As long as I can remember, I haven’t liked change. I preferred to be unhappy or uncomfortable in routine rather than try something new because I was scared or didn’t know the outcome.
In 2009, after two years in non-profit media, rather than look for something new that put my journalism degree to use, I jumped at the chance of a promotion within the company.
Fast forward to 2011, and I was deeply unhappy with my position in Development.
I thought I would love my job. From the job description, it appeared to be a shift from customer and membership service to strategy, revenue growth, and program development. I thought to myself, Okay, this isn’t radio production but maybe I’ll enjoy fundraising. I haven’t tried it before. Besides, the pay raise and the challenge will be nice.
Unfortunately, the job was neither interesting nor challenging. I spent the majority of my time doing customer service with paying members over the phone or on e-mail. It was mostly stuff like basic membership questions, change in payment method, or a complaint about how long it took to get a freebee. When I wasn’t doing that, I was sending out emails asking people to update their payment information so we could collect their monthly donations, and compiling reports on revenue, new membership, and retention strategies. During pledge drives, I was expected to do all that, with a 200 percent increase in phone and e-mail volume.
I decided to stick it out because I loved my co-workers and the organization. At the heart of it, I was afraid of starting at the bottom in a new career with a pay cut. I was 30 years old, in a serious relationship, and had a mortgage to pay. I told myself I couldn’t live off an entry-level salary again.
For months I tried to “fake it ‘till I made it.” I put on a happy face, smiled, and pretended liked I cared when I was on the phone with members. If I got assigned a new project, I acted like I gave a shit. Any time I had to work with numbers and a spreadsheet, I was happy to be off the phone.
I told myself it was going to be OK, that I could hold on for just a couple more months. But one morning in June, I hit my breaking point. After my morning meeting, I sat crying at my desk, and felt like I was suffocating. That night, I went to my parents’ house for dinner and broke down when my dad answered the door. I spent an hour sobbing about how deeply unhappy I was at work. Then my mother, the pragmatist-who-loves-stability said three words that surprised me: “You should quit.”
“What?” I gasped. “I don’t have a job, or enough in savings. I need health insurance!”
“You’ll be OK. You can temp, or baby-sit. You’re not going to be homeless on the street, and we can help with COBRA.”
Later that night, when I sobbed more to my fiancée, she agreed with my parents.
Ten days later, I resigned. After I told my boss, “I’m leaving,” I was thrilled; I felt giddy, and like I could breathe normally again. I had taken a risk and decided to change. Soon, a revelation came to me, I should move to Amsterdam with my fiancée Carrie.* She had quit her job as a social worker last summer to focus on comedy writing and to make ends meet she was babysitting full-time. One of the families, a pair of academics, was going to start their year-long sabbatical in Amsterdam and offered to take Carrie with them so she could continue to look after their infant son. A few days after I quit my job, I realized I could go to Amsterdam too.
The week after I left my job, I started meeting with temporary agencies. The first woman I met with, Shelly* said, “Why did you quit?”
“It wasn’t for me, and I needed a change.”
“No, why did you quit?” she pressed. “In this economy? Not many people would do that.”
Then, I met with Lisa*.
“Why did you quit?”
“It wasn’t a good fit for me.”
“You quit in this economy?” she asked, baffled. Okay, so what are you interested in?”
For the first time I didn’t feel so okay, and a bit judged. I started to freak out. What if I don’t find a temp job before I leave for Amsterdam? What if I don’t have the money? How will I spend my time?
I didn’t end up getting any temp work in July, and spent the month living off the money I got from my unused vacation days. In August, I was a nanny for a friend’s baby. I ended up having a really fun summer with my four weeks of work. I saw friends, went to restaurants, and the movies. When I was with the baby I walked all over Brooklyn and sat in cafes sipping iced coffee during her naps.
By September, I had added a few hundred dollars to my savings account, booked my place ticket, and was off to Amsterdam. My first week was hard due to terrible jet lag and rainy weather. All I wanted was to stay warm in bed and sleep the days away. Carrie urged me to get out, despite the gloomy weather, and explore. Two weeks later, I was in love with Amsterdam.
Now I know my way around the city have acquired a very basic Dutch vocabulary. I can sleep until 11 a.m., or get up at 8 a.m. I can get stoned in a coffee shop, or drink lattes in a café. I can stroll along the canals, or walk in the lush parks. Incidentally, I am broke. I managed to spend all of my savings and the cash gift my parents gave me in one month. I’ve woken up in the middle of the night in a panic because I am low on funds, and initially cried about not being able to save more. My fiancée is out of money too. But, we are happy. I’m living off my credit card, and she’s living off any extra baby-sitting hours. We don’t have jobs to go back to in New York, and I have just enough money to cover our mortgage when we return.
This is the best decision for change I’ve made since I went to graduate school five years ago. I found that I am able to live off of $13 a day, write again, and feel happy. I have no regrets, not even over the loss of paycheck and cheap health insurance. Quitting one’s job can be done. It’s not a lavish lifestyle, but I am getting by and learning to live with less. I don’t go out to eat or to the movies, and pack lunches daily. I carry enough cash to cover a cup of coffee, a tram ticket, and museum entry. I know when I get back I can be a nanny, or temp until I find a job that I want, which I like.
*Names have been changed