Why I Quit My Job in the Midst of Global Financial Chaos

Last Friday I packed up my office supplies, shut down the computer that had been my daily companion for the last nine months, gave my boss an awkward hug, and walked out to the Peachtree Corporate parking lot for the last time.

I left behind a salary, benefits, relatively positive working environment, and an Apple computer — why?

If you’re a member of Gen Y, I probably don’t have to tell you. Constant compromising, filtering your best ideas through a gambit of approval processes, feeling that your work may be meaningless or, further, that it might be changing the world for the worse. These frustrations aren’t unique to my former job, and if you reside in a cubicle for 40 hours a week, you’ve probably suffered at least one of them.

If you’re a member of an older generation, however, you might scoff at my ungrateful attitude, my shameless self-absorption, and my reckless disposal of a job for which plenty of people would sacrifice a limb. Like my former boss, who, when I once let on that I felt unsatisfied, simply quipped, “Work isn’t supposed to be fun,” you may dismiss my disenchantment as part of the pie-in-the-sky idealism that plagues my generation.

But wait. Throughout the education that my parents and grandparents worked so hard for me to get, I was taught to question and challenge assumptions. To focus on possibilities, rather than limitations. To ask why. So, I can’t help but ask, why shouldn’t work be fun?

A year ago I moved to Atlanta to find a job, any job. But now I’m looking for something better, something I haven’t even seen. Isn’t it possible to redeem work, to make it enjoyable and challenging and meaningful? If such an ideal didn’t exist, we wouldn’t know to want it, right?

My own intuition and the whole world cry out that there must be a better way.

Our parents taught us to get good grades. To do well on the S.A.T. To graduate from a top-tier college. If we followed this path, they told us, the rest would fall into place.

But then the financial collapse coincided with the emergence of the most educated applicant pool in history. Not only did we realize we’d have to settle for something less than “whatever we set our minds to,” we realized that even our Plans B, C, D and E were out of reach.

Yet despite a 14% unemployment rate (which, when you take into account millennials not technically looking for jobs, is actually more like 37%), 18 to 29-year-olds are still turning down jobs we believe are dead ends, often to the dismay of our parents. Fellow 2008 graduate Scott Nicholson told the New York Times last month, “I am absolutely certain that my job hunt will eventually pay off.” Rather than settle for any job, we feel we are cut out for something better.

Jeanne Hulbert, a sociology professor at LSU, also suggests my decision is part of a generational trend. “Millennials are not settling for the same choices made by other generations,” she told BusinessReport.com. “They have a completely different way of looking at the world.”

A friend of mine decided to bypass the traditional job search when we graduated from college. She calls herself “a perpetual intern” because for the past two years she’s held a series of unpaid internships in museums. She’s been heavily financed by the money her deceased father left behind, which has allowed her to travel from the Bay Area to rural Pennsylvania to Chicago, and now to Delaware for graduate school. Museum Studies is a highly competitive field, and she says she couldn’t have gotten into this graduate program without the internships.

My friend isn’t your typical trust fund baby. She worked retail through college for her spending money, and now she’s doing everything she can to make the career she wants happen. A lot of people would tell her to invest her money… but isn’t that what she is doing?

I realized a few months ago that I had a choice. I could stay in my cubicle in the suburbs and use my talents to serve corporate interests. I could ignore the frustrations, collect my paychecks and promise myself, “Maybe next year.”

Or, I could save every paycheck in preparation for the day I would no longer receive one. Meanwhile, I could quietly plan for something better. And as a result, I could actually perform better at my nine-to-six because I was no longer afraid of losing it.

Then, one day, I could pack up my desk and quit, satisfied that the past months were not in vain. Rather, they were providing me the money and experience to pursue something more satisfying. Freelancing? Perhaps. I admit that I’m not entirely sure what my ideal work will look like, or if it even exists in this life.

But if it does, I can’t bear not to discover it.

Photo Credit: Joe Martinez

Acree Graham Since graduating from Emory in 2008, I’ve paid the bills with everything from lattes and babysitting to marketing and social media. I now work in Atlanta as a freelance copywriter. I like cities, literature, radio and design. I still make a damn fine cup of coffee and I’m a pretty good dancer. Twitter: @acreegraham

View all posts by Acree Graham

13 Responses to “Why I Quit My Job in the Midst of Global Financial Chaos”

  1. Angela Stefano

    This is wonderful. I hope you find the job that you're looking for, and good for you.

