What Quitting Your Job Teaches You About Hard Work

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When you’re fresh out of college with a brand new lease on an apartment and enough student loans to make you want to cry, the last thing you probably want is to be out of a job. The last thing anyone at any stage in life wants to do, really, is be out of a job, because we all have responsibilities and bills and some people have more than others, but we all have them to some degree. And though you may scheme to leave your current job, to hand in your notice, to leave on your last day with guns blazing and fingers in the air, you would want to do it smartly. With a plan. You’d want a back-up, something to rely on, a new job lined up. Something bigger and better. “See?” you’ll say, “Do you see where I am now?” You don’t expect to just up and quit.

But I walked into my job one afternoon when I was newly out of college and dead broke, and found a Post-it note on which my boss called me an idiot. I realized that not only was my boss condescending and not only did she think of me as little more than a servant, but I’d never grow from my position. There was nowhere else to go, nothing else to learn. It wasn’t that this was a miserable entry level job where I’d have to pay my dues if I wanted to rise in ranks. This job, where I was miserable and cried and fought back quaking rage when my boss told me that I was unbelievably stupid — which she did multiple times a day with no advice as to how I could remedy any situation — was it. It wasn’t my career. It was just a paycheck, and the Post-it, really, was the petty last straw. And so I did the only thing I knew how to do in that moment.

I left. And I never went back.

It was terrifying. I nearly dry heaved on the sidewalk, so unsure of what I’d just done. I tried to calm myself down, tried to breathe again. I asked myself if I’d made a mistake, but I couldn’t say that I had.

And after my anger subsided, and after I dealt with the momentary panic attack induced by how I was going to make rent, I realized that I would always make rent. I was that kind of person. I would find a way. It wasn’t a great point in my life — as far as corners in which you can back yourself into go, it was pretty fucking frightening, actually, and I honestly wouldn’t recommend it, if you can help it — but it was still something I would have to handle. Because that was what I had chosen to do. I dealt myself that card, so I would have to play it.

Friends and family told me not to tell anyone about why I was out of a job. It’ll reflect negatively on you, they said. Nobody wants to hire somebody who quits like that. And why should they? An employer has every right to want to hire somebody who’s in it for the long haul, who doesn’t make brash decisions like that. But sometimes, it’s when you do something that other people wouldn’t do that you learn the biggest life lessons. Because I had no idea what I was going to do about being out of a job, I suddenly realized that I could do anything at all. The only thing holding me back was my own notion of what I should do.

There is a Shel Silverstein poem in which he talks about listening to mustn’ts and don’ts and shouldn’ts and won’ts, and all of the times people tell us no and all the ways we are expected to behave. We are mired down by expectations every day, and some of these expectations have our best interests at heart. Most of them do, actually. We’re told to hold onto our jobs, because how else will we make rent? We’re told to abandon our dreams for something more realistic, something less dreamy. We’re told to be practical, to make sure all of our eggs are never in one basket, that risking isn’t a smart idea.

But at the end of the day, after you’ve listened to all of those voices, you still have to listen to yourself. You still have to listen to that still, small, quiet whisper deep within yourself that resonates with your heart. The one that says:

Anything can happen, child.
Anything can be.

There is beauty in not knowing. There is possibility in being unsure. And sometimes, you have to do the thing you shouldn’t do. Sometimes, you have to listen to the voice that says not to do the reasonable thing, because you won’t be able to live with yourself otherwise. You’ll always regret it if you don’t.

Because when you don’t know what lies ahead, you also don’t know what doesn’t lie ahead. You don’t know where the limit is, so you try to find it. Chances are, it’s further out than you would have thought. Chances are you are most scrappy and most resourceful and most resilient when you really need to be. You will make rent, because you are that kind of person. You will suck up your pride and ask for help when you need to, and people will help you because people want to help those who ask and those who prove that they want to earn that help.

Sometimes, it’s only when you’ve pushed yourself almost over the ledge that you do your best work. It’s not ideal — I worked 80 and 90 hour weeks and cut my budget like crazy, but I made ends meet. But in quitting my job, I learned how to network like I’d never networked before because suddenly I had to. I learned how to freelance, because I had to. I learned how to ask people for help, to be bold and assert myself, to be polite but get people’s attention, to make them listen, to make them want to care, to make them want to hire me. I learned how to be resourceful, how to save every cent and to make a good impression the first time around. I eventually found a job, but it only came after four months of a very steep learning curve and very little sleep.

And I learned that the most surefire way to make something impossible was if I told myself it couldn’t be so. Why couldn’t it happen? It’s one thing to take risks and hope that things end up for the best. It’s another to make sure they end up that way. Why can’t you make anything happen if you’re willing to work harder than you ever have before? What’s stopping you?

The mustn’ts told me to not quit my awful, hellish job — because at least it was a job, right? — and they were right to warn me to be cautious, but something deep within myself also told me that anything could happen. Including landing on my own two feet.

After all, anything could be. TC mark

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