Sometimes it’s good to quit: Top five reasons why I quit my job

It’s been three months since I quit my job and started working on my own. Today, on what would have been my tenth year working for a small NGO, I’m taking the time to reflect on the reasons why I left. Here are the top 5. A caveat, though: don’t take the following as my advice to quit your own job. The job, by the way, was as a “senior education specialist” for a human rights NGO based in Montreal. I basically wrote human rights manuals and trained people about rights.┬áHere goes:

5. I just summed up the last ten years in two lines. That should be reason enough.

4. Flying sucks, as does everything in between flying. I took over 400 planes in over 50 trips, all flights but one were economy. I do not fit in any economy seat on any plane. I spent the equivalent of 24 days waiting in transit lounges that range in tolerance and comfort from the fifth circle of Hell to Purgatory. “Pam Am” the TV show is just that: pure fiction. Maybe it was like that in the 60s, but nowadays you basically have to disrobe in public at every airport and get felt up and down by a stranger who scolds you because you left a goddam quarter in your pocket and set off the machine. On top of that, having my entry into a country depend on some self-aggrandized idiot border guard has tested my patience on too many occasions. By the way, Israeli Defence Forces: you are just plain bad, and not good bad, just bad.

If you’re going to go, go boldly.

3. Doing the same thing for what seems like forever leads to complacency and lack of creativity. Ten years ago I said to friends and family, “I’m going to be in this job for one or two years and that’s it,” having no idea what I would do next, but convinced I would not stay long. Until that point in my life, the longest job I’d had was two years. After nearly ten years, a lot of the work wound up being the same – that makes it hard to be motivated on a daily basis. I needed more challenges, more uncertainty. I needed to see what other skills I had which I hadn’t even explored yet (and I am glad to have found them).

2. Sometimes you just have to jump and not know where the hell you’re going. I left my job knowing I had guaranteed work for three months, and that was all. In the job I quit, I knew with relative certainty that I could keep the job forever, unless I did something really stupid. I worked in human rights – people are violating them everywhere! Business is good! But seriously, every once in a while you need to take a risk and leap into the unknown. I needed to break free from that security. If anything, the anxiety of not knowing what to do fuelled my passion to search for new work. The most I had going for me was a feeling that everything was going to somehow work out. And it has (so far).

1. You need to shake things up to find balance in your life and zoom in on what’s important. I used to spend 2 1/2 hours in transit each day for work, five days a week. I left by 7 AM and came home before 6 PM. Now I take my children to the bus and see them off to school, work on my own schedule and greet them when their day is over at 3:45. Those 2 1/2 hours that used to be spent on the train with strangers are now spent with Boy 1 and Boy 2. I don’t need anything else to convince me that what I did was right.

I’m still flying economy, though. Can’t have it all.

Who inspires you?

The question “Who inspires you?” was asked a couple of weeks ago during a training of trainers workshop in Nepal. The workshop participants, a dozen human rights educators from South Asia, shared their thoughts on this question in a 15 minute one-on-one discussion. They had just answered another question, “Why did you become a human rights educator?”

I find it important to take the time once in a while to reflect on these questions, and just as importantly to share them with others. The dedicated human rights educators I have met are passionate, committed, honest, and firmly convinced on the importance of promoting and defending human rights for those whose rights are so often violated. That passion and dedication are rooted in some part of each one of us, and sharing it with others helps us define our own work more clearly.

When the participants went through this exercise, I sat at a distance away from them, unsure how well the activity would work because I’d never done it before. In the end, the feedback was positive, and I echoed my colleague’s sentiment when I said I wished I had also been part of the group. So I take a few moments now to reflect on who inspires me. Many people over the years, some of whom are human rights educators, but most of whom are not.

From 1993 to 1995, I lived in the town of Zomba in Malawi and taught at a girls school. I lived comfortably in a big house that was split in two, the other side occupied by a Peace Corps neighbour. A few metres in front of the house, just past the maize field, was a small shop where a neighbour of mine had a modest business selling general goods: Surf laundry detergent, Lux soap, Life cigarettes, Panadol for headaches, and sometimes my favourite anti-cockroach spray, DOOM! He stayed there during the day with his wife and three children, the youngest of whom, no more than four years old, had Down’s syndrome. She always waved as I passed by the shop on my way to town. At night, he slept in the store with his wife and youngest child, while his other children stayed with another family member in their house a few minutes away.

One Sunday I came home after a weekend out of town to see the familiar site of my neighbour sitting by his store playing checkers with a friend, his wife in the store, and two older children helping out. The youngest daughter was not there. I paid little attention to her absence, walked by and greeted them with a soft “Maswela.” I found out later that his daughter had died over the weekend.

For a moment I thought, How insensitive of this man to be playing checkers after his daughter just passed away. How unfeeling this man must be, how uncaring. But the grim reality of living in one of the poorest countries of the world is that death comes and takes anyone away on such a regular basis and without warning that the living are almost dulled into a fatalistic acceptance of these circumstances. My neighbour was not insensitive, but far more courageous than me. He was not uncaring, but showing – in his own way – that life must continue for his family, in a manner that is as “normal” as possible, despite their tragic loss.

His daughter would not have lived a long life, but she should not have lived such a short one. So when I think of a person who inspires me to do my human rights work, I think of my neighbour, I think of his courage and tenacity, and I think that if we lived in a better world, his life and the lives of his wife and children would have been a lot easier. Thinking that we can make a better life for people like him is what motivates me to do the work I do.