The Places You Don’t Walk Away From

You have to pick the places you don’t walk away from. Joan Didion said that. If I had said it, I probably wouldn’t have ended the sentence with a preposition.  But more importantly, I would have added, “and the places you do.”

We’re a growing breed, the adult runaways. We’ve left behind jobs, guys and/or girls, the West Coast, and more recently, the State of New Jersey, in the name of opportunity — have abandoned apathy and quicksand for independence and skyscrapers. We’ve flaunted our calculated risk-taking in the face of older relatives who have been stuck in the same dead-end [towns/jobs/marriages] since before we were born. And we could because, despite any temporary fears or hang-ups, somehow everything always worked in our favor.

Until the one time it didn’t. Until the time we were sold a dream and ended up swallowing a nightmare.

I stopped writing around the time I took a new job at a new company. A company that bristled with promise, with its midtown address, impressive cast of Ivy-wreathed characters, and its mission to save the world. But within a couple of months, a dark reality set in. We woke up to harassing emails, pretended not to hear the yelling that took place in the office on a daily basis, and somehow came to accept the expectation that we’d make the impossible happen until we couldn’t keep our eyes open. And still, it wasn’t good enough.
I lost myself completely in a job that soon meant anything to me. I hadn’t spoken to my parents in weeks. I hadn’t read a book or done laundry or gone to the grocery store in two months. I hadn’t seen the best friends — the ones who had not long before dubbed me their unofficial fifth roommate — in just as long, which meant that I didn’t know one of them had been in an accident. I had disappeared from my own life, was a stranger inside of it, and couldn’t seem to find the time or strength to think of a way out.

The last straw came when I got near-death sick. I woke up on a Saturday morning after a marathon workweek feeling like my brains were swimming around in my skull. Every time I turned my head to try to get more comfortable, I threw up. I couldn’t get out of bed. Or see straight. Or call for help. It took my angel of a roommate to revive me enough to email my colleagues and say I couldn’t do any more that weekend. And still their emails came.

After I was threatened into staffing a work event in the brisk autumn cold the following weekend, even though I hadn’t come close to recovering and had vomited the night before, my symptoms became more respiratory and it felt as though someone had wedged a butter knife beneath my right rib cage. (In reality, I probably pulled a muscle from coughing too hard.) I went to the doctor twice. He listened to my lungs and ran blood tests. And he couldn’t arrive at a medical diagnosis. “You’re too stressed; you need to take care of yourself.” It was one of those crazy psychosomatic things. My job was literally killing me.

So that was it. I knew what I had to do. This was a place I had to walk away from.

When I walked away, I left behind a heap of intellectual property and a good deal of bitterness. That pain in my side still flares up from time to time — and forgive me for waxing poetic when I tell you it must be a metaphor. But overall, I walked away with my integrity and agency restored. I didn’t know — still don’t know — what the hell I’m going to do with my life now, but I’m the happiest I’ve been since I moved to New York.

Look, unemployment isn’t some fairytale, and I know what I’m about to say makes it sound like I’m romanticizing it. Let’s be real: not having a job can be terrifying. But having some time in which your only obligations are to yourself (and to your landlord, of course) is sort of beautiful. I’m talking about making a triumphant return to your own life: reviving your friendships, seeing a new guy who is actually nice to you, mentoring a pre-teen in an outer borough, reading an epic poem and some Neruda in the original Spanish, and sitting around in a bathrobe drinking chardonnay out of a plastic cup while spilling your heart all over your keyboard. These are the things that will make you feel human again, and like yourself again, in a way very few jobs ever will. It’s called a work/life balance because work and life are, in fact, two different things.

So, I’m not advocating that you up and quit your job. Not because it’s lame, or boring, or hard, or your boss is kind of a dick, or your cubemate told everyone how you boned Becky in accounting and now things are super awkward. But if it’s preventing you from living, get out. I just want you to be happy.

What I’m coming to realize is that the places you don’t walk away from in this life won’t take the shape of office buildings or your first grown-up apartment in [Long Island City/Bushwick/Hoboken]. They won’t be fabricated of glass and concrete, and they won’t have a zip code attached. They’ll be those edgeless institutions unbeholden to geography: unconditional friendship, the safety of conversation, and the places that feel like home — genuinely, and not in some socially constructed way — even if they are 3,000 miles from where you were born and raised. They’ll be the places where your dreams have been alternately incubated, dashed, and brought to life again. The places that stay under your skin and under your fingernails. They’ll be the places that — even if you do stray for a while — will be right there where you left them, waiting for you when you’re ready to take your life back. TC mark

image – Bryce Gruber

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  • Anonymous

    As someone who was recently in a similar situation, I totally agree. Nothing feels better than taking a break from the things that are making you unhappy/unhealthy. Good job!

