She Leaved

Confessions of a Quitter

Our family camp on the north shore of Lake Superior was the landing place for creating some of my most cherished family memories. I was young and single and enjoyed the arguable status of ‘best aunt in the whole wide world’ to my two young nephews. I think proximity had a lot to do with it but, in fairness, I was a pretty cool auntie.

During one of our camp stays, my younger nephew Aaron had been lobbying loud and hard for me to pitch a tent on the front lawn. He wanted to sleep over in the tent with me, and tonight was to be the night.

I pitched the tent and appointed it with amenities to make all a toddler’s glamping dreams come true – soft fluffy pillows, cozy comforters, every stuffed animal within a kilometre, and a stack of books including Richard Scarry’s Cars and Trucks and Things That Go. (Renamed after small ears overheard one of the grandparents. We’d often hear Aaron yelling from potty training sessions in the loo: “Nonna! Bring me the Book from Hell!”)

While the summer sun still high in the bright and cloudless sky, the freshly bathed, powdered, pyjama-ed curly haired cherub and I settled in, snuggled under cozy covers and surrounded by pillows, books and stuffed animal booty.

There was a bit of a breeze that evening, causing the tent to rustle, and the shadows of the trees to dance on the tent walls. Each time, the cherub’s blue eyes would widen in fear and he’d ask “what was that?” I did my best to assure him that all was well.

Eventually, he left to use the bathroom inside and, after waiting even longer than the nearly seventeen minutes it takes to read the Book from Hell, I disembarked the tent to see what was up. I found him in the front room, snuggled under a blanket on the couch, a bowl of popcorn on his lap, and a Disney movie playing on the beta max. It was clear that he had no intention of returning to the tent of death.

When he looked up to find me standing there in bemusement, he shrugged a little shrug, said “I leaved” and returned the movie, munching on his popcorn.

And just like that “I leaved” became part of my personal lexicon.

A couple of years later, when I’d moved to Sudbury to study computer technology, I signed up for an unpaid weekend orientation session with a prospective employer, a new call centre taking incoming computer support calls. The morning session consisted of more than one senior team member subtly and not so subtly threatening immediate dismissal for anyone who might consider organizing the workers under a labour union.

I left at the Saturday morning coffee break and did not return.

Instead, I drove home, threw together a hasty overnight bag and drove the almost five hours to Nils Bay in order to salvage the rest of the weekend doing what I really and truly in my heart had wanted to do.

I arrived to find my mom and the cherub grandson in the middle of a very intense Skip Bo competition. When they looked up surprised to see me there, I pronounced “I leaved.” My mom laughed and said she’d had a feeling that that job wouldn’t work out.

My name is Janine and I am a quitter.

It wasn’t the first time I’d followed my heart and left a situation that was not working for me, and except for the fact that I have become better at creating and living situations that DO work for me, it likely won’t be the last.

I’ve become better at reading the signs, and rather than creating a crisis whose only logical outcome is burning bridges and depleting myself financially and emotionally before beating a retreat, I understand that in choosing to leave that which no longer suits me, I’m creating the space for transformation and growth that can swoop in.

I quit my job in North Bay to return to my hometown and a new career as a municipal social services worker, delivering welfare and special discretionary financial assistance to people in need. The birth of my eldest nephew, my parents’ first grandchild, triggered an immense and uncontrollable feeling of grief in me and I knew that I needed to return in order to address and heal whatever was the cause of that wound.

I quit that career in social service after 8 years in a toxic work environment whose only saving grace was the freedom to use provincially legislated resources in assisting people through difficult times – a grace that was removed when the Mike Harris Common Sense Revolution won government in Ontario and rewrote welfare legislation such that the work of social service became reducing the rolls, finding any excuse to deem someone ineligible for assistance, and policing them with paperwork in order to dissuade them from applying in the first place.

Some of my colleagues were astounded that I would leave such a well-paid position with a pension plan (I walked away from tens of thousands of dollars by leaving after 8 years when it took 10 to become vested in the plan)

And some of my colleagues expressed admiration for my courage.

It didn’t feel like courage. It felt like survival.  

But there is, as they say, no geographical cure. Wherever you go, you take you with you.

In this case I travelled a thousand kilometres east to a new workplace and career to find myself in the same toxic kind of work environment, except this time it was in the private sector, with not even the perceived protection of union representation.

So, once again, after a couple of years and hundreds of hours of Buddhist chanting, it was time to leave. This time, instead of quitting, I moved gracefully to a career with Canada’s New Democratic Party where my role and responsibilities evolved from database support to legislative aide.

It was the dream gig, but even dream gigs wear thin eventually. So, after 15 years, 8 election campaigns, and 6 Parliamentary cycles, I felt more than a little depleted. At the age when many workers are planning for retirement, I leaved.

I left in love. Sinai Johnson describes it here. I learned about Sinai and her work as part of the Feminist Copywriting Certification Course under Culture Maker Kelly Diels.

I don’t quite know what the next thing looks like yet, but I trust that when I make choices that are authentic to me, only good things will result. I have the evidence of my experience to back me up.

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