On quitting

The Minimalists’ first book of essays was free for Kindle recently and I downloaded it and read the whole thing over a weekend.  It’s a quick read.  Most of the essays contained within are available from their website but the book also features two unpublished ones, which are fantastic.

The stories of these two guys from Dayton, Ohio (not far from where I attended college), who turned their unhappy lives around by living minimally, are inspiring.  I’m routinely amazed by their stories and growth.  In Screw You, I Quit, Joshua Millburn details how he turned his back on the life that wasn’t making him happy, a life with a six-figure salary that wasn’t enough to cover his increasing debt, a life with the house and the car and the stuff that he bought to fill a void that never seemed satisfied.  Minimalism allowed him to quit his job and live his passion and mission.

This is the single most inspirational essay on minimalism I have ever read.  I encourage you to read it.  Right now, go do it.  Then come back.

Get some popcorn, now I’m going to tell you a story about me.

I’m not at a place in life where I feel comfortable quitting my job.  It’s not sucking my soul away, bit by bit.  I like my job, I like my boss, I like most of my coworkers most of the time.  It’s interesting.  But it’s not my passion, and I know that.  I don’t think I will be here forever.  It allows me to live comfortably and to pay off my student debt.  I have vague sideways dreams of downsizing my life even further and paying off the debt faster, but those are still just whispers of plans.

I did quit the life I had, though.  I quit the plans I had.  I turned my back on them, and I don’t regret it.

I have a Master’s of Education in Higher Education Administration.  I applied to at least 100 jobs over the course of a year in 2011, while I had a job as a nanny after I graduated.  At the end of 2011, I got a part-time administrative assistant job as a temp.  I was good at it.  Then I got a break.  I got a big-girl job.  I make the medium bucks now.  And it has absolutely nothing to do with my degree.  Mentors and former supervisors asked me, “Are you going to come back to higher ed?” And I told them, “I don’t know, maybe in the future, but I’m happy where I am now.”

To be honest, I don’t know if I would go back.  Working with students made me happy, and I enjoyed helping them grow and learn.  I felt like I was contributing to something greater than myself.  But I am no longer sure that education is my passion.  I’m not sure it ever was.  I quit that plan. 

I was married for almost three years.  I knew something wasn’t right very early, but I convinced myself that I wanted to succeed at marriage, that being happily married would bring my life meaning and happiness and satisfaction.  I was miserable when I was married.  I felt hopeless, and depressed, and angry — at myself, mostly.  One day, I quit.  A friend had offered me a spare room in his home and I took it.  One night, I packed up everything I used regularly and the things I couldn’t easily replace and put it all in my car and when I left for work and school that morning, I didn’t come back.

I was running.  I packed like I had one chance to get it right.  The things I took with me when I thought I might not get anything else were an interesting mix.  I took clothes and jewelry and shoes for work and for everyday wear.  I took all my school books and supplies.  I took three paintings I had done that used to hang in the apartment I shared with my husband.  I took all of the autographed 8×10 photos of Star Trek actors.  I took my paints and a pencil and a pad of canvas paper.

I would sit, quiet and contemplative, in my little room at my friend’s house, sketching and painting and feeling happy.  I painted more in that two-month separation than I had in years.

Yes, two months.  I went back.  We reconciled.  Until it happened again and I couldn’t convince myself to stay any longer.  I gave up my ideas about marital bliss being the key to happiness.  I finally broke my promises.  I left.  I quit. 

And in the months since, after the guilt and the anger and the feelings of failure mostly subsided, I have realized that it’s okay to quit.  It’s actually pretty fantastic to quit.  My life now, a simpler life, is so much happier, so much fuller, so much more, than it ever was when I was living my life for someone else.

Quitting taught me something very important: We must never, ever put our happiness in someone else’s hands.  We must find our passion, our happiness, our mission in life, and we must follow it.  To do anything less is to deny ourselves what we deserve and what the world deserves from us.

I haven’t yet nailed down my passion in life (though painting is a passion, I don’t think it’s the passion) but I agree that our mission in life must be to grow as a person and to contribute to others.  I hope that this blog is an inspiration to someone, anyone, who is trying to live a better life through simplifying.  If I inspire just one person, I will be living that mission of contribution.

Quitting my old life has allowed me to grow as a person.  I learn more about myself every day.  I strive to make real decisions to better myself.  I’m not perfect.  I have not yet made enough of a commitment to my own growth.  But the inspiration of others who have done this before me gives me strength as I continue this exciting journey.  The past year of my life has been tumultuous and full of change.  I anticipate more change in the future, but I will be much better equipped to handle it with my new outlook.

Maybe one day soon I will be able to leave my day job to welcome a life of passion, but for now I am content to pay down my student debt as a drone.  As long as I make time for passion.  I must make time for passion.