Would you quit a job if it meant you had a better chance of pursuing life goals?
September 1, 2004 7:22 PM   Subscribe

Would you quit a job if it meant you had a better chance of
pursuing life goals? Even if it was financially risky and
the economy was tough? Have you taken risks to avoid selling out? Did it work? Why or why not?

Not really a hypothetical question. My own situation, et long:

I started with the company I'm at a year and a half ago by doing freelance web dev for them -- helping with some projects of their own and doing some stuff they were doing for their clients that they wanted to outsource. Six months later, I wanted to try my hand at project/account management, and their first choice for candidates didn't work out, so they hired me. I also wanted to move to Iowa at the time and pursue a woman, but this was the first full-time job offer I'd had in over a year of underemployment, and the woman was balky, so I took the job.

Unfortunately, I made the mistake of agreeing to do both project management and continue to work as a web developer. This really is two jobs, and within a few months we'd all discovered that when I try to do both at once, I don't do either well. I've had this discussion with the company president several times, and have experienced some relief as we've hired new people, but it keeps happening that I'm expected to again do both jobs as we get busy / hit growth spurts. The consequences: (a) the job gobbles up a lot of extra time and I'm getting very, very tired of usually not doing much of anything outside of work (b) projects I'm on fall apart periodically, and I get the impression that they haven't been all that impressed with me here.

The job does have its interesting projects and moments, though, and the company is obviously growing fast. I would not be surprised if it achieved at least a modest level of fame at some point. People here are cool. In short, other than the overload, it's generally the kind of place you want to work. And though I really hate to *give up* in any situation, I just tend to feel that after a year of working on it, if the issues surrounding my roles and responsibilities are still here, it may be that they're not going away. Not to mention a personal sense of restlessness that often pervades my thinking.

My best alternative at the moment: I have a friend who can more than likely offer regular freelance work, and would like me to be doing stuff for him. I say more than likely because I know he's supported himself and his wife on this for a few years, plus one or two other people who he's had work with him. Also, I may get some freelance work for the current company I work for, as I have no intention of burning bridges. So some freelance income seems somewhat likely -- but inherently risky of course. And because the last time I was underemployed (2002-2003) it took me over a year to find work again, thinking about what happens if freelancing doesn't pan out scares the tar out of me.

I have a modest bank account of about 5 grand were I to give notice today and leave in two weeks... some security, but obviously that's only a few months of safety, and if the full-timejob market for web developers/math geeks is as tough as it was 2 years ago, I'd be delivering pizza or something. My outlook isn't helped by the fact that I haven't had a positive response to simply sending a resume out in years.

So, pros of staying: Financial security, not uninteresting work. Cons of staying: likely that nothing else happens in my life for a while. Pros of leaving: more control over time, hopefully enabling more time spent on personal goals. Cons of leaving: May end up in fast food and/or bankruptcy. I'm sure this has got to be a familiar story, and I've been thinking "This is how/why people sell out" for a while.

So... I'm interested in hearing other people's risk-taking stories, and for good or ill, how it worked out. I'm interested in hearing what you did to make it work, or what you realized you could have done later to make it work. And maybe, to a lesser extent, open to listening to those with stories about how they learned to stop worryying and love the job.

Any assesments or insights you might have about my situation are fine too.
posted by weston to Work & Money (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Is a leave of absence a possibility? I'm currently on a 3 month leave -- I'd intended to resign, lined up a contract gig, but the company I work(ed) for didn't want to see me go.

There were internal reasons for wanting to leave (frustrations in the job) as well as personal reasons (other career goals), and although they came up with some interesting offers, I still wanted time to think about it. Enter the leave of absence. I get a chance to re-evaluate my job from outside of it, while at the same time testing the freelance waters (web dev).

The freelance has been going well, but I'm not even a month into my leave yet; I still have a lot to think about.
posted by o2b at 7:41 PM on September 1, 2004

I have quit a career in teaching to open up a small business/shop. I am happier than I have ever been. Though it is too early to tell re: successs, I WILL say, if I must return to the classroom , I will have TRIED.
That is worth alot. I am living life more fully.
posted by BrodieShadeTree at 8:29 PM on September 1, 2004

Life goals are the only things that matter -- you don't want to end up dying of old age thinking "goddamn, *that* sure was boring and pointless!"

Take the chance. You might crash and burn spectacularly, but it's not likely, and even if you do at least you'll have given it a try.

...unless you're financially responsible for someone that matters to you (eg: kids). In that case, go for financial stability, because the kids are more important than you are.
posted by aramaic at 8:43 PM on September 1, 2004

I changed careers at 27, giving up desktop publishing and going to law school. It felt risky because I didn't know whether I'd like it, be good at it, or be able to pay off the debt afterwards. One risk I didn't take: I didn't leave my job until I was accepted at law school, and in fact stayed as long as I could to build up savings. I made the decision based on other people I knew who had done the same law school move and US Reports stats on law schools. It's been a good decision so far: more interesting, intellectual work for much better pay.

