a note on quitting
we arrived in new york on may 8, and after a couple weeks of settling in and lounging around, i started a new job on july 8.
on october 8, i walked out.
for context, i had a history at this office. as a former intern, back then i thought the chaos was exciting and the dysfunction glamourous. i thought i knew what i was getting into. all you need to know is that it wasn’t where i was originally aiming to land this time around. but when they sought me out, promising progress in the office culture from where they had been in 2008, i figured i’d give it a shot. the projects were still high profile and interesting, but now (they exclaimed!) there’s more structure. more people with more developed skill sets. more money. more, better, more. the opportunity unfolded quickly and my instincts were screaming ‘no’, but i muffled that noise to levels i could ignore. my husband’s reaction was hesitantly enthusiastic. my parents asked, 'are you sure?' i said 'yes, of course,' but, of course, i wasn’t.
i still went into that first day as positive and prepared as i’ve ever been. yet those first 12 hours told me everything i’d secretly suspected. it can’t be called foreshadowing when you can read the writing on the wall.
the details are moot at this point. the experience, each terrible day compounded on the terrible one before, was hell. it was sheer chaos. unrelenting, unapologetic chaos. every bone in my body told me this was going to be my greatest failure to date.
i’d wake up and wonder out loud, what the fuck am i doing? i’d look in the bathroom mirror and mutter, what the fuck am i doing? i’d walk to the subway, hazy, heavy yet hollow, taking half breaths and exhaling those same words. at the office, i spent hours throwing what felt like thimbles of water on raging wild fires. it was partially my fault. i should have seen the flames from a distance before walking directly into them.
the frustration, stress, anger and sadness consumed me so thoroughly, it was unlike anything i’ve ever experienced. about a month in and with no help in sight, i sat my bosses down. i’m drowning, i said. here’s what i need, i outlined. they apologized, made promises. it was as if they threw me a life preserver, but then sailed away in the boat without me, never thinking to look back.
in parsing it out, talking about it and crying about it every day for 3 months non-stop, i realized i was really expecting someone to save me. i can readily admit that. at some point, the hope was to get fired. to be let off the hook. even though i’ve had rough spells, long slogs, difficult periods of stress and pressure (just browse the archives of this blog), they were endured knowing they were finite. this wasn’t. it couldn’t be fixed, it was getting worse and there was going to be no end to this madness. with every minute that passed, i was sinking to depths previously unknown. the fear i wouldn’t be able to get myself back up to the surface was painfully real.
if this was a few years ago, i might have held on longer. tighter. but i just let go. the only thing i had the will to design was an exit strategy.
so i reached out to a contact at a larger, more established, respected place. we had spoken back in may when she mentioned that if they were hiring, it would be in the fall. the fall had double meaning for me at this point.
i went in for an interview at 7AM so as not to wave any red flags and all i had to say was the very succinct truth and everyone knew exactly what i meant. how grateful i was to not have to justify my need to flee after such a short time. they got it.
when an offer letter arrived in my inbox that next week, i accepted as fast as my fingers could type. i then crafted the most neutral, professional email i could muster (as my bosses were out of town and wouldn’t be back for days) and established my last day. i promised to make the most of those last two weeks to leave my projects in better shape than i received them.
these two weeks have been even more chaotic than the days that propelled me out in the first place. they tried to convince me to stay. (i should note this has nothing to do with me and everything to do with their inability to control their warped reality. my exit is just one of many visible fissures in their current foundation). they guilted me. told me i was giving up. they made it personal. they even convinced themselves that i would stay. my reaction to all of this, i am embarrassed to admit: i let them walk all over me. one might categorize it as bullying, but i was a willing participant.
it hit a deep nerve, this toxic habit that i never registered. my people pleasing, my passiveness, my inability to stand up for myself. ever. professionally, personally, privately, publicly. there are countless other anecdotes to accompany this most recent story.
my parents were in town visiting during the crescendo of this 3 month spell. as i recounted what was happening, play by play, relaying as accurately as i could the exact dialogues, actual and internal, that were taking place, i could see the look on my dad’s face. he was horrified. that moment, his realizing that despite all their efforts, my parents had raised a daughter with no backbone. 'this has got to stop now,' he said with a firmness i’ve never heard from him in 29 years.
when i decided that enough was enough, when i felt like i might actually disappear if i didn’t speak up, my bosses confronted me for what would be the last time and asked if i had made up my mind. and instead of hemming and hawing, i simply and calmly said, 'i have already stated my decision, multiple times, in writing. i refuse to engage in this unproductive dialogue about my staying and would prefer to use this last week to discuss hitting the project deadlines.'
and for those 90 days where i operated aimlessly in a thick, suffocating fog, asking myself, what the fuck am i doing?, my bosses responded to my last stand by saying 'well, fine, if you aren't staying, then just fucking leave today.'
'i think that's a good idea,' i said out loud.
that’s what i’m fucking doing, i said silently.
grabbing my bag from my desk, files and emails sat open and incomplete. but there were no tears, no shaking, and not a shred of doubt. the anxiety melted away with each step towards the door. with a clarity and lightness that has eluded me for some time, i exited.
and went on my way.