If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then quit. There’s no point in being a damned fool about it.
— W.C. Fields
No build-up or table-setting today. This is going to read like a direct continuation of part 1.
It’s late, almost eight o’clock in the evening. Dinnertime. I’m ordering pizza because my wife and I are in the middle of moving and can’t cook at home. A photographer is scheduled to come over in a couple of days and take pictures of the kitchen which was detailed just the day before — we have our first open house this coming weekend. I’m planning to repair certain things tonight, to patch and repaint walls, touch up kitchen cabinets, fix the string that opens our attic hatchway. Time is short. I’m so energetic and focused on the house that I’m barely thinking about the fact that I just resigned.
My wife gets home just as I hang up the phone, and she asks how the whole thing went. I play dumb. What thing? The quitting thing. Oh, that thing. I give her the spiel and she laughs.
Family? You need time off for your family? That’s what you told them?
Yeah, I guess I decided that it was better than either telling them I’m retiring — which maybe they’d take as insulting or threatening in some way — or lying.
Tell me again, how exactly do you need to quit for your family? Do you need to spend more time with me? How is what you said not lying?
Well, uh, I guess, I was just thinking that I’m part of my family, right? And I need a lot of time off, so I’m just giving my family — er… me — what it needs right now. And there’s the thing with my mom, too. So what I told them was true, from a certain point of view.
That sounds pretty Obi-Wan, there, space cowboy.
They’re Jedi, not cowboys.
I know, I was just pushing your buttons. Too easy. Anyway, tell me more about that sabbatical thing.
Well, that’s the only loose end. They’re trying to figure out if they can a) grant me one and b) give me an improved schedule if I do end up going back.
Do you really see yourself returning?
Honestly, no. Not in a million years. But the risk-averse part of me loves the insurance. It’s like a get-out-of-quit-free card. Neat.
Is it fair to them to take it?
I don’t know. As long as I’m clear about the low percentage chance of me returning, I don’t see any harm in it.
OK. Just make sure you tell them that it’s more “unlikely” than “likely.” If you’re really as apathetic about work as you say you are, that’s a bad sign. I read somewhere that apathy — not hate — is the opposite of love because if you hate something that means you still care about it.
Yeah, I know, I’ll mention it. I’m predicting several meetings with other people tomorrow. Pretty sure we’ll cover that ground.
Oh, and congratulations, by the way.
We attempt a high five and accidentally-on-purpose miss. (This happens a lot.)
At ten on Tuesday morning I find myself in my director’s office. I’m sitting at a small circular table with him. My immediate manager is not present — this conversation is just between the two of us. I’ll skip past the intros and the thank-you-for-your-contribution garbage which ends up sounding like a repeat of disgusting content covered in part 1. Instead, I’ll move straight to the part where things get awkward.
<LAF>, what I really want to know is: What are your real reasons for leaving?
Well I’m sure <Manager> told you that I need to spend more time with my family.
Yes, he did. So you’re not going anywhere else?
No, I’m not.
I know things have been very busy here since August. Your manager has told me you’ve been working particularly hard to keep up with everything, especially in light of the loss of <coworker, OOO on jury duty>. Has that had anything to do with this?
Well, I’m not going to lie. It’s been busier than I’d like since August. But that being said, the pace has absolutely nothing to do with my decision to leave. I’ve worked in organizations which are much more intense than this. The fact is, as I’ve mentioned, I need to spend more time with my family.
Can you tell me any more specifics?
I’d really rather not get into it. I’m sure you understand.
Does this have anything to do with your manager? Do you have any concerns about your working relationship?
Absolutely not. We have good communication and successfully work together as a team.
Well. I guess my next question is: Is there anything at all we can do to keep you?
No. The truth is that I never, ever, want to do this kind of work as a salaried employee anymore. And I have the financial means to ensure that I simply do not have to. So I won’t. You could double my salary, give me a parking spot right outside the front door, and provide limitless access to the wheelbarrow of cocaine in the executive lounge, and I still wouldn’t stay. So there’s no point in discussing options with HR. I’d advise you to seek my replacement as quickly as possible.
<<Kidding, of course, I didn’t say any of that. But there’s something about monotony that makes me want to spew absurdities, and these conversations are already starting to feel tired and repetitive. I’m thinking: Didn’t I just go through this yesterday? The quitting? I’m doing it all over again now, just with a different person. Maybe it would have been easier after all to just shout in peoples’ faces that I’m retiring before running away while laughing maniacally, dual middle fingers extended all the way.
But then again, I know firsthand that telling people at work you’re retiring can potentially come off as hostile. Worse, once I start talking retirement, it’s hard for me to keep judgment and contempt out of my voice because I feel so strongly about the subject. In other words, I’m pretty sure I’d come across as an arrogant dorkmaster. So it’s best for everyone if I don’t get into it —
Instead, on the spot, I decide to start asking for things I’m pretty sure they won’t grant, hoping that’ll put a stop to all of this.>>
Well, my manager mentioned the potential offer of a sabbatical, which I understand is essentially unpaid leave with the position held open for a predefined interval. But the truth is that even if that’s granted and I return, I’ll need more schedule flexibility afterward. For example, I’m not sure if he told you, but my wife and I will be moving to a place where it’ll be tough to commute to the office. Over an hour each way. I can’t see being able to do except for emergencies. My family might need me at home with short notice.
