I LEFT THE FAMILY BUSINESS

Why Jessica Antony walked away from a career in publishing (and what she’s doing now)

GUEST WRITER INFO

Jessica Antony is the owner of Anchor Editorial Services, where she provides editing, content creation, consultation, and facilitation services to a wide range of clients. She also enjoys making immature fart jokes on Twitter, and posting photos of her dog and passion for powerlifting on Instagram.

I was raised by hippie parents. But not the “we use crystals for deodorant and don’t believe in vaccinations” hippies – the “we’ve dedicated our lives to social justice and think capitalism is a scam” hippies. My parents are ambitious, incredibly intelligent, and have worked hard to support my younger brother and I in whatever we want to do with our lives. I looked up to both of them growing up – my Dad a book publisher and my Mom a professor – so it’s perhaps not surprising that my career path followed both of theirs. I finished my Master’s degree in Media Studies at Concordia when I was about 25, and shortly after started working for my Dad’s book publishing company, while also teaching a writing course at a local university.

My Dad’s company had its head office just outside of Halifax, Nova Scotia, so when I started working for him he moved from his home office to a “real” office in Osborne Village. Working for my Dad was amazing: he is hilarious, passionate about his work, a very patient teacher, and was dedicated to my learning and growing within the company. The joke was that I was his retirement plan, so naturally he wanted me to succeed. 

I learned so much in a short time when it was just he and I in that office. We quickly grew to include an office manager and promotions coordinator, so we had to move to a bigger office. That’s when we bought the property I now live in – a house with a separate office built onto the front of it. I was literally living and working in the same building. No more waiting for the bus in -30 degree weather: I could roll out of bed and be ready and at my desk in 15 minutes.

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My Dad and I were co-editors, along with Les Samuelson, of the sixth edition of a social problems textbook, Power and Resistance: Critical Thinking About Canadian Social Issues, the most successful of all of the book’s editions.

The work I did for the publishing company was just what I had envisioned for my life: I read manuscripts, I edited, I collaborated with authors, I travelled to conferences, I pitched book proposals, I vetted book proposals, I pushed professors to use our social-justice-focused texts in their classes instead of the multinational publishers’ bullshit designed to bankrupt students and perpetuate the status quo. I loved it. I took on more responsibility at work, I got more comfortable teaching my writing course, and after a few years I even started a side hustle, Anchor Editorial Services, doing freelance copy editing and proofreading.

About six or seven years in, my Dad approached me and asked if this is truly what I wanted to be doing. He was going to retire eventually, and the idea was that the company would be passed on (in some way) to the employees. Did I want to be a publisher? Am I happy editing books all day? Of course I was. I had gone to school to do this. I had settled into this being my forever. But he could sense that I wasn’t as motivated or focused as I once was, and because he’s the Best Dad/Boss Ever, he checked in with me a few times to be sure I was truly happy. But, and perhaps this is because he was not only my employer but also my Dad, he was right.

I wasn’t as focused or motivated. I eventually found myself going into work and staring at the list of things I had to accomplish and feeling immediately overwhelmed. This feeling didn’t manifest overnight, but crept up on me slowly, unnoticed. The book publishing business is a long game – it takes over a year to turn a book proposal into a printed book. Editing manuscripts takes months. I was starting to burn out and I didn’t realize it until it got to the point that I became unproductive at work. Eventually, though, I couldn’t ignore it any more. I was exhausted. I was losing my passion. I needed more than a vacation. I realized I didn’t want to do this anymore and it terrified me. I was the retirement plan! I can’t quit my Dad! He’s done so much for you, Jessica, and this is what you do? Work for him for a few years, learn everything about the industry, and then bail?! You have got to be kidding me you are the Worst Daughter Ever.

Admitting to myself that I wasn’t happy at work anymore was hard enough, but telling my father felt impossible.  I felt overwhelmed and couldn’t keep my thoughts straight – everything confounded me. So I decided to go see a therapist, and this is gonna sound ridiculous but at first I genuinely didn’t know what I needed to talk about (seriously?!), I just knew I needed help organizing my brain.

I was unhappy at work, I was dating a guy who was…maybe fine (spoiler alert: he wasn’t), I was teaching an undergraduate course, I was doing freelance work on the side, I had taken up powerlifting and was training for competition…there was a lot going on. As you might imagine, the first and only thing the counsellor and I talked about was work. She helped me deal with the process of breaking it to my Dad that I wanted to leave, submitting my official resignation, and coping with the outcome of that.

The actual process of quitting was heartbreaking. I cried like a baby when I finally told my Dad. It wasn’t until I officially submitted my resignation to the rest of the company that it became real. I had been working for this company for ten years – I had a stable job and a stable income and the potential to become a stakeholder in the future and I was just…giving it up. Is this the dumbest thing I’ve ever done? All because I was kind of bored of reading academic manuscripts? What if you never find another job again and you can’t pay rent and you end up a shameful scorn on your family’s name?! The terror was real.

At this point I had already been looking for a new job, but I wasn’t really sure what direction I wanted to go in. I had applied for probably forty jobs before I decided that I needed professional help and hired a career coach. Turns out my resume was trash and, perhaps unsurprisingly, not having any exposure to the job market in over a decade meant I had no clue what I was doing.

My career coach suggested that I only apply for jobs that I would be genuinely excited to dive into. When I started actually thinking about being in these offices and working for these companies I had be submitting my resume to, I stopped applying altogether. I didn’t want to work at any of these places! Why the hell would I leave a comfortable, stable job where I was actually contributing positively to the world, that was located quite literally in my house, to go to some corporate office where I have to wear pantyhose and write press releases about some horseshit nobody cares about? Pump. The. Breaks.

This whole time Anchor Editorial was still garnering new clients – entirely through word of mouth. I really liked the variety of work I got to do, the fact that I could do it anywhere, and the fact that I could do it all in my sweats. When my career coach asked, “What does your ideal work day look like?” I laughed and said “it starts with coffee and sweats.” Well, shit, why can’t that be my work day? I had never seriously considered freelancing full time. Who did I think I was? But the more I thought about it, the more I realized it was the only option that made me simultaneously scared and excited.

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Hire freelancers! Like the freelancer who redesigned my logo, Nicholas Luchak.

I’ve been working for myself for over a year now. My days always start with coffee at the dog park, and very often include sweats. I still teach a writing course and I still edit academic manuscripts, but not so many that they burn me out. I’ve also had the opportunity to facilitate a leadership workshop, speak at a teacher’s conference, edit books, consult clients on obtaining literary agents, write and facilitate a conflict resolution course, pitch and write news stories, edit dissertations and proposals, work as a client liaison for a tech start-up, and contribute regularly to a blog for women entrepreneurs. In the last year I’ve also competed in four strength competitions (including one at a national level), travelled across the country, and met more ambitious women entrepreneurs than I have in my lifetime.

Jessica Antony
You need something edited, written, or facilitated? I’ll get it done for you. Right here in the woods. I’m all business, baby. (Photo credit: Brenna Faris)


Leaving the security of a career path that wasn’t making me happy anymore was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made, because it forced me to put myself first and actually acknowledge and address the fact that what I had banked on wasn’t working for me. Now, I can’t imagine doing anything else. Put your sweats on and do the scary thing. It’s worth it.


WHAT COMES NEXT FOR JESSICA

You can find Jessica teaching at the University of Winnipeg, writing for clients like The Ace Class, and working as the Media Liaison for the 2019 Canadian National Powerlifting Championship (you may even catch her on the platform!). 

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