Knowing When It's Time to Leave

From September 2014 to March 2015, I wore yoga pants every day to the office where I worked with 18 other people. The same pair of yoga pants. Every. Day. You know how they say to dress for the job you want? The job I wanted was one in which I sat at home in my yoga pants, writing. But I don't think that's what the person dispensing that advice had in mind. In the hierarchy of professional clothing, I wasn't even dressing for the job I had. I was unhappy in my professional life and couldn't be bothered to button anything. I had also gained some weight, and in the feast-or-famine cycle that had been my life for the last several years, I was broke and couldn't afford to buy new, appropriately-fitted clothing for the job I didn't want to have in the first place.

I come from a tribe of women who have put up with a lot of crap. We're pacifiers, the ones who say, "It's okay," when it really might not be from moment to moment. It's a knee-jerk reaction/instinct/survival mechanism, because God forbid anything not be okay. We are not dishonest. We truly believe that it is okay. Until it's not. We are a pretty damn positive lot, considering all we've been through. Adaptable. That's what I say in interviews when the interviewer asks for my greatest strength. One interviewer informed me that, according to a list of personality types, I am known as The Peacemaker. The trouble with Peacemakers is that sometimes we tolerate mistreatment longer than we should, or get trapped in a cycle of complacency, like I did.

On paper, I might not have looked so complacent. I was enrolled in a two-year novel writing program; I was writing for a local blog, pursuing unpaid writing just so I wouldn't feel defined by the 40 hours per week I spent being in a place I knew I shouldn't be, a place that no longer held a future for me (and even if it did offer me one, I knew I wouldn't want it). But 40 hours per week, 2,080 hours per year, is a hell of lot of time to feel unfulfilled and in the wrong place, knowing you're missing out on something that would have so much more personal significance for you. And then there's the toll that my unhappiness took on those around me. When my husband--the most chill, most difficult-to-ruffle person--told me that my after-hours complaints about work were stuck on repeat, I became even more determined to make a change. I began, as I always do, by turning to books. Specifically, Breakdown, Breakthrough: The Professional Woman's Guide to Claiming a Life of Passion, Power, and Purpose by Kathy Caprino and The Energy of Money: A Spiritual Guide to Financial and Personal Fulfillment by Maria Nemeth. I've passed along my underlined copies to people I love so I can't give you specific quotes that impacted my perspective. But I do know that they both helped me to see that not only is writing my passion, it is my greatest skill. And recognizing it as a skill helped me legitimize my decision to pursue it as a career. 

I felt guilty about the fact that, on the surface, my job seemed great. It was related to my field of study. The pay was okay, the benefits were sweet: 5 paid weeks off per year, health insurance, and $2,000 worth of education benefits per year, which were paying for my novel writing program. And if I'd had children or ageing parents to support, I might never have left. But I'd just turned 30 and saw a window of escape. And I leapt. Without savings, without writing jobs lined up, and with a $2,000 segment of the novel writing program left to pay for. Because that's when I put a monetary value on my mental health: $2,000. I could not wait another 4 or 12 months. I had to get out. 

Two months later, I'm here to tell you that I survived, and that I am happy. It is a different kind of struggle, no longer a struggle with the self but one of time and money. But that was a trade I was willing to make. And, yes, I spend a lot of time worrying about how to afford new tires or contacts now that I've cut back my hours at one part-time job to make more time for paid writing gigs, some of which don't pay until 30 days after publication. But I also spend a lot of time doing things that give me immense joy. 

Having some flexibility in my work hours means that in the afternoon I can drop by a friend's house for tea and emotional nourishment, go to the library to check out a book (you know they're free, right?) for an article I'm writing, practice yoga at home, or edit the anthology for the Tupelo Press Teen Writing Center. One day I came home with a whole stack of free books someone gave me to read because I'd been assigned to write about their authors, and was in complete nerd heaven. I interviewed each author and even got to ask one of them the legitimate question: "What is Colin Firth like in person?" ("Darcy incarnate," was her answer.) 

And I now feel I have the capacity for more gratitude. Like the maintenance light coming on in my car, because it meant I got to catch a ride with my husband. Like the fact that I have to leave my part-time office downtown every two hours to move my car, which means I get to step outside and enjoy some sunshine. Before I gave notice at my full-time job, I ground my teeth in my sleep and agonized over the decision to leave. But, from this side of the window, I can tell you I've never regretted leaving.