On Queen Christina Of Sweden And Walking Away From It All

You know, no matter how much you love your job (which I do,) or your career (which I do,) or your chosen industry as a whole (which I do,) there are times where you just want to walk away from it all.  

I don’t mean take the evening off from thinking about work, or skip out at 4:45 to get a pedicure. I mean leave it all behind and start somewhere new, witness protection style.

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When I think about inventing a whole new life, the fantasy usually involves taking a job as a receptionist at a hair salon. I think that would be so fun and fairly low stakes and maybe I’d get to do some shampooing after I’ve been there a few months. I bet when hair salon receptionists burn out, when the demanding clients and the hair balls and the smell of dye get to be too much, they fantasize about being a journalist or a salmon fisherman or a human rights lawyer.  

But even on bad days — when sources aren’t calling me back and the words just ain’t coming — that remains just a fantasy. Because I know that the moment I left my beloved journalism behind, I’d regret it.

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Just ask Queen Christina of Sweden (1626-1689.) She was one of the most educated women of her time, a patron of the arts, a talented hunter, a European cultural influencer and a lesbian. She was also … let’s say … a troublemaker.

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She lived lavishly, turning Stockholm into a cultural center and nearly bankrupting the country. She brought great thinkers and artists to court, but often lost interest in them before they even made it there. She converted to Roman Catholicism, which was illegal in Lutheran Sweden. She also really didn’t want to marry (because of the whole lesbian thing.)

None of this made her especially popular with the ruling class. You could say she was in a professional valley, and Queen Christina of Sweden couldn’t climb her way out. So … she walked away.

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After 10 years as queen, in 1654, she abdicated the throne in favor of her cousin, Charles X Gustav. Once he assumed the throne, she cut off her hair, donned men’s clothes and a sword, and hightailed it for Rome.

That must have felt like a real middle finger to the profession. But giving the middle finger to your profession is a little like giving it to the cop who pulls you over for speeding. It feels good in the moment, but in the long run, there’s going to be consequences.

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Queen Christina spent the rest of her life trying to regain power, not just of her own country, but of at least two others.

Almost immediately upon arriving in Rome, she tried to seize the kingdom of Naples from the Spanish. She had the backing of the French, and it maybe would have worked, if only Christina hadn’t ordered the murder of her French aide in a fit of paranoia. The French backed away from joining Team Christina after that.

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When her second cousin abdicated the throne of Poland, she gained the Pope’s backing to try to gain that seat. That failed too, though history is less clear on why. (Honestly…do you really need a reason? I’m not sure this lady could lay claim to a handicapped seat on the bus if she was nine months pregnant and missing a leg.)

“Though her first-act curtain was arguably the most dramatic of any in 17th-century Europe, she had no second act,” wrote the New York Times in a review of a book on Christina’s life.

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Woof. As far as epitaphs go, that’s not great. When she walked away from her throne, with all of Europe shocked and awed by her gumption and bravery, I bet she thought one day, the New York Times would write something like, “Though her first-act curtain was arguably the most dramatic of any in 17th-century Europe, what came next will really shock you!” (She also created Sweden’s first newspaper, so I imagine she knew a thing or two about clickbait.)

I’ve got a real soft spot for lady royals and lesbian troublemakers and people who make dramatic exits. That’s why I’m so inspired by Catherine de Medici and Queen Elizabeth I and Minerva McGonagall. But unlike Queen Christina of Sweden, those ladies faced their professional valleys head on, whether that be the loss of two husbands and two sons, immense pressure to marry or, you know, the Battle of Hogwarts.

Queen Christina bailed, and ended up regretting it pretty hard for the rest of her life.

The best thing we can take from her story is a warning — the fantasy ain’t never as good as what you’ve already got going.

And hey, look! In the time it took me to write this post, people started calling me back and the words started flowing again! (That’s all journalism is, really.) So unlike Queen Christina, I’ll stick with my chosen field. And if I do sneak out to get a pedicure at 4:45…I won’t come back with a receptionist job. I promise.  

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