It’s Okay to Quit

I grew up with working parents. Between night shifts, double shifts, daycare, and television nannies, my sisters and I were raised to work hard. We did chores everyday with scorn for our friends and cousins who received allowances. Our pockets were empty, but there were always expectations; expectations for good grades, that dishes would be cleaned, beds made, animals fed, floors swept, that we wouldn’t complain, that we would appreciate the things our parents provided. And they did provide. We always had food, Christmas meant new toys, maybe some cash for our birthdays, musical instruments for our betterment, and sports for our health. We learned respect, and we learned to share. Though we were not permitted to get summer jobs with our friends for fear that it would conflict with our educations and our few years left to act like kids, we were given a strict work ethic. We watched our parents start at the bottom and work their ways up. We were expected to do better by going to college.
So I did.
I earned my degree in 2008, and moved to Chicago to actualize my dream of becoming a writer. That was the year the city went bankrupt. There were no jobs for writers fresh out of college. There were no jobs at all, except in the grocery store, where I worked nearly every day of the week to accumulate a part time schedule of twenty-four hours total. I even took hours at another location that was a two hour train ride-bus ride-walk away. My only saving grace was a grace period on my loans, and a cheap apartment split four ways. It was a cold winter, a hungry year, and an adventure that I will never forget. It ended with me moving back to California, to my parents’ new home in the countryside, where jobs were equally as scarce.
I took another job in a grocery store, the only thing I could find that was close enough for me to travel to, still not having a car of my own, where I worked scattered hours in the deli, still only part time. I put in applications everywhere, but no one would take me. I just didn’t have the required experience.
I stayed at that job for three years. I worked my way up to full time. I became the night baker, and made a few pennies more an hour for working overnight. My hours were atrocious—12am-9am. And I began taking classes at the local community college, an hour away in Sonora, during the day. I barely slept.
I would go to school in the morning and stay for about ten hours. With the commute, I was away from home for about twelve hours. I had under two hours to try to sleep, an endeavor that I usually failed, before I had to leave for work. I often started my night in the freezer gathering my frozen doughs for baking, a job that should have been completed by the last shift, but was often overlooked. I’d lay out my dough to thaw and set the oven and proofers to roaring. The flies would buzz back to life in the warmth, and I’d try to spray them with insecticide as requested by the manager. I would wipe down my counters which were usually covered in bleach as a shortcut to proper cleaning by the last shift, and gather my spices and tools for the night. With any luck, there would be workable dough within an hour, and I would knead and shape and proof and bake. Once I could start the baking process, time would pass quickly into the early hours of the morning. My breads would fill the racks, and the smell of donuts would fill the town. Around 6am my boss would send me a list of specialty items that were needed at other locations where ovens had broken or other emergencies had transpired, and with frustration, I would begin again. When that was done, an hour or so before my shift was to end, I would try too package all of my product. I almost always worked through lunch because of the demanding oven timers, and I always stayed over, without pay, to finish packaging and cleanup. New products were a common requirement. Special orders were a daily customer request. Several times a week I would have to create a list of products for order, and a list of things for my coworkers to remove from the freezer, which they often forgot. I did these things without sleep. I grew accustomed to forty-eight hours at a time without any rest. I fell asleep on the road several times.
I asked my boss for help on many occasions. I wanted help packaging. I wanted to be paid for my overtime. I continued to work faster and sleep less. It didn’t change a thing. Instead, she changed my schedule to two day shifts and three night shifts a week, leading to less sleep than before.
I was beginning to snap. I could feel the neurons in my brain firing at will. My brain was breaking.
It began with auditory hallucinations. I covered them up by playing loud music all the time; Jewel, Springsteen, RHCP, CCR, rock, pop, rap, country. There was always music. But in no time the hallucinations became visual. I was seeing ghosts. They were everywhere. There was girl who hid behind the mixer. Something shadowy in the freezer. Glowing eyes in the closet. And I couldn’t sleep no matter how hard I tried. I believe I actually went insane.
I thought about quitting for a long time. But with nobody hiring I was afraid of not having a paycheck to cover the cost of my student loans. At just over minimum wage, I was barely able to make those payments, and I never saved a dime. I couldn’t take sick days or vacation. An offer had been made to the girl whom I replaced to take the title of Head Baker, for permanent status and benefits. She left, and the offer was never made to me. I was in a bind.
So for three years I kept it up.
I busted my butt through each holiday, through hour decreases, and received one twenty-five cent raise in three years, and was reprimanded many times for working off the clock, and even more for not finishing my job (so I’d work off the clock). In my inexperience, I did not understand that the pressure put on me was to prevent a lawsuit, though I could have had a case anyway.Three years of putting up with a miserable life, of rarely seeing daylight, of never moving up, and I really did snap.
To top it off, I had become the victim of the rumor mill. I had lost a significant amount of weight, likely due to how unhealthy I had become from sleep deprivation, and was suddenly getting attention from men all over town. The bakery-deli was run entirely by women. They felt threatened. The day before I quit, I walked into the bakery and caught my boss beginning a rumor in which I was sleeping with a barely legal butcher. It wasn’t the first time something like that had been said. That day, I learned where the rumors originated.
I came into work as scheduled, and with my conscience weighing on my chest, I put down my apron on the counter. I was terrified. I had not quit because I didn’t know if there would be another job. I knew my name would be slandered as it already had been out of spite. I stood there for an hour tossing the idea back and forth. There would be time still for me to get my bake done, but if I walked out, I wouldn’t have to worry about it ever again.
Ultimately, my pride won out over my work ethic, and I left. I sent my boss a text message as she had done many times to me. And I left.
Within an hour I was receiving calls from my boss and the area manager all begging me to come back—put in your two weeks, do it right, we’ll try to make changes, you’ll never get a job after this, come back and we’ll help you.
I went home, crawled into bed, and went to sleep. It was the best decision I have ever made.
When I woke up I spent the day filling out applications. I went to every business I could think of, one by one, and dropped off resumes. I spoke to managers and owners. I smiled and shook hands. I had felt so defeated, and here I was afraid and looking at the wild beast that is unemployment. I applied to at least thirty jobs that day. It was a Saturday. I took Sunday off. I went to the mountains to get away, a small vacation, a reward for three weeks of indentured servitude. When I returned home that evening I had several messages on my phone. I had been offered three jobs, no interview necessary. I was at work again on Monday. Despite the flack I got from my parents, teachers, and grandparents for being a quitter, I made the right decision. I could not get a better job without quitting the one I had. I could not move forward if I stagnated in the bakery. Everything was fine. I was fine. Did not need to waste my time.

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