When It's OK to Be a Quitter: Sometimes Its Not About Giving Up, Its About Taking a StandDanielle Sullivan
I dreamed of working in publishing ever since I was little. After having kids at a young age, I’d settled at a company that managed a group of magazines and started from the typical bottom rung in publishing: editorial assistant. I loved my job. I was finally where I’d always wanted to be and working with a team of people who shared my passion; it was fulfilling.
I steadily climbed my way up the ladder and into the top editorial position at the company as managing editor. But reaching the top wasn’t all happily-ever-after. Over a period of five years, we had four different publishers. With each new publisher came new rules, new operations and often, new people. It threw our team into an upheaval all the while continuing to produce magazines. With a solid staff that I loved working with, we had been through a lot together, but the last change of leadership was like no other.
Under the new leadership, work had become drudgery. We were forced, even told, to produce shoddy work because it could be done faster. Quality was no longer an issue. Imagine telling a group of type-A editors that quality and telling a good story weren’t important. Every Sunday, my co-workers and I would get a severe case of the blahs. I dreaded going to work everyday.
It wasn’t just the low expectations and high demands of producing drivel; we were also expected to work all the time. We stayed late and worked countless hours from home, trying our best to produce publications that we were proud of and still meant something. Meanwhile, overtime was unpaid, unappreciated, and unacknowledged. And on top of that, systems were faulty and funds were pulled from a host of different areas. And more magazines were added to our group; we went from 5 to 8 in a matter or months with barely any additional staffing.
For months, I wondered if I had done the right thing; I didn’t want to let anyone down.
An optimist always, I made it my duty to think of ways to help my staff despite the conditions, but quietly I debated quitting. I was torn. I knew I was in a bad situation, but I also wasn’t a quitter. I’m a firm believer in giving your work everything you have and never giving up. Plus, I had three kids in private schools — losing half of our income would be devastating. For months I talked with my husband about leaving. He always backed me up, saying he couldn’t stand seeing me so miserable and assuring that if I quit, we would somehow survive. But I wasn’t so sure.
Then on one cold November day, after putting in an 80-hour workweek, I hit my breaking point. When I left work that day, I met with a friend who had just left the company and was already blossoming. I complained to her about the usual grievances. A woman seated nearby overheard our conversation and chimed in, “I could’ve been you, but I just quit my job today.” I took it as a sign.
The next day I quit. I could barely sleep knowing what I was going to do. My boss was reluctant to believe I was actually quitting and kept saying things like why don’t I take a week to think about what I want to do. But I knew my mind had been made up because for the past year, I had explained to him in painstaking detail why what we were doing was not working, how I could not ask my staff to work inefficiently yet almost constantly. I had realized that I was no longer willing to naively think that things would get better. They wouldn’t.
My boss and co-workers were shocked, and I admit that my exit plan had not been a plan at all. What was I going to do, they asked. I had no idea. I had no back-up job. My husband and I just bought a house and had a large mortgage payment. Did I mention I had three kids in private school?
Making peace with my decision was the hardest part. For months, I wondered if I had done the right thing; I didn’t want to let anyone down. I did everything I could to help my staff, guiding them along for a long time after I left. They told me they admired what I did, but I felt like a fool for leaving a job in a time when jobs were so incredibly difficult to find.
Still, I knew I had to leave. Staying in a place that made me so unhappy would not set a good example for my kids. If they were ever in a similar situation, I would encourage them to reach for more in life rather than settle in fear.
And there were, of course, the benefits to my decision: I wasn’t constantly stressed anymore. I could literally breathe better and, without all of the nonsense in my head, could enjoy simple things like a walk in the park. Before that, I was just existing. My kids noticed the difference, which surprised me a bit. They said I was less angry and more fun, more like my old self.
Financially speaking, however, it was difficult in the beginning. I wasn’t making anywhere near my previous salary. I could no longer just order out for dinner or buy an outfit for fun. I had to strictly plan every penny spent. I used coupons and cooked more often. (We had a lot of pasta in the first three months.) We went to the park instead of places we had to pay for, and we played board games and rode bikes.
But I was present. I wasn’t holed up attached to my computer or half listening to my kids while on the phone solving another work crisis. And I started to write again — something I never had the time to do as a busy editor. I applied to every writing gig on Mediabistro and Craigslist that interested me, and friends in the industry reached out with assignments. A year after quitting, I was making more money as a freelancer than I had while tied to my miserable job.
I hope my kids realize that quitting doesn’t always mean giving up; it can mean standing up for yourself and a better life. When you’ve given something all you’ve got and you’re not getting enough out of it, it’s time to explore other options. Now, all I can think of nearly three years later is why didn’t I do it sooner?
Tell me in the comments: Have you ever quit a job?
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