Why I quit my job: the quest for vocation

Climbing from a part-time retail sales associate to the Sr. Director of Business Intelligence and Logistics as our company grew from four stores to forty, my career path was every start-up employee’s dream. With each new role I was given responsibilities far exceeding my experience level that made me proud, excited, and determined to succeed. I traveled to New York City twice a year for toy fair and retail conferences among other travel, I had credibility in the industry as a key player in the supply chain, I steered the company through many bumpy roads and helped them avoid many failures. I was working insane hours alongside a small team of co-workers turned lifelong friends, enjoying the highs and lows of this work obsession together. I described myself as a workaholic, defining my vocation, my self, and my character by swallowing this persona fully. It was madness and all consuming, but I was bought in and bought in one hundred percent. 

Then one day this all changed. For the first time I identified feelings of detachment, growing to a full discontent with the people, the place, the success, and the idea of my vocation entirely. I woke up and realized that I no longer identified with the mass retail industry in its consumeristic drive, its disregard for the true well-being of its customers, its empty purpose in this beautiful and hurting world. The once found joy in solving problems was replaced with a bleak indifference as I grieved the loss of this company I once loved. Not its loss to me then, but the loss of the company it was when I started: a small, closely knit group of people that came together to fight for something great. It was over and so was my time there.

My journey towards quitting took a few months longer than it should have. I was mentally done about four months before I handed in my resignation letter, but it took the counsel of good friends, the words of wise authors and poets, and a boldness of self finally realized to get me to that day. At the suggestion of a friend, I read Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation by Parker J. Palmer, and it opened my eyes to so much life-giving truth. Before I read this book, my only thoughts about vocation centered on Frederick Buechner’s quote, “Vocation is the place where our deep gladness meets the world’s deep need,” but I didn’t quite know how to live into that calling. Here are some words that pulled me further into contemplating vocation:

Vocation at its deepest level is, ‘This is something I can’t not do, for reasons I’m unable to explain to anyone else and don’t fully understand myself but that are nonetheless compelling.’ [Parker J. Palmer]

If you are here unfaithfully with us, you’re causing terrible damage. [Rumi]

As often happens on the spiritual journey, we have arrived at the heart of a paradox: each time a door closes, the rest of the world opens up. All we need to do is stop pounding on the door that just closed, turn around – which puts the door behind us – and welcome the largeness of life that now lies open to our souls. The door that closed kept us from entering a room, but what now lies before us is the rest of reality. [Parker J. Palmer]

Always in the big woods when you leave familiar ground and step off alone into a new place there will be, along with the feelings of curiosity and excitement, a little nagging of dread. It is the ancient fire of the unknown, and it is your first bond with the wilderness you are going into. [Wendell Berry]

You only need to claim the events of your life to make yourself yours. When you truly possess all you have been and done…you are fierce with reality. [Florida Scott Maxwell]

These words, along with the poem Journey from the beloved Mary Oliver (see below), spurred me to quit, to reclaim my life and live into the idea of finding my real self. After hearing these words I couldn’t ignore them. I couldn’t carry on with the discordant mental state of unfaithfulness. And so I quit without a job lined up but a future holding plans to travel the world, invest in relationships, fill my days with creative endeavors, and search for this divine intersection of deep gladness and deep need. May 13th, 2016 was my last day of work, and I have not regretted it for one second since. Not one single second.

For those of you considering this change: yes there are bills and yes there are expectations and yes it’s scary to venture into the unknown, but it is essential to striving deeper and deeper into the world of true vocation. Now is the time. You will never find the life you’re seeking if you can’t close the door to your current discontented life and turn towards the shadowy yet bright welcoming doors of the unknown.

The Journey
One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice–
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do–
determined to save
the only life you could save.
Mary Oliver
My name is Elisabeth Fondell. I quit my corporate retail job in May of 2016 and have been on a self-appointed sabbatical ever since. In the pursuit of reclaiming my life, I’ve spent this sabbatical filling my days with travel to illuminating places, thought provoking words, poems, pottery, and the pursuit of wholeness.
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Your Comments
  • Elisabeth… it is a joy to read of the life you are living into. Buechner, Palmer, Oliver are all rich healing voices that have been alive in me for quite some time. I found them in midlife – how good that you have found them in your younger years.

    • Dennis,

      Thank you for reading. I appreciate your support and thoughtful dialogue. Buechner, Palmer, and Oliver, among many others, seem to be the clarity and truth amidst the world that otherwise seems to be loud and jarring. I hope to continue finding these voices. I welcome any suggestions!


      • a few more…

        Annie Dillard – “Holy the Firm” – “Teaching a Stone to Talk” – “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek”

        John O’Donohue – “Beauty: The Invisible Embrace”

        David Whyte – “House of Belonging” (poetry)

        Rainer Maria Rilke – “Letter(s) to a Young Poet” – “Selected Poems” (edited by Robert Bly)

        Kathleen Norris – “Dakota”

        Mark Salzman – “Lying Awake” (short novel on vocation)

        I’m sure you already know some of these but… glad to suggest resources to likeminded souls. dennis

  • Elizabeth

    I do t know many of the writers you speak of but the journey is what the world is all about. You must be present to enjoy all the world is about. The “work life balance” is something that should really be life that is sustained by work”. We all too often allow it to be “work that sustained life. So very proud of you for taking the time to see the other side of life. I know you will do amazing things in this world. Why because you rock and that’s the damn truth.

    Patty – baltimore

    • Patty, thank you for reading! You are an inspiration to me and always have been. It is, indeed, the journey that matters, and we all need more reminders that life is sustained by work, not the other way around. I love that. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

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