Walking away from a bad fit is not failing.
The short version is: I just quit two jobs in three months. The longer version is more educational.
In early March, I quit my job. I wasn’t happy, I wasn’t growing, and I didn’t see a huge need for my role there anymore. It was time. I left once I’d secured a new role at a pre-launch startup, which I won’t give any details on because it’s pre-launch and because I can’t. I will say that the opportunity really excited me and gave me a sense of optimism about the future. All signs pointed to a good decision. I am very committed to good decisions.
Once installed in my new role, it became (very rapidly) clear that I was simply not a good fit. The work I was creating wasn’t work my employer liked, and a the job centered around her approval. I wasn’t filling the needs of the company. But after some time, I realized I didn’t like the kind of environment where no matter how hard I tried, I wasn’t right. The company wasn’t meeting my needs, either. And that was a far scarier thought.
I get shit done. I am a writer and a content strategist, and I deliver on my talent and experience in these areas. I am good at what I do. I have an internal need to be an asset, a highly relied upon asset, wherever I work. And I typically have been exactly that. My style and my work have always been what my employer needed. So not only was I not only was I unable to “get it right” when it came to my work in this new role, I was also unable to see a future where I could. I was terrified.
There was no way to predict it. I couldn’t have known this before actually getting in there and doing the work. My boss couldn’t have known this before hiring me. I was having an impossible time re-creating the success of my edit test for the role once I actually secured it. I’ve heard arguments made for trial periods and contract roles pre-hire, and those never made sense to me. They do now.
In my career, I’ve never left a job before I had another job. This is gospel according to my mother. I have to have insurance, I have law school debt that I’ll have for life, it was never an option to take any time for myself to stop and think about what I was doing. The train just had to keep steaming forward, no matter the track, and moving my career forward has always been the most important professional focus in my life. This meant I spent years job hunting, interviewing, and edit testing while still working full time. Years.
Combine the terror of being wrong for a new role that wasn’t right for me with the financial rigors of being an independent adult, and after 10 career years of go, go go, I broke. I use the word broke because that’s what it felt like. The iron bars holding up my career, and by association who I am, suddenly crumbled into fine powder. I don’t make bad career decisions, I don’t create bad work in my place of business, and I don’t fail. But suddenly it felt like all three were happening at once.
The decision that followed was one I was never able to make before, because of mental block, and because of money. I never had a financial safety net before. I only have a small one now. But I realized why I saved a safety net in the first place–to help me when I need help. I need help now. I never thought the hardest person to ask for help would be myself, but here we are.
I made the choice to leave my new job after eight weeks of working there. It was the hardest professional decision I’ve ever made in my life. I decided to write freelance in both copy and editorial while I take some time to really consider what I want next, and then find it. I’ve never felt more simultaneously scared, and free.
I don’t know who it was harder to tell, my boss or my mother. I didn’t want to admit failure to either one. I didn’t want to admit that I’d made a bad decision. But I wasn’t telling them I failed, or that I’d gotten it wrong. I was telling them that something I genuinely thought was going to work out just wasn’t doing that, and maybe that’s allowed every now and then. After ten years, seven jobs, and endless searching, I was simply exhausted.
I was telling them, and maybe me, one more thing: I don’t have to be right for every job, and every job is not going to be right for me. I don’t have to force myself to fit. I am not trapped or imprisoned in the wrong situation just because it is a decision I made. I can walk away from what isn’t working. There has never been a more novel idea in my head. I’m still breaking it in.
I want everything to work out. I want everything to be right. I want my work to be exactly what my employer needs. I cannot always have these things, and for the first time in my mind, that doesn’t make me a failure, it makes me brave. I don’t have to be the right person for every job. Trying to be has been extremely difficult, and at times really miserable. Sometimes I decide to take a job that isn’t where I should be. I hate that, but that doesn’t make it any less true.
Quitting a job before you have a new one is a bad decision, but I’m making it anyway, to make room for something good. What’s next isn’t clear to me, for the first time ever. I am not sure what job, what role, even what city comes next. But I do know that right now I’m giving myself a chance to find it, rather than forcing myself to find it. I am allowing myself to breathe, think, and stand a little bit still. It is uncomfortable and exciting at the same time.
I don’t know where I should go next, but I do know where I shouldn’t be now, and that’s the first time a bad decision has been the one that works for me.