(Originally posted on The $76K Project on 4/21/2019)
A little over a month ago, I wrote about my overwhelming situation at work and the crippling anxiety I was experiencing as a result. I was just six weeks into my new editing job, and it was already a disaster. I was a disaster. At night, I was plagued with insomnia; during the day, I was battling panic attacks and fighting to focus on the words on the page - problematic, since the job required rapid, quality editing of multiple manuscripts on a daily basis. I was cranky and irritable. My family tiptoed around me like I was a human minefield.
Although I’ve grappled with anxiety for most of my life (and particularly with work anxiety over the past five years), this time it felt different. It felt damaging and dangerous and wrong. A lot of you got that impression, too, and in your comments on my post, you suggested I walk away.But I forced myself to hang in there a little while longer, first because I wanted to save as much FU money as possible, and second because I needed to make sure that the problem wasn't simply my lack of confidence.
So for a few weeks, I gave it my all. I talked to my manager and received an extended training schedule. I flipped open my laptop early every morning and resolutely made my way through each manuscript. I worked as long as it took to get the job done. I met my quotas. Outside of my job, I started seeing a therapist. Talking about my anxiety helped me get my sleep schedule back on track.
But every week, the quota increased, and every week, I raced to work fast enough to keep up. One week the training team told me my edits shouldn't take more than 26 hours; it took me at least 45, and I accomplished that feat only by tearing through my assignments with the precision and delicacy of a tank. Working on the weekends became a necessity (I wasn't alone - many of my colleagues did the same).
I felt like I was hanging on by my fingernails.
I cried daily.
Last Monday, I opened up a manuscript in Word, read the first line, and found that I was staring into a jumble of letters. I read it again. I read it three more times. It still made no sense, so I moved on - only to find that the following words, sentences, and paragraphs were also gibberish. The next few papers produced similar results.
It dawned on me that my brain was done.
The truth is, I liked several aspects of the job. I liked working from home, I liked reading papers about research in my field of study, and I liked editing. I liked seeing how a light application of minor tweaks could make a paper sparkle with clarity. I liked honing my editing skills. I thought I had potential - and so did my manager.
"You've got the best edits on the team right now," she said at one point. "You're a natural."
I was slow, but since it appeared that I was doing well, I thought the job might be worth fighting for. I looked for solutions.
Borrowing inspiration from The Fioneers and Tread Lightly, Retire Early, I mustered up my courage and asked if I could transition to a part-time schedule so that I wouldn't feel so rushed and stressed. It was something that the employee handbook listed as an option. I'd crunched the numbers; the budget would be tight, but we could make it work.
I figured it was a win-win: I'd be able to proceed at a slower pace, continue to bring in a paycheck, and improve my editing skills, and they'd get a return on their training investment. Plus, they wouldn't have to cover my health insurance.
Instead of entertaining the possibility of a compromise, my boss came back with an unexpected ultimatum: get with the program and meet the quota requirements for a full-time editor, or leave. "Maybe this isn’t the right fit for you," she said (days after telling me how well I was doing). "Not everyone can edit at the pace we require. If you want to leave, we will support that. But part-time work isn't an option because your efficiency isn't there."
And with that, I was done. I'm not a word-crunching robot, and I never will be. I want a reasonable job that utilizes my skills and experience and generally makes me feel good about what I'm contributing to my organization. I want a job that energizes me rather than depletes me. I want a job with an employer who is willing to work with me and help me be the best I can be. I want a job that doesn't make me feel like I'm as disposable as a piece of trash.*
I sent in my letter of resignation the next day. I let them know I was quitting immediately.
Have I done my best? Yes. Have I given it time? Yes. Is it super disappointing? Yes. Am I scared? God, yes. Even though quitting was the best option of the options available, it's accurate to say that I was terrified to make this call and make this leap.
But I'm also concerned about my own health. Even though most people in my everyday life can't tell, I know that I've reached a breaking point. You can't hear the sirens going off in my brain, but I can. So it's time to press pause.
Several people have asked if I have something else lined up. I do not.
Instead, I'm taking a career break for the next several months.
Perhaps I was being responsible, but the problem was, this approach didn’t give me any time to reflect on my experiences or recover my energy. So when the workload piled on at this latest endeavor, I didn’t have the wherewithal to cope. I buckled, and quickly.
I have to remind myself that this isn’t the first time that I’ve jumped off the 9-to-5 hamster wheel. I've done it before, and it's worked out.
When I was 25, just after I'd finished my Master's degree with a sociopathic advisor, I decided to walk away from it all - quite literally. I went to Europe and spent two months hiking in the Alps and crewing on a sailboat. When I came home, I got a job at Starbucks and devoted the next six months to slamming out peppermint mochas and caramel macchiatos (while listening to clueless customers tell me to go back to school, get a degree, and find a real job). In my free time, I wrote. I smelled like sour milk, but I was pretty happy.
A few years ago, I gave notice at my dysfunctional academic job, and we bought an RV. We sold most of our stuff and slowly made our way out west. At the time, Fortysomething was a contractor, and I was picking up some online classes every now and then. Mostly, I ran, parented, cooked food in our tiny RV kitchen, and explored. We didn’t have much money, but I wasn’t particularly worried. I felt free and optimistic, and daily life was simple. When we finally landed in our small town, I got a job at REI. Once again, I was completely and totally fine with the situation.
For the next couple of months, I won't be looking for work. Instead, I'll tinker with the blog, get back into running shape, visit family, spend time with Fortysomething and the Kiddo, read, hang out with friends, and maybe volunteer. I'd like to set up a regular writing schedule for myself. I'd like to re-learn calculus.
In mid-summer, I'll start job hunting. I can tell you this right now, though: I won't be seeking full-time employment unless an absolutely perfect position hits me in the face. I'll be seeking freelance, contract, and part-time positions so that I can have more balance in my life. And I'm going to be very, very picky.
If you don't know where you are, stop walking. You will want to move because when you move, you feel like you're taking action. You feel like you're making progress. In reality, you're probably getting more lost. Fight the urge to keep going, and sit down. Wait. Look at your map, orient yourself, rest, and trust. You will either figure out where you are, or someone will find you.
I never got lost in the wilderness, but feel like I've gotten lost in my everyday life. Each career move has been an effort to find my way back to the right path. Instead, I've become increasingly disoriented - not just with my career, but with who I am. So now I'm going to stop right here. It’s impossible to know if I will figure it out myself or if the right situation will find me, but regardless, I have to trust that it will work out.
As for how this will work financially, stay tuned. I'll be sharing our budget along the way. One thing's for sure: from a financial standpoint, this decision is a bit risky. But is it worth it? Absolutely, because mental health is priceless.
*If I sound bitter and angry, it's because... I am. I'll get past it, but a little anger is a perfectly healthy thing.