Stories about career downshifts
May 18, 2020 12:59 PM   Subscribe

I'd like to find stories of people who have made major career changes away from the white collar world. I don't mean parallel shifts, like a lawyer who decides to become a paralegal. I mean like a lawyer who decides to become a carpenter or a landscaper or something. People who have tired of the rat race and responsibility and emails and offices and are looking to work less, simplify, and work only as necessary rather than spend life building a career.

I'm finding it hard to google this and would love to know of any books, podcasts, interviews, essays, etc. that would tell this kind of story.
posted by fso to Work & Money (15 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Shop Class as Soulcraft (philosopher to motorcycle mechanic)
posted by madcaptenor at 1:18 PM on May 18, 2020 [4 favorites]

Paul Wheaton, who's a well-known figure in permaculture circles, was a software developer for years (and I believe he still does part-time work on sites for his permaculture forum and community in Montana). Check out and
posted by Sheydem-tants at 1:21 PM on May 18, 2020 [1 favorite]

It's more a story of the academic job market, but I thought of this story I heard on the CBC two years ago. It describes some PhD students who leave their programs for completely different work, like being a florist or carpenter.
posted by pierogi24 at 2:50 PM on May 18, 2020 [1 favorite]

Joe Dominguez, a former Wall Street stock-market analyst who quit the rat race and co-wrote the best seller "Your Money or Your Life," a bible of the living-simply movement, has died at age 58. - The Seattle Times, via AP, January 18, 1997
posted by Iris Gambol at 2:55 PM on May 18, 2020 [4 favorites]

I've been watching a new series on Animal Planet called Saved by the Barn, about a guy who left a six-figures job in tech to take over the family farm in Michigan and turn it into a farm animal rescue. I'm sure there are probably articles about it beyond just the basics on the channel.
posted by kitten kaboodle at 4:36 PM on May 18, 2020

Best answer: Not a story you can google, but a friend of mine used to be a criminal lawyer. He was very good, but he did it for years and hated it. Then he decided that life was too short, so he left the city and moved down to a small town. Decided he wanted a simple, stress free existence, so now he works for the local waste management plant. As far as I’m aware, he drives trucks and sorts through recycling to earn some money and the rest of his time is spent doing underwater photography, kite surfing and painting. He doesn’t have a family so it’s just himself to support and by all accounts he seems incredibly happy.
posted by Jubey at 4:55 PM on May 18, 2020 [2 favorites]

Honestly, a lot of the small farmers I know had careers in tech first because land is expensive and farming doesn't make much money. They also work a metric shitton if they want their farm to be economically viable.

The folks who make the kind of career change you're talking about are also often driven by passion, so they keep working a lot, even more so if they are further writing a blog / book about their experience. I'd argue that the folks who actually want to simplify and work less tend to make more lateral moves.
posted by momus_window at 5:02 PM on May 18, 2020 [1 favorite]

There’s a reddit community called FIRE (financial-independence-retire-early) that refers to this kind of life as “Barista FIRE”. Generally, that means someone who has made enough money that they don’t work in a career to maximize for money. Instead, they might keep a barista-type job for either health insurance, routine, or social company.

Example thread here.
posted by tinymegalo at 6:34 PM on May 18, 2020 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I worked as a mechanical engineer for a while and hated my life, and now I am working on an organic farm and loving every second. Feel free to MeMail me.
I can provide specific details about housing, changes, financial planning, downsizing, etc. I’ll even send you the budgeting spreadsheet I made if you’d like. It took 3 years for me to figure out how to make my transition effectively and take the plunge—I would’ve saved so much valuable time if I’d had someone to talk to.
Also, good on you for thinking about this. The world has enough sad people. If you want to change, you can do it. Seriously.
posted by leafmealone at 10:12 PM on May 18, 2020 [6 favorites]

I was a busy IT guy in NYC for ten years and very miserable. Spent ten years after that travelling and opening/running/selling various bars/hostels/restaurants around the world. Best move I ever made. Memail me if you have specific questions.
posted by conifer at 12:35 AM on May 19, 2020 [2 favorites]

As an anecdote: my uncle was an engineer in coal in the 80s, decided he hated office politics so he became an independent carpenter.

I also work as an engineer (data though) and I think I'm about to join him and teach again or something.
posted by Young Kullervo at 6:28 AM on May 19, 2020 [1 favorite]

Po Bronson, What Should I Do With My Life has a wealth of stories like this.
posted by Bron at 7:33 AM on May 19, 2020

If you go on the Mr. Money Mustache forums Journals, you can find a bzillion journals set up by people who are FIREd and documenting their adventures (or sometimes lack thereof). Also you might enjoy the Post-FIRE board.
posted by SinAesthetic at 10:57 AM on May 20, 2020

Response by poster: These are all awesome, thanks everyone! To chime in on my own question, I’ve since found this short video about a guy who quit his government job and now works part time at a grocery store, which is exactly what I’m dreaming of right now.
posted by fso at 5:50 PM on May 25, 2020

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