It is not in my DNA to quit, but I confess a fascination in some silly season media interest in the coined phrase, ‘quiet quitter’ to define someone who appears to be mentally checking out from work.
I have had time to stumble over this phrase because, as a teacher, I am gifted permission to mentally check out of work for most of the summer (I am still in denial about A Level and GCSE Result Days which are sneaking up on the horizon). I have had the opportunity to ponder this new phrase while I listen to the soft lapping of an Italian lake from the comfort of a sun lounger.
Just to be thorough, I run my research past my ‘study’ companion AKA Favourite Daughter, who, as a fellow teacher is more than happy to be my travel buddy for a week of mediterranean slothing. In truth, she quietly quits her research duties without working through her notice period and signals this in a passive aggressive fashion by donning her headphones with a flourish; I can only ask her opinion when she raises her flaxen head from her recliner, lowers her sunglasses and asks if it is time for lunch.
Over a glass of Rose (hydration, people), I explain to FD that “quiet quitting” is apparently the latest workplace phenomenon and refers to the rejection of “hustle culture” — the expectation to go above and beyond in your job. Note, you do not necessarily have to resign to be a ‘quiet quitter’, you just keep your job ticking over – you could potentially do this for years, or you could just use the time to work out what your next side hustle could be – and who might be prepared to pay for it. I also point out to FD that the media don’t necessarily seem to be negative about this concept – I am sure they have good reason.
‘Well, that is not going to work in a school is it?’ FD snorts, ‘or in a hospital, GP surgery, Fire Station, Life Boat crew, supermarket…et al. What a flipping liberty. I call it slacking’.
I am exhausted by this conversation so swim two very slow lengths of the pool and collapse back on my recliner to ponder where I stand/lie on this issue. I seem to have reached burn out both literally and figuratively as a result of too much hustle.
Perhaps I am jealous. As FD points out, teachers do not get the opportunity to wind down or ease up until we fall off the collective cliff that is called the end of a term. At this point, any of our dearest who do not enjoy the same private membership of the Education Club, then start muttering, ‘seeing as you have such a long holiday ahead, you wouldn’t do me a little favour and run a couple of errands for me?’ Word to the wise, it takes a teacher a minimum of a week (stressing the minimum here) to decompress at the start of the Summer holiday; on the hour, every hour, we are braced to believe that we should be with a class somewhere or marking books; the lack of structure disconcerts us. We are on edge. We do not expect your sympathy, but I share this to increase awareness around the ‘down tools’ type of quitting that arises when you do not have control of your own diary.
I look around at the other residents in the Italian apartments where we are staying. Unlike us, in the mornings – when they eventually get up – they are making better use of the WiFi than the sun beds. If not officially retired, they seem to spend their mornings (ahem, I use the term loosely) to conference call and to respond to emails; they then break off for a long lunch and have a little siesta in the shade while they wait for the business world to respond to their frenetic morning’s work. They then ignore any external response and focus instead on their choice of aperitivo. Unlike us, these residents are able to sojourn by this Italian lake for the whole of the summer, and they have no need to apply for holiday leave because they are effectively working – albeit very quietly. They have no intention of quitting, for they have clearly kicked hustle culture off the radar and they are now living the dream.
I find myself reframing my initial dismissive response to ‘quiet quitting’. Perhaps a more relaxed working life is not ‘slacking’ but just an efficient use of time which showcases high self-worth? A Covid Keep perhaps? I watch the ice melt in my sundowner and wonder if I am just a tad bitter that since Covid more seems to be expected of those working in the public sector and less of those in Corporate Land. I thought we were meant to be levelling up Boris? Boris? Boris? Anyone?
‘Less is not expected of everyone‘, FD chips in. I must have been thinking out loud for she has torn herself away from her book to remind me that we both know plenty of people in Corporate Land who are now doing the job of more than one person just to assist their employer to ride out the recession, get their own career back on track and compensate for the sudden lack of recruitment fodder.
In her next breath FD also expresses surprise that I am managing to do so little during our week away together. She believes that my default is rigidly set to Fidget Mode and so she is thrown that I seem to have reset so effortlessly. I tell her that I have quietly quit some of my usual self-imposed regime just to see if it will result in my going to hell in a hand cart. In our current location I cannot take all the credit for this reboot – it has admittedly been made much easier because the elements that remain in my ‘schedule’ have had to slow down to the Italian pace of life.
Take a morning run for example. To run without fear of heat exhaustion or Italian driving, I may still need to get up early and take the ferry to the island opposite where I can run a few miles with only a tractor or moped to break my stride, but then the ferry journey alone is so relaxing, that I find myself running very, very slowly when I get to the other side and keep stopping to look at the incredible views. Every morning I run past a little cafe and by Day 3 I am earning a little round of ‘bravissimo’ from the Italian gents enjoying their regular morning expresso. This makes me smile and I am happy to let a couple of ferries depart without me before I decide to make the journey back to the apartment. I sit on the quay looking at the dragonflies that seem to love this water. I eventually return for a very late breakfast, having forgotten the early start because I will soon be back asleep on my sun bed.
All this slowing down has allowed me to check back in with myself. Sitting by the lake in the grounds of the apartment that my sister loved so dearly, has also allowed me to remember my last time here with Sis, four years ago. I have been blocking this out because I remain in denial that she will not appear again for another week here in the sun. One evening, as we sit watching the sun melt behind the island opposite, I suddenly start talking about Sis again. Stories I have held on mute.
‘Are you ok talking like this, Mum?’ asks FD. ‘The last thing we need right now is a case of the morbs’.
It is fine actually. It is a release to talk about Sis after all this time. I think she will enjoy the fact that I elaborate on some of her stories a little, embellish them – she never believed in letting the truth get in the way of a good story. She will know any tears are happy tears and besides, the sunset is so glorious that I am still wearing my sunglasses. No one will notice.
Slowing down in this special place has allowed me to see my sister’s face again and I have not been able to do this for some time. I can see her cheeky grin, I can hear her infectious laugh and I can remember our pathetic last attempt at pool aerobics. Most of all I can remember that Sis flipping loved this place and that it was she who set me off on my dragonfly journey in the first place, realising that I needed to focus on living in the moment after my life had experienced a little shake up.
‘Seeing dragonflies is a reminder to stay present and appreciate the moment fully. Time flies quickly – no need to quit – this moment is a precious one’.
‘Slow suits you,’ FD admits. ‘You should try it out when we get back home’. She then teaches me how to play Solitaire Patience, reminding me that Sis loved a card game. I soon become addicted, and then, to my satisfaction, realise that I can lie on my sun lounger and play this game lying on my front. Admittedly I turn the cards over so slowly, that I can see FD flinching from under the corner of my sun hat, but there is space for only one card shark in the family and after this holiday, I will not be applying for the role of racing demon any time soon.
‘It has been good this week mum,’ FD says as we lie by the pool – again. ‘We should do it all again next year and call it ‘Teachers’ Week’. We can quietly quit the rat race for a short period of time and then crank back up to full speed for September – then no-one can accuse us of slacking and there will be no risk of professional lethargy. We can call ourselves Surreptitious Slothers.
‘Oh, and by the way, I have absolutely no idea how you can play Patience comfortably while lying on your front, but if you look over your shoulder now, you will see a huge dragonfly resting on your arse. ‘