How Olivia Pope Inspired Me To Finally Quit My Job.

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I’m really proud of that title. It might be the most click-baity thing I’ve ever written. And maybe for half a second you thought that I knew either Kerry Washington or Shonda Rhimes and I’d really like to be that version of me for a few more moments please…

Okay, back to reality, oh, there goes gravity.

The questions “where do you want to work” and “what kind of job do you want” have been banging around in my head for the past few years due to my being in a state of perpetual job hunting. My answer to that question was always “with good people.” I didn’t particularly care where I worked or what I did—at the very least I wanted to work with people I respected and wanted to be around all day. I am one of the lucky ones that has honed those generic, yet elusive, “management skills” and can apply them just about anything: offices, projects, people, budgets, queues, small children, cats. And I do it with pizzaz too, obviously. Obviously.

Good people. Easy. That’s like saying I want to work in an office with chairs. Or pens. Except somewhere in between my first and second time crying in the bathroom of my last job, it dawned on me: “There are no chairs in this office.” I mean: “My boss is not a good person.” And I didn’t want to work with someone like that. The award for Understatement of the Year goes to me because that barely scratches the surface. It was shocking. Jaw-dropping levels of shocking. And I watched Michael Pitt eat his own face on Hannibal so trust me, I’ve seen things.

Complaining about it to a few trusted friends and my mum became therapy for me. I knew had two options—either leave my job or stay—but I couldn’t help but feel this inkling of failure at wanting to leave a job because I thought my boss was a horrible person. Like it was somehow my fault. Like I shouldn’t let it get to me so much because, hey, jobs suck! Everyone hates their boss a little bit! Nobody actually loves their job! Fiona is the most jerkin’ girl in the world!

I thought I could compartmentalize my stress but it bled out into my regular life. On top of my horrible boss, the job itself was manic, micromanage-y, and unorganized due to years I don’t even know what and the Christmas rush exasperated everything. I was sleeping in until late afternoon on the weekends and not doing anything because I was too exhausted. I stopped writing, stopped taking pictures, stopped tweezing my eyebrows. It was a dark timeline.

And then I rationalized: well, maybe that’s what having a steady, salaried job is like; after years of working short-term contracts, maybe I had no idea what I was getting into. I mean, commuters always look depressed for a reason. Maybe I wasn’t working hard enough. Maybe I needed to stop being a princess and get over myself.

My beautiful friend Michelle—who is from Quebec and therefore, like poutine, better than you—provided me with the first little push. She basically said, “Did you invest in a visa and move to a new country to spend all of your time stressed about your job?” Hell. No. I could have that anywhere. I didn’t leave behind most of my things, including my unicorn stuffed animal that my mum still refuses to mail to me, and move to London to sit in bed with terrible eyebrows every weekend.

I started casually job hunting but I still didn’t quit. Instead, I rationalized more: job hunting is hard and I couldn’t risk being jobless for any amount of time in a foreign country; this job pays pretty well; everyone else is really great and I do like the work; he actually goes on business trips a lot and isn’t in the office every day; I could work hard to implement new systems to update the abysmal operations to something shiny and great; the bathroom is still a really great place to cry.

Rationalizing and compartmentalizing weren’t working so I started eating my feelings instead. It was a delicious time, but also a sad time. Sad for my black Levis because they now cut off the circulation to my thighs and I can’t button them up any more. God dammit, black denim literally goes with everything. This was getting out of control.

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These tumultuous waves represent my feelings or something.

And then I was home one weekend, eating ice cream in my pajamas and getting caught up on Scandal—as one does—and it happened. The Secret Service was in trouble for maybe being involved with some lady’s death (Secret Service, amirite?) and Olivia storms over to the Oval to give Fitz a piece of her mind. He’s all, “I’m the President, wah, wah, wah.” She’s about to leave but then she pauses, turns back, and gives that withering Olivia Pope look that I’ll foolishly keep practicing in my bathroom mirror despite knowing I’ll never come even close to achieving it and says, “The fish rots from the head.”

The fish rots from the head.

Basically it means that in a company every problem starts from the top. It was an epiphany moment for me because it made me realize two things. One, no matter how hard I worked and how hard everyone else worked, it could only only do so much—and never enough—to make up for the bad leadership, bad personality, bad everything. It permeates the entire office culture and affects routines, workmanship, and decisions. And two, well, you can’t un-rot a fish, can you.

I can’t give all the credit to gladiator goddesses Shonda Rhimes and Kerry Washington because it’s a common phrase in the business world that even has a book devoted to the concept. But no one delivers a line like Kerry Washington as Olivia Pope and it immediately flipped a switch in me. I wasn’t just going to think about leaving my job and complain about wanting to leave my job—I was going to actually leave. And “the fish rots from the head” became my mantra. As I planned my exit strategy, my new Olivia Pope state of enlightenment kept me calm and sane throughout all of the daily bullshit frustrations. I contemplated wearing a white hat but I didn’t want to tip anybody off to my new state of mind.

Normal people would leave a job once they found a replacement one. But if there’s one thing you must know about me it’s that I love ice cream. And the second is that I’m not normal. It was a few weeks later and I had emailed my boss a question and instead of answering me himself, he had somebody else call me to tell me I was wrong (I wasn’t). Olivia Pope whispered to me, “It’s time.” I hung up the phone, glared at the phone, contemplated throwing the phone, announced to myself, “That’s it, I’m done,” and gave my notice a few days later.

The timing was perfect because I gave notice to work until the end of my six-month contract, which happened to be eleven days later. Let me clarify: the timing was perfect for me, a totally done, wannabe-gladiator who would rather make the statement, “Why yes, I do want to risk being jobless instead of extending this contract for even just one more month and no, I shan’t be staying any longer to help you train a replacement, good luck with that,” than have something stable lined up in advance. Not as flashy as lighting a bin on fire (I don’t say “trash can” any more because I’m pretty much British now, deal with it) but it felt good.

Olivia Pope would be so damn proud.

PS – the spirits of gladiators past were so pleased with my actions they blessed me with a new job that ended up starting a day after the old one. It involves photo booths. (If there’s another thing you should know about me it’s that I have an irrational fear of the entire state of California. And I love photo booths.)

PPS – Millie for President.

  • Loïe

    Oh my goodness, I recently took the plunge and quit a job and I could have written this: “And then I rationalized: well, maybe that’s what having a steady, salaried job is like; after years of working short-term contracts, maybe I had no idea what I was getting into. I mean, commuters always look depressed for a reason. Maybe I wasn’t working hard enough. Maybe I needed to stop being a princess and get over myself.” I’m glad you’re happy about your decision. I know I ended up being happy with mine.