Last week I quit my job. After four years in the one position, with no chance of promotion, I’d had it.
My long dreamt exit strategy – a whirlwind of double-finger salutes and profanities – was put aside for the dull, terrifying reality. There was no Kool-Aid administered, no hissy fit and no hidden-fish slow-burn vengeance, just a one-line resignation email and meetings with four separate bosses (how typically office life).
I’m sure this is a situation many have flirted with and of course I’m not the first person to quit a job, but heed this advice: this is neither a cautionary tale nor a success story.
I’m not offering a how-to guide on ‘escaping the cube’. I would never be so bold as to assert myself into such a place of generalised authority – the only coaching I subscribe to is on Friday Night Lights.
This is a form of catharsis, an honest diarising glue to hold my thoughts together because right now I am terrified. My exit may not have been as intense as this Hollywood fantasy fuel, but it was still dramatic for me.
I am by no means a trustafarian: I grew up single-parent poor which taught me a strong work ethic and fiscal frugality. I have not made this decision lightly and putting it in writing is one of the most confronting things I’ve done.
Four years ago, after finishing my Arts degree (Yes, one of them.), I joined the full-time workforce and had no idea the impact that a Monday to Friday, 9 to 5 office job would have on me. Clearly, Dolly’s classic sermon had fallen on deaf ears: I was enthusiastic and eager, and believed work-free weekends and a steady paycheck were the Holy Grail.
After six months of learning the ropes, I could climb, knot and braid them. Office life was not challenging enough, so I sought tasks beyond my role to garner professional satisfaction.
Externally, using my non-FTE hours productively, I’d be up at dawn writing or completing sub-editing jobs and took annual leave to volunteer at festivals or attend workshops.
Internally, I learnt all I could about the interesting elements my job had to offer and sought experience in other departments, hoping to move into a more demanding role. But this opportunity never surfaced and it eventually became evident that – due to a number of factors – it never would.
Now, this is the point in my story where you may think: ‘Woe is me, I have an arts admin job straight out of uni, there are worse things/jobs/situations.’ Correct – I didn’t have my head shoved up an elephant’s arse, but it wasn’t my plan to work with elephants or arseholes. I wasn’t destitute or terminally ill, but I also wasn’t happy.
Perhaps a little naïve, I went into my admin job believing you could work hard and, beyond menial financial remuneration, be rewarded for your time and effort. I realise the concept of reward is relative to individuals and situations, but personally a position that offered me zero professional rewards was not going to cut it. Professional was personal to me – this job helped me learn that.
Over the years, this stagnant environment became toxic; I realised I was lucky to be employed but time was slipping by. I was starting to believe I wasn’t worth any more than my lowest-rung standing. Realising you’re not only running a mind-numbing marathon on a hamster wheel, but you are a hamster, is hard to face.
The toxicity began to seep into my physical and mental wellbeing: broken up on the inside, I broke out on the outside. Anxiety riddled and brimming with self-loathing, I decided a jailbreak was necessary.
My decision was both rash and contemplated. After a final slice of humiliation pie was served with a dollop of curdled condescension, I decided to drop the microphone on my full time office life: *Van Schilt out*.
I’m not comfortable with publically setting goals beyond my aim to remember my sixteen-digit credit card number (now, a worrying success) and I’m risk adverse. So the risk of leaving a stable job and income, without anything solid to go to, is cause for much anxiety.
Unlike lyrics from a Sam Cooke song: ‘That’s it. I quit. I’m moving on.’, I’m not entirely bitter about my former office life. The four-year relationship I had with my workplace is one of the longest and most committed relationships I’ve had in my life. For four years I reported to the same corner of town – a corner that also served as my social stomping ground, a place to fall in love, a place to drink to excess, and, it turns out, a place to leave behind.
Leaving this job means I will also have to leave a fair portion of my self-doubt behind: I’m now writing personal essays even though the thought of being open makes me nervously sick. And I’m slowly convincing myself that not all personal affirmations will be written on mirrors (or spell redrum).
I will find temp jobs that allow me the flexibility to work on other creative endeavours. Admin may not be my career of choice, but I am pretty shit-hot at photocopying and filing to naming convention. Without bragging, I can definitely navigate a database or two.
But if I’m really being honest, I don’t know what I’m doing beyond hanging out with my freelance fear and self-loathing. Right now though, for each stomach churning spasm of anxiety is a moment of optimistic clarity: it was now or never. For every night of restless slumber is a real-life waking dream that, for money/food/rent, I must confront. For every internally embedded negative thought, my friends offer an external voice of support.
And for each hour of unemployment there are 60 minutes more to write.
Stephanie Van Schilt is Online Editorial Assistant for Kill Your Darlings (a job she hasn’t quit) and a freelance writer. She’s written for Junkee, Screen Machine and Cineaste and can be found on Twitter @steph_adele.