A Big Change

Two weeks ago I did something that, for the last two months, it had grown increasingly unlikely I ever would do: I finally, definitively, and without regrets, quit my job.

How did things progress from that post several months ago, in which I was uninhibitedly gushing about my boss and talking about the great future in the company I (and he) thought I had? Well, that’s a long story, and one I’ve told so many times to everyone who will listen that it doesn’t even seem exhausting any more but merely routine. Should I tell it here? I’m not sure.

There’s something about the airing of professional baggage online that makes me think it’ll be a bad idea, and that even if I were to feel great while doing it, someone, somewhere who might employ me in the future could come upon it and get the wrong idea from it, begin to think that I’m difficult, demanding, high-maintenance, and a general pain to work with. I’m not saying I’m not, at least occasionally, all of those things. One of the things that made my boss take such a swift and undeniable liking to me, as he told me once, was how much I reminded him of himself. Right now, looking back at how and where and when everything first started going wrong, I would never deny that that might be at least partly true. I would love to be able to pick out the good parts, but the fact is, the way I see it, I could have easily chosen a direction that would have caused me to end up with only the bad.

What it comes down to, and the only part I feel is really worth telling, is that quitting a job is very much like ending a relationship. You have all of these images in your head of what your future will look like if you continue along that track, and the hardest part is freeing yourself of those. Realizing, “No, I won’t spend the rest of my life with this person/at this job because that would mean the rest of my life would be miserable” is certainly not as easy as it might seem. The second my boss told me that I had a future at the company, my mind leapt easily to images of myself in a year’s time. I would be working full-time at the agency, making enough money to start thinking of buying my own flat in Berlin. I would come back to New York every once in a while and regale my friends with tales of my success and oversized, decadent living quarters. Everyone would be envious. I would feel like I had the successful life I was always meant to have, and, wonder of wonders, I had it without going through years of struggle in a harsh, expensive city, without dedicating nearly a decade to graduate school. Part of this was my own sense of ambition: exactly the kind of striving that I always feel I have been built and brought up for. But then, that was why I left New York and came to Berlin, I finally realized: to show myself that I could be happy without the prestige, and that I could define a new level of success that wasn’t attached to any name brand.

I remember having a conversation with my friend and former roommate Ashley exactly a year ago, right around the time I was graduating from Columbia. She said that one of the hardest parts of graduating was realizing that you could disassociate yourself from an organization, a group, something with a name brand, and still be a person. Well perhaps coming to Berlin was my attempt at joining a new group to replace the old one—albeit one that might not have looked like it from the outside. In being here, I am now part of that group of people one would label “Berlin expats,” but I’m only part of it to the people who are not here. As my now ex-boss once said, one of the many things that I found particularly insightful on his part and which has stuck with me in spite of our problems, is the idea that “merely living in a city doesn’t make you cool.” Well, it certainly doesn’t to all of the other people who live there; only to the people who are on the outside, the people you come back to, reporting that your life is perfect and you are having a great time. In fact, it is exactly the same with this job. Who was I impressing by staying there? At the beginning, it felt good to say that I was working in advertising, had a paid internship on track to being full time, and I had found this after only being here for three months. But no one at my office cared; they were all too busy working. And pretty soon my excitement and enthusiasm gave way to dull acceptance and then to stress and then sheer misery. I was no longer talking about the job in glowing terms because I no longer felt any sense of appreciation or wonder at my being there: I just wanted out.

So if I had to make an all-encompassing observation about the entire experience, it would be this: Much like I have thought at the end of my relationships, I can only conclude that I’m glad I went through it. It was wonderful and awful at the same time. It taught me a lot about myself. If I had the chance to do it all over again I would not change a thing. But most of all, it taught me what this dream of Berlin is and is not to me. Perhaps I needed this in order to transition out of the New York lifestyle and into the Berlin one. When I came here, I felt like I could only really say I’d found success if I found a full-time job. That seemed so far out there, so coveted and yet so rare, that I knew if I managed to get an actual job here, I would feel like I’d accomplished something. I forgot that I graduated from college dreading the very idea of a full-time office job, and a full-time office job in Berlin is still just a full-time office job. I’ve now ruled it out as a possibility, because if you don’t need to work ten hours a day to afford your rent than why should you? If I had wanted that I would have stayed in New York, and I’m in Berlin now.