Setting Fire to the Ship

It seemed like an innocent enough request. “Can we call you if we have questions?” asked the interim CEO of the non-profit I will be leaving on Friday. “We would pay you as a contractor for your time, of course,” she added. Being me, I said sure. After all, what’s the harm in taking a phone call every now and then?

If my life were a movie, you might hear the familiar strains of my theme music in the background right about now. I goes something like ~

Last thing I remember, I was
Running for the door
I had to find the passage back to the place I was before
‘Relax’ said the night man,
‘We are programmed to receive.
You can check out any time you like,
But you can never leave!’

Somehow my saying “sure” turned into a request for “5 hours a week, to start”.

This is my 3rd time to quit this same job, and the 3rd time someone has asked me to stay in some way, shape, form, or fashion. One day, I’m sure I’ll look back on this whole thing and laugh, but on that particular day, I didn’t find it funny at all.

I spent my whole weekend stressing over how best to say no, wrestling with whether “no” was even the right thing to say. I mean, 5 hours is nothing. I could do that in my sleep and I’d be earning at least some money, right?

Not even my head could rationalize that in a way that convinced my heart.

After struggling for what seemed like hours to find the right words to backtrack my way out of this mess I had inadvertently (almost) agreed to, I decided to take a break and read. Right now, I’m reading One Woman Farm by Jenna Woginrich, a book about sheep and growing things; absolutely the farthest thing in the world from my problems with work. Wrong!

In the midst of chopping wood or butchering a pig (I can’t remember which), Jenna starts talking about failure. Specifically, she tells the story of how Cortez, upon arriving in the New World in 1519, set fire to his ships. His idea was simple – with no way to return home, his men had no choice but to give their all to this new venture.

I thought about that for a good minute and I knew. There was no way I was going to move forward on my own if I still had any connection to my old job. 5 hours or 25 hours, it didn’t matter, they both represented the same thing – a commitment to continue on a path I’d been trying to get off of for more than three years. I had to burn the ship.

So I did. And I did it with just that same anecdote. Whether they enjoyed the story of Cortez, I’ll never know. I never received a reply to that email, just a note from HR confirming my eligibility for COBRA benefits and a payout of my vacation days at the end of this month. But that’s okay. For the first time in all the many years I have had this job, I actually said no when I meant no, and I have no regrets.

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