“Nobody can hurt me without my permission.” ― Mahatma Gandhi
It will soon be a year since I quit my previous job, and still, I get the question every now and then, but why did you quit? I was very much involved in the company, I was one of the strongest believers, defending its values and causes, I wrote a manifesto and a 5 years dream for it. My departure was a surprise to many. Today, I still feel uneasy about the way it happened. So I think I owe this article to all who still wonder and possibly also to myself.
Several months ago, there was this series of #iquit articles on linkedin: professionals sharing their story of how they quit their job. One that resonated in particular with me was summarised as “I walked out of a meeting and never came back”. I considered how my story would sum up in one sentence and realised it was: “I was fired to sort out my marriage”.
What I was told is: “It is clear that you have to quit, I know it’s hard for you to accept and decide, so you can say that I fired you if it helps. I can’t have your marriage on my conscience”. As much inappropriate as I find it (intrusive, paternalistic, sexist and possibly manipulative) coming from my previous boss and friend, I learned to let go of that part. Maybe the intention was good. Maybe not. Trying to guess what others really meant is a dead end. It was wrong, and I don’t have to come to peace with a behaviour that is not mine.
Nevertheless, it hurt. But what did hurt exactly? I believe my integrity and my ego: it is as if something was torn away from me. I put a lot of energy in this company and eventually I was an employee that could be laid off for a reason that wasn’t even professional. Moreover how could I let that happen? Wasn’t it exactly the opposite of what I was trying to do in this company? I was “interim CEO”, I was leading an agile (teal) transformation, to allow people to take autonomy, self-organise, make more conscious decisions. And I couldn’t even apply it to myself! Maybe it was time to give up. Not that I didn’t believe in the organisation model, but the top still wanted to be at the top. I gave up on deciding.
People tell me that of course, I wasn’t in a normal state of mind due to my couple’s crisis. Indeed I never felt that low in my life. Both at work and at home, I couldn’t make myself heard. I felt I‘d never be good enough. It was as if the sky had fallen on me. I was in distress. Some things would have to change in my life, and among them maybe my work. But there were several options: continuing, quitting, going part-time, changing role, taking a sabbatical, moving abroad. I was undecided. Yet I still believe it was my decision to make, and I am upset that I wasn’t able to fight for it. So, yes, it’s not what happened that hurt, it’s my response to it.
What I can’t bear is when I’m told that my couple had issues because I was working too much and that I sacrificed my family to my career. And therefore quitting was the right thing to do anyway. About 2 years ago, I told my boss I thought I was worth more than my peers and therefore wanted a higher salary. I was shocked to hear that he understood my feeling because I sacrificed more than others to the company, especially my family life. There are no sacrifice, there are choices that I make, and I stand by them. And there’s what I am worth, my contribution and the salary I deserve. It wasn’t being greedy or jealous. Taking such shortcuts is utterly wrong.
I can’t help but thinking that things would have been different had I been a man. Women give up on their career for their family, and so it is accepted, even expected for a wife and mother to give up her job when her marriage is threatened. Lean in by Sheryl Sandberg is exactly about that. And as much as men ought to lean in too, expectations are just not the same for men.
That being said, there’s no point in revisiting the past or in this case my gender, so what’s next for me?
As everybody tend to ask, I should start by saying that my marriage has gone better. But how much has it to do with me quitting my job? Wouldn’t I be writing the same story if I ended up divorced? Will I have to hear that I sacrificed my career to my marriage? Will I have to hear that the company was sacrificed to my marriage? I find it rather insulting for both my husband and I. We’ve been together for more than 16 years now, things are bound to evolve and it’s down to us to work that through. I owe much to my friends who reminded me of this in that time of doubt.
As for the company I left, I had to learn to let go and that meant stop being involved with it. Some things I did there I’m very proud of, some things I could have done better. That is my legacy. What I had to accept was that whoever would take after would have options. What options they would go for didn’t have to do with me anymore. It isn’t easy when many in my network still work there and ask for my opinion. I hear stories and news, some things I agree with, others I disagree. That is now irrelevant, I try to keep my distance. Eventually all of us will move on and there will be space for new things.
As for my ego, everybody makes mistakes. The hard part is maybe to give myself permission to give up and to be vulnerable. Yes, some things have changed, among them my work. But more importantly, I have changed and become a wiser person. I’ve let go of frustration and anger, and tried to understand what they were telling me about what I possibly needed more than others. I believe that is integrity, respect and freedom. There’s no point in wishing for them in the past, but moving on I’ll make sure that this need is met. Today, I work on projects to create that kind of environment, hoping to serve those who like me share the same need.