Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Wait! I Quit My Job?!

Good thing I finished the 365 Days of Reading blog project yesterday.  Yes, in the same way I started my blog--accidentally--I quit my job. 

Now I knew something was building to a head because I found myself requesting a conversation at work, as I felt we needed to clear the air about a few things.  

During the conversation, a few things did become excruciatingly clear.

In short, that I was disposable and easily replaceable.

So I left.

No job is perfect.  I can put up with a lot—the chaos of the back room, shoveling myself out of the back lot, you know, the annoying crap we often find ourselves stumbling around in, sometimes literally, if the cat box gets too full, low pay, etc.—but I’ve never been able to stay in a situation where I’m just plain not valued.

And it always takes me just a little too long to realize that.

Call me human.  Call me equally human.

I loved my job.  Goodbye, charmed life with books.  Goodbye, random shop talk.  Goodbye, hourly wage.

And I felt icky leaving.  But, as often happens, reading came to my rescue.  Not only that, but Marilynne Robinson, one of my favorites. She’s the author of Housekeeping, Gilead, Home (three novels) and The Death of Adam, a book of essays so intense it took me about a year to read. (Plus, Mother Country, which I yearn for.) So I was reading another of her intense, dense essays, the one that saved me, before a junior high volleyball game (at Epiphany!!!!), and I had to read the same three paragraphs three times over during the loud warm-up music to actually retain the words and their meaning. 

OK, and I also might have been a bit preoccupied by accidentally quitting my job.

I might have been replaying in my head a moment late in the day, one I can already laugh at for its perfection, but which was pretty icky at the time. 

It needs a little set up. 

Trying to explain to my boss about ways he might value his employees intangibly, as that can go a long way toward employee satisfaction, I’d told him that I wished he wouldn’t keep saying, when people came in looking for work, “All my current employees are tenaciously holding onto their jobs.”  I knew he meant it as humorous, but it was getting tedious to hear.

“It’s not funny anymore,” I said, “and it makes it sound like if I’d just get out of the way you could hire that person.  But we do need more staff.  And you’re not hiring for other reasons.”

This open and honest communication, something I was asking for more of in the workplace, did not go over well. 

So, having mulled it over in a somewhat fragile state for a few hours, alone in the store, tending to a string of customers and people bringing in books, and handling a series of phone calls, while also trying to attend to my real job, of data entry….as I said, later, when the boss returned, now almost unable to look me in the eye, but I have a gentle manner, so, eventually, he did, I said to the boss, referring to how he’d spoken to me earlier, “I don’t ever want to feel like that in my workplace again,” and offered him this option: “Should I just leave now, or should I give two weeks notice, so you have time to look for sometime else.”

“I’m not firing you,” he said.  Yes, now he was looking me in the eyes.

And then, as in a movie, a tall, skinny college kid walked in and said, not knowing which one of us to address, “Are you hiring?

“Yes, as a matter of fact we are,” said my boss.

There was a flurry of small cruelty, on his part, and math challenge, on mine, as I totaled the hours on my last pay card, and off I headed to the volleyball game.  Easy come, easy go.

What I read three times over during the volleyball warm-ups was this, a summary of the contemporary myth, in America, that has replaced other origin myths: 

A central myth of ours, if it were rendered as narrative, would sound like this: One is born and in passage through childhood suffers some grave harm.  Subsequent good fortune is meaningless because of this injury, while subsequent misfortune is highly significant as the consequence of this injury.  The work of one’s life is to discover and name the harm one has suffered.

This is not a myth I live by, but I realized yesterday, at Epiphany school, it is a myth lived by many people whose lives I have passed through.

And, believe me, I respect myths.  In fact, Myths to Live By, by Joseph Campbell, is on my bookshelf, held together by a rubber band.  So, yes, I confess that the myths I live by are probably all ancient.  And that I recognize them as myths.  Stories that tell deep, abiding truths.

But Marilynne Robinson has a bit of a problem with the current abiding myth: “It is a myth that allows us to keep ourselves [my italics] before our eyes as the first claimant, in extreme cases the only claimant, upon our pity and indulgence.”

Ourselves the only claimant.  Doesn’t sit right with me.

Marilynne Robinson continues, “This entails indifference to certain values celebrated in older myth, for example, dignity, self-possession, magnanimity, loyalty, humor, courage, selflessness, reverence expressed as gratitude for one’s experience of the goodness of life, reverence expressed as awe in face of the pain and mystery of life.”

I cannot tell you how awed and glad I am that the last words I said to my boss were, “Thank you, Brian. I’ve loved it here.”


Collagemama said...

Oh, Kathleen, I am sorry to hear this. Your enjoyment of much of your job came through in your posts. I would be replaying this final scene in my mind, as I have a few similar events in my life, and I hope you can go easy on yourself in your reviews.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott said...

