It haunted me at night before I went to sleep and was with me in the morning before I got out of bed. The question that kept looming was, “If I am not happy with my job and the direction of my life, what should I do?”
The misery I felt at work began to bleed into others aspect of my life. The best time of my week was 5:01pm on Friday, since I knew that I was the furthest away from going back to a job that just no longer motivated me.
The truth is, my job and life from the outside looked fantastic. I was making a 6 figure income by the time I was 26. My work involved a reasonable amount of travel that allowed me to see a lot of beautiful cities while meeting and connecting with great people. I had (and still have) a loving and beautiful wife and we owned a home in sunny San Diego.
Let me be the first to say that if I could have willed myself to be happy with that exact scenario, I would have. A feeling of emptiness set in shortly after the first year I made a 6 figure income. This was a major life goal for me but accomplishing it didn’t give me the satisfaction I had hoped.
To fully explain this, I have to talk about some of the childhood experiences that shaped my goals and aspirations as an adult. I grew up in a home that has seen its fair share of emotional and financial challenges. My father, a great man, passed away from cancer when I was 7 years old. At the time, my mother was a homemaker while my father provided our sole source of income.
I am grateful that I have a mother who loved me through some challenging times, but she was unable to shield us from the obvious financial challenges we suffered. The stress of money in my childhood had a profound impact on the goals that I would establish for myself as an adult.
After I graduated from UC San Diego, I landed a job at an insurance company managing claims that paid a good starting salary. 2 years later I moved into a Sales role, and 5 years after that, I worked my way into a director role of a fortune 250 company by age 29.
I was proud of what I had accomplished. I had blazed a trail that had given me complete financial security. I had sacrificed so much and worked so hard to get to that place, yet when I finally arrived, I felt very unfulfilled.
Obviously there were still more goals to accomplish: buying a bigger and better house, perhaps closer to the water. Making more money. Promotions to more powerful positions. The list goes on.
This was a question that I wrestled with for a long time. I talked about this extensively with my wife, family and friends. I even saw a counselor for several months in hope of making the “right” next step.
What I learned about myself in this process is that although financial security and career accolades were enjoyable, they were not as important as I originally thought. What was extremely important, was caring about and enjoying what I did on a daily basis. Instead of thinking about how much financial security I could build for myself, I started thinking about what would be enough, and what I was passionate about.
I spent a couple years racking my brain for things that I loved to do while simultaneously provide a good living. If you are like me, this list is likely very short. At that time, I couldn’t imagine how any of my hobbies or passions could amount to enough money to provide for my family.
During one of my business trips, I happened upon a podcast by Freakonomics (one of my all-time favorite podcasting companies) called “The Upside of Quitting”. As each month wore on, it became difficult to keep up with the high demands of my career while giving a sufficient effort to searching for what was next.
I am stubborn (I like to think in a good way). Our family motto passed down from my Dad is literally “DePalma’s aren’t quitters”. Quitting felt like a terrifying, relieving, and cowardly option all at the same time. But sometimes, it actually makes sense to quit something that no longer fits you. It can save time and free you to do something you are both passionate and excel at. This is a very personal decision and there are no hard and fast rules but for me….
Many people were encouraging, and some even said that they wished they would have done the same thing years ago. There were also others that I sensed an undertone of judgement and disdain from. So if you are thinking of doing something like this, get ready for the full gamut of responses to your decision.
I would also stress the importance of having as much of a plan as possible. Even though I did not have a job, my wife and I are excellent savers and were already living on a small budget well below our means. I knew exactly how long we could survive on our savings. Just make sure to make a plan and stick to it as much as possible. It will give you some peace through the inevitable turbulent waters ahead.
Having some time away from the chaos of my old job gave me clarity and ample time to reflect. I have always loved physical work and building things, entrepreneurship, creating great products and providing great service.
It has now been over 2 years since I made my decision to leave my old job. It is something that I will never regret. I spend my days building custom furniture and a business for myself and my family.
Without making that leap and leaving the safety net of my old job, I would not have started this company. Doing something that harnesses my talent and passion has created opportunities and a path that I once only dreamed of.
If there is something you have thought about quitting for a long time, you have talked through it with people who care about you and whose judgment you trust, and you are all on the same page...just making the leap. You will learn what you are really capable of when you get rid of your safety net.
I would love to hear your story and what big decisions you are wrestling with. If you have the courage to share, I’m hopeful that it will give others who are in the beginning of a mental maze like this, the audacity to take the next step.
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It is often a mix between Groundhog Day and Dante's 9 circles of hell. This at the top of my mind because over the last couple weeks, I have noticed