Micro-Quitting is a perfectly viable life strategy, at least until you can’t take it anymore. Just ask Rory Gilmore.
I never watched Gilmore Girls when it came out in the early 2000s. I caught an episode while at my sister’s house, while I was on Lifetime Career Hiatus #2. It was the Dot Com bust, and I had made a win-win arrangement with my rapidly de-scaling employer—a 2.5-year-old media startup: I was to take a leave of absence for an undetermined period of time, and when I got back, if the company was still standing, I’d get my job back. I created a similar arrangement with my then-boyfriend. It seemed preferable to simply breaking up.
I moved out of my San Francisco one-bedroom apartment and slept on a friend’s couch, traveled abroad, and stayed for several months with my twin sister on the East Coast. She was teaching at Tufts and Harvard at the time and she and her husband lived on the middle floor of a large Victorian house that had been converted into condos. I took up Bikram yoga and rode the “T” all over the Cambridge/Boston area, blending in with the college students. I contemplated going back to school again, even applying to graduate programs with no real preference on outcome. I went on dates with single friends of friends who had introduced us. Indeed, I met some great people, but they met a blurrier version of me; a woman in transition. My life felt like a Jell-o mold that hadn’t yet set: squishy and runny.
As much as I traveled I couldn’t shake that feeling of uncertainty. I wasn’t working, I wasn’t recreating. I wasn’t living in the Bay Area, and I wasn’t moving to Boston. I was waiting; for what I’m not sure. For the Dot Com bust to reverse itself? To get into a graduate program and force some options? For some voice to whisper in my ear: “THIS is what you are supposed to be doing?”
The only consistency I had was television. Every night, like clockwork, my sister would break out papers to grade and have a TV show on in the background. She loved Gilmore Girls. I thought the characters talked too much. I preferred the more action-oriented shows like 24, and that reality show where people had to eat bugs, or vermin, or something putrid without vomiting to win.
This period of transition didn’t wrap itself up neatly. I ended up going back to the Bay Area. The boyfriend was gone, but my company was still around, though in a death spiral. I was offered my job back for a third of my previous comp. I slept on a friend’s couch while looking for apartments I could afford under my new circumstances. I signed a lease just before the company flatlined. I had been accepted into a graduate program on the East Coast, but ended up not going. Perhaps I subconsciously knew I had been hedging my bets; creating options with no real aspirations attached to them.
I painfully stewed in my seemingly poor choices, identity-less. I took odd jobs so that I could pay my rent. And I applied to jobs I didn’t want. One hiring manager rescinded an offer because she guessed—rightly—that my heart wasn’t really into it (I probably should not have let on that I planned to quit the job as soon as I found a better one).
I became more-adept at recognizing my hedging strategy at work. It went something like this:
Say Yes, even if you don’t mean it.
But continue to date other options.
I had considered this a very reasonable strategy until I didn’t. It dawned on me that by playing all options, you never play any deliberately. You may always have options, but you will never have fulfillment.
Unbeknownst to me during that time I was working a core muscle, learning where my boundaries lay by breaching them. By gorging myself on both the junk food and the real sustenance of work. In the immediate years that followed I wouldn’t even know this muscle existed, and yet if it didn’t the rest of me would have collapsed under the weight of the predictably unpredictable career catastrophes—layoffs, leadership turnovers, pandemics—and the more insidious threats—disillusionment and boredom—that can throw a career off-course.
Thanks to Jill Griffin, who writes a snackable, loving-kick-in-the-pants newsletter for “anxious achievers,” who gave my former career strategy a name: Micro-quitting. She sees this all the time in her coaching clients who wait things out, in a place they know they want to leave, hoping for better.
Quitting is big.
Micro-quitting is stealthy.
We don't always see the subtle, quit decisions we make.
It's kinda passive-aggressive--but you are the passive aggressor to yourself.
My own definition of Micro-quitting: The unrealistic pursuit of a future you are not actively creating; pursuit of accidental fulfillment. This is a paradox. Fulfillment is a decision. Fulfillment is a risk.
Recently I saw the reboot of Gilmore Girls on Netflix, and I loved it so much I went back to Season 1 and watched the whole series. In the re-boot, Rory—who was an ambitious, aspiring journalist at the beginning of the series—is now somewhat disillusioned, having achieved career success and then stalled. She returns home to the town where she grew up, where her mother still lives and has achieved her own entrepreneurial dreams, and retreats to the comforts she enjoyed as a 16-year-old: Reading novels in her childhood bedroom, spending her summer watching people at the pool, and having a fling with a former college lover who is engaged to another woman, while still tenuously tethered to someone else.
She is liquid Jell-o, seeking anything that will help her solidify. She is roughly the age I was during Career Hiatus #2.
Of course, now I understand Rory. Even at her runniest, even in her anti-glory, she is becoming.