by Jaclyn Quigley
I didn’t think it was the brave thing to do to quit my job. I didn’t think it was the easy way out either, or a decision born of laziness. It was just what I had to do.
The job had been mine for nearly two years. It was a job I went to grad school to become qualified for and I’d spent another year after that in a different position to get the right experience. It wasn’t a career I’d always dreamed of, or one I even particularly liked right now, but it was a job and everyone needs one of those. I’d gotten good at it in the 22 months I was there and I’d grown to really like aspects of it: the people I supervised, the students I helped, the benefits, of course. But circumstances changed and it was time to get out.
When you first begin to be treated poorly, you write it off. You explain it away as a one-time occurrence and you let it go because you don’t want to be difficult. It happens again and you assume it’s just a stressful time for your boss and you hope that things will return to normal soon. After a handful of incidents, though, you realise this is the new normal, or maybe it’s been the norm all along and you were just shielded from it for a while. I wasn’t valued anymore at this job. My co-workers and I weren’t listened to, weren’t empowered; we were working just to keep our jobs, not to be great professionals. We weren’t given the room to strive.
This was the normal and I accepted it for a while. The benefits were great, the job itself wasn’t that bad, and it just wasn’t worth everything we’d lose to leave just yet. The situation was frustrating but I could put up with it for another year until my husband graduated. We could leave in a year, but we needed this job now. Just one more year was the mantra I repeated to myself on every tough day.
Over the course of a few weeks, though, something changed and I knew that one more year was not likely. I didn’t want to stick around for another minute. A responsibility of this job that I’d had for two years was something that I didn’t feel safe doing alone, so I had made accommodations. I’d made accommodations a handful of times and planned to continue doing so, until suddenly my supervisor wouldn’t allow for those accommodations. It didn’t start out as a direct no at first, but as I became more firm in my position, she did in hers. I didn’t feel safe, so I stood up for myself. I stood up for myself when I replied to my supervisor’s passive aggressive email with professionalism and directness, when I asked for Human Resources to be present in our meeting, when I was given an ultimatum and instead of folding, I wrote a 50-page explanation and proposal for the Vice President, statistics and possible solutions and all. I stood up for myself when I was told no for the final time and I submitted my resignation rather than stay in a steady, paid position where I was unsafe and unappreciated.
Each time I refused to give in, I was angry. Each time, I was scared. Scared I’d say the wrong thing, scared I’d start crying in front of the wrong person because sometimes that’s how my body reacts to frustration, scared I’d be told to leave immediately and we’d be jobless and homeless just like that. I was angry I had to defend myself. Angry that my concerns were being ignored, angry that my supervisor and department were being unsupportive and unwilling to compromise, angry that I had to fight so hard for my safety, for fuck’s sake. But more than anything, I was sure I had to do this. Sure I had to fight this fight. I was fighting for myself and for my safety, but also fighting a department resistant to change. Resistant to letting go, to listening to someone else, to admitting that there are more important things than the way it’s always been done. So I was sure that I couldn’t just roll over. I couldn’t help make up a machine that doesn’t care about what their pipes think, how their screws feel, what happens to their joints so long as the machine is working fine. I couldn’t stay in a job that I had to fight so hard to advocate for myself, no matter the money we’d lose or the bridges I’d burn.
Everyone questioned me. My family supported me in theory, but we were getting free rent and a tuition discount for my husband and couldn’t I just stick it out for eight more months? My husband and I agreed sometimes and disagreed other times and it’s really hard to be on the same page about logistics when one of you is a writer and the other an engineer. But even with all the fights and the well-meaning alternative suggestions, I was sure. I didn’t think it was a brave decision, it was just the right one. Of course I couldn’t stay if I wasn’t valued, of course my mental well-being is more important than that of our bank account, of course it’d be okay. I’d find another job, we’d bounce back, we’d make it work. Call it blind optimism or immature denial, call it whatever you want. I needed to stand up for myself and I knew we’d be okay.
And this part now is actually the part that’s taking the most bravery, if we’re being honest. The after-the-fact. After the last day, after the last pay check, after the final time I had an actual answer to So what do you do for work? I quit my job and I’m trying to make it as a writer and I’m also trying to make ends meet. I have to believe in myself even when it’s damn hard to make money writing. I have to show up for myself and write my ass off every day even when it’s easier to hide behind endless job applications. This is the hard part. This is me summoning all of my nerve and just doing the damn thing. I can’t wait until I’m brave enough to admit that this is what I should have been doing all along.
Jaclyn Quigley is a writer, a lover, a fighter. Her heart is in New York, her body is in Dallas. She’s not into bullshit.