One of my favorite things to read about on the Internet is an inspiring story, especially those that tell of people quitting their 9-to-5’s and just opting out of a job that makes them unhappy. I love those stories because I wish I could be one, but I’m not a burned out CEO who makes big money. I’m a regular, middle-class citizen who makes regular-money, owns a home, has a car payment, three hungry cats, utilities – you get the idea. I also have nothing close to the recommended six month emergency fund, so to me, quitting a job without a plan was something only the wealthy could do.
My breaking point came at the end of 2014 and beginning of 2015 when I essentially said:
I had been experiencing job burnout for the past few years; hospitality is an unforgiving 24/7/365 industry that doesn’t care about your personal life. When my boyfriend and I bought our first house I couldn’t even be there for the official move-in day. Anything I scheduled — medical appointments, plans with friends, a damn haircut — had to fit in around work, and if something came up I had to cancel or reschedule my plans. I was getting sick and tired of my job being number one, and the salary was no longer enough to compensate for the mental stress that started to affect my life in negative ways.
In November 2014, on my mom’s 59th birthday, she was diagnosed with advanced Stage 3 colon cancer. It was one of those instances where she was fine one day then not fine the next. My family is small, four of us in Pennsylvania, two of us in Florida, so the support system is miniscule. Cancer pierced the veil and showed me a side of people I didn’t know existed, making me became my mother’s main ally. The severity of my mother’s prognosis, the unrelenting demands of my job and my new position as patient advocate began to weigh heavily, and I constantly felt as though I was sinking in quicksand.
Being with my employer for the last seven years, I accrued a nice block of vacation time and was able to schedule the entire month of December off to support my family and get my bearings. I grew lighter with each day I didn’t have to think about clients, check emails or hear the words “thanks in advance.” No longer carrying the burden of work, I felt my shoulders straighten and I breathed easier. I couldn’t believe the physical manifestation of stress and what my body felt like without it.
As 2015 grew near, I began to vibrate with dread thinking of going back to work. Something inside me, more than just my thoughts, was telling me I couldn’t go back. The intense intuitive feeling, akin to a repelling force of a magnet, was difficult to ignore. I did return to work and I tried to get back into the swing of things but I couldn’t and within a couple weeks I put in my notice. I quit.
I only had a couple thousand dollars saved up, which would barely cover three months of bills (provided my boyfriend took over groceries.) Dipping into my savings would be unavoidable, but I was convinced doing so would be temporary. I’m a hard worker — in the last 11 years I’d only worked three jobs. Some noble company was sure to recognize that I was a loyal, quality employee and snap me right up.
I quickly learned it’s an employer’s market and out of the hundred tailored resumes I cast out, I only reeled in a single, solitary call back. There was no noble company out there, the interview I scored was a disaster and more like an interrogation — four people sat across from me and picked me apart for a middle-rung administrative assistant position. I left their campus feeling embarrassed and defeated. I did not get that job.
After that I took a couple days off from the job search because my morale was at an all-time low and I had to regroup. I decided to stop obsessing over meeting my previous position’s salary. I was so swept up with the fear of being broke I realized I was applying for jobs that mirrored the one I just left. I changed my perspective and began to consider other things like work/life balance and flexible scheduling so I could be with my mom on chemo days.
I decided to apply to a popular coffee chain that appeared to care about their workers by providing good benefits and other perks. Not long after I applied, I received a call, went on an interview and got the job within a week.
Going from manager to barista has been both frightening and freeing. I work with a great group of people in a positive environment. I get a sense of accomplishment from my work. I move all day and I’m happier when I’m home even as I’m soaking my feet because it hurts to walk. I can’t forget to mention one of the most important bonuses — when I’m done for the day I’m actually done. Corporate America doesn’t follow me home, and that alone is a benefit not easily bought.
I’m not going to lie, money is still a big deal to me and not having enough is worrisome. My previous salary broke down to $17.50/hr and now I’m making $8.40/hr, a tremendous cut. I’m paying grown-ass adult bills with a teenager’s wage and I don’t know how this is going to shake out, but when I walked out of my office for the last time two months ago, I knew I made the right decision. John Burroughs said “Jump and the net will appear,” and I believe my net will appear.