Why I Left My Day Job With One Unsold Manuscript Under My Belt
It sounds crazy, right? Like something you’d read on one of those self-help blogs about the twenty-something who ditches his life and takes his laptop to some paradise island to be its social media manager. Except I was a forty-something with a teenager, a mortgage, and a well-paying federal contracting job.
- I developed a terrible allergy to business attire. Anything with a crease gave me hives. Sensible blouses doubled the hives. It got so bad some bees tried to set up a colony on me. And I’m allergic to bees. Talk about adding insult to injury! Yoga pants and shirts with pithy sayings cured my hives. No lotion or creams worked but T-shirts with unicorns on them and sharks, anything fun, and I was on the road to recovery. I rarely wear shoes. I save a ton of money on dry cleaning, too—one of those hidden costs of gainful employment.
- All my travel coffee mugs were broken, and buying more meant contributing to landfills later on. I single-handedly saved the entire planet from global warming by quitting my job. Okay, maybe not single-handedly. And it was such a pain trying to find new mugs. I’m clumsy so I drop things a lot and I’m picky, too. I want hot coffee or tea but I don’t want it all over me, and most of those no-leak lids mean it won’t leak until you try to drink it and then it’ll dribble all over you. See above re: dry cleaning. Now I drink my coffee at my leisure, on my couch, or on nice mornings, on the deck. It’s not just a means of getting caffeine into my system so I can do the work of seven people.
- I was sick of working 60-hour weeks and getting paid for 40-hour weeks. Now I work 100-hour weeks and get paid nothing. Okay, a little more than nothing. Where do those hundred hours go? Surely, I can’t be sitting at my desk typing for 100 hours, you say. You’ve done the math; you know there are only 168 hours in a week. I should be spending 56 hours sleeping, right? Then there’s eating and spending time with my family. There’s no way I could spend 100 hours working. Except … being a writer means you’re never off duty. In that respect, it’s not that different from my day job. I was always on because the company I worked for, despite having profits in the billions, kept expecting the little people to do more with less every year. Now I’m my own boss and instead of thinking about stuff other people want (“metrics” and “key results areas”), I get to think about what kind of mischief I can get fictional people into. Plus, all the horrible people I had to deal with over the years get written into stories and then guess who gets to be the bad guy?
- I’d done the math. We had a house that we’d bought before house prices started to resemble the GDP of medium-sized African nations. We’d prepaid my daughter’s college education. We had healthy 401Ks. We could afford to live on one salary. The math worked. I was…I am…extremely fortunate that I didn’t have to wait for the math to work. I could have gone part-time but that would have meant working 40 hours a week and getting paid for 20 hours a week. The math is even easier to do now. Except come tax time. You know, if someone had warned me how complicated it can be for even an entry-level writer like me who hasn’t even gotten a royalty payment, I might have stayed in that business attire.
- But I really quit my day job because most of my adult life I’ve been a looker but never a leaper. I would weigh everything a dozen, two dozen times. The older I got, the more cautious I became. I’d been an adventurous kid. My emergency room file was 5 inches thick by the time I was ten years old. In my life my tally runs to: 400 stitches, multiple broken bones, bitten by a venomous snake, treed by a wild boar, scars aplenty, hospital stays, operations, and broken hearts galore; but as time passed, I got scared. I got old and scared. I let my world shrink. I had a kid. I let my world shrink further. By the time I quit my day job in June of 2015, I was terrified of everything. I wasn’t sleeping anymore, I daydreamed obsessively about retiring to some quiet wooded area with no people around, and I had so much leave accumulated that the 20 percent payout was almost as much as my final paycheck. I was being a bad role model to my daughter. I was telling her to find her passion, and I had mine shoved into a few hours a week. I’d wanted to be a writer since I was old enough to understand that books were things that actual people created, and it had taken me decades to get the courage up to write the first book. If I didn’t do it when my world was as safe as I’d made it, would I ever do it?
“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” Nelson Mandela
I’m not absent of fear and I don’t think I’ve conquered it but I looked (and did the math) and then I actually leapt. I sleep better now, my hives are gone, my coffee is sweeter, my new boss is amazing (it’s me … my new boss is me!), and my kid sees me being the person I always hoped I’d be.
I do miss the shoes, though. Fuzzy slippers just don’t command the same authority.