I never really liked risk. Well, let me rephrase that. I romanticize risk and love the idea of it. I praise the people who are risk-takers and enjoy reading about people who stubbornly dare to do great things despite the odds. I am willing to take the risk…. up until it’s time to take it. Then I quickly realize how much I despise taking risks. I’m a chicken!!! (recalling the chicken sounds my husband makes just to get on my nerves; he’s really good at it too. Worst part, he taught our two-year-old how to make it too for their team-trolling)

I pulled a real stunt recently. The only thing I regret is not telling my husband about it before I did it. It’s too early to admit it but I didn’t tell him because, deep down, I felt he’d talk me out of it. Collectively, we’ve had so many reasons for me not to do this:

We are thinking of baby #2
We need this money
Our budget can’t afford it
What about our bills
It’s really not that bad
Everybody goes through this at some point or another
Just don’t think of it
Don’t act in a moment of passion
Just have a plan before you do it

You may have guessed it. I quit my job. All of the above are valid points. All tried and true. How could I be so stupid? We need this income. We’ve lived off of two incomes since we married; we’ve been frantically trying to swim upstream in a financial balance for years.

The bad part? An exec from the former company wrote me just to inform me he marvels at my bad attitude and to say I should’ve been thankful for this job since I cost them so much money. Also, he would’ve terminated me a long time ago. Full disclosure, he took these remarks back and apologized, which was nice.

The even worse part? I used to like my job…. until about seven months ago.

Why did I quit? Mainly out of principle. There was one, two and three ethically questionable choices my company’s leadership made and I found it hard looking away again and again. On the last one, my Romanian blood was boiling; and this time, I couldn’t stop it. And so it boiled over into three words: then.I.quit. I stood up from my desk shaking and I couldn’t believe what I just did; the words kept ringing in my head over and over: I quit, I quit I quit. In every other respect, this job was perfect for me and my family. Seriously, why couldn’t I just look away?

I text my husband to say “don’t freak out but…” and his reaction was more question and exclamation marks than letters and words; oh yeah, boy, he was mad at me. Then I freaked out. Then I prayed. Then I freaked out some more. Then I prayed longer with lots of tears, whines and pants and heavy breathing.

Wives, don’t try this stunt at home!

So yeah… no turning back.

If you’re a part of the masses who are massively into debt, then you’ve been here – working and looking away from small injustices because bills won’t stop beating down that big knot in your throat; you can’t afford the time it takes to find a job in your field you took too long to decide on. Or maybe you just started a family. Or [insert huge life event here]. Instead, you work wherever, whenever, however you can to make ends meet. You can’t afford to be picky, right? The shadow of Sallie Mae blocks your sunshine.

I’m sharing my story because I strongly believe that, if our character is routinely called to compromise our core values and principles, then it’s not worth sticking around. As a Christian, if the job I have is putting my faith and eternal life in jeopardy, then it might be time to reconsider whether it’s my calling. I had a moment of passion where I felt someone was being wronged and I could not keep silent any longer. I tried to fix it. I tried to address it but I could see the shrugs in the email. And that was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Yes, I’m a camel; I can also spit like one; Wait… am I camel or a chicken? But I digress.

I strongly believe that when Jesus threw out the merchants from the synagogue (Matthew 21:12), his heart was beating pretty fast. Why? I think he was passionate about his Father’s temple. He felt arrogantly entitled to do it. Likewise, I strongly believe that you cannot be ethical 95 percent of the time and leave room for shadiness the other five percent. It’s like serving two masters (Matthew 6:24) and, honestly, who has the energy for that? If I fight and rage for social justice for people all over the world mistreated by employers, spouses, parents, etc. but I turn a blind eye when it happens right in front of me, who am I lying to?

Equally important is that character is built by small building blocks. Small decisions every day that make me or break me into tomorrow’s version of me. Jesus said “be faithful in the small things…” (Luke 16:10). How could I be trusted with bigger, more severe issues if I turn away from the small things? I’ve been there and done it before. It’s not pretty. Guilt-ridden, shameful, regretful…no more.

I don’t know what I’m going to do about a new job yet; what I do know is that 4 hours after I had quit, someone called me for an interview. Whether it’ll pan out or not, that’s still to be determined. Whether I’ll accept that job or not, equally TBD. But two things I know I will do: 1) have faith that I finally stood for what I believe it’s right and 2) stay focused; it is natural to fall into a pit of absent-mindedness when there’s a high stressor involved. But I still have a two-year-old who needs a loving mom, I still have a husband who needs a partner, I still have a house to keep and a church to serve, a bible study I need to study for and meals to cook, etc.

Another main reason why I’m sharing this is because I believe we are all leaders. Of our home, of our churches, of our families, of our lives… some are leaders at their work. The more of us choose to stand up for the little things, the more of us will choose to dare greater than their predicament.

Brené Brown (quoting Simon Sinek) in Daring Greatly says: “Leadership is not a role or a rank or a position. It is a service to be given.” My husband may be mad at me; but it was partly his fault. He’s a pastor after all and I am a Christian. I could have stayed through the fourth unethical situation, then the fifth, the sixth… Each time I would have found my values and leadership eroding. The longer I stayed, the weaker my moral voice. When your moral voice is mute, how effective of a leader can you be? Your moral voice is what fuels your conviction and confidence as a leader. A company which doesn’t value your moral voice isn’t worth your company.

This isn’t an invitation to be a self-righteous twig. It’s not about feeling superior to anyone else in order to compensate for…well that’s between you and your therapist (who misses you, by the way). I’m simply sharing what I discovered: that I’m not a leader because my business card or my boss tells me I am. It is a service I offer to my company and my customers. If leadership is something that your company gives you, then you’re tempted to hold on to it no matter the (ethical) cost. But if leadership is something I offer my company, then it’s offered on my terms. It’s an integral part of who I am, and I cannot compromise it without diminishing myself.

That’s the irony I discovered: sometimes being a leader means quitting.

I quit for me, so this chicken/camel/woman could be a better leader in her next job.

Stay tuned for Part II.

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