We’re Breaking Free, Bitches!

Sorry to be crass, but I am LOVING life right now. I know it’s been a little (see: long) while since I threw out some info about my life, so welcome if you’re reading this.

Just a heads up, I curse a lot-ish, but that’s just because I’m really excited to move into this new chapter of my life. 

To start off, many of you probably didn’t know where I used to work. It feels nice to say that, by the way—where I used to work. I worked for the State Police. Now before you go asking if I had a badge or some wild shit, the answer is no. I was a dispatcher. I never in a million years would have thought this was a job I could do, but it turned out to be something I did relatively well depending on who you asked.

When I first walked through the post doors, I thought I was really doing a lot of good. It would be easy to give back to my community and contribute in a positive way, right? Wrong. It was nothing like what I imagined. There was a juvenile level of inflated hierarchy amongst older and newer dispatchers, but I didn’t let that deter me. I just wanted to do good and belong. However, I quickly found that bad eggs can make the whole batch rotten. I was taken aback by some of the stuff people in managerial positions said to me.

 

I was pulled into the office.

“Azia, you’re too bubbly for the radio room.”

 

I hadn’t eaten before my shift, and even though I had ordered Jimmy John’s before I’d left my house, they didn’t get there until close to my shift lunch time, almost two and a half hours later.

“Well that was rude. If you were going to order food, you should have asked everyone in here if they wanted something to eat.”

 

Nicholas accidentally cut off part of my finger while we were helping my mom move in Bloomington, so obviously I used a freaking sick day.

“Well, are you going to come in tomorrow? We’re really short this week with vacations.”

 

Our schedule changed in the middle of the year and only two out of the sixteen of us or so had schedules that were being removed. I asked why we didn’t have a discussion about it.   

“I didn’t ask for input because I didn’t feel I needed to. I cannot make everyone happy.”

Honestly, the list goes on and on. Over the course of my almost 4 and a half years there, I felt like no one in a managerial position was capable of growth. Before I legitimately lost hope in moving forward there, I thought, Okay, why not be the change? I decided to move towards one of the lower managerial positions. People thought I would be a good fit because I was honest, kind, and helpful. Nope. Apparently, someone who had left almost three months prior was given priority because people in higher positions wanted them there. I was pretty apprehensive about this person. They previously had said they didn’t work overtime because they didn’t want to. I felt as though I had to carry the burden of being short-staffed on my shoulders.

Putting this person in a managerial position was one of the best things they could have ever done. They truly were the best person for the position, and became one of the few reasons I considered staying. Even still, I couldn’t stay. One person wasn’t enough to make me feel like I mattered there. In fact, the only time I was told I was appreciated was when I did something I was asked to do. These empty compliments became more patronizing as time passed. I noticed this early on but just chalked it  up to bad interpersonal skills and low emotional intelligence.

What led me to yank the chain was the realization that I was never going to be good enough. There are people that probably don’t know the intimacies of government bureaucracy, so I’ll be clear. Things that need to get done, don’t. People far away from the problem, continue to think up solutions with no regard for how it may impact the people down below.

Unless you’re living under a rock, you’re aware that active shooters are becoming a recognizable problem. I asked what I, as a dispatcher, should do if there was an active shooter. I was told it wouldn’t be a problem because the State Police is an assisting or second-hand agency. 

I was working the district when the county called. Another dispatcher took the call and said that the city had an active shooter. They hung up the phone. They didn’t ask for any other information. They just hung up the phone. Immediately I let the district know, and units started to head towards the detail. The lieutenant was on duty, the superintendent was on duty, and a dozen other head honcho units were heading towards the school. Only this city has two middle schools, so I had to call them and get all of the information: what’s the address, do you know who it is, how many units do you have on scene, where do you need units to stage?  

This detail went on for what seemed like forever. I was already on the brink of being tired because I was working overtime. The captain comes in and says, “Hey, do you got a minute?”

I don’t really, but I turn towards him. 

He sets his computer down and says, “I just want to show you what we see out on the road, because if you would have gotten the address and validated the card right away, we wouldn’t have had so many people asking for the location over the radio.“ 

I don’t think this is bad advice. I think this was bad timing. I think this was a bad display of emotional intelligence. I think this was the knife in the wound. Any other time, I would have accepted feedback because I didn’t disagree. But this? This detail that I had asked about, had been brushed off about, and had been the first to experience in our current active school shooter climate? I didn’t need feedback. I needed reassurance that someone understood how stressful this was. I was doing all I could, but it still wasn’t good enough.

