fulfilled? Then there are jobs where I have been paid enough to survive and maybe with a little extra, but my soul does not feel satisfied with what I’m doing. So now I am faced with a predicament, as many of us are. Money or happiness? But does happiness buy money? Is it a win-win? Is it a lose-lose?

I don’t recall any job I had as being the worst. Every “job” is an experience, and that is what life is truly about. If bad bosses count as the worst, then maybe I can think of some. I had a boss once who was constantly angry and on edge for a variety of reasons. He’d yell, speak loudly, insult everyone, slam doors and just make super obscene comments at all of us. I wouldn’t say the job itself was terrible. But the way I and some of my co-workers felt due to the way our boss treated us all, was certainly worse than anything I’d experienced before, maybe. I took the job because it was a good opportunity for me in the beginning. I stayed several years, but in the end, I was able to move on to something greater. The thing is, we need to constantly be moving to something greater. When it comes to your happiness and finances – never stop striving for greatness. What defines that greatness? It’s up to you. For me, it’s about achieving goals and maintaining my values.

My work values (emotional) include wanting to help others, influence them or positively impact them. The external work values that matter the most to me are stability and pay. My dream job would be to be a writer/editor/freelancer and get paid for it. Which, I am well on my way to accomplishing as I have already started. What a dream it would be to fully sustain myself in that way! I don’t hate where I’m at currently, but I can always strive to do better. We all can.

There is a reason I was led here, there is a reason I am here now and experiencing this moment where I currently am. But my true calling is a goal that I am working on non-stop to achieve. 

This past year I have already made changes in my life, that allowed me to prepare for my future career as a writer. I can only hope to improve in the future. What are your plans? Do you think it is better to be fulfilled financially or emotionally in the workplace?