“I left a good job in the city, workin’ for the Man every night and day.
And I never lost one minute of sleep a-worryin’ ‘bout the way that things might have been.”
Last month, I quit a perfectly good job, without having a new one. I have never done this before, and I don’t think anyone in my family has done this before. In my family, you don’t quit a job, especially a good one. You stay in your good job and then one day you retire. I have had one kind of job or another for nearly 30 years.
But there I was, severing my eight-year relationship with this job, and lifeline to money and security. I work (worked!) at the World Bank, which is an enormous bureaucracy, so it took me over a month to actually extricate myself from the “system.” It’s like bleepin’ Hotel California, I swear. I handed in my phone, my diplomatic passport (truth be told, I will miss that), and I walked out of the building, knowing that I can never just walk right back in because I gave up my security pass.
On my first day of unemployment (No – liberation!), I woke up early, before the kids or Danny were awake. I lay there in the dark, and my mind revved up, trying to figure out what to think about. For years, my first thoughts in the morning have been about work – deadlines, emails, meetings, trips. That morning my brain was like, “Wait, whaaaat? What are we going to do today? What will we worry about?”
After I got up, went to the gym, and got the kids to school, I sat down at the kitchen table with my coffee. I bet I sat there for an hour. I do not remember the last time I sat for an hour at our kitchen table. Maybe never. I looked at my email, and there was nothing there. Nobody called me. It occurred to me that no one was going to call me, and there was a moment of sweet release in that realization. Today, nobody was expecting anything from me until 3pm when Oscar got out of school. Oh, glorious day!
So what did I do with this newfound freedom? Well, I wandered around the house for a while, loving the silence. And what happened next felt strange. I did the things that I used to have to cram in around my workday, but I did them leisurely. I went to the grocery store, but I took my time. I had a full conversation with the cashier about how cool the weather had been so far, and when the heat of summer would finally hit. I walked home, and noticed how loud the birds were in the trees that line our street. I put in a load of laundry, and read some interesting websites while I waited for the clothes to wash. I called a friend I hadn’t connected with in a long time, and talked to her while she rushed through Costco and drove to pick up her son from school.
Danny and I had always planned that I would quit my job before he quit his. We figured there would be a lot to do, getting ready to transition from the Washington, DC, rat race to life in a van. Sure, there were plenty of details to take care of, and those unfolded pretty much as I had expected. I got the electricity and water shut off, figured out how to pack up all our stuff, sold the rest of it on Craigs List, etc.
What I hadn’t expected, and what presented the greatest gift to me, was the way that freeing up space in my daily life would allow me to be present to my community in a way that I never had been able to when I was holding down a full-time job. Every day, a new opportunity would appear, and I was free to accept. The first week after I quit, my friend Mary called to ask if I could help her move from Georgetown to a downtown apartment, so I did. Two days later, Rachel was stuck in the middle of her dissertation, so we spent a day talking out her ideas and mapping out an outline. And another day, Jenn and I spontaneously took off on our bikes to explore the Frederick Douglass House and Anacostia, a part of the city I had never visited in my eight years in the District.
Spending my last days in DC this way was a lovely way to say goodbye to our community. Now that we will be separating from this community, I will carry those memories on the road with us. It also helped me start a new practice during my morning prayer of asking for help to be present to whatever opportunities appear for me to be useful to others. I hope I will always continue that practice.
It’s possible I would have eventually learned this important lesson sitting at my office cubicle every day until the World Bank made me retire, but making this decision has made me so much more open to many more possibilities. We are now able to stop at whatever place at whatever time to do whatever good we are called to do.
Now that’s a great new way to live.