I’ve been talking a lot about my old job recently. People I know are thinking of quitting their jobs, wondering if it’s the right time to leave, the right reasons to leave, and they call me to talk it through.
Like me, they never learned how to quit. We were never taught how to decide if something was worth continuing. All we got were messages of “Never give up!” and “Quitting is not an option!” and “The only constant in your many failures is you.”
So here I stand, in defense of quitting.
My last big quit was my job in finance in 2012. Before that, my relationship. Before that, (several) college majors. And I have many stories about things I should have quit but didn’t. All of these were preceded by months of depression and free-floating anxiety.
My job ended up being a toxic environment for a variety of reasons. At the time I was also in the third year of a relationship that probably shouldn’t have progressed beyond one year. I remember almost being surprised by my depression, like I didn’t notice it until I was already buried. And I remember feeling desperate, wanting to claw my way out.
I picked up every single aspect of my life and tried to hold it in my hands to see if it was the source of my despair. I remember being so confused because I had done everything “right.” I had a guy I liked, I was on my way to marriage by 30, kids afterwards. I had a degree from a top 10 university and a good job at the largest financial institution in the US. I had friends. Everything was right. Everything fit the happiness formula I had been taught.
But I was still suffocating. I felt powerless in the face of my malaise.
I needed to find power. So I started subverting wherever I could. I’d hate on my boss when he wasn’t around. I played drinking games with my coffee during meetings (1 sip whenever he says this, 1 sip whenever he says that). I started coming in a little later every day, sleeping in more. My coworkers and I complained about the department constantly. I ate decadently, choosing foods that seemed “sinful.” I’d counter that by going on cleanses, trying to rid myself of “bad” things inside me. I’d shop, using money I wish I hadn’t used on clothes I wasn’t passionate about, trying to recreate the joy I saw women get from sales and “great deals.”
It’s almost funny to write it out now. At the time it seemed like I was just like everyone else. Now it seems like addictive behavior. The fact that I was so unhappy meant that something was wrong with me, and I needed something external to fix myself.
Drugs and alcohol are not my problem, reality is my problem, drugs and alcohol are my solution.
– Russell Brand
My boyfriend and I broke up on my birthday that year. My youngest brother broke up with his girlfriend the day before. J.Lo and Marc Anthony broke up the day after. Some energy was working on all of us.
I decided to quit my job almost as a joke. I chose December 21, 2012 as my last day, thinking that if it was good enough for the Mayans it would be good enough for me.
Later I decided that I would have my last day be in early November. I had a trip to Southeast Asia planned with friends, and I figured I would leave the job and leave the country all in one week.
Then, one Friday night in September in Valley Forge Park, I decided to give my two weeks’ notice the following Monday. I called my parents to tell them; they were not thrilled. It was like I had passed the last test because I, as a chronic people-pleaser, actually could not have cared less that my parents were unhappy with my decision.
As far as I was concerned, there was no other choice to make. It was a matter of life and death to me.
Here’s the question you can ask yourself if you’re thinking of quitting something, if you’re wondering whether or not to continue with something, or trying to decide what to choose next.
In the end, even though I still have a lot of healing to do around my old life, this question answers itself as I look back.
I could never have made myself small enough to be happy or fulfilled in the life I would have made with my boyfriend. It’s not his fault. It’s not my fault. I just needed more.
I wasn’t myself at this job. I couldn’t be. Without even getting into the dysfunction and betrayal of the leaders at that place, at its core this was a job that required spreadsheets; coloring inside the lines (except coloring would never have actually been permitted); being a robot; and existing in the binary of right and wrong, black and white.
I’m full spectrum color, baby. I live in grey areas and uncertainty.
I became a Walking “Fuck You” in that job because it was the only thing I could do.
Rebellion is the other side of compliance but it is not freedom.
– Geneen Roth
My eating habits, which I’m still unraveling, were an attempt for me to not have to obey.Even though my methods were unhealthy, the impulse was profound.
I wanted to have what I wanted. I needed for those desires to be valid. I needed to be on my own side. Food was the only vehicle I had to accomplish that.
There’s a saying that the best thing you can do for an alcoholic is to buy him a drink. Because the truth is, lasting change comes because it must come. It can only come because there’s something within you that can no longer tolerate the status quo. And sometimes the only way to know you’re there is to be at rock bottom.
So that’s what I want to tell you, if you’re thinking of quitting something.
1) You can quit whatever the hell you want. Don’t let anyone tell you differently. Sometimes you need to quit just to prove to yourself that you can quit. It’s fine.
2) You don’t have to quit. It’s fine.
3) You have options. There are a lot of helpful resources out there and a lot of people that want to help you. You even have options as to the size of your quitting. Maybe it’s a job, maybe it’s a policy, maybe it’s a habit, maybe it’s a small thing you say to yourself.
4) If you’re not sure if quitting is the right choice or if you’re just upset about something, ask yourself, “Can I truly be myself and continue doing ____?” You might already turning into a Walking “Fuck You.” If not, this question will give you some food for thought about how things need to change, what kind of environment you need in order to truly be yourself. Use this question liberally, and let yourself be surprised. Take your time.
5) You are fine. The fact that you’re exploring the option to quit doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you. “It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a sick society.”
6) You’ll be fine. There are other jobs. There are other majors. There are other relationships. There is something in the world that will make you come alive.
7) If you’re not sure what makes you come alive, don’t worry about finding a passion to follow. Start by following your curiosity.
No matter what, I’ll always bet on you.