Today it has been one month since I quit my corporate job. I celebrated the anniversary with registering at the unemployment office and having the first chapter of my novel appear on a publishing house’s website.
I’ve wanted to write this post on the day when I left but eventually I thought it would be better if I let it simmer down a bit. Many people looked at me with disbelief and confusion when I told them I had quit. The economical situation is tough in France; it’s difficult to find a job even if one is native, so it’s three times as tough if you’re a foreigner. I can speak French, like I can have a nice every day conversation or read Harry Potter in French translation. Clearly that’s not enough. Employers know this. Employers tell you to be happy that you have a job. That’s basically what I was told after they cancelled the position I was originally employed for. They proposed to me a different task, with a different language, different working hours and possibly less money. Maybe I wouldn’t have minded all this, I’m a relatively flexible person. I would have put up with the fact (albeit difficultly) that nobody discussed it with me. They just emerged from their dark offices and chucked instructions at me. One day the computers of half of the team were taken without previous warning. Mind you they didn’t even tell the supervisor, well ex-supervisor. How much respect does that show towards the employees? You come in one morning and you find the photograph of your daughter thrown at the top of your documents and slammed down at a random corner of the office? The next day I came in, all the computers around mine were taken and I was sitting alone in the sea of white desks, like a poor polar bear stuck on a piece of floating ice.
I would have put up with this and the fact that in the last one and a half month I didn’t talk to my supervisors at all. Well, they didn’t talk to me. There was only one supervisor (not from our team) who came regularly to check on us, to ask how we were and generally just giving a damn. He was the only person in the management who made me feel like a human, a person, and not a login code. I have worked in call centers for 2,5 years. I should have, I could have get used to the fact that nobody cares about “me.” But that’s bloody difficult. Especially if you are a creative person. Especially if you believe that with your three degrees and five languages you shouldn’t be treated as an android.
And so when everybody asked why I was leaving, I tried to tell all the little spites I’d been putting up with but words always failed me. Now I had some time to order my thoughts into shape.
I had two call center jobs before. I didn’t like them, well I downright disliked them but I could see the end of both. The one in Budapest lasted for a year until I left for London to study. The one in London lasted for a year and was perfect to give me enough money to sustain myself while studying. But this last one… I just didn’t see the end. I told myself to put on a brave face and to fight and I did for a while but there came the point when it was just too much. I told myself I would rather be a servant in Hell than a slave here. I really liked my colleagues though, they were a bunch of interesting and lovely people. I learnt a lot from them. And the painful thing is that in the beginning I enjoyed my job. This was the first ever job where customers didn’t make me cry and where I didn’t make this face when I had to go to work in the morning or had to come back from work after lunch:
I was content. And they even took this little happiness.
I sort of fancy myself to be a freedom fighter. Not loudly, not forcefully. But there is a point after which I can’t bear the silence. The last straw was when I told my new manager that the only thing I would have wished for was a discussion and maybe a choice. I don’t like to be cornered. It brings out the most basic animal instincts in me which is attacking or fleeing. Since I’m too peaceful for the former I usually choose to run for my life.
When I asked for discussion she hinted at the fact that I should be happy that they offered me an alternative position at all. I should be happy that I was not fired. Anyway, it was so difficult to find a job these days. I just had enough.
I talked it over with my boyfriend who was super nice and supportive. Even my parents, who are usually the paragons of practicality, said that if it was that bad, I should leave. And I talked it over with myself. It was a long talk.
What I figured out in the end is that I am too old and too young to continue doing something that I very much didn’t like. Something that made me feel like washing the dishes at home would be a more meaningful way of spending my time. Something that bore the risk that one day I myself would believe that I was nothing more than an employee number.
I’ve been looking for a new job for a month. It’s not easy. I had a horrible job interview, I had refusals, I had the awkward silence. I had the delirium of freedom. I had the despair of freedom. But I have plans. I spend more time with my writing, I joined writing forums and got good feedback. The day I handed in my resignation, I had the possibility to join the editing team of a Hungarian publishing house. On the first monthiversary of my adieu to the company I got the first chapter of my novel published. I figured out that I would really like to teach English. First to private students and then maybe to pass a state exam and teach in schools. Maybe I would have more use in life then with selling theatre tickets or fixing a misbehaving Office package. I’m learning about Paris. This city which was for so long the theatre of my willing exile now is becoming my friend and my map. I got to know that Nicolas Flamel, the alchemist really lived here. There is a small version of the Statue of Liberty hidden on an island. Gosh, they even have a porn cinema. I’m learning the city like I’m learning a lesson. I dream about doing my own thematic walking tours, about the lives and loves of artists, about the dirty little secrets of the city.
Of course, there is the chance that in one month or two months when my savings grow scarce, when freedom becomes a burden, I would throw away my pride and go back to work for a call center. Maybe I will fail, I’m not deluding myself for a minute. But I still won’t feel that I have lost. Because I tried. And I would rather die trying than live in regret. Because maybe somebody will read this and think about their lives and get the courage to take a leap of faith. But maybe not.
My situation is not easy but I know I’m lucky. I still have most of my life ahead of me. I have the support of my boyfriend, my family, my friends. I don’t have three hungry children to feed. I don’t have a mortgage on my house. If any of these circumstances would be different, I wouldn’t be trying, I would try to put up with what life deemed fit for me.
But I’m lucky. This is my time to dream, my time to try. If I wasn’t, I would be betraying myself.