About eight months ago, I began tracking symptoms in my phone. These were physical symptoms like gas, bloating, and hunger, as well as mood symptoms like irritability, sensitivity, and depression. And then - because it was free - I started tracking what the app ambiguously calls "factors," too. These were simply characteristics of my day, and I could track anything I wanted. So I did: "Exercise, cardio." "Bedtime, late." "Screen time, excessive." "Work, unpleasant." "Work, satisfying."
As with nearly every time I download an app, the plan was more-or-less to transform my life. Downloading Hopper and Kayak would turn me into someone who travels spontaneously, and on the cheap. Downloading Hulu and Netflix would render me climbing the stairmaster for way longer than intended: Where did the (sweaty, unbearable) time go?! Downloading Vanguard would land me in a perpetual cycle of acquiring and depositing checks, punctuated by well-informed investment decisions. And last, downloading Symple would turn me into someone who understands, with staggering authority, the relationship between every lifestyle decision, emotional whim, and physical complaint.
Spoiler alert: That didn't happen. That literally never happens. What happened instead was that, after six months of logging my symptoms, I realized that "work" hadn't been "satisfying" one time.
One time. In six months. And then, about two months ago, I was so sick of continuously logging symptoms of depression, irritability, and sensitivity into my stupid phone that I just stopped tracking entirely. In short, the app - like every app - did not land me on the path to greatness. But it did me one better: it showed me that my current path was a dead end.
For the record: I hate the term "dead end job." It's elitist and value-laden. It implies that everyone's job should take them somewhere. It implies that people should seek a destination of their job, whether that be praise and admiration, financial success, or emotional fulfillment. Most of the time, there is no final destination; people simply work until they can be reasonably sure that they will die before their savings do. They work to pay the bills.
If you're like me, you may have just recoiled a bit. A way to pay the bills. What a lackluster way to describe over half of our waking hours on earth. I mean, ew. But if you have even an ounce of sociopolitical awareness (I have exactly one ounce), you probably get it. After all, I'm about to tell you that I quit my job without a plan. Without a replacement job. That's a privileged decision. And before I tell you why (I think) it was the best decision for me, I want to acknowledge that this decision is inaccessible for lots of folks. Only you can determine whether it's accessible to you.
The reasons I stayed
First, I'll tell you why I couldn't quit my job. These are the same reasons I gave myself for why quitting simply wasn't an option.
The first one is actually baked into that last sentence. We've all heard some iteration of the phrase, "To quit is not an option." Maybe it was "never quit" or "no one likes a quitter." Maybe it was more deceptive, framed not as admonishment but as encouragement: "Never give up." Regardless, the fear of quitting is embedded into our collective conscience. When I would entertain the notion of leaving my job, I would immediately contend with the automatic thought, created and sustained by cultural conditioning, that quitting - quitting anything - is just bad. So don't do it.
Then, there was the fact that I was an absolutely indispensable member of my team. I'm only half-joking, unfortunately. My basic fear of irrelevance often goes up to bat with an equally irrational belief that I am the most important person in the room. I can fear that I am replaceable and that I will never be replaced all in the same breath. When I considered quitting, I feared that the programs and projects I sustained at work would crumble in my absence. My coworkers might never stand upright again under the weight of all that unassigned work. Even the office dog might be asked to send an email or two. In light of all this importance, it was my moral responsibility to just keep on keeping on.
And third, there was the relationship piece. I have the unfortunate habit of evaluating my worth based on the opinions of those closest to me. What I think of me is inextricably tied to what my family thinks, what my partner thinks, and unfortunately, what my boss thinks of me. (To all of their credit, I'm sure they'd prefer this wasn't the case.) I assumed that leaving my job - becoming someone who inconveniences her coworkers, leaves projects unfinished - would cause my boss to respect me less. Could I maintain a positive view of myself, even while I imagined that her opinion of me had shifted?
I've given you three compelling reasons to keep the job, and I haven't even touched on the most important for me, nor the one you may be thinking about.
