This week I did something that could profoundly change the rest of my life: I quit my job.
OK, I didn’t quit outright, didn’t throw my computer out the window and stalk out of the office, leaving a trail of destruction behind me. There have occasionally been days I wanted to do that, but causing such a ruckus would be a moot point, given I either work from home or in a shared office space where no one else from my company works.
To put it properly…I gave notice. My last day at work is October 16. On October 23 I will return to Portugal for two months to hang out, surf, travel, “find myself,” as it were (since obviously I didn’t discover where I was after one month there in April). After that time is up, I’ll either return to the U.S. and figure out my next move, or just keep going.
I have never quit a job without knowing what I was going to do next before. It feels strange, and I’m quite nervous about it. But I’m not happy doing what I’m doing anymore, though I work for a great company, and I really love the people I work with (virtually, mostly, as we are all in different time zones and cities around the world).
I have been a technology-industry journalist for more than nine years, however, and have worked as a full-time journalist for 11. Technology was never even something I was particularly interested in when I took my first job in the industry in 2000; it was just something that paid well at the time. So I felt that a change was necessary, and a drastic one at that.
I thought long and hard about this before coming to this decision, so it is not an entirely rash one. Without going too much into it, I have a little bit of a financial cushion, so I’m not going to be totally destitute. And I really think there has to be more than life than this, and as I approach the last couple of years of my 30s and have no attachments, I figured it was a good time to do something risky.
So it’s come to this: I’m going to try to combine the three things from which I get the most joy in the world — travel, new experiences and writing — and do them full time as long as I possibly can.
And let’s not forget the surfing — that’s up there as number four, I would say, and there will definitely be plenty of that on this journey.
What makes you happy? Do you ever think about it? Can you honestly say you’re a happy person? Really? Truly? When you go to sleep at night do you feel happy about your life? Do you do things that make you happy every day? Do most people, do you reckon?
I would answer that last question with a resounding “no.” I think most people tolerate life, or do what they’re supposed to do, or think that true happiness is really not meant for this world (perhaps based on some false religious belief) so they don’t even strive for it here.
Most people live their lives based on whatever set of rules they were taught growing up. Drink your milk. Go to school. Find a good job and a decent person with whom to spend your life. Buy a house. Have children. Go on vacation once a year to relax and try to learn a little something about the world around you.
But what if those things don’t really work out for you? What if you’re lactose intolerant? What if you go to school and then more school and then still more school, but the job you find after that doesn’t really suit you, it just pays the bills? What if you don’t find a decent person to marry (or even if you do, that marriage ends)? What if you don’t want kids or a house and think having a week of vacation a year just isn’t enough?
I know I’m a lucky person who has had more opportunity than most people to enjoy life and follow my bliss, as the famed mythologist Joseph Campbell advised so eloquently. I have never worried much about money because my family has been supportive in that regard, and I have stacked up a long list of experiences and good times that make for great stories at the bar on a Thursday night.
For the most part, I can say I’ve done the things I’ve wanted to do when I want to do them. I’ve partied and rocked out and loved and lost and battled and wandered and laughed and cried with the best of them. It’s been a great life so far.
But I also was raised very practically by Italian-Catholic parents, who drilled into me the work ethic their immigrant parents taught them. These were simple people who grew up poor and were happy just to have a roof over their heads, someone to love and food to feed their families. These are not people who are not necessarily searchers — who would think it was OK to quit a job and go off wandering the world and follow an instinct to experience and write and soul-search.
That’s why this decision was hard for me. I am a child of my parents after all, and while I have traveled and wandered and gone off the beaten path at times, for the most part I have followed a predictable blueprint.
But as soon as I made the decision to change my life and put the plan into action, I felt lighthearted and calm. I felt relief. True, I was nervous and slightly terrified (especially to tell my pragmatic and often gruff Sicilian father; mom is no longer with us) but it felt like the right thing to do. Whether it is remains to be seen — but I feel if I head into this new chapter in my life positively and with a real sense of high-spirited adventure, everything will fall into place.
I believe, as the Zen Buddhists do, that we are always in transition. Whether we know it or not, we are constantly on the verge of the next thing. Whether we choose that next thing or it chooses us is the only question at hand — although I guess sometimes, it’s a little bit of both.
I’m choosing to do something I’ve never done before and to see what happens as a result of that choice. I’m choosing to free myself from a job that my heart was no longer in to travel and find new work, new ways to earn my living, new things to write about, new experiences to feed my soul and new people to walk with for awhile. No matter what happens, I will not regret these choices, even if things turn out to be challenging and I end up broke and broken and heavy-hearted and without a clue in the world what to do next.
I have always said that I don’t believe in going back to repeat the past — back to an old boyfriend, back to live in a town in which I’ve once lived, back to a job that I once had. No — though I may have considered these options in the past, I have never chosen them, as much as I have wanted to.
But I’ve come to realize that despite my fears and worries, my life philosophy supports only going forward. So it’s in that direction I will march into the unknown with my eyes and heart open, my head high and my spirits light. I can’t wait to see what comes next.