Life and Death and Quitting My Job

Quitting my job felt like cracking an egg: a satisfying split.

That’s how this piece began. It’s a good line, I like it. I also had a few tidy paragraphs about self-respect, following dreams and a relevant “30 Rock” quote. But the stories we tell ourselves shift and change, and mine got messy.

A few hours after putting in my two weeks’ notice, I received a deluge of phone calls and texts telling me a friend had died. “So I guess you’ve heard…” followed by a hollow pause. My elation at leaving my job swiftly blended with grief and anger. And then this story wasn’t just about quitting a job. Now this story is about time.

The overarching reason I quit my unfulfilling office job was time. I hated the way time passed under the buzzing fluorescent lights. Every day I egged on time, pleading for the hours to pass me by. I actively wasted nine hours a day. These minutes did not slip through my fingers like the proverbial grains of sand; I threw them away. And after spending a year loathing time, I felt in my heart and my gut and every other vital organ that I didn’t want a life I wasn’t present for.

My friend who died never gave away her hours like I had, instead fiercely clinging to every minute she owned. She moved away from home and earned a college degree, became an accomplished artist, and acted in major commercials. Even if every cell ached, she went to her acting classes because those hours were precious to her. She did all of this, and she had cancer four times. The cost was several bones, her breasts, and her long black hair. Offering a piece of herself each time in exchange for a few more years.

I spent several of my idle work hours talking with her on Facebook while she was waiting at auditions. We exchanged recipes, ranted about the lack of diversity in films, and laughed about her plans to build a café serving tea where the only seating option would be those swinging nest chairs. She had a punny name for it. I wish I could remember.

When someone I love dies, there’s a moment where something snaps. Death gives permission. Reminded of my own inevitable end, I’ll feel fearless and wildly pursue living my best life. I’ll feel this way for a few weeks. But living like you are dying is hard to do outside of country songs. I don’t have doctor’s appointments several times a week to remind me, “you might not make it this time.” I have the luxury of worrying about gas prices and whether I need to update my software, and soon that becomes my life. I can extend my timeline for achieving my dreams indefinitely, pushing them farther and farther away, because life still stretches out before me.

As I think about her, I feel a growing shame for shoving away so many hundreds of my own hours, willing them to pass me by so I could get to five o’clock. I wish I had quit sooner, pursued my dreams more fiercely. She would have done much better things with the hours I had been given. That’s the crisis all of us fortunate enough to live with choices have to confront. How are we using our hours? As I begin to navigate my wildly uncertain future, she inspires me to go in a direction that will give me hours I want to savor.

I must note here that she would sigh with good humor (and a touch of exasperation) over yet again being portrayed as a damn inspiration. She would have rather watched “Teen Wolf” and made dinner with her mom than become an “inspirational story.” But my life’s short on genuine inspirations, so I think she’ll allow me this parting grace.

One of her commercials for a major health insurance company still airs. I saw it a few days ago, and a shock jolted through me when I recognized her beaming eyes. This is my last glimpse of her. For 31 seconds, she is the embodiment of glowing health. I see her running a race, giggling, eating birthday cake in flickering perpetuity. A young woman living her fullest life, frozen onscreen.

Rachel Ahrnsen lives in the unexpected paradise of Birmingham, Alabama. She writes half as much as she reads.

Support The Billfold

The Billfold continues to exist thanks to support from our readers. Help us continue to do our work by making a monthly pledge on Patreon or a one-time-only contribution through PayPal.