It is so hard to leave. Until you leave. Then it’s the easiest thing in the world.
— John Green, Paper Towns
Fair warning: This post is going to be a little raw. I haven’t done much editing or anything extra to produce it. I want to dump it out, and time is limited, and that’s that. So it’s going to read a little messier than average.
I’m at my desk on Monday and I’m thinking about what I have to do today, and really the only thing I have to do is quit. Can I go through with it? I don’t know. I’ve been planning for this day for something like 3,960 days or so, not that I’m counting or anything, and now that it’s here I don’t even know how I feel. Relieved? Anxious? Apathetic?
I settle on apathy. Who gives a shit. I can hear the hum of a delivery truck idling outside of my building and somehow the low-pitched constancy of the noise makes me feel like what I’m about to do is no big deal. Because it isn’t. The trucks will keep coming, whether or not I’m here. Office life will continue to happen. It doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is taking care of this. Treat it like any other high priority item on your task list.
At eleven on the dot, my manager shows up in my cube. I expected this — it’s part of our weekly routine. He has a few meetings with higher ups early in the morning at the beginning of every week. They discuss status on initiatives and outstanding issues. Immediately following what are surely awe-inspiring gatherings, filling him with renewed purpose and reason to draw breath, he will come down to ask me for updates and provide new marching orders for the week.
We talk about a few things and after ten minutes or so, he’s run out of steam. He kind of trails off talking about some longer term project that may or may not happen next year and that’s a signal that he’s about to wrap up the conversation; he typically starts in on the super urgent stuff, meanders over to mid-term tasks, and finally finishes by going on about the direction of the team and the department and my role in making all of this absolutely stupendous stuff happen, new technologies and upgrades and integration points and team expansion and upward and onward, forevermore.
Right when it looks like he’s about to wander off, I ask him if he has some time to speak privately and he’s like, sure. He’d been leaning his entire back against the wall while discussing the weekly logistics and he sort of pushes his eggplant-shaped body up and off with his forearms and palms. It takes a full minute to shuffle over to his office, and neither of us say a word. I find myself wondering if he’s already guessing at the inevitable.
Once the door is closed, I settle into a chair and he asks me what’s up.
Well, you know how I took last week off for family related reasons, right?
Yes, is everything okay?
More or less, yes. But the thing is, a few things became clear to me over the course of the week. My wife and I have agreed that we need to spend more time with our families and less time working.
<<My boss assumes a horrified expression as I say this, his lips pulling to the sides of his face in a full-on grimace. As recently as ten seconds ago, he had a fake smile plastered to his face, but it’s nowhere to be seen now. I find I prefer the grimace. At least it’s authentic. I plow ahead.>>
We’ve essentially decided to re-prioritize our lives and put family first. As a result, I’m providing three weeks’ notice.
<<He’s dumbstruck. Not a word. I’d more or less planned on what I needed to say in advance, and since he’s not trying to interrupt or ask questions, I continue reading from the script in my head. A small part of my brain is shocked that I’m able to do this. To quit. Is it really happening? >>
That makes my final day April 3rd. I should add that this decision was not exactly easy for me. This has been a terrific job, overall. Probably the best of my career. I’ve enjoyed much of my time here. But it’s time for me to move on.
<<He’s still not saying anything. Does he think I have more to say? Well, I don’t. Guess I’ll have to prompt the human vegetable.>>
So what are the next steps? Do I need to talk to HR?
<<Finally something comes unstuck and he starts talking. To my surprise, right as he begins to form words, I feel something in my chest that wasn’t there before, something airy and light that’s trying to bust out of the top like a bubble rising to the surface of the ocean. It’s then that I realize I’m not as apathetic about all of this as I initially thought. That there was a genuine response.>>
Are you sure about this?
Can you talk about what the family commitments are? Is it anything we can help with? You know that we can work with employees to provide more flexible scheduling to work with them through emergencies or crises.