Wow! What a story. I can't believe your boss would treat you like that! I hope something more fabulous comes along to reward you.

Ashley Amigoni said...

Wow, I'm very shocked that you had that experience. I feel sad, but I think that if any situation is causing negativity in our life, be it small or large, we should always do our best to find peace somehow. I'm hoping now you have more peace, not less. I'm very proud you stood up for yourself.

I do enjoy those quotes from Marilynne and will most definitely be checking out her books now. I enjoy a good intelligent and insightful read.

SarahJane said...

Ach, that's too bad. It is too bad to love your job but dislike the treatment attached to it. Mostly one wants to know that one is valued for doing a good job.
Chin up.

Maureen said...

I deplore cruelty and mean-spiritedness in any form from anyone.

I think you made the best decision, Kathleen. Life is too short to spend working for someone who doesn't value you.

JulieK said...

So sorry, Kathleen. You did the right thing. But you know that. You know I understand completely and sympathize, as well. This is not a new problem, and it's not going to be the last time it happens. Changes need to be made. And they're not going to.

Your blog is still wonderful, though. And I'll still tell you what I'm reading!

Marcoantonio Arellano (Nene) said...

Collagemama's comment ' easy on yourself in your reviews' is most appropriate. affirmation and confirmation of your value from someone like myself who at times submits a flurry of 'wordy' insights to your daily conversations. Many of which you have probably cringed at my inappropriate pretension in the usage of some of my words let alone statements. This along with the questionable syntax in my sentences and juxtaposed multi-concept attempted assertions within one thought in the structur of one paragraph.
Phew!!! (LOL) just testing your editing skills and unappreciated value at a keen level for your next 'job'.
All of us that read you in your blogs probably also under appreciate you but we, me, value you highly as a mentor and amiga. Love the spirit within and your 'words' manifested.

Take a litlle time now for yourself and your husband and children.

Buena suerte, tu amigo!

Sandy Longhorn said...

Thinking about you, Kathleen. My mom keeps telling me that when the door shuts a window opens, and you know what? Each time she had to tell me that, a window did open.

Here's to a beautiful view from the new window!

Risa Denenberg said...

This is not meant as a platitude--I know job loss is a primal struggle--but hold in mind that you are better able to find what you need, when you let go of things you can't abide. Your blog is wise and self-affirming.

Sherry O'Keefe said...

standing up when you need to be counted is vital-- even if after standing up, you realize you are the only one counting you as valuable. brava, kathleen. it's scary shakey business but it sets you on a path that's been waiting for you.

in other news: you are the second person to talk about robinson "to me". i'll write more on that later, but for now i wanted to thank you. the way you share your journey makes a difference in mine.

Anonymous said...

I so appreciated hearing every last detail of your experience and am awed by the perfection of the universe! It's not without pain. It's not without cruelty. It's not without indecision and doubt. It's not without regret and sadness. But your capacity to capture the fullness of life's mystery and beauty as you describe with such razor sharp awareness, such gentle sensitivity and such humor what would for most of us be a day that would overwhelm our capacity to do any of those things, is what makes you such a gift to us. Whether it's a blog, or a poem or a moment just sitting and chatting, I so value your existence on this planet! Thanks for sharing your courage and your fragility. It is noticed and appreciated. I still don't know how to post a comment as myself, because I have blueberries for brains. (This is your sister, as if that weren't clear by now!)

seana graham said...

Wow! Way to start the new blogging year with a bang! You rock!

I think, apart from the deeper myths involved, that the current attitude of 'you should feel lucky to have a job' is very up in employer's minds right now, and that it's very hard for them to feel that they are also beholden because they're providing work. Unit for unit, we are replacable, but spirit by spirit we are unique, and that requires a different form of economy.

Treat yourself well today. You deserve it.

DJ Vorreyer said...

You are valued by so many people - it's a shame that you had to go through this. Close a door - open a window. You will find your way.

Sheila A said...

Kathleen, you are valuable and who knows what the future holds? Sometimes losing/quitting a job is the best thing that can happen to you. I had a job for 13 years where I loved the work, but hated the demeaning atmosphere. They dumped 55 of the 65 employees (most who were there way longer than me) leaving only 10 original employees.They hired young people. We had to sign that we wouldn't sue for ageism. Our reward was 6 mos severance pay. I was enraged, terrified and RELIEVED. I used to pray that I wouldn't die sitting at my desk, that's how stressful it was. I'm now living on Soc Security and a small pension, on half of what I had previously. I LOVE IT! I feel human again. I've lost my fear of having a heart attack from the stress. I'm free!!

Hannah Stephenson said...

You know what, Kathleen--I think you probably feel comfortable in your decision now (or will very soon). Sometimes the universe tells you--"Stop doing this now, ok?"

