October 29, 2010 8 Comments
Exactly two years ago today I quit my job. My work life since then has not been a roller coaster, an adventure, a disaster, a triumph, a barrel of laughs, or a bucket of tears. It is what it is: Change — necessary, gradual, the fabric of existence.
I quit, in part, to rediscover the joy and the mission of teaching, and I continue to work in publishing as a freelancer. It’s great to be back in the classroom, and I value the opportunity to keep my hand — and my brain — in the various editing and writing domains where I manage to find (usually stimulating) work for pay.
Since I quit, I’ve been blogging about that decision, about freelance life, and about various other topics that relate to working independently. With just a few exceptions, the most widely read of my posts continue to be those specifically about quitting. Around some of the early ones, a still-ongoing online conversation sprang up. Perhaps you’ve been a part of it and have had a chance, like me, to learn from the stories of people who decided to deliberately change course, sometimes for the worse but usually for the better.
Indeed, there’s a lot of psychic energy out there around issues of job frustration, “starting over” professionally, and remaking oneself. The search terms that people use to find my blog provide anecdotal evidence. Phrases like these pop up frequently on my WordPress dashboard: “quit and reinvent myself”; “can’t take this job anymore”; “talented and want to quit”; “must quit to be free”; “can I quit and become famous”; “how to quit and be successful”.
Then there are the rarer, even more revealing phrases: “want to quit wife won’t let me”; “if I quit will my kids eat”; “leave this job and conquer the world”; “too talented to have a boss”; and (my favorite) “my job sucks a fat gorilla”.
Perhaps these two sets of search terms don’t fairly represent the sensibilities of folks who desire to quit. Google can, for some who are alone in a cubicle at work or on a laptop in bed late at night, serve as a therapist’s office or a confessional booth, where emotions are expressed raw and in rare form. But even in contexts that are not anonymous and impulsive, I have met recent and would-be quitters who express sentiments similar to those shared with the mighty search engine. To many, quitting seems like a ticket to liberation — an American dream of bursting forth by tearing down the fence that cages you in, in ironic contrast with the type you build with white pickets. In the spooky world of the American dream lurk the strangest contradictions.
There are, of course, a few folks for whom quitting is the ticket to great, previously unimagined material and spiritual success. But nearly always, life just doesn’t work that way. Quitting may be the right thing to do in a given set of circumstances, as it was for me. So my tepidness is not meant to sound like an endorsement of inaction. But if when you think about quitting, you find yourself intoxicated by the fantasy of your own uniqueness or by the delusion of your manifest destiny, do yourself a favor: Take a deep breath (and at least a few weeks, maybe months) before you do something rash.
After all, change borne of anger or euphoria is likely to deliver a sting — and to leave you no better off than you were before. The best kind of transition is the mundane sort that isn’t fully palpable while it’s happening, but only in retrospect. Change that feels heady is more likely to end with a letdown, perhaps a sobering realization that the opportunity you thought you’d grabbed by the throat was never even real.
Gee, what a wet rag to throw on this sexy topic of quitting your job! Maybe so. I don’t mean to say that life-altering career decisions don’t have moments of inspiration. They undoubtedly do, and I have written about my own. But what I read and hear so often in discussions about whether someone should quit a job are silly promises about uncharted waters on the one hand and dire warnings not to rock the boat on the other. There’s nothing more likely to cause seasickness than a ship of fools. Don’t listen to the yammering crew or, worse, become one of them.
With that strained metaphor, I take my leave of this topic of quitting a job. I’ve said all I have to say about it, at least in blog-post form. I’ll continue to write about the other topics that have been featured here and will probably add new ones that change the direction of this self-indulgent little enterprise. I’m not sure precisely where I may digress, but ideas are brewing. “Working for Yourself” is ready to boil off its excess.
For those interested in the history of the now two-year-old “Quitting a Job” subseries in this blog (which was born on HBR.org), here is a list of all the posts on that topic, in chronological order. Have a happy troll through the archive, if you’re so inclined. Regardless, I hope to hear from you on other topics in the near future. And, of course, feel free to offer some final thoughts and stories about quitting.