Take that life and shove it

A friend and I have been talking about the Great Resignation, a phenomenon I consider myself to be part of. I’m still working in education, but I’m officially retired (drawing a pension) and have left the district I’d been with for more than a decade. I left for the reasons we’re presuming a lot of people have left and are leaving (at accelerated rates) their jobs: I was unwilling to return to my pre-pandemic life/job and found a way not to.

Now I work a 1/3 teaching job in a different organization, and I love many things about it. But. (You knew there was a but coming, didn’t you?) Things often feel weirdly off, and I can’t attribute all of them to my 12-year absence from classroom teaching.

A blog post this week from Sarah Kain Gutowski, a poet and college-level teacher, gave words to something I’ve been struggling to describe for weeks now. She is experiencing a large number of students who aren’t meeting usual expectations. Some cannot because of continuing pandemic-related challenges. Others seemingly won’t, or also can’t, or…who knows? They just aren’t doing the kinds of things we’ve always expected students will do. Sarah notes that simply failing large numbers of students isn’t a viable option, and that in the face of this:

There is only so much energy I can spend pushing against something nameless and shapeless but larger and stronger than I am. At some point, I just have to go where it guides me.

And I felt that zing of recognition and ohyes that strikes when someone puts words to exactly what I’ve been living.

I think, perhaps, it is not just adult workers who are resigning from work situations that are not working for them. I think many of us are, even the youngest among us, and we’re doing it in a variety of ways and not just with respect to work. I feel as if I’m in the midst of something nameless (because I don’t think “great resignation” really captures what I’m sensing) and shapeless that is something so far beyond just my little existence. I realized within the first weeks of school that I would have to go where it guides me in my classroom, and now I’m getting curious about how this Thing all around us might guide us in other ways.

For many decades of my life, I viewed quitting as nothing but negative. I remember a conversation with my dad in my early teen years, in which he expressed concern that I never seemed to stick with anything. While I’d had good reasons for quitting Bluebirds, the clarinet, track, and ice skating, I still felt shame about my lack of…something. Some kind of strength or some quality of character that was going to be essential for doing Great Things and living a Good Life.

Not many years after that conversation, my dad’s brother once infuriated me by lecturing a boyfriend on the same topic. “It’s so important not to be a quitter,” he proclaimed to the young man I loved who had recently dropped out of college. Nearly 40 years later, I can still feel my outrage, but I know now that my feelings were as much about my own fear and disappointment about my beau’s choices as they were about my uncle’s rudeness.

I was socialized to put up with things, and to see sticking it out as a virtue, and to never, ever quit something unless I had an alternative something else already in place. I saw myself again in Derek Thompson’s words I linked to in the first sentence of this post:

The truth is people in the 1960s and ’70s quit their jobs more often than they have in the past 20 years, and the economy was better off for it. Since the 1980s, Americans have quit less, and many have clung to crappy jobs for fear that the safety net wouldn’t support them while they looked for a new one.

https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2021/10/great-resignation-accelerating/620382/

Oh, man. Do I know clinging to a crappy job (marriage, home, city) out of fear. What I know now is that fear is a terrible reason to stick with anything. Sometimes we have to. Sometimes we have to stick with something until we can find a safe way to escape it. Fear is a necessary emotion that often helps to keep us safe, and I don’t want to discount that or to ignore that, sometimes, quitting is really not an option.

But I am so here for this resignation thing going on, whatever it is. I’m still in process on my journey to a healthier, more manageable life, but I’m definitely getting there, and quitting my old job was a huge, first, and necessary step. I’m grateful, too, for my students’ various ways of quitting the ways in which we’ve always done school. They are pushing me to be a more humane and more effective teacher than I’ve ever been–and it’s leading me to new practices that are better for me, too. Sometimes I can get mired down in sadness and regret over things we have lost and are losing (truly bipartisan legislation, for just one), but this week I am finding value in thinking about things we should quit. I’m glad to be re-thinking the whole notion of quitting, and to rewrite some of the scripts that have shaped me, my life choices, and my feelings about myself for so long.

This weekend I got caught up on reading one of my favorite blogs, and truly enjoyed Bethany Reid’s recent essay about her marriage, written in an A to Z format. I love this format (similar in many ways to collage, a visual form I’ve always loved) and it reminds me of Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life, one of those books I wish I’d written. And now I’m thinking about writing an A to Z of things I’ve quit, just to see where it might take me…

Would love to know about things you’ve quit or want to quit, too, or your thoughts about the Great Resignation.

