“Screw your courage to the sticking-place, and we’ll not fail.” ~William Shakespeare (Macbeth)
I’m an über fan of the show The Office (both versions — British and American). I’ve seen every episode multiple times, and I was sad to see it end a few years ago. Whenever I’m feeling down, watching a re-run episode or two never fails to make me laugh out loud. (And, I had a major crush on John Krasinski and his perfect hair.)
One of my all-time favorite scenes from The Office was the one where Michael Scott quit his management job at Dunder Mifflin Paper Company:
Oh Michael, I love you.
I imagine that like many of you , I’ve spent most of my working life in an office; only a few of my employment years have NOT been in an office setting (Peace Corps & Home Depot spring to mind). I’ve dealt with my fair share of office politics, drama queen co-workers, mean bosses, pervasive PowerPoints, and mind-numbing boredom. I’ve stared into enough filthy food-splattered office microwaves to last me a lifetime. At one office — not exaggerating — I endured a musical-chairs-rotation of eight different bosses in the seven years I worked there (and none of them were Michael Scott, unfortunately).
Looking back on all my office work experiences together, it resembles a schizophrenic reality-show combination of Survivor, Punk’d, and The Joe Schmo Show all rolled into one (“What is going ooooonnnnnn?!”). It was almost like earning a badge of honor to outwit, outplay and outlast other coworkers and bosses that would fall by the wayside — but at an expense I couldn’t yet recognize. The cumulative effect of all these experiences was disturbing yet manageable, or so it felt that way for a long time.
And then about three years ago, something happened that prompted a true questioning of the self. The employer I had at the time informed me that I was being transferred into a new position; grant funding for our prior positions had run out, and they scrambled to plop a few of us into ill-fitting new jobs at a different department where we were extremely underutilized, undervalued, and disrespected. I had no choice in the matter, and I knew within a nanosecond of the announcement that it would be a job that I was going to hate. Not dislike. Hate.
But I didn’t listen to the voice in my head that was screaming “GET OUT NOW!” Being the responsible workforce professional that I was, I trudged ahead in sensible pay-the-bills and keep-the-benefits fashion.
That daily trudging left much of my sanity and health lying battered and bleeding on the side of Austin’s congested roadways that I was obliged to wrestle each day on my 50-mile round-trip commute. It was a hell of a ride, literally. I’ve never felt so de-valued as a human being in a work environment.
I lasted nine months.
Like most kids, I was taught while growing up to “never give up!” Never quit, no matter what!” So leaving was actually a hard decision for me; I argued internally with myself for a long while. But there are times when we just don’t win the battles we choose (or are thrown into) and simply must walk away. Sometimes knowing when to make that decision and following through can be a victory in itself. I finally made the decision to give my bundle of frayed nerves up for adoption. I finally made that leap of faith to take back my life and JUST QUIT.
I wanted so badly to boldly march into my boss’s office and quote Michael Scott from the video above as I turned in my two week’s notice, inspiring shock and awe in the process. “I quit…You have no idea how high I can fly.”
But it turns out I’m not quite the brave thespian I’d envisioned…and the boring reality is that I walked (normal-style) into HR and turned in my resignation in a perfectly-civilized non-histrionic meeting. (I never could have delivered the line as good as Michael did anyway…it should remain his.)
And I felt like I could breathe again. And sleep again. And live again.
I didn’t have another job lined up at the time that I quit, despite my father’s voice on a repeat loop in my head saying “Don’t quit a job before you have a job, don’t quit a job before you have a job.” But that’s exactly what I did. I felt a little like Baby in Dirty Dancing, rebelling with the bad boy despite what others think she “should” do — only my Johnny was joblessness, and way less sexy.
I read a quote by Confucius the other day that said “Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.” Staying in such a soul-sucking job for as long as I did was just me intent on making my own life complicated; quitting it was me getting back to basics. Turns out what I was seeking was not just balance, but simplicity; simple is GOOD. Basic can be better.
Yes, I was terrified. But I was FREE! (It was the best kind of terrified.) My last day on the payroll for that horrible job came and went, and the realization set in that those real-life bills weren’t going to pay themselves. But I had a vision that I was working toward — one that involved starting my own business, or finding a job that I really enjoyed, or both. (One month after leaving that job, I filed the paperwork to start my own floral design business, and three months later, I found a part-time job that was perfect for me and lasted for three fantastic years.)
The line from The Office series finale that struck me the most — and validated 100% my decision to try my hand at life decisions that would hopefully lead to happier times — was when Pam said:
“Be strong. Trust yourself. Conquer your fears. Just go after what you want, & act fast, because life just isn’t that long.”
It doesn’t really get much clearer than that. Saddle up and see how high you can fly.
Originally published at operationununhappy.wordpress.com on June 17, 2013.
Kristi Stillwell is the owner of Volunteer Abroad Consulting, which provides virtual and in-person application coaching services to adventurers wanting to volunteer abroad. She is a former Peace Corps Recruiter and served as a Peace Corps Volunteer herself in west Africa. Kristi also owns Much Ado About Flowers, providing eco-conscious floral design for weddings and events.
Originally published at medium.com