I quit my job today. I’d been working there for less than 4 months, and it’s one of (if not the) best normative corporate gigs I’ve ever had. And yet I handed in my 2 weeks’ notice today, without anything “lined up” and no concrete idea about how I’m going to make a living. And in this blog post, I’m going to tell you why I think quitting was the only sensical thing for me to do.
Economy of opportunity
I recall that when I first came to San Francisco and started looking for work, the first interview I had began with a very telling exchange.
“May I ask you a personal question?” the interviewer asked me.
“Of course,” I said, bracing for a question about my sex life, which I’m very open about online, or about my views on education, which are radical if not heretical. My beliefs clash so dramatically with so much of traditional Western society, and yet I’d never been asked a directly personal question at a job interview before. I was almost looking forward to it. But the question I got wasn’t anything I could have expected.
I was asked: “Are you crazy coming to San Francisco without a job in this economy?”
“I’m sorry?” I said, surprised.
“You said you got an apartment before you had a job lined up.”
“Yes, that’s right,” I confirmed.
“That’s very brave,” the interviewer said.
I smiled silently to myself, mentally noting that my interview of this company, the one I conduct simultaneously as any company’s hiring managers were interviewing me, was showing results. I reasoned that I probably wouldn’t want to work there.
“I don’t think of it as being brave,” I said after a moment’s pause. “I choose to believe that, with my skills, I can find a way to do whatever I want. I believe everyone can, if they only believed it, too. So I don’t need to be brave, I just need to be resourceful.”
I didn’t end up in that job but, obviously, I did find a job quickly because otherwise I wouldn’t be quitting that job now. :)
I’ll admit, I’m a bit of a strange breed. A careful look at my résumé will reveal two somewhat odd things. First, that I’ve almost never kept a single “9-5″ (job) for more than a year. Second, the entire education section, often mistakenly believed to be “required” in résumés, is—and always has been—completely missing.
It’s therefore unsurprising that a very common question I get asked during interviews (and parties, and when I’m out at bars, and basically all the time with everyone, always) is, “where did you get your degree?” It’s a funny question because I don’t have a degree. I don’t have a high school diploma. I don’t even have a GED. In fact, I never actually graduated from middle school.
“Why don’t you go to college? You’d love university!” I’m frequently told. Although I love learning, and although I believe that education is one of if not the most important thing in the entirety of human experience, of life, our society, species, and even existence, I vehemently fought to free myself of the poisonous, debilitating reach of schools and institutionalized education way back in 2nd grade.
The fight was painful and unnecessary, damaging me like almost nothing else possibly could. I feel less capable, less skilled, less intelligent, and a less happy person today because of that miserable fight to leave school. However, I believe I would have been even worse off succumbing to the incessant dulling of my creativity had I relented to “the educational system.”
When they learn some of my history, people are often quick to credit my current abilities to this dreadful experience, or else they dismiss my insistence that I deserved better by saying, “No pain, no gain.” But I reject the cruel idea that misery is necessary to build character or strength, as well as the misguided compliment that I am somehow better, stronger, or more abled than “normal” people for having experienced a largely unhappy life. Although I certainly learned a lot during my fight to leave the school system, that was a result of my human nature, not an inherent characteristic of the painful struggle.
My traditional successes, such as having little problem finding well-paying work, for instance, coupled with my lack of formal education makes me exceptional only in the literal sense: I do not meet most people’s expectations in many ways. But my unique experiences also exposed me to a profound truth that many others aren’t as fortunate to be routinely confronted with: we live in an economy of opportunity. We always have, and we always will. As Tim Robbins is fond of saying,
the problem is never resources, it’s resourcefulness.
You might be familiar with Warren Buffet’s well-known advice, “be fearful when others are greedy and greedy when others are fearful.” But the whole of his sentence was,
if [investors] insist on trying to time their participation in equities, they should try to be fearful when others are greedy and greedy when others are fearful. In other words, it is always the right time to do the right thing, regardless of the market’s current circumstance.
The value of appropriate valuation
Conventional wisdom says I shouldn’t quit a good job in a rough time. But it’s a matter of valuing appropriate valuation: even though they provide negligible or no monetary income, I value my “personal” projects, the Kink On Tap sexuality netcast, the free (as in free and as in freedom) KinkForAll unconferences, the “not safe for work” and subversive exploration of sexually submissive masculinity, the various digital outreach and educational efforts for queer people that I help with, and many other projects of mine, far, far higher than the salary I was getting working in my day job. And besides, I have been defying conventional wisdom my whole life.
