Jenna is a incredibly driven boss working two gigs. During the day, she's an alumni relations and development coordinator for Texas A&M University. Her side hustle? The founder + chief creative strategist at Lazy K Creative. She and her husband have two kids (as well as an eclectic group of farm animals) and live their lovely life on 28 acres outside of College Station, TX.
However, things weren't always so awesome for Miss Jenna. In 2013, she landed what she thought was a dream gig, only to have it quickly overrun her life, make her doubt herself and strain her home life. Eventually, she quit. Without a plan. Here's what happens when you give up your family's main source of income... right after you buy your dream home, and right before you find out you're pregnant (oh timing, you crazy thing you!), and why Jenna would do it all over again.
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In 2013, you landed a local director of marketing a local government job that What did you do from 9-5? What did your life look and feel like?
I started a government job in January 2013 as the director of communications and marketing. I left six months later. When I was initially interviewed for the position, I was told that there had been a lot of turnover in a short time, namely due to the fact that the previous individuals were not truly qualified for the position. I was hired because of my track record for building a quality creative team at Texas A&M.
I expected my 9-5 to consist of creating and executing an actual marketing plan. I did this, in a way, but in a much more reactive role rather than a calculated, planned way. I couldn’t persuade the government leadership to change, even though I was hired to bring about change. I ran around like a mad woman putting out fires, apologizing for mistakes that were out of my control, and having my family time interrupted with unnecessary media calls and by colleagues who always panicked for no good reason. I was exhausted, unhappy and overwhelmed.
What pushed you to finally quit your job?
What makes my time at the city so funny (now that I look back on it), is the fact that one week I was told that I was the best thing to ever happen to them. Ironically, one week later, I was pretty much told that I suck, that I had to choose between my family or my job, and that the only way I was going to be respected was to earn it the hard way.
One afternoon, my boss called me into her office to talk through a complaint that had been lodged against me…a complaint that I had never been made aware of, never had the chance to tell my side of the story, and never allowed to be innocent until proven guilty. She told me right then and there, “You need to think long and hard if this is the right place for you.”
So, I went home that night, had a heart to heart with myself and my hubby, and went into her office the next day to quit. Honestly, she was shocked. I think she was trying to intimidate me. Even though she was a large part of the problem, she took my leaving very well, even going so far as to say that she hoped I never turned out like her. I guess I should have seen the writing on the wall before I ever accepted the job, but honestly, I was blinded by the salary and the opportunity to really fix a department that needed fixing.
Was the decision scary for you? Why or why not?
Of course it was! I had never quit a job in my life without already knowing what my next move would be. The culture of the City was very toxic. One minute they were in love with me; the next I was a scapegoat for decisions out of my paygrade. So being forced into a corner so abruptly was not part of the plan.
For the first time in my life, I made the best decision for me at that moment. I couldn’t worry about tomorrow. Or six months from now. Or a year from now. I couldn’t worry about my next job or how I’d pay the bills. I just knew I had to get out of an awful situation before it claimed my confidence, my creativity, my marriage and my emotional and mental health.
You say you quit without a real plan and it sucked. What sucked about specifically? Did it ever stop sucking?
A lot sucked. But the worst part was the cash. I hate it when people say that money isn’t everything because those people usually have enough money to not end up bankrupt. I had six months of savings when I quit, and I knew I’d need every last penny just to pay the bills.
Up until then, I had always made more than my hubby, so when I quit, we lost 60-70 percent of our income. Funny enough, a month before I quit, we had broken ground on our dream home. The mortgage payment was huge, but nothing we couldn’t easily afford… on my salary. But then my salary was gone. Three months after quitting, I found out I was expecting my second child…this was something we had prayed for, but man, did the timing suck.
I continued to interview for full-time jobs, but was either way overqualified or way pregnant. I hustled and hustled to build my side business. Because I couldn’t afford daycare for my daughter, I had to plan my meetings with potential clients around my husband’s schedule. So, I was growing a baby and being mom all day, and would lock myself in the office in the evenings just to get work done. I felt busier than I had ever been, and I was getting work, but I felt like I was working more than I ever had in any day job with only a fraction of the paycheck.
We made it exactly a year and a half on my husband’s salary, my earnings, and a lot of prayer. We never missed a payment, never blamed each other, and never let our daughter see us overwhelmed and scared. I gave birth to a healthy baby boy during that time, and we paid off that dang hospital bill, too.
Even though I had a lot of self-doubt and negative feelings, I decided that I could choose to still enjoy each day for what it was or let those negative feelings keep me from enjoying the blessings around me. So, as a family, we learned to vacation in the backyard, have picnics with leftovers, not let others guilt us into doing things we couldn’t afford. We took it day by day, stayed positive, and lived.
I can only assume that while refocusing your career and life path, it was also emotionally (and financially!) taxing. Who or what helped you cope?