    I have thought for months now that, if I could, I would do in a heartbeat what your friend is doing, or what you are doing — but, well, the money from a “real” job is nice, even if it is only marginally in my field. Don't get me wrong, I'm happier now than I was at my sit-at-a-desk-and-answer-phones job (and don't even get me started on retail!), but…it's still not perfect. But I know the perfect job is out there. Maybe not right now, but eventually (soon?). I know that work IS supposed to be fun. If I can find unpaid internships that I love, I can find “real” work that I love. And I guess in the meantime, I'll have to settle for doing as many of the unpaid things as I can on the side.

  2. Jen K.

    If anyone can discover it, it will be you, Acree. Great article!

  3. kimberleymosher

    I did exactly what you did, just over a year ago. I quit my job because it wasn't fufilling and I hated getting up every morning to go to work. It's a year later, and I've relocated cities, found a job that I both enjoy and want to get up in the morning for and I couldn't be happier. With a year behind me, I can only look back at my decision, as I'm sure you will too, and realize it was the right way to go! Congrat and good luck!

  4. shannonshort

    Great article, Acree!

    I am of an “older” generation (cusp Boomer/Gen X) and I applaud you — LOUDLY — for your planning and for paying attention to your intuition and your desire for “more.” At 24, I went to my father and told him I was unhappy in my job and wanted to leave. He told me “work isn't there to make you happy; it's there to make you a living.” The difference between you and me is I listened. I didn't agree with him but I still stayed at my job.

    Today, my life's work and passion is to help Gen Yers like you — well, not you because you already have it figured out — have the courage not to settle and not to play it safe but to go for it and create a life that will make them happy and fulfilled.

    Huge congrats to you! I'll def be sharing your article with my audience! I'd love to hear how things are going (and support you any way I can) as you search for your ideal.

    Keep it real!

    P.S. I agree works and LIFE are both supposed to be fun. I had a friend once tell me, “Shannon, almost noone likes what they do.” My reply: “I know. That's sad. And I'm going to do everything I can to change it!” Love to know I have company to make that change happen!

  5. Kim

    Great article, and as someone from the GenX generation who quit her job to the dismay of friends and family, it is so much better to go with what you know is right, versus what others define as right. Good luck to you!

  6. Michel

    Thank you for writing this. I'm in the same boat that you are! Don't loose hope!

  7. Tassy

    I love the idea you put forward, however I guess I have to be the one in the midst of all your glowing admiers to say – what would really happen to this city/country/world if everyone did as you did?

    What happened to parents being proud of a craftsman or hard worker? Why don't we (including myself) value hard work anymore? As a recruiter in a previous job, i cant find anyone willing to come in out of college into an entry level position, and when I did, the work ethic has been horrible. I have had to hire older generations to get things done.

    Education is not a substitution for experience and you cant expect to get that dream job fresh out of school. OK I am starting to sound like the “corporate zombie” but it appears to me that our generation expects everyone else but ourselves to have to work.

    I am most impressed with the lady that took the internships to get where she wanted to go. That shows not only the desire but also the work required to get there. She risked her own future and put hard work into getting where she wanted to be.

    I personally love to cook as well as work like a grease monkey on my cars, I dont care if someone says that is a man's work or if it is girl's work. However my job is not in either of those fields because that is how I enjoy spending my time.

    You can make work either fun or a horrible situation – I personally would never suggest that a person keep quitting jobs until you find that elusive “dream job”. Work to make yourself and your job a match, much like a relationship with your soul mate – you have to WORK at it. Woudl you hire a loser that kept quitting jobs every few months? I know that most people and companies would NOT.

  8. Devin

    Wow, I just quit my job for the same exact reasons!!! It’s wonderful know that I’m not in this boat alone.

  9. chick

    I just quit my job today, to search for my meaning ( I googled: I quit my job and feel guilty) and I got to your blot….. greatly appreciate your words..
    I’m feeling majorly lost and without direction, but I have hope… living day by day


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