Life After Quitting a Full-Time Job

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.

I Just Quit My Job. Am I Crazy?

Leaving Your Job in Tough Times: Swim, Sink, Swim

When Not to Quit Your Job

Quiz: Does Your Work Matter to You?

How Are You Coping with Uncertainty?

How to Quit Your Job with Style

Don’t Quit the Way Sarah Palin Did

Was Quitting My Job the Right Decision?

The Quitter’s Playlist

You’ve Quit Your Job. Now What?

Going Solo: One Year Later

A Career — and Now a Blog — in Transition

So You Want to Quit Your Job and “Start Over”?

Why Talented People Quit

Does Quitting Your Job Seem Sexy?

Quitting a Job: An Act of . . . Poetry?

When Focus Becomes Monotony

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About Steven DeMaio
Steven DeMaio teaches English and math at the Community Learning Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and the Somerville Center for Adult Learning Experiences in Somerville, Massachusetts. He also works as a freelance editor and writer. This is a continuation of his blog that ran for 10 months in 2009 on HBR.org.

11 Responses to Life After Quitting a Full-Time Job

  1. Guy Named Tom says:

    For more than a year, I’ve thought about quitting my job. After much indecision, I took the first step last week and my final day is Nov. 8.

    I think there’s one more blog to be written: I don’t have delusions of grandeur about what I face. I just knew that staying in my job was killing me. So, I asked myself, “what’s the price you pay to STAY?” For me, the costs were too high… I’d be curious who others feel. At what cost are they staying in their job? What would push them over the edge?

    Good reading. Thank you.

  2. Rachel says:

    Steve, I don’t think you should stop writing about this topic! With all the big corporations crashing down and everyone starting up their own start up-we need you to be the voice of the new working class-the independents. I actually think you should take it further and turn it into a magazine-with everything from yoga techniques to get “focused” to tax tips to how to save receipts to how to demand a competitive hourly wage. You could get health insurance companies to sponsor it-with their plans for the newly corporate world departed! you could even have a culinary section with recipes geared towards the newly independent consultant who has time to do more home cooking! (I could handle that part if you want!)

  3. littlengine says:

    Steve,
    I totally agree with Rachel about your hopefully continuing this topic for the independents.
    I am in desperate need of good counsel. I quit my full-time teaching job two weeks ago (I will not get into details. Suffice it to say that instead of having a chance to plan ahead and quit a few months down the road, which was my original plan, I was faced with a situation where I had to quit on the spot, which I don’t regret.) I know that I am not a good fit for full-time work; I am not at my best — mentally or physically — in those situations. Ideally, I’d like to follow your path — a balanced combination of part-time and freelance work — as I think that would provide me with the space and independence I need and still allow me to interact with others and live in the real world. I am interested in your same line of work: editing and teaching. Only teaching full-time in elementary schools has completely burned me out and left me no time to pursue my writing interests. So, going on my third week of unemployment and on the brink of bankruptcy and depression, I am in a bit of despair. I have even applied for full time positions, which I don’t really want, just to feel like I am “doing” something. Also, I know that if I do take on another full-time position, it will only be a matter of time before I quit again due to unwellness, and I’d have accomplished nothing. I’d much rather take some concrete, even if small, steps towards finding my niche. The bulk of my experience has been in teaching, so I don’t have contacts to start freelance editing. Please help.

  4. MEG says:

    Steve,
    I agree that you should continue this blog. It is great writing and very inspiring to people who are thinking of taking the plunge. I have been in the same industry for 35 years, have had only 2 jobs in all those years with no unemployment. I am certainly fortunate, although I found myself in the wrong industry, and I’m now in the wrong job, at least the wrong company. Between my 2 hour commute in each direction, and my work environment I hate going to work. I don’t want to continue going through life hating what I do. I am contemplating doing something that I enjoy for a major cut in pay. I think at the end of the day it’s worth it. If I have the opportunity for growth in my new endevour, I think things will work out. Needless to say I’m scared to death!
    Thanks So Much 🙂 for writing this blog!

  5. Another vote for continuing the blog!

  6. A Guy Named Tom says:

    So, I left in mid-November… Started two online businesses, and now working on a third… so far, revenue has been slow, but it is coming in… all in all, I feel great and positive of things to come, even if slow…

  7. Danny says:

    Yesterday was my “independence day after 25 years in the Information Technology industry. For me health was the decider. Also Maggie and I had saved up enough for us to be able to do this. Interestingly my health is dramatically improving so perhaps I was really in the wrong career. I agree it is all a bit self indulgent to “follow my dreams and passions”, but working 9-5 hours (and in some case weekends and nights) was definately not my purpose on this earth. Health, time with family and making the world a better place are far more important than keeping some investment bankers computer running.

  8. emily says:

    Steve – I would echo similar comments from others. Looks like you may not be continuing this blog(?), but I’ve found your posts some of the most truthful and insightful about leaving a job. Hope you continue writing about this –

  9. Nathaniel says:

    This info is worth everyone’s attention. Where can I find out more?

  10. Onlne Bet says:

    Very good article! We are linking to this great article on our site.

    Keep up the great writing.

  11. I do not know whether it’s just me or if perhaps everyone
    else encountering issues with your blog. It looks like some of the text
    in your content are running off the screen. Can someone else please provide feedback and let me know if this is happening
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    Many thanks

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