Answering “Why did you quit your job?” is a bit like answering “Where did the water in the ocean come from?”
There are several ways to think about and answer these questions, which makes it all pretty tough to jot down in one post! But I’ll do my best.
1. I’m a human being, damn it!
There are people I’ve met who thrive on the conventional work week. Coffee is life-blood, 9am – 5pm is structure, all tasks are either “paying your dues” or “building a professional skill set”. I have come to admire these people… I think that the discipline, sacrifice, and (what I think is) deliberate decision making for the long-term marks qualities that are very important and valuable.
However, for the rest of us, there is a voice way back in our heads that groans with each little appeasement, each sacrifice. The reality is that priority #1 for a company involves checking off the giant list of often uninteresting tasks required to make it run. Your needs, desires and schedule, although a high priority, will be ~#2. This shouldn’t be a surprise to us, and is in part why we receive a paycheck to sacrifice #2 for #1 at any moment.
But the little things do add up. Free time is confined to weekends and paid-time-off. Commuting through grungy metro/bus systems or wasteful, traffic-crammed car rides is the norm. Creative projects that require some energy fall to the wayside as Netflix, mimosa brunches and the occasional lavish vacation fill the void.
There is some debate about whether these things are a necessary part of human life. However, I simply refuse to accept that this is what we amount to in the end.
2. It’s too early to stop taking risks.
My 24th birthday is coming up, which means I’ve been out of school and working for about 2 years. Stepping back, I can clearly see that these few upcoming years serve as a window of opportunity before I get some more serious obligations. I don’t have a mortgage, wife, kids, my parents are still healthy, etc.
So then, why in the world would we start living as conservatively as a 50 year old? Now is the time to be bold, make mistakes, develop our wisdom early on so that we can look back on a richer, more interesting life.
There is a certain story we are taught to follow – and that is OK as a starting point. We see 401K plans start to grow, we see our funds coming together for a big purchase (probably a house), we start seeing how the company ladder will affect our near, mid, and long-term future. But, as per #3 below, we have to very critically ask ourselves, is this the story we want to follow? Did we land in this story by default, or do we deliberately choose it for ourselves? There is no need to sentence ourselves to the plans of our misinformed past selves.
3. Some “important” things are actually unimportant.
Forget our day-to-day worries for a second. To help us think bigger picture, imagine that your life was capped at 20 years. You are some kind of spiritual afterthought that gets to look back on your 20 years of life. What do you wish you had done, said, been?
This is a good proxy for what will likely matter most to you once our time here is up.
I’m pretty sure that money and prestige did not make that list. What we probably look back on is fulfilling experiences with other people, challenges that helped us grow and learn, and the joy of epiphany through new perspectives.
Similarly, the image of grinding away and working hard is an “important” cornerstone of American culture. But the work will only become truly important when it is put toward something you care about.
4. Nobody really cares about your career.*
*Except maybe your immediate family, or life-long friend. Even then, realistically, often they just care about you as a person, not you as your day job.
The Truth is that you can spend 35 years developing in a traditional career, become a Senior VP of Executive Operations, and still, nobody will give a shit. People will ask what you do, make some assumptions about how much money you make, all to compare you to themselves. In the end, you are the only one you have to answer to. Do you find you interesting and fulfilled?
I’d implore you not to live the story that other people seem to want you to live because, in the end, the story is made up anyway!
Another way to look at this – if you were cornered by the you in 35 years, would you find that future you interesting? Would you want to talk about the implications of technical regulations on sales of motor vehicles? Or maybe, would you rather talk about beliefs turned to action, the ups and downs involved, and the invaluable life lessons learned from being a true human being?
Again, there is no right or wrong, good or bad in these decisions. Just do what is right for you, but try to be as deliberate, informed and aware of your decisions as possible.
This is a bit too long to tell someone in the course of normal conversation, so next time someone asks why I quit my day job, I’ll point them here 😉
Thanks for reading!