Go you for listening. Something new and good will fill the space.

Kathleen said...

Thank you all for this outpouring of love and support. It helps so much! As does cuddling naked with my husband. As he said this morning, "Unemployment does have its benefits."

Connie Lou said...

I can tell you first hand unemployment has its benefits! :D Jim and I were both unemployed for a couple of months 2 years ago and while it was worrisome, it was really nice to extend an already-planned vacation and contemplate what we wanted to do with our careers and life together. I now work full time and he stays at home and takes care of EVERYTHING else. And we LOVE having more time together.
If we treat these types of situations as positive opportunities, they will end up that way. Good luck with this new chapter in your book of life! Enjoy the challenges and opportunities headed your way!

Marcoantonio Arellano (Nene) said...

LOL, LOL, LOL!!!!! Wonderful bit of bedtime catharsis.

Lorel Janiszewski said...

Kathyleen - what a shock. And how deserving you are of the outpouring of love you've received. I particularly agree with what your sister said about what a value you are to your friends and readers.

Here's a thought: I'm going to be spending a few weeks in Amherst this summer and yesterday I was just thinking how great it would be if you could join me for a while there. Then I thought, "Oh, but she has that damned job!" Let's discuss... (I have some frequent flyer miles saved up...)

Susan said...

Oh, Kathleen! So sorry to hear that anyone could fail to value you...I think you are an irreplaceable human being :)

I too, am idealistic. Sometimes this forces us to leave a situation on principle.

The world needs more people who believe in good manners, courtesy, & respect.

I hope today is a better day, filled with books & love & possibly cake.

Mark Kerstetter said...

Robinson's words are wise, and it sounds like you handled yourself well. When I complain about my job my wife always tells me, "Always come out a winner", meaning, always do what's right for your own state of health.

Unfortunately I think when more people are in the market for jobs you see more behavior like this from employers.

Anonymous said...

Ouch. With that out of the way, what else could you have said? Yes, it's lovely to work with books, and talk with people who are interested in books (as consumers and vendors and writers), but you're entitled to respect. That should be understood as the bottom line in relationships - personal and professional. Unfortunately, not everybody gets that.

I think everybody has had the experience of being undervalued (or at least frustrated as all get-out). I know it had to have been difficult for you for it to come to that point. But, when it really is at that point, what else can you do?

It is an icky feeling, but I'm sure you'll both turn it to to good use and surmount it. And, you won't have it hanging over you.

(Once upon a time, during a completely frustrating meeting I found that I had been unconsciously writing over and over again on the cover of a report I was editing the phrase: "I quit." The other folks in the room - including my boss - saw it before I noticed it. It cleared the air wonderfully - as well as shortened the conversation dramatically.)

Of course, the whole experience must have left you shaken, but your exit line was graceful.

Now you can begin again - just keep in mind: you are valued, and invaluable. (As everyone who reads this, whether or not they comment, must agree.)


Anonymous said...

Such well-chosen parting words. Here's to new beginnings!

Anonymous said...

I understand. Everything. You're an amazing person and great things will come to you.

Ellen said...


Well, you know what? He's the looser. An owner of a bookstore that let YOU leave? He's got a lot to learn in my book.

AND...something better will come to you. Mark my word.

ted tingley said...

Kathleen. See my blog of 2/10/11 for my comment.

Karen J. Weyant said...

I'm just now catching up with the news! I'm so sorry to hear about all of this -- and yes, believe me, I know that a steady paycheck is important, but (and this is going to sound melodramatic) so is a bit of happiness.

Good luck with the job hunt!

Karen said...

Unemployment does indeed, have it's benefits. ;)
(and hey, look! I can comment again!)

Shannon said...

Okay, that's it. I will never ever ever again go a week without reading your blog. Here's a toast to new things, fun things, rediscovered things.

Kathleen said...

Thanks, Shannon!

Anonymous said...

Just catching up with your job situation.

I'm (belatedly) so very sorry you had to go through this! You were so obviously perfect for any job with books that he shouldn't have even said those things in jest, let alone with any kind of seriousness!

Erggh, that's about all I can say that won't be full of foul language, so I'll just stop here. Except to say I'm glad you've found something else so swiftly. Now I will poke through your other back entries and see if I can figure out what it is, before my 9:00 appointment with my poem draft.

Kathleen said...

Thanks, Cathy. And, just to be clear, I did not quit my job because of a tired joke! (I'd been putting up with the joke for some time.) But small things build up until the evidence that you don't matter is undeniable! I think this must have been the day when I hoped to try one last time to make something clear and to clear some things so we could have a lovely side-by-side working situation, and, instead, I saw the reality before me and it was unbearable. I did not even attempt to recreate that part of the conversation!

My other job is perfect, but I won't be discussing it.