Leaving My Job, Finding Myself
By Aimee Cirucci
I have always loved the phrase, “do the scary thing,” the idea that when faced with two choices you should choose the one that most frightens you. Unfortunately I found it difficult in practice. If anyone was born to be a stable and reliable company girl it was me; my mother worked as a third grade teacher for more than thirty years, and my father wrapped up his career at the Philadelphia Bar Association after twenty-seven formidable ones. I appreciated security and stability and seemed destined to work my way up at a large corporate behemoth enjoying nice benefits and a burgeoning retirement fund even if not my work.
So when college graduation came, unlike those who decided to teach English in Bali, bound off for the Peace Corps or pursue acting careers, I chose the least frightening option and got myself a “professional” job. Almost immediately I was disillusioned. The office politics, power trips of middle managers and emphasis on perks like corporate cell phones and parking spaces made the whole thing feel silly and trivial, hardly worth the expensive suit I bought for it. I knew I wasn’t the only recent college grad to feel this way, as friends and books like Quarterlife Crisis attested, but once I was on the company treadmill I saw no way off so I responded by making the least scary choice again and again, replacing one office job with another. But all the while something was happening; I started rebelling against myself. At home, at night, in whispers and sometimes screams, I began to think about leaving the office and changing my life.
It turns out that I was one of many unsatisfied workers. A recent study found that less than half of all Americans are satisfied with their jobs and the most unsatisfied group are those age twenty-five and under. Why don’t more of us make a change? As I learned, for white-collar workers the corporate life can be a double-edged sword affording a nice income and sense of security even if the work is soul-sucking. I listened to colleagues share my resolve to leave only to find us face-to-face at the same event five years later. Meanwhile, many of my female coworkers breathed a sigh of relief at an impending baby, knowing they’d likely never return. For women, this is one of the few acceptable ways to opt out of the company life.
No baby in sight, in the spring of 2007, after countless hours spent mulling my resolution, I rolled back my office chair and took stock. Thanks to promotions and experience I was now the middle manager with the corporate cell phone, parking space and (occasional) power trip. I had all the trappings of a “professional” life. But I didn’t have what I most needed – purpose, freedom and passion. Instead I was beginning to resemble a Dilbert cartoon. I don’t know if it was my impending thirtieth birthday, a recent break-up or the spring air signaling a new beginning, but I finally took my own advice and did the scary thing.
I gave into a long simmering desire to go back to school, one which I had pushed aside as impossible for many years. On a business trip to San Diego I studied for the GRE. In between meetings in New Orleans I filled out graduate school applications. And in June, to the surprise of friends and coworkers, I resigned my job and sold my home. It was not always easy. I worried about whether I made the right decision, stressed about finances in the uneasy economy and wondered if I would be eaten alive in the thirty-something dating pool. But at my core I knew this was my last chance – if the economy got worse, if I married and had a family, making this change would become exponentially more difficult. So I did the scary thing. And, amazingly, once I made the decision to do it, it wasn’t that scary anymore.
Shortly after being admitted to school, I was offered a part-time teaching job that helped pay the bills. Not long after that a freelance job fell into my lap. Not usually one for hokey theories about how the universe rewards those who follow their bliss I was hard pressed to explain why and how everything was coming together. My teaching job was extended and increased, and I blossomed as a student scoring grades I hadn’t seen since high school. The struggle that shaped most of my days in the office was replaced with real joy in my work. I received a teaching assistantship that would pay for my second year of school and, as if a cherry on the top, I fell deeply in love…with someone whose career path was just as improbable as mine.
I no longer have the recognition or security afforded by an office job. I am a hodgepodge, a professor, a student and a writer, a balancing act I would have never dared at college graduation, but which now feels custom-made. I don’t regret my foray into office work; I met wonderful people and learned a great deal, especially about myself. But if there is one thing I wish I knew earlier it is that, in the end, not doing the scary thing is the scariest choice of all.