More Wetsuits, Less Lawsuits

Quitting my job was the best decision I ever made.

You know those people that absolutely love to work? The ones that say they live for their jobs? That has never been me, but I’ve learned to never say never.

Quite often people are surprised to learn that, when I first graduated college back in the early 2000s, I spent several years teaching preschool. Before that, I worked as a special education assistant, working with children who had been diagnosed with autism. When I moved to Vancouver in 2004, I decided that I instead needed to find what I had deemed a “more important job.”

Quitting my job

Photo: Colin Knowles on Flickr

I took a few office administration courses through a to-remain-unnamed community college and quickly found employment in the corporate legal sector. I suddenly had a job in one of downtown Vancouver’s glittering skyscrapers, wore my hair in a tight ponytail, and joined the other women strutting to their respective offices in high heels. “I’m finally doing something important!” I thought to myself.

Little did I know, at the time, how far off the mark I was. I had the status and I dressed the part, but there was no heart in it. In a nutshell, my job required me to care about whether a client lost or made another million dollars while I was tirelessly paying off my student loans each month. The unwavering effort I put forth each and every day didn’t make a dent on any of the things I cared about at the core of who I am. I wasn’t doing anything to improve my community. I wasn’t doing something that I felt improved peoples’ lives in any meaningful way. And once I got real with myself, I didn’t find any “big picture” value in the nature of the work that I was doing.

San Francisco

None of this is to say that I didn’t take pride in the work I did. I developed an incredible skill set that dramatically impacted my writing style and fostered my love of writing. I worked with some really fantastic people. I was given opportunities and experiences that I feel lucky to have been a part of. But all of that was only one slice of the pie, and more often than not I came home at the end of the day wishing I could either cry or annihilate a large glass of wine. That notion is nothing short of toxic and it was draining a piece of me, bit by bit, each day.

When my husband and I got married, we spent our last night on Hawai’i Island with new friends and we were fortunate enough to be included in a locals-only neighbourhood party. We met some amazing people that night, many of whom had overcome adversity, lost jobs, had their homes foreclosed upon, and a handful lived barely above the poverty line. (It’s not all palm trees and Mai Tais in Hawai’i.) Despite the circumstances of many people there that night, one thing they all possessed was absolute JOY! That moment, that night, was a powerful catalyst in my life. I realized that life truly is too short to spend it in misery.

Soon after returning home from Hawaii, I embarked on a covert job search. Before I started, I wrote down a list of my must-haves and posted it beside the computer in our home office:

  • community-focused
  • supportive work environment
  • valued by my supervisors
  • non-toxic workplace
  • room for growth, flexibility, and creativity
  • more vacation time to spend doing the things I love with the people I love
  • benefits and pension

Yup, the list was long and it was a tall order. But you know what? I nailed it! After about four weeks of searching, I took a chance on a new job and I have never looked back since. My new job hit all the must-haves in my list and it has been, in a word, astounding.

Zion National Park

On my first day, I helped my new boss unpack her new office. The very first item she removed from a box and hung up on her bulletin board was a bright pink button that read “RESPECT.” My jaw hit the floor and I thought “she can’t be serious.” But she was and she is. I work with a like-minded cohort whose focus is on educating and empowering youth to achieve their fullest potential. We laugh together, we listen to each other, we work out problems, and value each others’ feelings and opinions.

Though there’s an unwritten list of rules for succeeding on the job, we seem to break most of them. “Stoic” isn’t in my team’s vocabulary. We are deeply affected by our jobs and each other. My commute is now twice as long and my paycheques are a fraction of what they used to be. I couldn’t be happier.

Life is too short.
Find your passion.
Make a list.
Pursue what you want.
Spend your time doing what you feel is important.
Zip up your wetsuit, hang ten, and enjoy the ride.

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4 Comments on “More Wetsuits, Less Lawsuits

  1. In 100% agreement of this. The earliest adult-world advice I remember my mom telling me – and it was around the time when a lot of my friends were already beginning their careers and I was a supervisor at a grocery store, putting myself through school after deciding to go back. I felt embarrassed or behind many of them with my grocery store job despite the fact that I actually enjoyed it. I worked with so many people I grew up around and our little grocery store was local to our community so it had great energy. I was expressing to her that I wish I had a “real job” making “real money,” which probably came after someone I knew came through my cash during their lunch break from their real job (usually when I felt the worst about position), and she responded with, “always do what you love and the money will follow.” It just put my whole situation into perspective – and theirs too. How could I be sure that just because they had a real job that it would automatically make them happy? Maybe they were making a great salary but felt unfulfilled or worked among toxic people and they wished for their last part time job with their friends. I’m happy to say that in every “real job” I’ve had since, if I was miserable, I would respectfully exit. Then, I noticed, that the happier I was in my job, if it filled all the requirements I had – like you listed for yourself – then it really didn’t matter if my pay was less or I struggled more. The struggles in other areas have been well worth it in contrast to the misery I feel when I’m stuck working somewhere that goes against everything I need to be happy. Great little post here, brought up some mems!

  2. It is a nice concept, but I think the reality is for many folks though that there is a cost of living. If one has a spouse or someone to bankroll one’s desire for such a job that is great. But if you were single would you still manage on that fraction of a pay cheque in Vancouver?

    • Hi Jo – To answer your question, “Nope!” But I do admittedly work two part-time jobs (from home) on top of my full-time day job, and I actually don’t mind it at all. Now that I love what I do, working doesn’t feel so much like “work” at all.

  3. Thanks for always being so up front and frank. You have inspired me to look beyond my so-called important job to see if I can follow my heart. With your response I see how it really can be done now, so thank you so much!!

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