23 thoughts on “Take that life and shove it

  1. Sharon W. W. says:

    Oh, Rita, I am too busy writing my secrets A-Z list to give the quit list its due. In the meantime, I can say that in the first 76 or so years the quick quit list, and I do mean quick, is just about everything that kept me distracted from my feelings. For example, sucking my finger into adolescence, one too many marriages, cigarettes, Grand Mariner and its ilk, lying, and worrying about what other people think of me (well, obviously neither of the last two as much as I once did). There’s more, including my becoming a parent when my feelings had yet to become as nakedly transparent as my tears. The biggest deal, in my opinion, that I haven’t quit is the hope my children and children will do a better job of not being afraid, the gatekeeper for distraction and distraction’s empty promises.

    • Rita says:

      The quick list is a rich one, Sharon. And you’re helping me see a deeper layer of quitting. Haven’t many of us been addicted to work and its false promises? I’ve learned so much from you about where to hold on and where to let go.

  2. Marian says:

    What is it about uncles? Four years on, I still get a bit hot under the collar about my brother-in-law lecturing my son—whom he hadn’t seen in years!—about his earring.

    When I was 20, I quit something huge. It was something that I never should have begun in the first place, but despite that I don’t think a single day has gone by in the intervening 34 years that I haven’t beaten myself up about it. Unfortunately, my Plan B was almost just as bad, but because I had already quit one big thing, I couldn’t make myself quit another. I got through four more years of school and then worked (miserably) in this field for three years, and when we had our first child and moved provinces, I was hugely relieved to see there were completely valid barriers that would prevent me from going back to work. I haven’t talked to anyone about the Great Resignation, but I have wondered if the pandemic was for many people (mothers especially) what our move—25 years ago with our new baby—was for us. We were isolated, with no help from family, my career didn’t fit into regular daycare operating hours, and my husband was often away. All that was put together with what I already knew or suspected—that domestic labour *was* work, that “having it all” was a lie, and that if we as a family minimized our wants, we could get away with earning less. (If it sounds as though I’m at peace about my “resignation” 25 years ago—and my inability to “go back to work”—I’m not. I’ve seemingly got what is really quite a toxic Western European work ethic stitched into every fibre of my being.)

    • Rita says:

      I think it’s likely that the pandemic has done to many–especially mothers–what your move did to you. I think a lot of people were barely holding it all together, and the situation of the last year-and-a-half pushed many to a place that was unsustainable. Or just didn’t make sense. Even though I’m not raising young children, I do still have family obligations. Some aren’t acute right now, but they could become that way at any time now. I wanted to be in a place where I could take care of others and myself. I knew I couldn’t working full-time in my job.

      I’ll also second you on domestic labor being work. Now that I’m working less outside of home, I’m working more inside of it. I do feel more ease than I did previously, but I’m still working pretty much all of every week day (and still some of the weekend, too). I’m doing more of that work in a way that feels good and is good for us, but I’m also still cutting corners. (Eating take-out far less, but still a bit too much.) I’m getting a new appreciation for what that work is.

      I’m sorry that you haven’t reached a place of peace about your “resignation.” From what I know of you, you’ve done more than enough to satisfy any work ethic. For whatever that’s worth.

  3. Kate says:

    I’m conflicted in terms of the Great Resignation. Like anything, I think how you see a thing can depend on how it impacts you personally. As I’ve often said to my kids when people talk about work – someone has be the garbage man. Jesse is currently unloading and loading trucks in addition to his regular responsibilities (made more complicated by shorts and outs) because people in hospitals and prisons and schools and elder care facilities still need to eat but finding the people to load, transport, and unload the food is almost impossible. While a great many are accepting less money for more time, we’re on the other end of the teeter-totter. And I found myself grinding my teeth a great deal more than usual while writing out September’s quarterly tax estimate. I think there are some important conversations happening about wages and work/life balance and capitalism and what kind of society we want to live in, but I certainly don’t think it’s a simple one. My thoughts on this could go on for much longer than a blog comment so I think I’ll close up.

    • Rita says:

      Oh, I don’t think any of this is simple, and I always appreciate hearing your thoughts. (As I tend to write longer-than-typical posts, I hope you feel free to write longer-than-typical comments, if you feel so moved.)

      I think everyone who is working in fields that provide direct service to others is probably taking on additional duties and working longer. I know that in education, because of shortages in all kinds of positions, people are doing all kinds of things they normally wouldn’t be. And it’s a real problem.

