Just For Life (Why I Quit My Job)

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” -Annie Dillard

Friday was my last day working for the federal government.  I had been working in government a little more than two years, so several colleagues took to calling me “short-timer” before I left.  Two years is far less than the long federal careers most people usually have, who are attracted to public service, long-term job security and benefits.  However, bureaucracy is not kind to anyone, let alone a twenty-something with a creative spirit that likes to ask tough questions.

It is never easy to quit your job; it is especially difficult when you truly believe in the mission of the organization you’re working for, and even harder when you don’t have another job or grad school lined up.   I told someone last week that I was leaving and moving to San Francisco, and she replied, “Oh, wonderful, where are you going to be working?”  “I don’t have a job yet,” I replied.  “Oh, great, where are you going to graduate school?”  “I’m not going to school,” I said.  “So you’re just going…for life???” she said, dumbfounded.  She looked at me like I was from another planet.

Just for life.  As if life was not good enough.  Is there a better reason to quit your job than the fact that you are not happy, that you are not fulfilled, that you are not living out your full potential in life? I want to do something different with my life.  What that is—I’m not exactly sure—but I want it anyway.  I know it will involve me pursuing my personal interests (writing, supporting social entrepreneurs who are creating positive change) and being the best version of me; a passionate, creative me that wants to make others happy and empower people to live out their full potential in life.   

In his book Walking on Water, author and environmental activist Derrick Jensen refers to the concept of fittingness, that is, how well your actions match your unique gifts, match who you are.  He says we should all be asking ourselves the question:  “What’s the biggest and most important problem I can solve with my gifts and skills?”  ReWork, an innovative company that tries to connect exceptional professionals with positions in organizations with a social or environmental mission, emphasizes the importance of finding where you as an individual (your skills, your interests, your passions) fit best with an organization.  While I deeply respect the work my organization does, and am grateful for my tremendously kind and passionate colleagues, who will remain mentors and close friends, I personally was no longer inspired by the day-to-day work I did there, and in the end, that’s all that matters.

You can work at the most impact-driven social enterprise, an innovative non-profit or company that is changing the world, the place where your friends or your parents or your career counselor think you should work, but in the end, it’s all about whether the particular job itself within that organization is a good fit for you.  You’re the one that has to be happy.  I remain hopeful that I’ll find a job where I feel passion, happiness, and excitement about what I’m going to do tomorrow morning at 10:15am.  Maybe not every single day, but at least the majority of the time.  As I enter the next phase of my life, there will undoubtedly be bumps in the road and moments of fear, frustration, and failure, but the challenge excites me, and waking up knowing that I’m spending my days listening to my heart will keep me going.  

This post was originally published on my first blog (whatsupmsmiley.com) on May 27, 2012.