the cut on tuesdays

How to Get Ahead by Quitting

Photo: Courtesy of AMC

The Cut on Tuesdays

A weekly podcast from the Cut and Gimlet Media, with host Molly Fischer.

How do you know when it’s time to quit? Sometimes you quit a job because you want to blow up your life. Sometimes you quit because you’re searching for something new. And sometimes you quit because you know exactly where you want to go.

That’s what Allison P. Davis did. From the time she was starting out, she knew she wanted to write big magazine features — and today, that’s what she does, profiling people like Lena Dunham and Lizzo. But she says she’s only gotten there thanks to the power of quitting.

Back when she was 25, she was ambitious and green, and she’d just gotten her first real job at a fashion magazine.

ALLISON: I started out as an editorial assistant in the features department. I was supposed to book travel — I was supposed to book travel cheaply, and at one point I think I accidentally booked somebody a $1,200 plane ticket to Washington, D.C., from New York. I wasn’t good at it. I’m not a good assistant; I can barely manage my own life.

When Davis had gotten that assistant job, she thought she was set: working at a magazine was the dream! But pretty quickly, she realized that there was a big difference between having the right institution on your business card and doing the kind of work you actually want to do.

ALLISON: I really wanted to make that job work, but I wanted to write, and at magazines you don’t really get to as a junior assistant. I just remember I would go to different editors and be like, “What am I doing wrong? Like, I want to write features. How do I get the cover story?” So, I was going around asking for criticism. And —

MOLLY: You masochist.

ALLISON: It’s so weird. And this one editor who I wasn’t very close to, she very kindly was like, “I will take you to coffee.” And we went down to the lobby to have coffee.

MOLLY: And what were you expecting?

ALLISON: I was expecting her to say, “Here’s a short thing that I will let you try writing.” Or, “Here are three things that you’re doing wrong. If you do these three things you will get ahead.” And she was like, “Listen, I think you should quit.” 

MOLLY: What?

ALLISON: And I was like, “Uh …? Well, what did I do wrong?” And she was like, “You’re never going to get to do what you want to do here. You need to just quit and move on.” And I was resistant, because I was like, “No, no, no. This is the job I was given. I am meant to be at this place. I want to be here for many years. I’m not leaving. I can make it work.” And then I remember after I doubled down on trying to get better she emailed me and was like, “I thought I told you you should quit.”

MOLLY: Oh my God, she really was just like, “No, literally, quit now.”

ALLISON: Get the fuck out.

It was harsh — but eventually Allison came around. She was stuck in a job where she wasn’t doing the work she wanted to do, and there wasn’t any sign things were going to change. And she took that lesson with her to her future jobs.

To hear about Allison’s next moves — plus more stories about quitting jobs, and workplace advice from Esther Perel — click above, and subscribe wherever you listen.

How to Get Ahead by Quitting