I’d really prefer not to get into the weeds there, to be honest. It’s personal stuff, after all. But what I can say is that it’ll take a lot of hours — the requirements also demand a high degree of schedule flexibility. These are things that I’m not comfortable asking from <employer>. It’s not fair to the organization.
Could this be something that might pass after a while?
Pass? What do you mean?
Might the family stuff get resolved, allowing you to return to work?
It’s possible. But probably not. Oh, and that’s not all — I’m moving to <new town>. We’re listing the house this week. It’s not commutable.
<<Here he immediately punches <new town> into Google Maps and swings his monitor around so we can both see the screen simultaneously.>>
That’s only an hour away. Ten minutes more than me! You can definitely drive that.
No, I can’t do that, it’s not reasonable.
If I can do it, you can too.
<<I stifle an urge to say, “Look, old buddy, old pal — I am not you. I will not live my life like you. Will not waste my life driving, or working in this office having Monday morning meetings to plan out weeks which are roughly the same as every other week. You can do these things for the next thirty years as you strive for whatever it is that you’re striving for, but not me.” Instead, though, what comes out is, thankfully, much more reasonable sounding.>>
<Manager>, I really don’t want to commute for two hours every day. That’s not something I’m willing to do on top of seven or eight hour workdays. I will not be able to support my family and live the life I need to live while doing that.
Maybe I can find ways to allow you to work from home more often.
I’m not sure it would make a difference, to be honest. Because like I said, I need a lot more flexibility for my family in the future. April 3rd will be my last day.
Right, you said that already. Oh, I get it, you said it again because I was going off on a tangent. I do that sometimes. Well. This is really unfortunate. You’ve ruined my week.
<<He laughs unexpectedly in an effort to relieve tension and show me that he was sort of joking, that it’s not really a big deal. Then he goes on gushing about how much he’s valued me as a member of the team and I return the ego-stroking favor by prattling on about how much I’ve enjoyed my time with the company and it’s just a big congratulatory circle-jerk of love and mutual admiration. Although I’m pretty sure he could do this all day, I can only stand these sorts of exchanges for limited period of time before I’m overcome by embarrassment and boredom. After two or three minutes I end it.>>
So about those next steps. You’ll let me know, right? I’m assuming you’ll need a written notice.
Yes, I’ll have HR contact you. Would you mind in the meantime if I also explored other more flexible options available for employment? What if we could give you a sabbatical, for example?
Before coming into the meeting, I had decided that if they offered me a sabbatical, I would take it. So I did. And then I thanked him for his time and booked it out of there before he could come up with any more wonky shit to say.
On the way back to my desk, I took stock of the situation. Did I feel any different? Was I happy with how it went?
Suddenly I’m aware of another delivery truck arriving at the front of the building. The rumble produces so much energy that I feel it right through the floor. And just like I did earlier that day, it brings on a sense of nameless comfort and well being, along with a profound feeling of not-unpleasant apathy. I wonder if I’m just too numbed out to process any of this.
A second later, I decide that things feel exactly the same as they did prior to quitting. How had I waited so long to do this? Why had I put hours and hours of thought and anguish into something that took less than an hour and wasn’t even all that unpleasant? It seems incomprehensible. I’m an adult, and I wanted to quit, and now I’ve done it — given myself what I want. Is it really so odd?
The next thing I know, I’m inexplicably walking past my cube farm and out a side door, down a sidewalk into a small commercial strip. It’s close to lunch time and a few people are already out trying to snag some food. The weather is relatively good for mid-March in New England, overcast and mid-forties, so I spend the next hour on a bench just watching people, looking outward, considering what they were all doing with their lives. Lady with red hair and high heels eating a six inch sub. Legal? Finance? Two twentysomethings strolling along, chatting it up, smiling. Students? A dog without a leash. A stray, or trained to stay in the area?
A bit after one o’clock, instead of going back to my building, I text my manager: Not feeling well. Call cell if you need me.
Then I head home.