Let's start with the latter: What about money? That one certainly made the list, although it wasn't as high on mine as it might be on others.' It's not that I have much extra; I don't. But at 27, I'm in the fortunate position of having no children, being in relatively good health, and having some money in the bank. In a same-sex relationship, I can continue avoiding kids indefinitely. Be that as it may, I knew that the expenses of daily living would whittle away at my savings over time, and any major medical event could destroy those savings in an instant. (Indeed, as I'm writing this, my cat is in the emergency room.) And so, spending money without making it back was not only against my conditioning, but logically unsustainable.
Reason number five was the most important. When I thought about quitting my job, it was always followed by this thought: What would I do instead? While I found that the work I was doing was perpetually unsatisfying, I didn't know what I would do in place of my current job. As someone predisposed to depression, quitting my job without an alternative plan for stimulation could leave me - you know - depressed. And most glaringly, most terrifyingly, doing was such a comfortable alternative to being. When I forget who I am, I often remind myself what I do.
Reasoning with the reasons
I'm not going to spend much time on the first reason - that is, that "quitting is bad." The badness or goodness of quitting is obviously context-dependent. It's good to acknowledge when some basic heuristic is at play, but it can typically be dismissed pretty quickly.
The money issue was straightforward, too. I had a nonspecific aversion to scarcity, so I needed to define it. How would I know when I actually didn't have enough? I selected an exact dollar amount that needed to be in my bank account. Then, I told myself that I would get a job when my savings fell below this benchmark. In response to the logical next question - what if there are no jobs? - I told myself this: Not an amazing job. Not a job to inspire a round of applause or even affirming nods from the people who know me. Just a job, the way most people think of jobs. Something to pay the bills.
As for reason three - I'm indispensable! - I just had to dispel that. Sure, false importance has its place: if it keeps you in a demanding but ultimately fulfilling job, it helps to feel indispensable. But false importance is not so useful when it's the only thing between you and quitting. In that case, it's debilitating. And so, I brought out a pen and paper - okay, a keypad - and interrogated that belief. Indispensable? Really? Would quitting my job really leave my coworkers spinning, my projects and programs crumbling? Or might others be just as competent as I am? Yes, I was good at my job. And yes, others could be good at it, too. My perception of my own value can be neither cripplingly inflated nor deflated.
How to deal with the relationship piece? After all, I'd spent nearly three years building a working relationship with a boss. My boss was on a very short list of people with whom I spoke every single week. I was hell-bent on meeting and exceeding high standards while avoiding conflict at all costs. But, after consulting with others, it became clear that the fear of disrupting my relationship with my boss was not a good reason to stay at my job. By staying, I was attempting to resolve unresolved childhood conflicts that have no place in the workplace: I sought approval, I feared reprimand, and I resented that her acceptance of me was conditional. It makes sense to relate to authority figures in this way when we are six, and reliant on authorities for food and shelter. But I am an adult, and my boss does not pour my cereal. Her perception of me could not dictate my perception of myself.
And then, I quit
June 11th was my last day of work. When the last email was sent, I faced myself in the bathroom mirror. I don't have a job, I thought. This is the face of someone who does not have a job. As I stared at myself, I wondered if I looked a little older. My skin had texture that I'd never noticed. Is this what unemployment looks like? I thought. Who is this person - really? And then, because obsessing over how I look has always been more comfortable than confronting how I feel, I thought: I really need to start wearing sunscreen.
This, apparently, is how it feels to confront the last and most compelling reason to stay at one's job. What will I do instead? In the uncertainty, my mind clambered towards what it knows. Make an agenda! Make a list of things to do! Better yet - just start doing things!
I quieted my mind: I will start doing things. There are lots of things I want to do, and I believe that doing them will leave me more fulfilled and more useful to others. People with predispositions towards depression need plans. All people need plans.
And. I believe that, regardless of what I do next, these moments matter. There is something important about the space between the last thing I did, and the next thing I'll do. There is something important about looking oneself squarely in the eye after relinquishing a dependable source of self-worth. For me, that was my job. And then, I quit.