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Role: Project Manager
Salary: $120,000 CAD
Size of company: 500 (and 50)
Total Years Working: 10
In 2019, I was in my 6th year at the consulting firm I work with. After years trying to get ahead, I'd been promised a fast-track promotion if I spent one year on a boring, enterprise project, one no one else wanted. The work wasn't thrilling, and most of my days were spent in a cubicle at the client's beige, uninspiring headquarters. It wasn't the most exciting year of my career, but I was paying my dues. After this one last sacrifice, my manager promised my pick of projects. I was recently single, and decided to opt for a plum assignment that would have me travelling all over the world. Just in 2020 alone, I would be visiting Beijing, the Seychelles Islands, Ireland, and more. The project was due to start in March 2020.
Then, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. My firm had to make some immediate tough decisions, and employees were laid off or let go based on what project they were assigned to. Since my assignment was cancelled, I was furloughed indefinitely. I found out via an automated email. My manager didn't even pick up the phone (or zoom) to tell me personally. I was in shock – I'd spent the last year or so sacrificing my time and mental health on a thankless assignment, out of loyalty, and I wasn't even worth a phone call? It was crushing.
Though a furlough means you can be called back to your job, I didn't want to rely on it, and started interviewing elsewhere immediately. I have bills to pay, and CERB wasn't going to cut it for long. After a few weeks, I landed a job at a smaller startup. My first few weeks were spent onboarding, getting to know my new colleagues, and starting to dip my toes into client work. Things were going well, but secretly, I was worried about the company's longevity. I know it had already been a struggle for them during COVID, and joining a small startup is always a risk. So, when my old job called me back, I didn't turn them away.
Instead, I decided to hedge my bets. It felt like a risk to quit my new job, when I felt like my old one had tossed me away so unceremoniously. Would they do it again? But it also felt risky to put my career (and paycheque) in the hands of a struggling startup during COVID. I'd been on a management track at the first firm, and didn't want to give that up either. I decided to give both a chance, at least for a little while, and see which worked out. I went ahead and returned from furlough, and didn't tell anyone about my new position. I now had two full time jobs.
Looking back, I don't feel guilty about what I did, though I wouldn't recommend it to everyone.
I think I was able to do this mostly because I live alone. I don't have a partner or any kids, and during COVID, there's not much going on anyway. I worked a full 16 hours a day, splitting morning meetings with one company and afternoon ones with another. In the evenings and weekends, I'd do my solo work: writing, number crunching, and reporting. A few times it got messy, especially at midday, when things tended to overlap. I had two laptops (one for each job), and would eat lunch between them, answering slacks and emails. Once or twice, I even found myself on two calls or zooms at once. I'd put different earbuds in each ear and pray no one asked me a question. Despite this, I never really slipped up. I don't think either company had any idea.
That said, I didn't want to do this forever. It was never really about the money, though the extra cash was a boost to my savings. I wanted to see which job made me happier, and which could offer me more stability and opportunity. After about three months, the choice was clear. My old firm had put me on another project I had no interest in, with the promises of promotions and raises once again delayed. My manager was regularly missing our 1:1s, and I felt dodged when I asked about my career progression. It was also getting stressful juggling two workloads and managing time conflicts. In a pandemic you are already mentally stressed, and I felt it doubly while trying to manage two full time jobs.
Meanwhile, I was really starting to love life at the startup. At a small company, it felt like there was more of a chance to have an impact, and the team was regularly consulting me on big decisions, which felt good. They also made a point to check in on staff's mental health during the pandemic, which meant a lot to me. My new company didn't have all the perks and benefits of my old one, but I felt better working there. I feel like they deserved my full attention, so I put in my notice at the other job and settled down at the newer one. I've been really happy since.
Looking back, I don't feel guilty about what I did, though I wouldn't recommend it to everyone. I put in full time hours at each job, so I think I earned my pay, and was just doing what I needed to do to ensure I got through the pandemic with a job. In the end, I did this to protect myself. Some companies are more caring than others, but it's not a family. If they don't need you, you're out. So why put yourself in jeopardy? It's just business to them and it should be to you too.
*Editor's Note: Some details have been changed, at the writer's request, to protect their anonymity.