when to fold ’em

No guts, no glory they say, and it is true. If you’ve ever taken a job and realized right off it was a mistake but stayed anyway, this column is for you. If you wished you had had the courage to quit that first day, then this column really is for you. Well, some folks do quit day one. Here’s a tale about a fellow you can’t help but admire. You just want to put yourself in his shoes.

I came by this courageous tale thanks to friend and reader, Warren McInnis Hughes, who told me a story reporter Bert Lunan liked to tell. “Like us,” said Warren, “Lunan was a restless wanderer.” Lunan, who worked two stints at Columbia’s The State, “had a great story he swore was true,” said Hughes, who’s a lady. Don’t let the name, Warren, fool you.

It’s a life lesson for sure that Warren shared. Lunan called his story, “Knowing when to fold ’em,” and it made him and his tale immortal. “I tell it to this day,” said Hughes. Indeed, she does. Lunan was working for a newspaper in Kentucky when a new reporter with a fine reputation came in for his first day. The new reporter spent some time in the newsroom and then made the rounds of his new beat. He came back in the late afternoon of his first day and said, “Well, that’s it. I’m leaving.”

“When will you be back,” asked a colleague.

“I won’t. I’m quitting.”

“Quitting? Why?”

“I just don’t like the feel of the place.” (Some of you know exactly what he felt.)

Lunan would wrap up his story saying, “See, the important thing is, “you got to know when to fold ’em. Not later, immediately.”

As Kenny Roger’s sang, knowing when to fold ’em is sound advice, and I commend this courageous and honest reporter for quitting on his first day of work. It’s something I should have done. Call it quits on the very first day, and more than once. I’ve quit four jobs and in two instances I just walked out the door. No notice, nothing. Just cleaned out my desk and walked. It felt great I assure you. Was it reckless? Sure. Was it necessary? Yes. What good is a job if it drives you crazy? And here’s the best part. Not only did I survive, I ended up in much better circumstances. So much for burning bridges. Lunan, you see, was right. “You got to know when to fold ’em.”

I folded them in one case when I was hired to be a writer when all the boss man needed was a dolt to follow him around taking notes. I folded them when a big boss man hired me as a writer when in reality all I did was edit technical reports all day long. “You hired a jet pilot to be a crop duster,” I told him. Technically he and his underling replaced me with a lawyer “who could write.” I felt like Brer Rabbit who had just been tossed into a briar patch. Ecstatic. I cleaned out my desk the next morning at dawn and vamoosed, never to be seen again.

In another situation I was hired to write web content except there was one problem. There was no web content to write. This job, in the early days of the Internet, was ahead of its time but nonetheless a bad fit for me. I hung in there ten months. Ten months too long. The very first day I should have said, “Well, that’s it. I’m leaving.”

In one instance that got pretty heated, I got tired of working for a drone with the intelligence of a dung beetle. He sicked his lieutenant on me and after a lot of harassment I just walked out. But, I should have left much earlier. Like a carton of old greenish sour cream, a job really does sour and that’s when you know it’s time to leave.

It’s been said there are worse things than having no income, and I agree. How many people do you know who have toiled away at a job they hate just to earn a paycheck. Now doing what it takes to support a family is noble, and I applaud that. But I know and you know that sometimes we hang onto a job because it’s just easier than finding a better one. Never a good thing.

Quitting time. It can apply to bad relationships, bad lifestyles (smokers), and even the places where we live. “You just don’t like the feel of the place.” It worked for that fine reporter and I’ll wager it can work for you too.

Image Credit: The photo of the Name Plate –Tom Poland Managing Editor was taken by © Tom Poland.

Tom Poland

Tom Poland, A Southern Writer – Tom Poland is the author of twelve books and more than 1,000 magazine features. A Southern writer, his work has appeared in magazines throughout the South. Tom grew up in Lincoln County, Georgia, where four wonderful English teachers gave him a love for language. People first came to know Tom’s work in South Carolina Wildlife magazine, where he wrote features and served as managing editor.Tom’s written over 1,000 columns and features and seven traditionally published books. Among his recent books are Classic Carolina Road Trips From Columbia, Georgialina, A Southland, As We Knew It, and his and Robert Clark’s latest volume of Reflections of South Carolina. Swamp Gravy, Georgia’s Official Folk Life Drama, staged his play, Solid Ground in 2011 and 2012.He writes a weekly column for newspapers and journals in Georgia and South Carolina about the South, its people, traditions, lifestyle, and changing culture and speaks often to groups across South Carolina and Georgia.Tom earned a BA in Journalism and a Masters in Media at the University of Georgia. He lives in Columbia, South Carolina where he writes about Georgialina—his name for eastern Georgia and South Carolina. Visit my website at www.tompoland.net Email me at [email protected]