Cellan Jay's article "Just quit, baby!" is yellowed and dog eared. It's been stuck to my fridge and every one I’ve owned or rented for the last 20 years. This nugget of wisdom read over and over resets my priorities when distractions steer me off course. At the time, I felt like I had found a kindred spirit. But now I realize it was my first encounter with a MultiPod!
20 years ago…
I arrived back to find the reception desk vacant. My co worker had absconded after promising to cover while I was in HR. A section of the Globe and Mail was left open on the switchboard. The headline “Just quit, baby!” caught my eye. Flashing pinpricks of light highlighted an illustration through the newsprint of a girl holding her nose midair as she descended into a pool of hot pink water. “Oh you’re back”, my co worker sang. “Yeah!”, I said grabbing the paper. “Hey!”, she called. “I need another 10 more minutes!”, I said running to the bathroom for privacy.
Hiding in a stall I began to read.“Quitting is good for the soul! I recommend it”,Jay began. “What? I’d been told quitting was bad!”, I screamed in my mind. “Nobody likes a quitter!” Jay wrote. I’d heard that enough times when I deviated from the well travelled path. But I had never heard anyone, other than myself question who nobody was? I admired Jay’s rebellious spirit. “Nobody” didn’t exist Jay said. “The person to please is yourself.”
But half an hour earlier in an interview with HR, I met “nobody” who made me feel like a quitter. I was working at the agency as a “temp” receptionist on a long term assignment. The gig suited me. In the spring, I could easily resume my duties as an Assistant Director in the film business when it picked up. Answering phones was uninspiring but it got me out of the house. I got bored easily and liked to be busy. The money I earned as a “temp” took the edge off my savings. That was the drawback of working freelance. You had to squirrel your money away for the lean times. I adhered to the old adage every one quotes on a film set, “Save your dough!”
But, the real advantage to working “temp” was having access to a computer. Between answering phones and other duties, I’d be faxing resumes to keep in the “film loop” and get waitressing gigs on the weekends for corporate functions. I was always active creating income streams and enjoying the freedom of working in different environments doing a variety of tasks. But sometimes I wondered what a 9 to 5 job would be like?
So, I applied to the advertising agency as a Junior Secretary thinking regular hours and a steady pay cheque would alleviate the stress of always looking for work. I also wanted an opportunity to one day hone my skills as a Copy Writer and express my creativity. And where no better than an advertising agency!
However, in the interview I felt like I was on trial. And was deemed a "quitter". HR began to criticize my contract work in Public Relations citing her issue with the short terms of employment. Diplomatically I explained freelance work enabled me to gain experience in my chosen field of Public Relations in order to apply for full time employment. “It’s a Catch 22 scenario. If someone doesn’t give me a chance…”, I added. HR cut me off. She understood the industry was competitive and dismissed the obvious catch I raised. But, I was miffed she failed to identify my strengths as a self starter and the determination I summoned to gain that experience. I remember feeling very uncomfortable with her tone.
And, it didn’t get any lighter as she scrutinized my work in feature film and television productions. I described a typical day co ordinating actors through the various stages of process with hair, makeup, wardrobe, and, wrangling them to set. My resourcefulness in resolving problems quickly in high pressure situations taught me a lot about myself and people in general. But, my resume in her opinion deemed me a “flight risk” and was skittish to hire me. She viewed all the wonderful experiences I documented on my CV as irrelevant because it wasn’t marked by a solid time period working in one position and/or company. She failed to recognize the many gems of talent and expertise hidden in plain sight. It didn’t matter how I “defended” myself. And no, my growing annoyance wasn’t sour grapes. HR’s attitude reminded me of my Dad scolding me into picking one thing to pursue in life. But I wasn't a kid anymore. (What it means to be a MultiPod! Finding Home!)
Arriving back at reception, I shrugged off HR's label and dismissed her view I was frittering my life away instead of pursuing a solid career track. Calm settled over me knowing I was living my truth. I promptly scoured the phone book to find Jay's phone number. I had to call and thank her for writing something that made me feel like I wasn’t alone. There were other people quitting and being judged. And, Jay didn’t care. “Why should I?”, I muttered under my breath. Jay believed people who quit or failed weren’t quitter or failures, “They were brave flouters of convention.” Jay picked up the phone immediately. I introduced myself and told her in a gush how the article was a sunny reminder I was living life my own way. I regarded her as my kindred spirit. Her thoughts were what I needed to hear. I thanked her again. And rang off.
20 years later…
Cellan Jay’s article, “Just quit, baby!” resonates with me more now as a MultiPod. I felt the same kinship and empowerment when I discovered Jay Emilie Wapnick’s TED Talk, “Why some of us don’t know our true calling!” . Quitting wasn’t about quitting on people or running out on your financial commitments. It was about quitting things that didn’t make you happy and pursuing the things that fulfill you. What was wrong with that? HR’s yardstick measuring my success and achievement was too rigid for my liking. Her attitude was doing more harm, in my opinion than what was printed on my resume.
But it’s the same sentiment that keeps Cellan Jay’s article, “Just quit, baby!” stuck to my fridge. It grounds me when I feel alone. And anchors me when I’m being persuaded by the status quo to sail a linear course. But mostly, I keep it as an accolade. I didn’t foresee 20 years ago how sparse the job market would be today. Many jobs have been outsourced locally and internationally or have disappeared entirely. Diversifying my skills and having many income streams has put me in good stead. I feel like all the different skills I’ve acquired over the years has prepared me to achieve something spectacular. And, sometimes when I fret over people not valuing my skills, I appreciate the lessons I’ve learned on the well worn road. But, value the times I’ve spent on the one less travelled. Because it has made all the difference.
Cellan Jay is a Writing Instructor, Editor, ESL Curriculum Designer at Innis College and Woodsworth College Writing Centres, University of Toronto - Ontario Institute for Studies in Education
Cellan Jay's full article "Just Quit Baby!"