In addition, I may need days off with no warning due to unexpected family incidents. and I need to know that’s OK so I don’t feel as though my priorities are in conflict.
Also, I wouldn’t be able to work more than three days a week.
We might be able to work with you on those criteria. Anything else?
<<I heard on some show about detecting liars that when you look upward and to the left, you’re accessing your creative centers, thinking, imagining. Maybe there’s something to that, because I can feel my eyes doing it, and it’s because I don’t know what the hell to say. I’m stunned. They’re thinking about allowing me to work from home practically every day — and only three days a week? After a long sabbat? This is the same place that just two months ago instituted a full crack-down on any and all work-from-home and now they’re willing to potentially break all of these rules for me? This is the power of the quit on display right here — the genuine article.>>
I’m just not sure yet. But the organization’s willingness to be flexible is much appreciated and improves the odds of me being able to return. Again, my future obligations are unclear, other than I know they will be significant. I should know more toward the end of summer.
But won’t you eventually be seeking employment again? There must be some conditions under which you would return. You must need a paycheck, right?
Well, the thing is, my wife is still working. You know we’re dual income, no kids. One income is enough for just the two of us. So it may be that I don’t return at the conclusion of the sabbatical if I still have pressing family commitments.
You’re wife’s OK with that? Working when you’re not?
Yes, of course. Why wouldn’t she be?
<<It’s here that my director eases up on his full-court press to try to retain me. To this point he’s been leaning forward in his desk expectantly, but now he sighs and slouches. I find it interesting that it’s only his realization that I’ll be fully covered financially that finally convinces him that I might be unsalvageable. He stands and shakes my hand>>
Well I wish you the best. Let us know if anything changes and in the interim, we’ll draw up the paperwork for the sabbatical. We might also schedule a meeting with <CIO> and perhaps also <Department President.> They’re interested in speaking to you directly.
Sounds terrific. Thanks again for all you’ve done for me. And I’ll be sure to do what I can to cross-train teammates in the time I have remaining to ensure a smooth transition.
Great. Thanks, really appreciate that.
I walk out feeling like absolutely no progress has been made on Project: Quit. Instead of clearing things up, my director indicated there are additional options open. Then, to top it off, he signaled that I’m going to have to meet with some more people. In other words, I was going to have to repeat this performance at least a couple more times. It sounded exhausting.
Why is it so difficult to finish doing something that should be the easiest thing in the world?
Wednesday morning, first thing, my manager pulls me into his office and lays out final terms. Sabbatical from mid-April through August. Return in early September for 3 day workweeks, only one day of which I’m needed to come in.
It’s a stunning arrangement. But at this point in the week, my energy is starting to lag a little and I’m having difficulty acting all that enthusiastic about coming back. I can’t see it anymore. It’s like a door in my mind has closed.
So I say something along the lines of: Well, definitely, if I am able to return to work at all, <company> will be my first choice. And of course I appreciate all of the effort taken to put this together for me. It says a lot about the character of <company> and I’m really flattered. But I need to be up front about the odds here — it’s not all that likely.
My manager’s face drops, like I just told him his favorite pet got run over by a car. I get the sense that there’s something in my face that makes my intent clear, and he’s noticed it. I try to recover, asserting the future is unknowable and there is, of course, a reasonable chance yet, but my heart isn’t in it and I think it shows.
He says that I can expect a meeting with a higher up tomorrow (Thursday) and HR on Friday and we’ll just have to see where things go.
I tell him I need to sleep on it — to discuss the plan with my wife and family. I bet he expected me to show more excitement and gratitude, but instead I feel like claws are sinking into me again — claws that I’d extricated just a couple of days ago, claws that suck the will to live out of me.
By the time I leave his office, it’s close to nine thirty in the morning, and I’m already exhausted. It’s the indecision, of course, that’s doing it to me. The internal conflicts. What seemed so clean and simple on Monday has suddenly become messy and grotesque. I want to leave, to go home and continue to get my home ready for sale, go for a jog, take a nap. But at the same time I realize it’s unacceptable behavior and I’d already ditched half a day on Monday.
I check my calendar: Meetings half the day. I book cross-training sessions with co-workers to dump knowledge and work onto them. Everything I do feels heavy: my mouse is filled with lead, my legs dead wood. I have a cup of coffee and try to focus but what I keep seeing is my manager’s crestfallen face pathetically registering my clear signal to leave.
Some days I’m strong and my own voice comes out loud and clear, but today, it’s weak and easily drowned.
The same qualities which have made me a great worker — loyalty, dedication to the cause, team-oriented behavior — have conspired to turn the volume in my head down on my own needs.
Later in the day, I search for the dial and crank it back up.