  • Raneen

    Best post on this site yet. Thank you for bringing tears to my eyes.

  • Guest

    Wow.  This was really beautiful.

  • Arthur

    thanks for sharing, much love

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1690980049 Uchenna Anyiam

    Man, I had an experience with a job very similar to this over the summer. After I quit the biggest smile broke over my face. I couldn’t even control it. It was pretty amazing. 

  • Guest

    Congratulations!Today is your day!You’re off to Great Places!You’re off and away!

  • Anonymous

    ” reviving your friendships, seeing a new guy who is actually nice to you, mentoring a pre-teen in an outer borough, reading an epic poem and some Neruda in the original Spanish, and sitting around in a bathrobe drinking chardonnay out of a plastic cup while spilling your heart all over your keyboard.” 

    Wow. Tears in my eyes here. You really nailed what unemployment is like. God bless.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=674040986 Odana Chaney

    Oh fuck you for making me cry.

    • Eliot Rose

      I’m sorry!  Chin up! 

      ~E

  • loving reader

    I love that you wrote this. I am stuck in that kinda job and you have just made me feel SO much better in facing the facts that I need to move on. I have really been questioning it and trying to suck it up but I continue to be unhappy and extremely stressed and tired and constantly sick with colds. 

  • http://www.nickrovisa.me Nick Rovisa

    Thank you for this post.

  • Space mtn

    i think i might quit my job.  and than im gonna go crazy

  • http://www.facebook.com/neelu.chawla Neelu Chawla

    Great post

  • Annedecker000

    I followed the love of my life to Guatemala, and the relationship came to a screeching halt, and several weeks after he was dating a Guatemalan. The last paragraph of your article is the most eloquent expression of how I have felt over the last 9 months trying to figure out my life in this country, thousands of miles from “home” after my dreams were incubated, dashed, and now I am learning to bring them to life again. One of the best lessons I’ve learned is that my happiness depends on me, on my attitude, on my choices, and that, no matter what, I have the ability to create it, no matter where I am or whether or not I have anyone around me to lean on. 
    Thanks for the post. Inspiring. I raise my plastic cup to you.

  • visitor

    i stopped reading after you said you wouldn’t end that sentence in a prepostion.

    then i read these comments and they have convinced me to overlook your douchiness.

    • Eliot Rose

      Ha!  I debated whether or not to include that line but ultimately kept it in as a nod to my first TC post.  I promise, I’m only a douche about grammar (at least I think so…).

      Thanks for giving it a second chance.  Hope you agree with the comments, or at the very least find some value in the read.

      ~E

  • Anonymous

    smlk.es/96s7qL

  • Octavia

    Thank you for this. 

  • insertsomethingmeaningfullhere

    really beautiful, something that i had been thinking about for a long time. never regret a decision that made you happy. unless you commit a felony, then thats a biiiig no no.

  • mail

    this post makes me curtain and clear up all the doubts in my head about a life decision I’ve made not long ago. cheers for this good post:)

  • http://twitter.com/amseries Allysa Marie S.

    Thank you for this: “But if it’s preventing you from living, get out. I just want you to be happy.”

  • http://twitter.com/dianasalier diana salier

    have to agree. the uncertainty of unemployment can be refreshing, at least for a little bit in the beginning. there’s absolutely no reason to stay in a soul-sucking job, place, relationship, whatever.

  • Anonymous

    I love this so much.  Thank you.

  • http://twitter.com/dyyyyyyy Diana Jacinto

    I can relate and I totally agree :) Love love this post!!

    Two things I learned from my unemployment:
    1) Do not let pain make you hate.
    2) Do note let the bitterness steal your sweetness! 

  • Theo

    Great sentiment, harsh and unreasonably in reality. Some of us simply cannot afford to quit a job if it pays enough to at least cover our bare expenses. Even here you need a middle ground.

  • http://lylim.net Lylim | Flyleaf

    Resonating so hard with this article.

  • Marsha

    This is great, great work.   Read all the articles in your archive, look forward to reading more! 

    • Eliot Rose

      Thank you, Marsha!

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