You know better than me what you'll like, but my two pieces of advice might be: FIRST, see whether a simple change of workplace, doing the same type of work in a different corporate environment, could make a difference. You seem like you'd enjoy working for a company if you didn't have these particularly onerous duties on your plate. And SECOND, even though finding another job is hard, it *is* easier to find work when you already have a job. You can leave and take that risk, but you really don't need to.

(You may already do this, but when you send out a resume, consider researching the company first on the net and write a cover letter emphasizing why you think you would be a good fit for it (do their thinking for them), then follow up with a call after a week, and try things like informational interviews too, maybe. Take a whole weekend to think through your resume and identify the real strengths you've built up from your last job.)

Those cautionary words being said, the finest piece I've ever read on risk taking is Conan O'Brien's Harvard commencement speech:

I left the cocoon of Harvard, I left the cocoon of Saturday Night Live, I left the cocoon of the Simpsons. And each time it was bruising and tumultuous. And yet every failure was freeing, and today I'm as nostalgic for the bad as I am for the good. So that's what I wish for all of you: the bad as well as the good. Fall down. Make a mess. Break something occasionally. Know that your mistakes are your own unique way of getting to where you need to be. And remember that the story is never over.

Like BrodieShadeTree says, sometimes the riskiest things are most worthwhile. But be smart about it: consider building up more savings and finding another corporate job (maybe in a more interesting city) instead of freelancing. You can risk alot, but no need to risk bankruptcy yet. Good luck, weston!
posted by onlyconnect at 8:44 PM on September 1, 2004

I'm living the dream: not compromising anything, only doing work that fulfills me, enjoying my life.

Only problem is that there is a lot of pressure from other people, including my family, to fall into line. That's the problem with this crap Puritan work-ethic.

Also, I'm a loser.
posted by crazy finger at 8:58 PM on September 1, 2004

I've never regretted quiting a job.
posted by trbrts at 9:41 PM on September 1, 2004

I quit my job to start my own business. I could've easily ended up back in a regular job someplace, but fortunately it panned out.

I don't regret it at all. I would still consider it a success even if it the business tanks in a year or three.
posted by mosch at 10:51 PM on September 1, 2004

I would urge you to take the leap, normally (and I'm a big leaper myself, so I'm the last person to be overcautious), but you say you have a job at a company you like, with co-workers you like, where the work is interesting and the business outlook is bright. So all is good, except for this one big problem, and the move to the proposed freelance arrangement would not be the realization of a long-cherished goal, but more an escape from an unwieldy configuration of duties.

The way I see it, your plus-list for your current company is a lot longer than the minus-list, and I would urge you to take one more stab at redefining your position there. I'd suggest you pretty much describe your position as plainly and openly as you have here, and see if there is some way to finally really put it right before leaving what otherwise seems like a really great job.
posted by taz at 11:19 PM on September 1, 2004

I had a job I loved but a personal situation that was untenable a year out of college. With about six grand in the bank, I quit my job and moved across the country to live on a friend's couch.

The next few years were difficult, as I struggled financially and I went through several unfortunate jobs.

Three years later, I've had amazing life experiences and I am much better off personally and professionally than I was before I put it all on the line.

I vote you go for it.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 11:28 PM on September 1, 2004

Yes, quitting is okay. You might want to try to use this "wanting to quit and feeling like you can quit" period as a means to talk to your boss [or his/her boss, or whoever] to see if maybe you can go back to doing freelance web dev for them once and for all and stop managing projects, period. Maybe if they know you're thinking of moving on they could actually give someone else the "when it's busy, you're the PM" job?

That said, I think if you're quitting-curious AND you're in a stable position with the rest of your life so that you could manage it [six month's or so worth of expenses money in the bank, no bills you can't pay, no other mouths to feed, not teetering on the brink of depression or suicide already] then this is a good time to see what cutting that tether looks like.

I'm in a different position, I'm 35 and I've never had a full time job for longer than a few months. I've had a lot of part time jobs, I even have what I would consider a career, but it's pieced together from a lot of little jobs, freelance work and sheer force of will. I live on very little money, and I like it that way, many people wouldn't. I have a lot of money in the bank which gives me some security in this fruiting around I like to do. I have an option to take one full time job [possibly, if they like me] and I'm really dithering over if I would even be happy with ONE job as opposed to many jobs, or whether a 37.5 hour a week job would kill me dead. I really have no idea, but I know I've been very happy and relatively stress-free getting to run my own life and not take terrible jobs so far.

So, it is very possible to not have a regular job and still not be bankrupt. As I'm sure you know freelancing requires some special skills in terms of managing money, dealing with taxes, hustling for work, staying organized, meeting deadlines and a lot of other things that a regular job sort of does for you. Think a little bit about worst-case scenarios. Is a worst case scenario delivering pizza for money? Is it moving in with your parents? Is it letting down a significant other or family? Is it regret at not sticking with that job when your money is tight and your friends are going to Vegas for Xmas? Is it not having a career? Address those fears as you decide what to do. I'm one of those people who thinks that trying and failing beats a life of quiet desperation any day of the week. Best of luck in what you decide.
posted by jessamyn at 8:29 AM on September 2, 2004

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