I quit my job. I don’t belong there anymore. Of course practical complaints like long hours and under active bosses were all factors, but in truth, these nuisances were merely additional motivation to leave. I just don’t belong. Like any sober-minded woman with bills to pay and a perpetually ravenous mouth to feed, I’m a little freaked. It’s risky leaving a steady paycheck in favor of the great unknown. However, this isn’t my first trek into uncharted territory, and I doubt it will be my last.
It sounds flaky, I know. It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve been accused of romanticized vagabond behavior. Who leaves their job on a whim like that? If you’re drawing comparisons to Phoebe Buffay or Jessa Johansson, might I suggest more of a Rory Gilmore. Growing up, I was that girl. The girl whose prime social events were math competitions and student council meetings. The girl who raised her hand one too many times in class. The girl who preferred the company of characters in novels rather than actual real live people. I never broke the rules. I went to bed early, my best friend was my mother, and I swear to God I once entered a pool wearing an inner tube and two, yes, two pairs of floaties. My respect for authority was borderline unhealthy.
I retained this mentality throughout my childhood. I got older and continued to thrive academically. With every accolade, my family assured me that I would achieve tremendous success in any area I chose. The encouragement was appreciated, but the promise of success carried with it a hidden weight. There was a decision to be made. There was pressure. I found myself surrounded by countless closed doors, but the commitment to choosing only one to open felt stifling. Was I supposed to know exactly what I wanted to do for the rest of my life? Did everyone else know? It felt like every day at school I witnessed another college acceptance letter flourish in the air as the person grasping it laid out a ten year plan to dominate the field of his or her choosing. This was less than motivating. As my senior year went on, I became paralyzed. Choosing a college meant choosing a career. Choosing a career meant choosing a life. I just wasn’t ready. I chose not to choose. I graduated high school with honors and without a plan. To the horror of those around me, I did what any commitment free eighteen-year-old would do… I moved to California.
In hindsight, I understand everyone’s concern. I was seemingly throwing away all of my hard work and squandering potential. I’d never even been to California before; I’d rarely ventured out of the tri-state area. But back then, I was baffled by anyone’s disapproval. There was a calling inside of me guiding me west. I was meant to be there. How could I be scared when my instincts were so certain? I confidently packed all of my belongings into a U haul and drove cross country. I had an unexplained assertion that I belonged there which circumstances quickly confirmed.
I spent my first week in San Diego applying to every retailer in the area for an entry-level job to get by (gypsy spirits need to eat too). It’s almost suspicious how directly I stumbled into my first “big girl” job. Within a month of arriving in the city, I was offered a modeling contract. Don’t be fooled; I grew up being anything but a beauty queen. However, my pre-pubescent frame worked in my favor as I happened to be compatible with measurements that agencies were looking for. And just like that, a path was chosen…Sort of. In the beginning, I loved it. It felt like entering a new world. I learned all about this seemingly untouchable industry that I’d only ever seen from the outside. I was learning to work angles and walk runways and do things I’d never done before. The glossy “new” was intoxicating. But after time, I began to feel dissatisfied. Jobs became monotonous and my contract felt restrictive. I was told to cut my hair a way I didn’t want to and I was banned from getting tattoos (which directly contributed to getting my first tattoo). I felt stagnant. The only challenge they presented me with was to lose an inch on my hip size. I wanted more from myself, so I quit.
I found myself back at square one. Only this time, I didn’t feel unnerving pressure. It was a little easier to job hunt when I’d already spent time frequenting the “real world”. I somehow stumbled upon Bartending School. I had never been a drinker and to be honest I knew next to nothing about the bar scene, but that made Bartending School that much more enticing; I had tons to learn. I spent a week learning to pour a shot glass perfectly full with my eyes closed and memorized a hundred mixed drinks. I graduated with my mixology certificate and immediately began bartending at a restaurant near my hometown. I enjoyed meeting new people and perfecting my Bloody Mary mix (the secret is to add a little cinnamon), but very quickly I knew I needed to work towards something else in order to feel fulfilled.
So I went to school. I was surprised how easy it was for me to choose a major this time around (perhaps twenty-somethings are a little better at making life choices than teenagers). After two years and a miraculous scholarship to community college, I graduated with my CDA (Child Development Associate) which led me to my current career as a preschool teacher. In case you didn’t know, four year olds are the funniest people on the planet. My kids have become my closest friends. I’ve exercised levels of patience I never thought myself capable of. However, there are many less desirable factors that go into this job that could inspire a whole separate article. I’ll instead redirect you to the beginning of this piece reminding you that I just quit my job.
This brings me back to a place I’m all too familiar with. I’m eighteen again, surrounded by doors and wondering which one I should choose. Only now, some doors have been opened. I’ve worked retail, modeled, tended bar, taught preschool - I’ve even dabbled in direct sales and driving Uber. None of these journeys provided a Hallelujah chorus or bright blinking lights reading RIGHT CHOICE, but they all taught me something. They all challenged me. They helped me grow and contributed to the woman I am today. These doors are open and available for me to revisit if ever I choose. As I look around, waiting for my intuition to guide me to my next destination, I wonder why this place is so feared. I’ve known many who spent their entire youth studying and reciting and working towards one specific goal, only to discover that it isn’t at all what they wanted. Instead of trying something else or opening a new door, they just stay. They’re too scared to return to this place of uncertainty.
Do not mistake my desire for fulfillment for some millennial angst. Jumping ship anytime you’re unhappy is no way to live. However, staying in a position devoid of growth or joy because you chose it when you were eighteen is simply foolish. This “one path” mentality that we’re expected to abide by is too limiting. It works for some people. There are people like my husband who have an obvious gift. He plays guitar and has the voice of an angel. He’s pursued music since he was young, he continues to work on it, and he is fulfilled by it. The system works. What about people like me? What about the people who dabble in a little bit of everything?
I grew up thinking something was wrong with me. I couldn’t find my “gift”. I was fooled into thinking that I needed one definitive skill in order to be of value. Through my experiences, I’ve realized that I have the ability to be fluid. This is a gift; it’s many gifts wrapped into one. I’ll admit it’s not as easy to put to use. I don’t know where I’m going next or where I’ll end up after that, but I know that I’m resilient and adaptable and that I thrive when presented with new challenges. I also know that I’m not the only one with these capabilities.
There are many who have unearthed potential that will only be unlocked through the struggle of change. You may feel reluctant to pursue something new. There’s a very real fear of failure or earning the daunting stigma of being labeled a “quitter”. I do not pretend to be free from these thoughts. Self doubt whispers in my ear, reminding me of the risk I’ve taken. But my intuition speaks louder. I trust my instincts. I trust the abilities I’ve learned along the way. I trust myself. I will not let the linear expectations of others confine my life’s path, and neither should you.
Written by: Alyssa Kostick
Photographer: Abigail Welsby