I began looking for any type of job that night. Managers of gas stations, administrative positions, manual labor for careers in which I had no experience, all received thoughtful cover letters and an industry-tailored resumé.  It took me a while, but I found something at a jewelry store. They had just experienced everyone except for one employee and one manager quitting, so they were really excited for me to join the team so eagerly.

The difference I felt was monumental. They were understanding of the fact that my job with state police took precedence, but I would honor as many commitments as possible. The manager there repeatedly said that she cared about the employees and appreciated the work we did, even though I had only been there for about three weeks. That manager also gave the team a Christmas present: custom tree ornaments in the shape of a Tiffany & Co blue-colored ring box with our names hand-lettered onto them.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t keep burning the candle at both ends. I had also joined with a local wedding service as a photographer and started to juggle small jobs in between these two set work schedules. I was thinking of a way to tell this jewelry store I might need to quit. The pay there couldn’t match my salary at state police, and I loved working with the wedding service so I couldn’t quit with them. 

One Monday morning, as if the good Lord himself had heard my unspoken prayers, the district manager walked in and said the store was going to be closed permanently. I wanted to smile, but I felt pangs of guilt over my coworkers who were going to have to deal with this change. I took the severance package, grabbed my things, went to the bank, cashed that damn check as quick as humanly possible, and called Nicholas to take him to lunch. 

That day, Nicholas said to me, “Hopefully now you can work hard so you can do photography all the time and I can stay at home.”  If you know Nicholas, this is on par for him because he’s the most dramatic introvert who ever received the gift of life. I mulled that over for a while and wrote down some business and life goals for the year. I mostly just wanted for Nicholas and I to be happy together.

I didn’t achieve all of my goals. Hell, I didn’t achieve most of them in the first part of the year, but I have 3 months left to kick some royal ass. I definitely accomplished two: enjoying married life and quitting by 2020. I know that a little part of me was scared to break away from a very steady income. Another little part thought that if I kept seeing a doctor for a way to deal with the stress and anxiety, eventually I wouldn’t feel like I’d need to quit. Prozac helped so much in giving me some sense of control over my life. I didn’t have nightmares and intense realizations of my mortality after my shifts or at home alone. I still felt like I wanted to quit after my brain calmed down a bit, though. So I figured I really did yearn for the time when I wouldn’t have to get up and go there.

It took almost a year from the time I decided enough was enough to when I actually put in my notice. Immediately, I felt free as fuck. Nicholas had a week off from work and we spent so much time just being content with each other in and out of our home. We watched our favorite shows and made food together. We went to Ikea. I honestly forgot to take my medicine. I just fell out of the routine. I hadn’t realized how much of that place was sucking the absolute life force out of me. 

And to be honest, that’s bullshit. 

On top of the mental hoops I had to jump through, I was probably physically affected throughout my time there. I worked a midnight shift and experienced fatigue, exhaustion, and restlessness. I can’t say whether this is just due to getting older or being there, but I know I didn’t have these issues before.

Almost one year after the last straw, I was finally able to break free of a position that made me sick to my stomach at the thought of retiring there. 

Almost one year after I believed I was going nowhere fast in that environment, I was liberated from the proverbial rat race. 

I know this isn’t possible for everyone, especially not at this exact moment. If you never leave the main job/side job lifestyle, know that’s okay. As much as I would love for everyone to follow their dreams and passions, I know there are circumstances and risks we have to navigate. You’re doing your best. But also know that you deserve the best. We are not pawns and minions for companies to move around and use as they please. We are not meant to work excessively long days and nights just to survive. 

You have options. 
There are options. 
And some truth might lie underneath being happy and underpaid than overpaid and miserable, even though I definitely was NOT overpaid. 

You’re worth more than most companies could ever know. I realized this three fucking years into my position there and I wish I would have known it before.

So yeah, I quit. 

And if you’re reading this and feeling a little uneasy, it’s okay to take some time and make a decision. What I wish I would have known sooner, came at just the right time.