“Work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.” -Steve Jobs
On August 19th I handed in my notice. On September 10th I left the company. I had my reasons, which I’ll tell you about here. It was not a conventional choice or at least, on the surface, one that many felt was wise. But the experience has been worth its weight in gold, and I’m so glad I did it. Like any major life decision, it takes awhile for the dust to settle, to see the results of your choices play out. Enough time has passed that I feel confident enough to talk about it openly.
But first you need to understand the context. When Mark and I started dating, he told me his dream was to be able to live and work from anywhere in the world. It didn’t occur to me at the time, but that was the moment I realized I wanted the same thing, and over the last few years this shared dream of ours has come to influence everything we do from the day-to-day decisions we make to our general outlook on life.
It was also the moment that I developed a level of consciousness around work that I hadn’t experienced before. I always knew that work could take whatever form I envisioned, that it could go beyond the boundaries of location and time that the traditional 9-to-5 career offered. I also knew that fundamentally, I should love what I do. I knew this to be true, and suddenly, I was aware that it wasn’t; I didn’t love my job, nor did I feel connected to the work I was doing. I started to feel increasingly dissatisfied with it, and this feeling started creeping into other areas of my life. I started to look outside of work for pleasure and fulfilment. My interest was waning and I could feel that it was affecting me. If I wanted to pull this dream off, I couldn’t continue plodding along in this fashion. I needed to do amazing work, and the only way for me to do amazing work is to figure out what I love to do.
Change of values
Instinctively I think we all have a calling in life. Unfortunately, I don’t quite know what mine is yet. But I knew I wasn’t going to find it being complacent in exchange for a paycheck. My values had evolved. I didn’t want to climb the corporate ladder anymore (or at least not anyone else’s corporate ladder – a ladder with rungs made by me was perfectly OK). I’ve come to value less the things that stack up to a well-paid, corporate job – things like financial security and certainty, and I’ve come to value more the circumstances that allow me to explore, be creative, and take time to reflect on life.
The only thing certain in life is death
Another factor that I knew to be true was this: I was going to die. Hopefully not tomorrow, but someday I will die. In fact, we are all going to die. Call it a quarter life crisis or the inevitability of turning 30, but I suddenly thought what Steve Jobs put so eloquently to be true:
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone elses’ life. For the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”
I had kept a tally over the last two years of the days where I wished I hadn’t been doing what I was doing. The days added up to the point where I could no longer justify doing it anymore. I wasn’t seizing the day, quite the contrary: I was letting it pass me by.
If money were no object
Anyone who has listened to the Alan Watts compilation on YouTube What If Money Was No Object? understands deep down that he’s right. That by pursuing money as the ultimate aim in life “You’ll be doing things you don’t like doing in order to go on living, that is to go on doing things you don’t like doing, which is stupid.”
Conversely, we are to do things we love as if money doesn’t matter. The rationale is that by doing things we love we can withstand the amount of practice that’s required to truly master it. And with mastery comes money.
The key to mastery, according to author Robert Greene, is the cycle of accelerated returns. Meaning, practice becomes easier and more interesting [the more you do it], leading to the ability to practice for longer hours, which increases your skill level, which in turn makes practice more interesting. Reaching this cycle, he says, is a goal you must set for yourself. And only by doing what you truly love to do, can you withstand the practice that is required to get there.
That’s all well and good, but how do I pay my bills you ask? Isn’t it irrational to quit your job? I suppose if you haven’t prepared to do so then perhaps it could be. Where most people would assume quitting your job is an impulsive act, we see it as a step towards achieving our dream. We’ve orchestrated life to liberate ourselves from conventional employment. We saved our money with the intent of taking this step, and deliberately “downsized” our rent to be able to exist on one income (hello Airbnb). What’s more, Mark has set up his own software business and I’ve dramatically reduced my daily operational costs. (It’s amazing how much money you save when you don’t have to go into work everyday).
There’s also something to be said for learning to exist on as little as possible. Robert Greene uses the example of the famous American dancer Martha Graham, who founded the Graham technique that fundamentally changed modern dance. Despite the fact that she was driven to set up her own school, Graham took on commercial work to pay the bills with the belief that dancing was dancing – she could always work on her own ideas in her free time. Near the end of her two-year contract, she decided she would never accept commercial work again, for it drained her of creative energy and destroyed her desire to work. What’s more, it made her feel dependent on a paycheck – which is something I think we’ve all experienced at some point in life.
According to Graham, it’s important to train yourself to get by with little money and make the most of your youthful energy. She demonstrated this by working for years as a dance teacher, keeping her hours to the minimum for survival.
Finding my way
If I said my latest admission of anxiety and depression held no barring on my decision to quit, I’d be lying. Truth be told, I was exhausted by the near three-hour commute to work combined with waking up each morning and realizing that this, in fact, was not what I wanted to do with my life. Most people would be aghast at the thought of quitting their job without another role lined up. I saw the decision to quit not as a cost to my career but as an investment in my health.
Also, I didn’t want to jump from one role to another. I wanted to take the time to really think about my passions and strengths, and reflect on the work I’ve done that’s been truly great.
During this time I’ve been lucky enough to get hands on experience in the food industry, working as an assistant to Chef Mark Greenwood of the Shared Table, and serving at Luke Wilson’s restaurant, 8 Hoxton Square. Both experiences were invaluable, and though my career in food was short-lived, I learned to appreciate my existing skill set – and discovered that the answers to my questions may lie here.
I don’t know what the future holds, but I’m grateful for the uncertainty of life and for this gift of time. But most of all, I’m grateful for Mark. For inciting in me the dream to live off the beaten path, and for helping me to do so. 🙂