When I was a pre-teen, I was diagnosed with early-onset bipolar disorder and handed medications. After 6 years being told it was impossible, I had completely stopped taking the pills my doctors were still prescribing. I’ve remained clinically “stable” (doctor-speak for “just fine, thank you very much”) for the 7 years since.
Throughout my school and early teen years, I was told lies about reality by caring but fearful and brainwashed adults. Lies like “you’ll never get a job if you don’t graduate” are, depressingly, still repeated to children today. Of course, a quick look through the histories of some of the most successful and influential people on the planet—people like Albert Einstein, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Rosa Parks, and Mae West—show that this fearmongering is complete rubbish.
Just as I love learning but hated schooling, I love doing good work but hate working at jobs. I’m quitting my day job because I feel similarly about it to the way I felt about school. The idea that people have to sacrifice what they want to do by segregating it into whatever crevices of their lives are left after they forfeit 8 hours a day (and often much more than that) to their job is a reprehensible illusion that the school system conditions many to accept and which corporatism, consumerism, and classism perpetuate every day.
The institutionalized indoctrination laughably dubbed education that’s widely deployed today is a travesty, a prison for the young. Similarly, the rigid, outdated understanding of “having a job,” especially as the only valid form of “contributing to society,” is an economic jail for the working class.
To borrow a phrase from Mark Twain, I have never let my schooling interfere with my education. Now I will also no longer let my job interfere with my work.
Pricelessness and survival
Many of our current societal systems are unsustainable. We all know it. We’ve all felt the effects.
Global financial crisis. Depreciation of college degrees. Ecological disasters. Massive civil unrest resulting in groups of unhappy, violent people (“terrorists”). If we as the human race are going to survive the century, we simply have to change the rules of this game. And that starts with normal people like you and me committing to doing what we want to do, not what we were told we have to do. I wasn’t comfortable playing by the rules of the so-called well-schooled majority, and I’m no longer comfortable playing by the rules of this economy. I now aim to change it.
And I’m not willing to merely survive, because I demand excellence and happiness. I demand it of myself, and so I demand it of you. Watching the clock while thinking about doing other, “non-job” things is not a valuable investment to me.
Unlike school, however, at work I also have a responsibility to others, not just myself. Whereas poor performance at school largely hinders only oneself, poor performance—and, by extension, lack of interest—at work directly impacts co-workers. And y’know what, I have more than enough respect for my co-workers to believe that they should be working with someone who really wants to be there, because that person exists.
I believe that everyone should be thusly respected. Was it a mistake to take this job and quit only 4 months down the line? Maybe. But mistakes we learn from are good things. It is right of me, upon realizing that I no longer want to be where I was, to leave, to change my status-quo. It would be wrong to pull up a facade of either indifference or resignation because neither of those can inspire excellence.
On a personal note, it’s worth saying that I’ve quit jobs before but, this time, I didn’t quit because I no longer like the job. If I were a different person, or the same person 2 years ago, the job I had would’ve been great. This time I quit because I’ve finally gotten to the point where my skills are well-developed enough and my desires well-formed enough that I know enough about what I want to do, and I believe that I can do it.
I believe there is more value in doing, being, and getting what I want than in sacrificing it. I believe that there is more richness in the world than can be measured with all the world’s riches.
Doing good work is priceless not because its execution is necessarily of superb quality, but because its value can only be determined by the people who find it useful to them. But I can’t magically transport us out of the economic jail of living paycheck-to-paycheck that so many of us are in. It’s going to take many intermediate steps to get us from here to a place where the value that people create by doing what they love is also what sustains us.
And I have only the vaguest of idealistic dreams for how I’m going to help get us there. But I do have those dreams, and I can’t ignore them.
They say that when there’s a will, there’s a way. Well, I have more will, more skill, more knowledge, and thus more opportunity today than ever before. Now, imagine what kind of world we would inhabit if you, your friends, and all the people who look up to you understood that their opportunities today, like mine, are greater than they’ve ever been before.
That, dear fellows, is the value of passion. And no matter what your schoolteachers or bosses might tell you about “the way things are,” passion—excellence, not resigned acceptance—is the key to survival.