My daughter. It wasn’t her fault mommy had to make such a tough decision. Even though I was working from home, for the first time in my life, I got to be home with her. I didn’t want to waste those days feeling sorry for myself when some mothers lose their kids to childhood cancer, or car accidents, or have to work long days away from them. The adult part of my life sucked, but I had a beautiful little girl who couldn’t wait to spend each day with Mommy.
And, my husband. Not once did he ever not offer an encouraging word. Not once did he blame me for leaving. Not once did he say I couldn’t grow my business. I mean, we’d joke about life sucking after putting Kassidy to bed, but it was never a blame game. Just a way for the two of us to diffuse, laugh at life, and put on our adult panties for the next day. I also knew how important it was to not let stress consume my life…for my growing baby. So, it was in everyone’s best interest to sulk, crack a joke or two, vent, and then move on.
You spent a year and a half working for yourself before diving back into the traditional workforce. Why did you decide to start working for Texas A&M?
For a year and a half, I freelanced. I had a strong communications, marketing and creative background, so I built websites, designed invitations, and even got into lifestyle photography. I had always had a 9-5, and was never looking to move away from that, so getting back to it was always part of the plan. Everyone is different, but for me, I’m a better mom, a better wife, a better professional, and a better creative when I have that separation of work life from home life.
I know the two never completely separate, but I hated working from home. I felt like I sucked at being a mom and sucked at being a boss.
The majority of my career (prior to my local government job) was spent at Texas A&M, and I always felt needed, appreciated and purposeful there. My current position is with the department where I earned my master’s degree, so I’m working alongside my old professors and faculty. I’m able to interact with my friends, because hey, we’re all former students, right? I have the chance to guest lecture in undergraduate classes, and am so passionate about the people, the education, and the impact my department has. Now, for the first time, I can grow my side hustle slowly, be purposeful about who I want to help and what I want to do, and do it my way. For the first time, I actually like doing my work.
If you hadn’t found the courage to quit your job, where do you think you’d be now?
I’d be a basket case. They had done such a good job of ripping apart my self esteem and confidence in six short months that any additional days would have been torture. I know for a fact it would have taken a strain on my marriage, and I would have started to resent my poor daughter. The stress would have more than likely kept me from getting pregnant a second time, so I wouldn’t even have my beautiful little boy. Just thinking about the what-ifs makes me cry. Worst of all, I was scared that if I stayed, it would've changed me.
So, I may have had a padded bank account, but I’d have been demoralized, humiliated and shamed. I would have missed out on being there for my daughter and my husband. I would have missed the chance to grow my family. I would have never had the opportunity to start my own business and believe in myself. I met new friends along the way – friends I never would have met if I had stayed in that job.
Quitting sucked. But quitting was absolutely the best decision I ever made.
Happiest moment since quitting? Saddest/most frustrating?
Happiest moment: Adding my son to the family. Without a doubt, he would not be here if I had never decided to quit.
Saddest/most frustrating: Working my tail off, and barely making minimum wage. Yes, I got paid well for my projects, but if you add in all the hustle and administrative tasks you spend your time on during the day (like answering emails, crafting proposals, invoicing clients, etc.), my hourly wage was pretty pitiful.
How has quitting changed your life?
I’ve never been surer of myself. I had always believed in myself, but pressure and stress really make you rise to the occasion. I used to feel like I had to conform to what others wanted, but now, I do what’s important to me. I don’t try to be someone I’m not. I’m proud to be a working Mom, and I take great pride in being a role model for my daughter. I’ve learned to be more content, to be more optimistic, and to treasure even the smallest moments. I’ve become so much more thoughtful about making sure I only keep positive people in my life, and I cut off ties to those who aren’t worth my time. Honestly, I’ve never been happier, more content.
I also know how important it is to work on my marriage and spend quality time with just my husband. When the kids are gone, it will just be us, and I don’t want it to feel like a first date all over again 20 years from now. We make time to chat, to drink coffee on the back porch, to daydream together, and open up about stresses in our lives. I’ve been brought closer to him through all this, and for that, I am thankful.
What are the three most important things you learned by quitting your job?
1. I’m in charge of my own happiness.
2. People will like me for me; people will hire me for me. If anyone or anything wants to rip me apart, they don’t deserve me.
3. Be content. Be joyful. Be purposeful. Be real. Don’t look back and have regrets because you let a negative attitude lead you.
Advice to someone who’s thinking of quitting?
Do it. If you’re struggling with the decision, even for just a moment, it means you have doubt. Doubt in your work climate, doubt in your responsibilities, doubt in your colleagues. Doubt in your boss. Doubt in your purpose. Or even doubt in your value. It will never go away. Most people who struggle with the idea to quit always end up quitting…just later. So you’ve wasted that time continuing to give to an organization or business that you’ve already mentally checked out of. Move on so you can begin to feel valued again and find purpose in what you have to give others.
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Want to read other quitter stories? Thought so! I've got lots and lots more here.
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