A few weeks ago I quit my job without a new job. For two weeks straight, I woke up with a racing heart wondering if I’m crazy and irresponsible. Still do some nights.
But you know what? I woke up with a racing heart on most nights before I quit. At least now I’m in control of that feeling. I wasn’t before.
Despite outward-facing qualified successes at my last job, something wasn’t right.
To back up: I’ve been incredibly fortunate in my career, working with smart, thoughtful peers doing interesting work. Then, two years ago, as a mom of four kids, I was thrilled when I landed a job that let me do interesting work remotely in my small town outside of Minneapolis. But after awhile, the work stress I felt every time a client reached out to me for help on a problem I didn’t have the power to - and knew deep down I would never have the power to - fix began to outweigh the benefits of my so-called dream working arrangement.
Not that I didn’t try to “fix it” - the clients’ problems and my own. I starting with the “is it me?” stage. Perhaps I hadn’t articulated my ideas clearly? Were my ideas any good to begin with? Were my emails too direct? Was I making people nervous asking questions or seeking input - and if so, why? I tried different approaches and tactics. I got a coach. I sought input and feedback. Nothing really improved.
Then, I moved to the the “I’ll do good work independently” stage. Head down, plow ahead. But that was not sustainable based on the type of work I was doing.
Yet, despite doing all of that while wearing my “She Persisted” t-shirt and telling everybody to read Feminist Fight Club (read it!), the something’s-not-right feeling didn’t go away. My heart raced more, and my work enjoyment was plummeting.
I took a step back. What was the root cause of my “problems”? Why didn’t I have the power to impact change? Was it institutional? Was it my gender? Was it because I was one step outside the power circle? Was it because I was remote? Or a combination of those? I’m still not sure I have the answer exactly. I do know at some point it didn't matter "why" anymore, it just "was."
Along the way, I had conversations with senior management to discuss my concerns and ideas; I hope I made a dent, maybe encouraged them to hear more voices, even if I didn’t benefit from any big change while there.
Eventually the answer hit me. It was so simple: to use the skills I most value and do work I’m proud of, I had to leave and embrace risk. It just wasn’t working. I could point fingers or keep hitting my head against the wall, or I could leave.
So I quit. Without another job.
I like to say I’m taking a responsible risk. I’m going to walk the talk and choose to venture out to do meaningful work in the way I want to do it. That means I will collaborate with and learn from experts with diverse perspectives, view problems from various angles, remain open to new ideas, and strive to provide meaningful solutions. Data shows that this type of environment will pay off. I didn’t make that up. Diverse workplaces are more successful, collaborative, and profitable than non-diverse ones.
I should also say this: I realize that I’m incredibly fortunate to be able to take this risk and that it is my responsibility to make sure I use this opportunity for good. And I am grateful for the job I quit, for many reasons, not least of which is that I would never have taken such a risk without it.
What does that next career move look like exactly? I don’t know yet, although I have some ideas, and I’m committed to taking the time to figure out the right path for me.
So, although I quit my job without a new job, I did so with somewhat of a plan. I’m taking a calculated risk. I’ve done my research and budgeted for a life without a salary. It still makes my heart race, but it also feels right.
Instead of fear, I’m choosing to practice what my friend Constanza calls “joyful resistance.” I’m resisting playing it safe. I’m resisting the notion that my ideas don’t matter or that seeking others’ expertise shows weakness. I’m resisting mediocrity. And I’m doing it all happily because I know this is the right thing to do.
Amy Gernon is an attorney who has been practicing law for over 15 years, including time spent at a large defense law firm and as a law clerk for three federal judges. She is now looking for her next career adventure. Amy lives in Northfield, Minnesota with her husband and four children.