      I am not sure where all of this will lead, but when I say that I’m here for it, it’s because of my hopes for where it will lead. I hope it leads to better wages (which is already starting to happen) and working conditions for more people. I hope it leads to more manageable work loads. But I know this will be a process, and that it’s likely to be messy and that some things will get worse before they get better.

  4. Bethany Reid says:

    Oh, Rita, love this. (And thanks for mentioning my essay.) I often forward your blogposts to my daughter, who is currently teaching at a small private school, middle-schoolers and high-schoolers–and commuting almost an hour to get there. It’s definitely a job she needs to quit. Anyway, I think you should do an abecedarian of teaching wisdom. You know so much!
    Bethany Reid recently posted…Deliberate PracticeMy Profile

    • Rita says:

      And yet…I’d never heard the term “abecedarian” until today! An hour-long commute to a teaching job is tough, especially when I know that small, private schools typically (always?) do not pay as well as public schools. I hope she can find something that will give her more of her day back.

  5. TD says:

    “…and we’re doing it in a variety of ways and not just with respect to work.” as you write, Rita. I see this aspect too.

    And I completely agree with Kate, “Like anything, I think how you see a thing can depend on how it impacts you personally.”

    I also found Bethany’s A to Z format lovely. Though I didn’t find the essay to send me a reminder of Amy’s essay that I read when it was first published during very different times. Both are unique.

    As a child and even through my adult years, my grandmother would say to me, “Eat your spinach. It will grow hair on your chest.” I never questioned her, but I certainly didn’t want hair to grow on my chest!!!

    I was in my 50’s when I finally could comprehend what she meant by that saying. Women must be strong (as strong or stronger than a man.) to survive.

    No one knows what their own future will bring much less the future of the world. I look forward to reading more of your thoughts and journey wherever it takes you.

    • Rita says:

      Your comment reminds me of a time when I was just a little girl–I think not even in school yet. A friend’s grandmother told me to drink my grape juice because it would grow hair on my chest, and idea I found intriguing and exciting. I drank it down and ran to the bathroom so I could see it sprout. I was very disappointed when it did not. It didn’t occur to me to wonder why I might want hair on my chest! 🙂

  6. Ally Bean says:

    “I was socialized to put up with things, and to see sticking it out as a virtue…” Me too. It was drilled into me that I should never start anything unless I was sure I could complete it. And once into something, stay there because people will admire your stick-to-it-iveness. This was based on the assumption that people were paying attention to me, which I’ve come to realize most are not. Anyway I love your idea for an A to Z list of things I’ve quit. Will muse on that.

    • Rita says:

      This is an interesting take–that we shouldn’t quit because we’ll be admired for tenacity. I think, in the messaging I got, it was more about virtue for virtue’s sake. I think sticking to a thing was just the right thing to do. But now I’m wondering why. Was it really just so that you would be perceived as a person who wouldn’t flake out or quit when the going got tough? Or maybe it was it some leftover thing from immigrant and pioneer ancestors, for whom getting through by grit was a necessity for survival. Or maybe it was part of the grooming kids in my social class needed to make our way in a capitalist society, where we’d have to work hard to survive and/or be perceived as someone who works hard so that we could have means to survive.

      I agree, though, most are not paying that much attention to us. Sure wish I’d figured that one out sooner, too. Better late than never!

  7. Kari Wagner Hoban says:

    I was going to use the quote that Ally Bean shared from your post, but she beat me to it. It resonated because we all are from the same generation who were raised by the previous generation.

    Suck it up, don’t give up, you can do this, smile though your heart is breaking.

    I’ve been working really hard at giving myself a break. Not being so hard on myself for making time to do what I enjoy and less of what I don’t. For letting go of what I thought I had to be and instead choosing happiness and what works best for us.

    For example. I was supposed to wake Ella up an hour ago to do homeschooling, but still have several blogs on which I want to leave meaningful comments. And you’ve just given me a few things to read as well as another blog to follow. These things used to seem insignificant to me. Now, I see they aren’t.
    Kari Wagner Hoban recently posted…Screw It, I’m Eating Tater Tots- Episode 31My Profile

    • Rita says:

      I’m glad you’ve been able to make these shifts for yourself. I think you’d probably really like Bethany’s blog–she is a writer for writers.

  8. Lisa Capasso says:

    I should have quit law school after a week but didn’t. I quit my law teaching job to stay home with my kids because I couldn’t teach and parent well at the same time. I quit blogging/reading blogs a while back (sorry, its not you, its me). This month I quit running, which was a previously all-consuming love affair that has burned itself out and I now dread.

