Throwing your weight behind the Universe
Yesterday was my first day not working at my old job.
Like many jobs, working there started out promising, solidified into exactly what I needed when I needed it, then the stress slowly started outweighing the benefits, until eventually I resented every email and every new assignment.
So at the beginning of this year, I told my boss I was leaving. I said I didn’t have anything lined up just yet, but he should know I was actively looking.
And I did actively look. Oh, so actively. And if I’d wanted to work for a penny per word, I would’ve had no problem finding a new gig. But the idea was to move on to something better, not regress. (Actually, the combination of being paid hourly plus being a fast writer meant those low-paying gigs probably would’ve been a lateral move at best. But I digress.)
My list of must-haves for a new position:
- Work from home
- Salaried, not hourly
- A reasonable salary at that
- Creatively challenging
- Opportunity for growth; learning new things; not stuck in the same position forever
I found many jobs that offered some but not all of these things. And the jobs I applied to that did offer all of these things ended up falling through at the last minute. Either I bombed the interview or things didn’t quite click or I never heard back. Maybe the writing industry as a whole is just super squirrelly.
And as the months passed, my depression at not finding a lifeboat— even a leaky one– spread and deepened. I was so sure this was the year to leave my job. Positive. Never even one time did I think the Year of Movement would not include moving out of the dead-end corner I’d written myself into.
No. Not dead end; a cul-de-sac: pleasant enough in a limited kinda way, but really just going around in circles. And the circles were getting smaller and smaller, and I’d worked there long enough to realize nothing would ever change.
So when my lead writer, aka the girl who’s been single-handedly saving my sanity for the last year, sent an email to my personal address giving me a courtesy heads up that she’d decided to put in her notice, my immediate response was “Hey, I don’t blame you. Thanks for staying as long as you did!”
“Welp, Liz is leaving,” I said aloud to Dan after I read her email. “She says she’s burned out.”
“We knew it was only a matter of time,” he replied.
“Yep,” I said, because we did. There’s no escaping the burnout factor in a job that demands full-time creativity at part-time wages. And my first reaction was jealousy that one more person was escaping this prison while I was getting left behind, but that thought transformed into a chillingly accurate glimpse of how reality would look after she left. I’d have to go back to the super stressful way things used to be and for god knew how long. Months. Years.
At that, I burst into tears and jumped up from the table, trailing colorful strings of expletives behind me as I paced back and forth in our suddenly-too-tiny kitchen.
And Dan said, “You need to leave. Quit. Right now, before Liz does.”
“We can’t afford for me to leave,” I said, hyperventilating. I was in the middle of applying for yet another job, and things looked promising, but not promising enough to quit.
“I think we can. Listen. Remember Kyle who I worked with for that stone mason? He just started his own company. He texted me today, asking if I could help him out on a few jobs. And my friend Thomas offered to pay me cash to help with some side work. I’ll work weekends. We can do this. Maybe you’ll get that new job. But if not, you can work for yourself like you keep talking about. Freelance. Paint. Whatever you want. But you need to get out of there. You can’t stay. It’s time.”
And even through the haze of financial fear, I knew he was right. It took 2 years to find Liz. Who knew how long it would be to find her equivalent– if ever. And one thing was for sure: I was not going to be left holding the bag waiting for that to happen. Not this time.
No more lying to myself that reduced hours would equal more time for working on my own stuff. Because when you have obligations hanging over your head that drain your creative spirit and leave you wrung out and brain-fried, it doesn’t matter how much you cut your hours back; there’s just nothing left at the end of the day. Except dreading the next workday. And the next. And not seeing a way out.
No more pretending that eventually this job would move aside enough to let other things take root and grow; I’ve been there for 4.5 years, and all that’s happened is a slow but thorough erosion of the bright-eyed hopes I once held for my future with the company.
I took a deep breath, mentally chanting Tennessee Williams’ quote like a mantra: There’s a time for departure even when there’s no certain place to go.
“Okay,” I said. “Okay. I’m emailing Liz so she knows. And I’ll give my notice next week.”
My boss then had what was probably the worst week ever, which I felt bad about– but not bad enough to stay. I reminded myself that I’d told him this day was coming way back at the beginning of the year, and it was now the end of August. And I’d told him how unhappy I was at my previous employee review the year before that, too. He implied things would change, and I stayed. But they never changed. And he knew it, and I knew it.
“I think it’s best if I tell our client,” my boss said after I ruined his day, sounding defeated.
“Sure, that’s fine,” I said, relieved that I wouldn’t have to break the news to the company’s biggest client myself. And actually I felt worse about leaving my client hanging than leaving my employer; we get each other, and work really well together. So when I got a phone call from an unfamiliar number the next week, I answered, suspecting that’s who it was.
