IMAGE // Via Alexandra Valenti
Lately, I’ve felt like a lot of my posts here have been about things I’ve felt obligated to write about, even though I genuinely do enjoy them. I had another post idea like this on my “to-do” list for today, something I’ve been meaning to post about, something I should post about, but I can’t force myself to do it.
Today, I can’t be clever. Today, I just need to be real with you guys.
I quit my day job.
My last day is October 31. It’s not my first time to quit a job, and I am not leaving this one bitterly — at all. That was the weird thing about putting in my notice. I wasn’t all pissed off when I wrote my two weeks’ letter, and I didn’t pop a champagne bottle at home. I was sitting next to my husband when I pressed “send,” and I gasped when I did it.
“Oh my God! I can’t believe I just did that!” I said to Ross. “What if I’ve made a huge mistake?”
Ross then took my hand, and kindly reminded me of the following:
A) I’ve been talking about quitting,
B) I’ve been talking about quitting WITH some ideas for other stuff I want to do,
C) I’ve lined up gigs for that stuff,
D) I’ve put away savings,
E) It was all going to be OK,
F) Maybe I really should go drink some champagne. Or at the very least take a walk. To calm myself down.
I bet you’re wondering what job I quit.
If you know me in real life maybe you know already, but I was a book publicist. Before the company I’m at now, I was a book publicist at another firm. I have been in this line of work for a total of five years.
Five years was nothing for our parents. But it’s very different for people in my generation, where jobs and career aspirations are so very fluid. When you ask a young person now what they want to be when they grow up, they are less likely to give you one firm answer, more likely to tell you a collection of interests they have and possible ventures they’d like to purse with them. They are a graphic designer who likes typography, so they are starting a handmade paper business, for now. They are a coder who likes novels, so they are working on narrative video games, for now. They are a videographer who likes cuisine, so they are shooting food documentaries, for now. “For now” being the key phrase.
When I first moved back to Austin in 2007 and became a book publicist, I wasn’t thinking “for now.” I remember calling my mom just a few weeks on the job, and telling her,
“My work day just FLIES BY! I get to the end of the day and cannot BELIEVE it’s 6:00!”
It was true. It was my first big girl job after grad school, and though I hadn’t studied PR in college, I was utterly engaged in this field. I wrote! I read! I talked on the phone! I gossiped at the water cooler, I went to holiday parties, and I even won some awards. I became a good publicist. A great publicist. You would have liked to have had me as your publicist.
Here’s the other baffling part. At both companies, I had bosses who were very good to me. Bosses I got along with. On top of clients who kicked ass. Ok, not all of them kicked ass. Some were genuinely crazy, but most were awesome. I liked becoming their friends, and I loved calling them up and telling them what media I had landed for them. I texted with a simple: “NPR!!!!” and waited for their thrilled phone call to come in. Those were the high moments. I didn’t keep my big hits a secret either; I was always showing off. But even when a campaign was going just OK, I could usually count on my client and I still being buddies by the end of it. Some of us still keep in touch. Some, like this fabulous woman, are my genuine friends and happy hour companions now.
So what happened?
At some point, maybe around last year, I started to feel that although I was good at being a publicist, I wasn’t meant to be a publicist. I know I know, very First World Problem of me. Very Child of the Self Esteem Movement. But that nagging voice soon crystalized into three specific realizations, and those realizations started shouting at me. They were saying, listen Tolly:
A) You sit too damn much. (More on that in a minute.)
B) You have A Dream. Not a Martin Luther King dream; just a dream about something I could eventually do professionally that felt more like “me.” This is very different from the dream of, “I don’t want to be working here anymore.” It’s a dream of positive consequence, not negative; a dream of running toward something, not running away from something.
I think it’s OK if your dream eventually morphs into something else. But all you need is one dream to start moving in the direction of being an authentic person, and not a counterfeit person.
Being a book publicist is a dream job for a lot of people. It’s creative and it’s (usually) stimulating and you get to read books! But the more I did it while fantasizing about My Dream the more I felt like a phony. And when that starts happening, you lose your emotional center of gravity and start doing all kinds of weird things to make yourself feel better, things to reassure you that you’re not fake, just confused. Mine was going to Starbucks every single day and waiting at the stupid drive through for 25 minutes to get a $4 cup of coffee I could have easily made myself. I did it because I just needed some time to think in that long line. Time to hear my own thoughts and incubate My Dream. When other people are in this position, some start drinking, or smoking, or whatever little vice. You know why they do that? Because it’s soothing. Feeling fake is stressful, low-grade stressful, and eventually those tiny treats become shopping binges then lavish trips then whatever else because you’re trying to cheer yourself up from subtle, day-to-day inauthenticity. Enough.
C) People will pay you for your hobbies. Hobbies are usually good indicators of things you actually like to spend your time on, and my hobbies grew in opposite directions. On the one hand, I was a blogger/writer/media person, first for kicks, then for little checks here and there. Eventually those checks got bigger. I’m not rich, but, I learned what it was like to get paid for the things you liked so much you would do them for free.
