On quitting my corporate job with no backup plan; or whither to next for me and my dog?
In three days, I shall turn in my work laptop and work phone and walk out of the office, hopefully never to create another spreadsheet or PowerPoint slide ever again. Hopefully never to sit through another interminable meeting about spreadsheets or PowerPoint slides. Here in the middle of my life, at age 48, I have resigned from my corporate job and am about to embark on a journey I have been dreaming of and planning for many years. I am breaking away from corporate life and am going to take a road trip with my dog, travel the world, do volunteer work, and work in jobs that allow me to be active, help folks on a daily basis and live a life of service and giving back. Of helping people find their own happiness.
I knew well over a decade ago that I hated office life. But I enjoyed the work – communications and government relations. Or rather, I knew that I was really good at it. I enjoyed excelling at something, even if I didn’t truly love the office environment. I knew that I genuinely detested being cooped up in a dreary office all day. But, in order to do work that I was naturally good at and to make the nice big salary I so desired (yes, I confess, I was chasing money at the expense of happiness), I had to compromise – I had to trudge into a dreary, grey office building. Over the years, I moved up and up, always making more money but always moving into yet another office or cubicle that seemed to suck the very life out of my soul.
I knew that I preferred to be outside or active or at least moving about all day long. Some of my favorite jobs throughout my life have been low-paying or volunteering jobs – catering, bar tending, a tour guide for a historic site, food writer, restaurant reviewer, writing for a small town newspaper, tutoring English language, working as a tech in a sea turtle hospital, and even waiting tables in a small town Southern joint. But I couldn’t reconcile the low pay or no pay of that work with the joy I had back then because I have spent most of my adult life since then chasing money. And each time I got a pay raise, I found myself less and less engaged in the work I was doing. Or rather, enjoyed the writing and editing parts, the dealing directly with people part, or helping co-workers – but NOT the corporate setting, not the spreadsheets and the slide decks. The soul-sucking windowless offices and endless rows of cubicles. Not the ass kissing. Not the having to wear pants and shoes (wait, what?). I can now admit in all honesty, I genuinely dislike corporate office life. But, dammit, I spent nearly $100,000 on a Master’s degree – I was committed to spending my life making that expenditure pay for itself. Ah, I have been so misguided in my thinking. I will tell you though – I had to finish paying off my student loans and work very, very hard to be debt free in order to pursue this dream. Getting all of that accomplished is worth its own blog and I know that debt is exactly what keeps most of us from pursuing our passion and dream.
But, the question for many of us is, “If I am good at a job and it pays well, even if I don’t enjoy it, then I should just go ahead and do it, right?” I used to think the answer was YES. But, now, I am quite certain, we should all find work that we are passionate about.
I know – and I have known for years – that I prefer vocational work and work that makes a tangible contribution on a daily basis. And so, not sure what I will do next, next week I will begin the work of figuring out what I am passionate about. I tried to figure this out while working the daily grind. But I decided to stop the grind that was making me so depressed and unfulfilled and put my myself in a position that forces my hand to take dramatic action – quit my job without having lined up another one. I don’t care about the pay level in my next pursuit – my happiest days were when my salaries weren’t very much. I know that I want to engage in work that actively makes a positive difference in the lives of others and each day I want to engage meaningfully with others. I am tired of living in a Dilbert cartoon that isn’t funny.
Since I have announced my resignation and upcoming sabbatical – my plan to travel, to do volunteer work, to engage in jobs that don’t pay well but will allow me to be active and help others find their happiness, well, so many of my co-workers and friends have told me they dream of doing what I am doing and that they wish they could pursue what makes them happy.
I always ask them, “If you could quit your job today, and money was no object, family was not object, and you could live anywhere you wanted – all you had to do was pick your dream job, what would it be and where would it be?” One of my co-workers said he would be perfectly happy if he could quit his suit-and-tie job and go and be a groundskeeper at a golf course. Another told me she would go and be a receptionist at an art gallery. Another told me she would go and be a park ranger (instead of being a cybersecurity expert). Naturally, we’ve all had to make compromises in our work at one time or another in order to take care of our families, get the mortgage paid, pay for the kids’ college, etc. etc. And some of my coworkers told me this week that I am just being a flake and going through a mid-life crisis and that I would regret leaving a stable, good job and that I am crazy and silly and that I would be right back in an office. And, you know what, I may well end up back in an office. But I have to at least TRY to pursue my passion and my dream to live a different kind of life – of using my talents and skills for caring, service, and giving.
I am not married. I do not have children. I have never ever wanted either of those things – instead, I chose my own personal freedom. And now it is finally time to test out exactly what that choice will allow me to do – in all of its forms. I have played it safe for far too long. In my life, I only take calculated risks – and those risks have always paid off and I have never failed in them. Granted, sometimes those risks had WILDLY different outcomes than what I anticipated, but they were always life changing and granted me adventures and new friends and brilliant experience. As I have gotten older, I’ve stopped taking those risks. And the grind of routine in work I care nothing for has nearly crushed my soul.
Working through my fear of scuba diving and terror of breathing under water this year is what helped remind me of who I am – that I am adventurous and passionate and brave, that I want to engage with nature and other adventurous people and to face fear and challenges regularly. I never want to fall into a safe, secure routine – ever.
And so, me and my dog, well, we’re on to our next chapter in life and so much is unknown, unforeseeable and, I’ll admit, at my age, I am nervous and a bit scared. But I also am happier and more excited than I have been in years and years. In my heart and my gut, I know I am doing the right thing. I know, I know, all of those years I have given to the corporate world have afforded me to take the journey I am about to take. And I gratefully acknowledge that and all of those who have hired me and allowed me to be part of their team. But, now, on to the next phase.
Whither shall I venture? Ah, we shall see, dear reader, we shall see.