“Just press send. You can do it.”
That was the voice of my friend Kari coaching me in a Seattle coffee shop this past December, just before the New Year. The cursor was blinking at the end of my last name. My official commitment to two short paragraphs expressing my intent to leave my job of two-and-a-half years. I had one last resolution to cross off my 2013 list and this was it.
Reaching for her hand across the table, Kari and I pressed the send button together. All I could think to say was, “It’s over.” Had someone nearby only caught this part of things they might have assumed I was finalizing a breakup, which is a lot like how it felt. The kind of breakup where one person knows they’ve been wanting to end things for a while (me) and the other person is caught completely off-guard (my employer). I wasn’t sure whether it would be amicable, I didn’t know what friends I would lose, and I was terrified to tell my parents.
Yes, this felt like a very, very bad breakup.
What came after was even harder. After I finished my final few weeks of work, I lost my benefits and health insurance within thirty days. I scrambled to get appointments with the eye doctor, dentist, and gynecologist while I still had coverage. Many of my coworkers were surprised, but most of them were supportive. Some of them haven’t spoken to me since I left. I held off on telling my parents for as long as I could; I wanted to have a back-up plan primed and ready for them when I broke the news. Mostly I wanted to be able to say I had found another job with a great salary and benefits to replace the job with a great salary and benefits I had just left for what I knew they would consider not-so-great reasons.
I quit my job to pursue writing full-time. I also planned to pack up my entire life in DC and move to the west coast.
And, five months later, here I am. Relatively settled on the west coast and writing. My parents haven’t disowned me yet. I don’t have benefits, I don’t have health insurance (I don’t want to talk about Obamacare, thanks), and I don’t have anything close to what I feel I can call a salary.
Most days, what I do have is confidence and faith in myself that I made the right decision. Some days are more difficult and I have terrible anxiety about what-in-the-heck I did leaving a good job and a good apartment and a solid future. I’m on a food and entertainment budget of a 16-year-old living off of a small allowance, I’m wearing all of my clothes from last year, and my boyfriend is currently providing my shelter. Other days, when I’m out taking a walk at eleven in the morning to clear my head, I remember the 7 to 3:30 schedule I was locked into for two and a half years. That I couldn’t take a walk or even go to the bathroom when I wanted. (Oh, the joys of being an educator!) I remember what it felt like to sign in and out of a notebook and have my name highlighted if I was one minute late. I recall exactly how heavy the sheets felt every Monday and all of the living I tried to pack into my weekends. I remember why I felt I needed to leave.
What I have learned from letting the security of a traditional job go is that it’s okay to go for the dream. No matter who you think you are going to disappoint or hurt along the way, you will be hurting and disappointing yourself most of all by not going for what you want. That’s not to say it’s easy, that I don’t have entire days of doubt and worry, but it is, overall, completely worth it to be working my butt off each day for no one but myself.
And, just like a breakup, time continues to show me all of the ways that the life I was previously living, the job I was devoting most of my time to, was just not right for me. Here’s hoping we can still be friends, though.