    I think all of these things are things that previously served me well for a while, and then didn’t. They provided a benefit, and now they don’t.

    I get obsessive about new interests. I dive into them, learn everything I can about them, and then….lose interest. I lose interest right around the time I am getting really good at it. I am a very well-rounded, multi-talented jack of all trades but master of none. My pool is a mile wide and an inch deep.

    For a long time I have felt bad about my lack of stick-to-it-ness, but as I get older, I think quitting when you decide something doesn’t serve you is better than suffering through. I think quitting after ten minutes is better than not starting. I’m trying to reframe quitting as a paring down, or a jettisoning of the unnecessary. If it doesn’t serve you, why have it in your life?

    • Rita says:

      I recognize so much of myself in your words. Quite a while ago I decided that the thing I stick with is learning new things. What I love is not the “things” (whatever they are) so much as learning about them. I like a steep learning curve; once you get near the top of it, progress is much more slow and hard-won, and suddenly that thing that was all-consuming isn’t anymore. I think that’s what serves me with many new ventures. Once I reframed it that way, it became easier to stop thinking of myself as a quitter in that negative sense I’d grown up with.

      I am surprised that you aren’t running! Not sure why, but I am. Your running was a thing I envied; I wish I could develop a passion for it. (Track is another on my long list of quits, but it was a physical necessity, so in a different category.) I was once a sprinter, and I wish I had whatever it is that it takes to power through a distance run.

      • Lisa Capasso says:

        yes–when you hit the top of the learning curve, it gets slower. And yes, the thing I stick with is the learning new things. That is a great point.

        I am not enjoying running lately, although watching friends run the Chicago and Boston marathons I had a crazy ten minutes of “I’m signing up for another marathon!”…and then I came to my senses. I think I will come back to running again in a bit. It has a very good zen component that I enjoy.

        I’ve had three surgeries in 13 months (I’m fine), I’ve spent the last year building back after lots of time off, only to have to do it again…and then again…and I just…eh, its not the season right now. I have turned that focus into lifting–I am working on my deadlift somewhat obsessively. (Insert eyeroll here, and yes, I’m still on the bottom end of the learning curve, haha.)

        • Rita says:

          That all makes lots of sense. I’m glad you’re fine–I know you’ve been through a lot. I sure wish I could get into the challenge of some kind of physical activity.

  9. Robin Ruff Leja says:

    I believe the “never quit” attitude was taught to us by a generation or two back, that required it in order to survive. Their options were limited, so the only way through tough times, was to stick with it. We’re only now coming to the realization that maybe this is no longer a valid option for us.

    Despite being college educated, I stayed home with my children, because I wanted to be there for them. But I worked part time in day care, always quitting after a few years, when it no longer felt right. Worked retail for a good long while, it often made me miserable, but stuck to it (there it is again) until I injured my knee, and realized that retail and bad knees just didn’t go together. By then, my college degree was outdated and unused, so with limited options for a gimpy knee and outdated qualifications, became a housewife again. I’m lucky to have a successful husband, who has allowed me to try all these different avenues in my life. Why was he able to choose a career, and stick with it over 30 years while I’ve floundered? Perhaps some of us just don’t have the heart to “never quit”, we just aren’t made that way. As a Jill of All Trades, involved in SO many different hobbies, and doing most of them passionately, I guess I just wasn’t capable of that stick-to-it-iveness that society required of me. Perhaps adult ADD?
    Robin Ruff Leja recently posted…Beloved OctoberMy Profile

    • Rita says:

      It sounds to me like the thing you prioritized and stuck with was putting your family first? I think all of us have things we never quit. For me, it was my children. I have consistently made choices that have allowed me to be what I’ve felt I needed to be for them. I still am. I suspect that is true for you, too. 🙂

  10. Suzanne says:

    I loved reading this and all the comments – so thought-provoking. I grew up with that same “never quit” mentality drummed into me, and I find it is one of those ingrained “truths” that is proving difficult to shake free. On the one hand, there is value, I think, in seeing things through, in committing to your commitments, in learning how to persevere in the face of difficult situations or people. But leaving behind something that isn’t working can be so freeing, and can open you up to other opportunities… I don’t know. I will have to sit with this topic for awhile. Thanks for so much to think about.

    • Rita says:

      I have the same struggle. I think the challenge is being able to determine when we need to stay and when we need to go. It’s helpful for me to realize that that is even a question to answer.

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