(for the past few days/weeks/months, anyway. Buckle up, kiddies, it's gonna be a long one!)
"So," he asks, "if you were creating a reality show starring any celebrity, who would you pick?"
"Brad and Angelina," I say. "Or ... wait. Actually, Jennifer Aniston. A dating show starring Jennifer Aniston! Can you imagine?"
"I'd pick Michael Jackson," he says.
"Ooh, yeah," I say. "Good call. He's a freak."
"What?" he says. "He's the king of pop!"
"He IS the king of pop," I acknowledge. "But he also calls his kid Blanket."
"True," he concedes.
I'm on a phone interview with an entertainment website. In 16 hours, I will quit my job.
* * *
Four months (almost) earlier
I'm at work, and an email pops in. There will be a meeting at 10 a.m., it says. I look at the clock. It's 10 a.m. We all get up and walk to the conference room, whispering and shooting looks at each other.
Our owners are in the room. They cut right to the chase: They're moving our office to Charlotte in July. Some people will be asked to go, some people won't, some people will be asked to live in other cities so our resources will be better spread across the country. All costs, including a moving bonus, will be paid by the company. No one is surprised, necessarily, but at the same time, everyone is shocked.
I'm the only person who asks a question. "When do we have to decide?"
The answer: end of April.
* * *
I visit Charlotte at the end of March. One of my college roommates lives there, along with two other friends from college, plus a whole bunch of coworkers who moved there the year before. It's lovely and fun and it makes me feel ... nothing. Nothing great, nothing terrible. I feel like if I moved there, I would be fine. The only problem is, I don't know if fine is enough.
Two weeks later, I go to New York. It makes me feel a lot of things: stressed, excited, motivated, overwhelmed.
I don't know what to do.
* * *
I'm having a hard time breathing. I walk around like normal, I talk like normal, I act like normal, but all the time, I feel like there's a rubber band wrapped tight around my lungs. When I go home at night, it gets worse, because then I HAVE to think about things. I don't know what I'm supposed to be doing with the time that's not locked in stone: Should I should be cleaning out my closet, looking for a new job, finding a place to live, calling the movers ...? I don't know, and it's paralyzing.
One night, I stay late at work because I'm not ready to go home yet. I'm listening to my iTunes, and different lyrics keep jumping out at me:
"Are these times contagious? I've never been this bored before ... is this the prize I waited for?"
"And if I die before I learn to speak, can money pay for all the days I lived awake but half asleep?"
I start reading my blog, going back a month at a time. I don't know why. Maybe I was subconsciously looking for a clue, maybe I was just trying to kill some time. But as I read, a definite theme emerges (aside from, you know, the fact that I get pulled over a lot and stalk innocent bystanders):
From this one
: "I kind of feel like I'm waiting for ... something. I don't want to be one of those people who always talks about doing things and never does them. So I guess in 2008, I want to be more of a doer. More proactive instead of reactive. Blah blah blah."
And this one
: "I thought, well, why don't we all live like that? Why don't we all just go for it more often? And I think it's because you have to be incredibly brave. You have to put yourself out there, you have to take risks, you have to be the one taking accountability for your own happiness, and it's scary. If you're told your time is limited, well, then you have nothing else to lose. But otherwise, you can tell yourself you have forever. Or at least 30 more years. Or 20. Or 10."
A few days later, I write this post
* * *
Making the decision a little bit (or a lot) more difficult is that everyone's jobs are going to change, but we're not being told HOW they'll change until after we commit (because, they say, they need to know what staff they're going to have before they make those decisions). I am adamant that if I am going to move for ANY job--whether it's my current job or a new job--it needs to be a better situation for me. Am I going to get to do more, am I going to be able to grow, so on and so forth.
My current job includes writing and editing. I can do both, and I like to do both. I'm told, though, that the way things are being restructured won't allow much room for someone to do both--it's pretty much one or the other. Writing is more in line with what I want to do long-term, and (after a very good pep talk or 10 from my Semmy) I call our CEO to tell him so. He says he had no idea I felt that way, he's so glad--make that thrilled--to hear it, and we'll work out the details the next time he is in town or I am in Charlotte.
I feel like it's the best of both worlds--I stay with my job, I get some flexibility and I get to do something a little bit different, something that is a natural next step in my career. I sign the paper.
* * *
I trade emails with the CEO a few times, but we can't lock down a date for me to go to Charlotte. In the meantime, another guy is hired by the owner and CEO to oversee our particular area of the company. (My new boss. N.B.) I send N.B. an email filling him in on what I do and include some links to stories I've written. A week or so later, N.B. starts calling people to tell them what their jobs will be. He sends me an email: "I'll call you tomorrow." Tomorrow comes and goes. Another email: "Let me know how late I can call tonight." No call. Another email: "Sorry, ran out of time ... I'll call tomorrow." No call. Five more days pass, and I start to wonder if maybe they're changing their minds on what they want to do with me. Finally, he calls.
It's a long, sometimes tense, conversation. N.B. says my job will be senior editor, based in Charlotte. It's completely different from what I had talked about with the CEO. I ask why it changed. He says because he doesn't have anyone else to fill that role, and I'm versatile. I tell him I understand, but I need to look at what is best for me and for my career. He says, career? How old are you? He says he doesn't know very many people my age who care about their careers. I ask him if that means I should just call him back in 10 years. He says, well, no, but his point is that there is plenty of time for me to do what I want, and basically, I can take one for the team for a while.
I tell him I have to think about it. He's surprised to hear that. It's a great job, he says. I agree that it's a great job for someone, but maybe not me.
It's four weeks before the move. I go home and I cry.
* * *
I start having panic attacks. One night, I literally cannot breathe for four hours. I leave the house because I feel claustrophobic, and I still can't breathe. I drive to the grocery store and sit in the parking lot, and I can't stop crying long enough to get out of the car.
* * *
N.B. comes to town to meet with everyone individually. Before my meeting, I go into our local bigwig's office, shut the door and ask if I can still get severance if I decide not to go. He's very surprised, but says probably. I tell him I will let him know after my meeting.
My meeting lasts twice as long as it's scheduled to. Some of it's good, some of it's not so good, some of it's somewhere in between. I start to realize that it's less about the specifics of the job and more about how I feel ... and something about it doesn't feel right. I feel like going would be the easy thing to do, but that it also might be taking a detour I'm not sure I want to take. All of those things I talk about, those big idealistic things? I want to BE those things, not just talk about being those things. And if there's any time in my life I'm going to take a risk, any time in my life I'm going to take a chance, it's now.
* * *
Friday morning, I walk into local bigwig's office and tell him I've decided not to go. We talk for a few minutes, and then I walk out. My friend is standing there, wide-eyed. I pull him into the hallway.
"You really did it?" he asks.
"I really did it." I pause. "Oh, my gosh, I really did it."
"How do you feel?"
"I don't know," I say. "I think I'm in shock. I don't do things like this. It's the kind of thing that's good in theory, or for other people to do, or ..."
And then I take a big gulp of air, look right into his eyes and start to cry.
My last day is July 6, and then I will write and look for a job I'll love. It's the scariest-as-shit decision I've ever made, the hardest decision I've ever made, but also the first decision I've ever made that has been completely for myself.
So ... here we go.