TL;DR: I quit my relatively cushy, full-time reporter job at the New York Post after one of my tweets went very viral with no backup plan and no real professional prospects.
But the full-length version of how I came to that decision is something slightly more complicated. Something much more quintessentially, perhaps tiresomely, millennial.
I should probably start by saying that I did actually enjoy my time working at the Post. My boss took a chance on me in a senior position, I learned how to be a real reporter for the first time in my career, and I was often given a lot of leeway to write some very weird pieces of content.
That being said, however, writing for the fashion section of the Post was like working in a shiny pink, liberal bubble. No real oversight from upper management, no enormous traffic expectations, and the veneer of “women’s writing” as protection from some of the more aggressively conservative op-eds and stories the paper is known for publishing.
At first, I just tried not to read them. A job is a job, after all.
But that type of content is built to poke and prod at you. Its only goal is to get under your skin, to provoke, to stoke the flames while playing the victim.
Still, I held my tongue.
Until one day I didn’t.
The story that finally broke the camel’s back wasn’t even one of the more particularly insidious examples. I never dreamt a half-baked piece on millennials killing the power lunch would be the professional hill I would choose to die on, until one night in late October I found myself typing up a heated response to my employer’s tweet on that very subject.
I paused before pressing send and asked myself, “Is this really what you want to say?” Yes. “Do you stand by it?” Hell yes. “What’s the worst that could happen?” They fire me, I guess.
So, as roughly 93,000 of you now know, I took that chance and the tweet spiraled exponentially out of my control.
Unsurprisingly, the next day I was called into HR and given a choice: delete the tweet and be put on probation or leave it and they’d have to pursue more serious consequences, which given the tone of our conversation, to my mind, could only mean unemployment.
When I told them I needed to sleep on it, they said if I needed to sleep on it I clearly didn’t understand the seriousness of the situation.
But I think the situation was actually more serious for me than they understood. This wasn’t just about my stupid tweet or a lazy take about millennials murdering something completely out of their control. It had come to symbolize something far beyond me being a dumbass online.
It was the first time, in a long time, I’d written something in my real voice from my real point of view. It was like everything I’d been holding back for so long had come tumbling out and the response was overwhelming. Hundreds of people commented with their own bad lunch break stories and shared frustration with the blame our generation gets for the collapse of everything around us when we’re really just trying to get the boot off our necks.
For the first time, I felt like an integral part of a much larger cultural conversation. I felt like I had allowed this small geyser of communal rage to be released. I remembered why I even wanted to write to begin with.
So I left the tweet up.
Then three days passed and nothing happened. Meanwhile, the tweet just got bigger and bigger.
The following week I met with HR again and was told that I somehow still had a job.
But mentally, I had already been fired. I had spent the past week crying and asking every person I knew for guidance before ultimately steeling myself for the worst. Except the worst never came.
That should be the end of the story. Just learn your lesson and get back to work. But for me it was like the lights had suddenly been turned on and I could finally see my career for what it really is.
I’ve spent my entire professional life diligently working my way up the fashion writing ladder, doing whatever was asked of me, telling the stories everybody else wanted told. I woke up at 5 A.M. every day for two years to be the first person to cover Kim Kardashian’s nude selfies. I worked until midnight on weekends so readers would know where they could buy Beyoncé’s clutch. I became an SEO master to make sure as many eyes as possible would land on my expertly crafted descriptions of celebrity hair changes, wardrobe malfunctions, and women over 50 in bikinis.
What I didn’t do during all that time is write very much of anything that I‘m really proud of. I sacrificed a lot of myself in the name of experience, money and a moderately more impressive resume. Not to say there’s anything wrong with that, especially when you’re young and just want someone to take a chance on paying you to do what you love. But eventually, all that clickbait wears thin and you get hungry for something more. It took doing something a little reckless for me to finally realize I was actually starving.
So I quit.
I don’t expect a lot of sympathy for this decision. I don’t even particularly expect anyone to give a shit. This is a story of immense privilege, after all. I’m well aware of the privilege of even having a job to quit in a year when 7,800 media people lost theirs not by choice.
To say nothing of the inherent privilege that comes with being a white, cis, hetero, able-bodied, childless woman from a family that would love nothing more than for me to be forced to move back home to New Hampshire full time.
The decision I made makes no real logical, financial, or professional sense. But then again, neither does the decision to even be a writer in the first place. Too many of us are hired for our voices and then paid to edit them out again. Hired to produce an endless stream of titillating, yet anodyne, content designed to appeal to the widest possible audience.
There are no guarantees in what we do. The entire industry is just making it up as they go along while acting like we’re marching towards some digital manifest destiny. But the truth of this medium is that it’s eternally inchoate.
As millennials, we know we’re going to get blamed for however this big media experiment turns out anyway, so why don’t we at least start playing by our own rules?