I did it, folks. I quit my job. That sounds mighty dramatic and might give the impression that I burned a bridge or two in the process. But instead, it was actually quite peaceful and the higher ups were surprisingly supportive.
As you may know, this hasn’t been the smoothest year at work for me. There have been disagreements, frustrations, and various levels of disrespect going on. And more recently, the challenge has been the number of people leaving the organization. Since the beginning of summer, it seems like every couple of weeks someone has announced their departure and/or departed. It’s been blow after blow, on my team and others, leaving us feeling understaffed and overworked.
All the while I’ve been wondering how my departure would sit in this mix. I’ve been tempted to negotiate with people – “look, I know you want to leave in a few weeks. But I’ve been planning to leave for over a year now. So even though I’ll be here for another 3 months or so, can you hold off on telling people until after I do? Even if it means telling them after you’re gone?” It only seems fair. With all of these people quitting before me, it looks like I’m jumping on their ship, abandoning the sinking one we’re already on. But if they let me quit first, we’ll be going in order of decision making, rather than departure date. And in this case, I think the date of the decision to leave should matter more.
I never had the nerve to ask anyone to change their timing because I’m pretty sure not many people share my skills in reasoning. So I decided to put all of the woes of the organization out of my mind and tell them the truth, choosing to give them at least three months notice. I know you might be thinking three months is way too excessive. But considering one of the higher ups has been consistently joking in a serious way that I need to give her six months to a year to give her time to prepare, I was compromising. Yes, she was mostly joking. But her anxiety was the reason I was forced to come out with it when I did.
Last week this same higher up learned of another departure that will dramatically affect things in early 2011. And perhaps in an effort to deal with her nausea and fainting spells all at once, she actually came to my office and asked me outright: “be honest with me. Are you planning to leave at any point this (program) year?” She was referring to any time before the end of June 2011. And of course the answer is yes. So I told her the truth. “Yes. I was planning to tell you next week (which was true). But I’m moving to Amsterdam in January.” She was upset, in the eyes tearing up kind of way – not the angry kind of way. But in spite of that, we briefly chatted about my plans, as she asked a number of questions that seemed like she needed me to prove the legitimacy of it all before she would accept it. But she did, finally saying, “I understand you have to do what’s best for you.” It happened quickly. And I had basically given notice. But there was still more to the process.
I had another meeting at the beginning of this week with the first higher up, who I consider an ally, to discuss a game plan for announcing my upcoming resignation. There are two more higher ups who needed to hear it from me right away, particularly in light of some crazy crapsters she has planned and will soon announce in the next month or so. She needed people to know about me as soon as possible, mainly my direct boss and the first higher up’s boss, the CEO (who incidentally was my boss back in the day). She asked that I tell them within the next 48 hours.
My first step was to make an appointment for a 30 minute meeting with the CEO. I haven’t been in his office more than three times in 2010. So I’m sure he expected something when he saw me coming. We chit chatted for about 45 seconds before it was time to explain why I was there. I paused. Uncomfortable smile. “This is tough. And I know the timing of it couldn’t be worse. But I have an exciting opportunity to move to Amsterdam and go back to school. So this means I’ll be leaving New York and the organization before January.”
Silence and stunned face. So I continued, “it’s important that you know how thankful I am for all of the opportunities I’ve had here. And this wasn’t an easy decision for me (okay, that was a lie).” As I was coming up with various words that would hopefully ease the blow, his face moved to a calmer state. He appeared to be absorbing what I said earlier.
To be honest, I don’t remember exactly what he said in response, which is why I could never write the dialogue of my autobiography. But I know he asked me to clarify my expected date of departure (end of December). And he remarked on how tough the year will continue to be in light of my and the many other departures, pointing to a white board where 23 (now 24) positions to be filled are listed (granted, many of them are brand new positions). But then the conversation turned to my plans. He asked a number of questions, which led to me telling him about my program, its overlap with my genealogy interests, and even the prospect of starting my own organization – about which he seemed really interested and excited. He even said, “I’m kind of jealous.” He asked a few more questions about my thoughts on the future of the organization and whether or not I thought we could reach our goals. I was a bit more optimistic than I usually am, saying I think success will be possible as long as two or three things happen in the meantime. The conversation was so calm, it didn’t make sense for me to raise my gripes at that point. So it ended with, “thanks so much for all that you’ve done for the organization.” To which I replied, “no, thank you.” Ridiculous and cheesy, I know. But it was sincere.
Then it was time to tell my direct boss. At the end of the day, when she was no longer in meetings, I asked if she had a few minutes. From the way I seemed to build it up, she probably guessed I was either quitting or joining forces with the rest of the black people to take down all the timid white women. Obviously it was the former. She maybe made a face or something. But she didn’t seem horrified or infuriated. She took it in stride, asking a few logistical questions, which were followed by, “so, Amsterdam!”
I’m relieved. The truth is finally out. And they took it well. Perhaps it was easier for them to take because it’s so extreme. Not like, “you suck…and I want to see if there’s another similar organization that would hire me and suck a little less.” More like, “you might suck…but nothing except leaving the country and starting my life over will satisfy me now.” I’m taking a major step that they mostly don’t understand. Celebrating just makes more sense than questioning or fighting.