Yes, I Quit Another Job in the First Two Weeks
Last year, I wrote a story for The Billfold about how, not once but twice, I quit a perfectly good, well-paying job in the first two weeks.
Both times I was embarrassed. I felt foolish for taking a job that was obviously not a good fit for me, I felt reckless for quitting without having better prospects lined up, and I felt guilty for so quickly abandoning a team who believed in me.
But at the same time, I was grateful. It only took me a few weeks to realize that both of those jobs (one at a law firm and the other at an engineering company) weren’t what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I didn’t have to wake up twenty years later and realize that I had compromised on my dreams and spent my life working a job that didn’t make me happy.
Plus, those short-lived jobs helped me figure out what I might be better suited for. They helped me realize what I didn’t like in a job (solitary environments, stiff offices) and made me understand what roles I might be good for (jobs where I worked with people, in creative atmospheres).
Still, after leaving those two companies I told myself I’d never quit a job so suddenly like that again. I decided that the next time I accepted a job offer, it would be because I really, truly wanted to work in the field and knew for certain that I could work at the company for a long time. I promised myself that if I ever had to quit a job in the future, it would be after a good, long career with the company.
And yet, just less than a year later, it happened again. This time, it was so much worse.
Let me back up.
At the end of last year, I was working two jobs I Ioved — jobs I still have. One is a full-time sales job where I get to drive around and meet with store buyers all day (which is ideal because I love talking to people), and the other is a fun side job teaching creative writing to kids.
I loved what I was doing, but I’d also been looking for writing jobs for a while. I was almost done with my MFA in Creative Writing, and I was starting to realize that maybe I should actually pursue the distant dream of one day writing full-time (or at least getting paid for it regularly).
After all, I had managed to get myself in and out of grad school for writing, gotten a job teaching writing, and even had published articles. It seemed like maybe this hobby was on the way to turning into some semblance of a career… or at least a solid side hustle. If I learned anything from those two jobs I jumped ship on, it was that life is short and I have to give myself permission to do what I want. Maybe this whole quitting-a job-before-you-have-a chance-to-decorate-your-cubicle thing was less about finding the right job, and more about daring to follow my dreams.
I just needed to start building a portfolio.
Every night I sat down at my computer and asked the magical Google gods for luck. With one hand on the keyboard and another hand around a cup of tea (sometimes wine), I spent hours searching for a writing job that was regular, paid fairly, and that I could do from home on weekends. It was like looking for a dolphin in Arkansas.
But somehow, one day, I found exactly that. (A job, not a dolphin.)
It was a job working for a publication that was all about travel and vacationing. The website needed a constant flow of articles on what to do in touristy areas. When I saw the job posting, I could almost see the cartoon lightbulb over my head click on, shake back and forth like something was trapped inside, and then begin spewing fireworks. This was it. Having spent my whole life in southern California, a short drive from many theme parks and minutes from the beach, I knew I was qualified for the position. And what’s more — I knew it would be easy to pump out these articles.
To my delight, I got the job and got to work.
Right away, I started writing articles about which tours to go on, what museums to visit, and where to eat. I turned in a few stories within the first week, proud of my hard work and excited to see them published. But they didn’t go up on the site.
I got an email from my editor saying that these stories weren’t quite what she was looking for. I was confused. It couldn’t be that she didn’t like the subject matter, because she had approved the topics when I pitched them. And it wasn’t like the work wasn’t well-researched; I had done a lot to make sure my articles were factual and well-informed, even going to the locations for updated information and to take pictures.
She simply didn’t like the writing.
In her email, she explained that she thought the pieces were too wordy and packed with too much information. She wanted me to stay simple: get in, get out, and fill it with only quick facts.
Okay, I thought, I could do that. Simple and to the point. I worked on new drafts of a few different stories, focusing on the style she described. When I was done, I sent them in and waited. A few days later, she emailed me back, saying these drafts still weren’t what she wanted.
I was confused and frustrated. I had worked hard on these pieces and didn’t understand why the editor didn’t like them. Plus, after reading her new comments and feedback on the pieces, I was even more confused. The notes she was giving me didn’t seem to match what she had asked for before and I wasn’t sure how to move forward.
Was she just a bad editor? Was she the problem and I just the innocent writer? Maybe. I’d had other editors before and they’d all been happy with my work. Once or twice someone would send an article back asking for me to rewrite a paragraph or add some specific details, but nothing like this.
But then again, maybe those other editors were more willing to let things slide. Maybe this new editor was next-level professional and expected a higher standard of work… one she wasn’t getting from me.