“So I hear you’re leaving,” said my client by way of hello.
“Yeahhh, I’m really sorry about that,” I said, because I genuinely was really sorry to leave him hanging, and he knew it, and he laughed. And we talked a bit about the new job I was getting, which I’d just learned the day before I for sure hadn’t gotten. But of course I didn’t mention that bit. And he thanked me for all my awesome work, and I said I was going to miss working with him, and I hung up feeling another huge step closer to freedom.
At least, I tried. But really what I felt was another huge step closer to a dark, yawning chasm of unknown depths. Because I was committed. In August, I’d given notice that I’d be done at the end of the following month, only to find a few days later that no job waited to catch me and whisk me away to greener shores. I’d jumped, and momentum had carried me far enough over the edge that I could very clearly see allllll the way to the bottom.
And there was no invisible bridge in sight.
I decided, I will build my own invisible bridge. Why should I expect a new employer to take a chance on me when I’m too chickenshit to bet on myself?
So I hustled like hell. I joined entrepreneurial networking groups. I ordered new business cards. I toured a new co-working space that just opened up the road– clearly a sign that this is where I’m meant to go. I still tipped crazily back and forth between “I’ve made a huge mistake” and “This is going to be awesome.” But slowly, confidence was winning out. October 1 would be my first day working for myself.
I can do this, I keep telling myself as Sept 1– the first day of my final 30– edged closer and closer. You and me, October. We are doing this.
Except on Labor Day, I got an email. At my personal email address. From my soon-to-be-former biggest client.
“Hey,” it started out, deliberately casual. “We’re looking for someone to help us manage our largest client. You know, basic stuff like PPC management, marketing analytics, working on new campaigns. That kind of thing. Know anyone who might be good? If not, no biggie. Just thought I’d check.”
Was this a job offer?
I shoved my computer screen toward Dan: “Read this. Is this a between-the-lines job offer? It is, right?”
Dan squinted at the email on my tiny phone screen. “I think so. Wow. What do you think?”
“I think I need more opinions,” I said, texting my sister. She called me immediately to say that it sounded like a job offer to her, and her husband agreed.
I said, “But it can’t be a job offer. I don’t know how to do any of those things.”
My sister said, “Sounds to me like your client understands that the most important thing is finding someone talented who fits in well with the company, and who works well with him. That the right person can be taught just about anything. And he’s decided you’re the right person.”
As part of my preparations for becoming my own boss, I had started listening to these podcasts, which of course led down all kinds of interesting rabbit holes. One such rabbit hole was an interview with Sarah Jessica Parker, in which she explains her reaction when her agent called her and said that Darren Star, creator of Sex & the City, had her in mind for the starring role.
“Are you sure they meant me, and not some other 3-name actress?” she asked her agent. “Mary-Louise Parker, maybe?” And, upon hearing this story, the interviewer (Alec Baldwin, himself a super accomplished actor) is all “Totally, TOTALLY” like he thinks the same thing every time his own agent calls.
And that was how I felt. Not sure of anything, except the fact that my client was more than a little bit mistaken about my skillset.
But I really like him. I’ve said to Dan dozens of times over the last couple years that I’m looking forward to leaving my company, but will super miss working with this client. A lot. So I responded to the between-the-lines job offer with between-the-lines interest, asking if it’d be completely inappropriate for me to throw my hat into the ring. And he answered within minutes that he thought I’d be an excellent fit, and he’d love to call me later in the week to talk more.
Once on the phone, I very coolly and professionally blurted “I don’t know how to do any of those things.” And he said, “Honestly, we could find any number of people who could, and who could do them well. But what we really want is someone who’s excited about learning that stuff, and we understand if that means some additional training time. We’re happy to make that investment.”
Sooo, not a mistake, then. Not looking for a different 3-name actress. Looking specifically for me.
Oh, holy shit. Okay.
I don’t know how I always forget, but there is something magical about throwing your weight behind the momentum of the Universe, shoulder shoved up against your future, and saying “All right, buddy. I’m all in. You all in?” And the Universe pulls its slouching self up off the alley wall, taking one last drag before tossing its cigarette to the sidewalk and snuffing it out with a boot tip, and says, “FINALLY.” And suddenly everything jolts forward.
So, me and October are now doing something completely different. We’re cleaning old work files off the computer to make room for new. We’re catching up on blog posts and art projects. Because come November, we’re hitting the ground running with a new job:
- A remote position, so I can keep working from home.
- A reasonable salary at that.
- Creatively challenging.
- Sky’s the limit. Learning new things. My role constantly changing, as whatever they’re into constantly changes.
That’ll do, Universe. That’ll do.
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