On the other hand, in response to all that computer time levied by my day job and #1 hobby, I went radically offline and started doing more yoga. I took up aerial silks. I hope maybe someday that stuff will pay too.
My Dream was hatched by a conversation I had with my husband one night last year. August 2011. I’ve told this story lots of times before so skip ahead if you’ve heard it, but it goes something like this:
We were on date night in a cute restaurant, and he asked me how my work day went. I started crying.
“Wait — what? What did I say?” he asked.
“NOTHING!” I wailed. “You said nothing. I’m just not…happy.” Sniffling, soft sobbing.
I recounted to him the small dramas of my day, how I was trying and trying for hits for my clients, but nobody cared, media was ignoring me and I was becoming despondent. Frustrated. Would this be how it always was? Why did I always feel so ineffective?
“Well, what would do you instead? If you could do anything in the world?” Ross asked. I realized he was talking about a job.
I thought about it for a minute. “I want to have a little show about Austin,” I said in a small voice.
“Well, then, go do it,” Ross said. “Call Los.” (Los is Carlos Funes, our filmmaker/director buddy).
So, I did. And Los and I started making AETV, purely for kicks. And I LOOOOOVVVVVEEED it. I felt like, I was right! I would like to have a show about Austin! That wasn’t just something I said in a restaurant! Then this company saw AETV, then this other company saw it, and then both companies hired me to co-host this thing and even if this gig is just temporary, even if my goofy face never graces a screen again, I have had a fucking blast doing just these tiny little episodes and I know what it’s like now to want something and then go get it. Sorry if that sounds self-congratulatory, I’m just still trying to wrap my head around it. Before I thought stuff like that was too laughably Law of Attraction at best, irresponsible at worst. Why make a silly puppet video with your friends when you could be earning a steady paycheck? I have always played it safe career-wise and I am happily appalled that you can take risks and sometimes they work out.
Ok, so, that was the first thing. I think that whole explication covers points B) and C) above. Once I realized I could make enough money doing media stuff — writing, videos, etc. — I started thinking about putting in my notice.
That leaves us with A) You sit too damn much.
Some people with 9-to-5 jobs are really good about standing desks, walking meetings, getting up to stretch once every hour, etc. I am not. I would rather just have a more active job.
Before going to grad school, I taught kids yoga when I was 22. I never got my certification, but I always wanted to. I just didn’t have the money back then.
So now that I’m quitting my job, I’m using my savings to go do it. My teacher certification training starts in January and ends March 31 at Dharma Yoga, my favorite studio, my home studio, and I am downright giddy. There’s still so much I have to learn! There’s lots of poses I still can’t get. Sanskrit terms that go right over my head. But I’m hungry for all that knowledge, to build on my regular yoga practice and then share it with other people. I have this dream (I’m full of dreams today) of specifically targeting the large population of Austin that is wired to gadgets all day with yoga, because I have been one of those people. Gadgets are great, but, they can make your brain behave a little funny, and they also cause you to sit more. I strongly believe that sitting is a huge American problem. Not exclusively American. But American enough to seem like having a “normal,” grownup job is one that requires you to sit in front of a computer all day long. That doesn’t immediately make you unhealthy (see: standing desks, walking meetings, getting up to stretch once every hour), but it is a relatively new condition for us as a species. And I’d like to help people figure out how to unplug.
So this is where I stand: I’m quitting my job. I’m freelance writing to support myself. I’m getting my yoga certification.
Ross and I have put aside money to remodel our carport into a small, private yoga studio, where I can eventually take clients. My future existence may be half media, half yoga, or 80% media, 20% yoga, or 15% media and 85% yoga. I guess we’ll just see!
Do I have any guarantees of any of this working out? NO. Do I feel like I’m playing Russian Roulette with my career? YES. Ross is a working artist, a musician and children’s music teacher, so I need to pull my weight money-wise. I’m also very, very, very lucky to be in a partnership where I’ve watched someone else leave a more traditional job, start their own thing, and have it work out for them. Like Ross did.
As for me? I have no idea if any of this stuff is going to work out. Scratch that. I have NO FUCKING IDEA if any of this stuff is going to work out. But mixed in with the uncertainty is excitement, and invigoration. I believe in these two things, media and yoga. I feel a little silly coming out with this public proclamation about my hopes and dreams — especially since there are about a billion other writers and yoga teachers in this town, ha! — but whatever. This blog is directly related to all those things I said before, about being an authentic person vs. a fake person in your career, so I guess I feel OK sharing this with the whole wide world on my tiny corner of the Internet. This blog helped me build a little sailboat to chart the waters of career experimentation, and now I’m out at sea.
I guess the only thing that remains now is a question: Do you need a writer or a yoga teacher?
Because this girl is for hire.