The more I thought about it, the more upset I became. Of course, this wasn’t the first time I’d had a rough time at work. I’d felt frustrated with my tasks at other jobs (like the law firm and the engineering company) but I chalked my inadequacy up to being another explanation for why the job wasn’t right for me. Maybe reading affidavits or understanding blueprints simply didn’t play to my natural strengths, but that was all the more reason to move on.
But writing, this was what I was supposed to be good at. I’d gone to grad school for it; I had dreams of one day writing books and fancy columns in the Washington Post. The fact that I was doing so poorly (even failing) at this job was hard to face. If I couldn’t write these simple articles about a subject matter I was so comfortable with, what did this mean about my writing career? What did this mean about my future?
Feeling anxious and desperate to prove myself, I rewrote the articles again, and again. I needed to make them perfect. I hung on every email I got from my editor and scrutinized each word she sent me. Despite my efforts, and my unhealthy and desperate need to please, she seemed to be more and more disappointed with each draft I sent to her.
Finally she sent me a short email, subject line: “Phone call tomorrow?”
This was weird. In my experience, editors working with freelance writers in different time zones don’t schedule phone calls very often. With all the schedules and time changes it gets to be too difficult. When I got her note saying she wanted to talk, live, on the phone, I knew it had to be something important.
As I read the email over a few times, I decided it could mean one of two things. The first option was that she wanted to, once again, explain to me what she wanted in these articles — which would be great. Maybe on the phone, she would be able to explain what she wanted in some different way. Maybe I would finally understand what she wanted and be able to fix the articles.
Or, more than likely, she wanted to fire me. She would explain that I wasn’t the right choice for the role and say, very politely, that my work just wasn’t good enough. That I wasn’t a good writer. That I needed to give up and find a new dream because this one wasn’t going to work out.
I felt like I was reaching a huge career crossroads. I was discouraged and felt like after everything I’d done and learned career-wise, I’d have to start all over. But before I looked at my options or even started feeling too bad for myself, I had to make a decision.
I could schedule the call with my editor for the next day and wait to be fired, or I could quit right then, save myself the embarrassment, and get it over with.
I responded to her email with a polite resignation. I explained that I didn’t want her to do any extra work reading and re-reading my drafts, and clearly I wasn’t a good fit for the style of the publication. Her response came back within a matter of minutes, with an email explaining that she was sorry to see me go but knew it was for the best. I could almost hear her sigh of relief.
For the third time, I had quit a job just a couple weeks in, but this time it felt different. The first two times I’d felt embarrassed and sad, but mostly relieved and hopeful for my next job. This time I felt hopeless. I felt lost and unsure, clueless about what to do next.
When it came to the other jobs, I was the one who rejected them. I quit because the job wasn’t right for me. This time I was the one being rejected and it felt like crap.
I wondered if I should take this as a hint and quit writing. After all, I’d ditched the idea of being a lawyer and an engineer when a single job didn’t work out. Maybe I should see this as a learning experience and explore other paths. This should have been an easy writing job. If I couldn’t do this I certainly couldn’t do serious writing, like novels or fancy columns. I’d be the unpublished black sheep of every writing convention. Editors at serious publications like The New Yorker and Esquire would laugh in my face.
I told myself to focus on the work I already had (I still had my sales job and teaching gig) and try to figure it out later. But I couldn’t stop thinking about it.
I was still discouraged and frustrated, but after mulling over it for a few days, I decided that I didn’t want to go down a different path. I didn’t want to give up. This job was different from the other two I quit because, even when it was at its worst, I still liked it. Even when writing meant re-writing an article on the best coffee places in Hollywood five, or six, or a thousand times while feeling super-frustrated about the whole thing, I still really liked it.
I told myself that other jobs, better jobs, were out there. As I got back on my computer, tea in hand (okay, okay, it was wine) to look for other writing jobs, I willed myself to believe that other publications would want my writing.
And eventually, I found them. I had to put in hours of research, suffer failed pitches, and brush off unreturned emails. But every so often, one of my stories or pitches would get accepted. Every so often I’d see something I’d written online or in print, and it would all be worth it.
Now, only a few months later, I know that I made the right decision quitting all three of those jobs. Each of them were hard to leave for different reasons, but each time I learned something important about myself. I learned what I like and don’t like in a job, I learned to take risks and to dare to follow my dreams. I learned, in a weird, way, that quitting could help me to not give up.
Maybe my career path isn’t perfect. I’m still just trying to climb the ladder. I’m still trying to improve myself and my skills. But there’s something undeniably, completely comforting in knowing I’m at least on the right path.
Jilly Pretzel is a fiction and nonfiction writer from Southern California. She earned her MFA in Creative Writing from Chapman University and now teaches writing at California School of the Arts in San Gabriel Valley. She has recently written for The Penny Hoarder, Love TV, and Orange Coast Magazine.
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