From 2014 to 2016, I worked in what I thought was my dream job. I was managing editor at Wirecutter, which was one of the coolest startups in the world of journalism for consumer products. I had an apartment in the Lower East Side in Manhattan, and the city of New York embraced me with all its energy. I had self-published my first four novels during this time period, and I felt special for having a side hustle to accompany my day job.
On paper, I had what they call “Living your best life.”
But it wasn’t. At that time, I suffered from sciatica, a type of lower back pain which travels down one or two legs. That condition rendered me unable to walk more than two blocks without having to sit down on the sidewalk and clench my teeth to bear the electric jolts of pain. I also just looked like shit. I was bloated and pale, and my body looked really unhealthy, despite my regular habit of running three times a week and going to the gym every other day.
Like many people who work for startups, I thrived on the energy of my work environment, and I was committed to helping the growth of the team and serving the mission of the organization. But, the results I delivered were becoming uneven, and I couldn’t grasp why it was that some work days churned my stomach with dread, and other days didn’t.
In the summer of 2016, I decided to let go of my apartment, which in New York, is a big deal. Once people find a place, they do not let go for any reason. But I had an ambitious and somewhat unusual approach. I decided to work away New York for a few months. Once that time had passed and I felt better, I would come back to New York and find an all new apartment, so I could in effect turn a new leaf. I could do this thanks to the startup life. After all, our company was remote, and it was Slack, email and Zoom that connected us, not real office space. I sold most of my things, packed my clothes and laptop, and I said goodbye to Manhattan. When I landed in Chicago that June, I felt sick, and spent. Within a few days, I could see in my face just how hollowed out my eyes were. I knew then that I had to quit.
I let my manager know that I needed to step away and focus on my own writing, and more than anything, myself.
You would imagine that this moment when I quit my job would have been drenched in glory, but it wasn’t. It felt miserable. Like a mistake of sorts. It was so scary. It felt like being scraped from the inside with a cheese grater. It tasted of failure.
But I did it. I did it because I was going through a big change inside of me. I no longer fit in with my daily surroundings or with the teammates around me. This is not as simple as saying I hated my job, because that’s not the full story. I am also not going to bullshit you and describe a utopia of where I worked. All jobs are full of inept leadership, structural problems, racism, sexism, homophobia, and bozos, in various combinations. Ineptitude can happen in almost any job. My struggle really wasn't’ about the particulars of the environment that I was in. I was often perceived by the team I managed, my peers and my managers, as someone who is nice, intellectually strong, and a “giver,” which doesn’t actually tell the full story of what I’m like. I knew that there were other aspects of my skills and leadership that had nothing to do with being nice, or helpful to a fault. And though I could have worked on exhibiting those other qualities in this team, I wasn’t going to erase the solid image of how I was perceived.
That is, until I quit. Then it became evident that there were more dimensions to my character than what was at the surface.
You see, I was developing as an adult, and that particular job, despite being a dream job, was not going to help me do it. Nothing against them, because I had my own problems to solve. My journey required a new degree of solitude in which I could really discover my own depths, and in which I could make more provocative and risky choices. The chance to make these choices is what every leader, entrepreneur and artist dreams of.
By the time I had quit my job, I had already published four of my own books. You may think I am naive, but I didn’t think that this was such a big deal to have done this. I just saw it as my side hustle, and something that my heart compelled me to do. But the answer to my struggles was right there, in my books. You see, I had poured many types of energy into those novels: twenty five years of writing experiences as a journalist and fiction writing. I also threw in my expertise and tech and design. I wrote those novels using my understanding of human nature to describe characters who are flawed, and are always discovering who they are. And what’s even more important, I was channeling my entrepreneurial spirit into publishing those books. I was learning how to run my own business.
What I understand now in 2018, two years after that life-changing summer when I quit that job, is that I did well to listen to my artistic and business instincts and step the fuck away. Today, I am successfully running Solar Six, my own company, which publishes all my books. My sciatica has also resolved and has not returned. I am currently working on audiobooks of my novels, and I have expanded my editorial output to short documentaries and short films, which are funded via my Patreon account. I also launched LED Queens, a clothing line that I design and market. I have agency, and I have my own small team of designers, illustrators and creatives who help me make my readers, customers and fans happy. And most of all, I am not perceived as a “nice guy” and a “giver’ in this new role. Now I am described by others as as a queer punk, someone who is not afraid to be himself. Someone who takes charge and execute on ideas, works of art and design products that no one else can pull off.
Today my memories of quitting that job remain the same: they are painful memories, emotional burns that scorch and induce tears. But you know what? Quitting was the best thing I ever did. Because I found my actual purpose as a writer, designer and leader. I had to leave something behind, to let a part of me die, so another could be born from the carcass. If you have ever felt like quitting your job, and you don’t understand why you are doing it, this story will resonate with you. Although I don’t suffer fools gladly, and I encountered a few charlatans and sociopathic team members, I can’t say that I personally had an enemy or adversaries in that job of any kind. But I had an obstruction, and that obstruction was me. It wasn’t until I dealt with myself head on that I was able to become the person I am meant to be. And that journey continues. There’s still a lot more to learn, and as long as I am alive, I know to listen to my intuition. It is intuition that can be a powerful component for any leader and entrepreneur.