A little preamble to start us off. I woke up this morning a little after 5 am to do some audio recordings with Jody on the beach in the Outer Hebrides in northern Scotland. We’ve been up here for almost a month now and there’s been a lot of time lately to ponder the scope of the expedition thus far: 50 countries, 50,000 miles, circumnavigation, etc. It all comes to an end in less than 3 months. Which begs the obvious question: “what’s next?” I suppose the best part of that question, and at the same time the most unsettling is the unknown. I’ve never been very good at stillness; I’m not much for contemplation. It’s something I’ve struggled with my entire life. I have to keep moving- have to be accomplishing something. To date I’ve had over 40 different jobs, more than one for every year I’ve been alive. Bartender, wildland firefighter, Outward Bound instructor, commercial fisherman in Alaska… I even had a brief stint after University in a suit and tie working for a small corporation in Boise, Idaho. It was there; at the age of 22 I learned the best lesson of my life. It wasn’t what I wanted to do; that’s a monster I’ve never been able to tackle, but what I didn’t want to do.
I was dead broke, living in a windowless basement of a grungy house with an alcoholic roommate. Without any real plan I’d moved to Idaho thinking a buddy and I would open a pub. To pay the bills I was waiting tables at night and working full time during the day at a small manufacturing facility. After college I’d planned on backpacking and climbing in the Andes for a year in South America. My trip lasted less than two months. I’d found it all way too easy wandering around mostly aimlessly without a care in the world and wanted to come back to the “real world” and see what I was capable of. I wanted more challenge.
After a month I found myself promoted to Director of Marketing and Sales at the small but promising high-tech plant and put in charge of accounts all over the world. We were engineering the platforms that microchips are etched on. Intel represented 78% of our business. This was 1995- business was BOOMING. The writing was on the wall- stick it out for a few years and I’d be a multimillionaire. My day usually began at 3 or 4 in the morning. Give the dog a walk in the dark, drive to work in the dark, call the accounts in Asia, blah blah blah. Come home in the dark, take the dog for a walk, watch an hour of TV, go to bed, start it all again the next day. In the spring, after 4 months of this I’d just returned from a tradeshow in Geneva, Switzerland and decided to do some whitewater paddling for the weekend. When I came to work on Monday morning I realized with some shock that the paddling was the only thing I could remember of the last 4 months of my life. I took out a piece of paper and drew two columns. One with a + sign, the other with a – sign. On the plus side was a symbol: $. On the negative I didn’t have enough space on the paper to put everything down. I quit that day.
In my youthful arrogance I even wrote a letter to the CEO of the company, a good friend of mine, and the father of my college buddy who was planning on being my partner in our pub, which thankfully never got started. In the letter I described in detail all the things that I thought were wrong with the company. Predictably he did not appreciate my adolescent rant. My father, who was living in Seattle flew over to Boise to “sit me down” and try to convince me that I was making a huge mistake. “Son”, he said “in your life you’re going to get 3 or 4 big opportunities. The difference between winners and losers are the ones who actually see them as opportunities and act on it. Right now you’ve got one of them. I know it sucks, I know you hate your job, I know you hate your life, but you’re going to be rich!” My father was right, I would have been rich. But at what cost?
Later that week I was cleaning out my desk and feeling very low. The owner of the company hated me, I didn’t have a job, and my dad’s words were ringing in my ear. The Vice President, whose office was next to mine came over and invited me to lunch. As we sat down he asked me what was wrong. I told him I felt terrible for letting the company down, for writing the letter, for losing a friendship with the owner. And then he told me something that I’ll never forget. “Gavin, the CEO isn’t mad at you about the letter. He’s angry because he didn’t do what you’re doing when he was your age. We’ve lived our whole lives in this town we don’t even like. Our wives and kids hate us because we’re married to our jobs. You think we like this reality we’ve created for ourselves? He’s pissed because he sees in you what he should have done with his own life. He’s mad at himself because now it’s too late.”
I know it’s arrogant to espouse what’s the “right” and “wrong” way to live. I fully admit to having no idea and I know what works for one may not for another. My opinion is that if I’d stuck it out in Boise and made all that money I would not have lived a fraction of how I’ve lived to date. There’s no way of course to know if I’m right or not. I’ve never made any real money. I don’t own a house or a car. I don’t have an emergency fund or a “portfolio”. A lot of people will read this and think “wow, that’s really reckless.” And it probably is. But over the years I do know that because of what we do- where we’ve brought people, what we’ve exposed them to- well it’s made a lot of those people think very hard about what they do. I know for a fact that several of those people have quit at least in part because of their experiences with us. And I’m proud of that. Let’s put it this way- I’ve never met a banker who said “I love my job!” I think if life doesn’t have a lot of meaning it catches up with you.
One more story then I’ll get to the meat. One of my very best friends growing up was diagnosed with adult onset diabetes when he was in his late teens, which of course is manageable with diet and medication, but your average life expectancy is greatly reduced. One year when I was home for Christmas while in college, when we were maybe 20 years old this buddy laid out his life plan: Graduate; get a job in accounting; find a wife; have 2-3 kids; make over a million dollars by working hard; and retire at 45. I remember instantly feeling two things. 1) Envy that someone could actually know what they wanted to do with their life and 2) Sadness that someone would do that with their life. My reply went something like this: “So you’re going to work in an office slaving away for hours at really boring shit while your kids grow up without you being around so you can retire with all this money when you’re 45; at which time if you’re lucky you’ll have maybe a couple more years to live? Are you out of your mind?”
What I didn’t know at the time was that my friend’s plan mirrors most people’s plan. So when I hear people complain about their work I always ask why they don’t quit? And they look at me like my friend did 20 years ago- like I’m crazy. I know I have a penchant for the absurd, but I think I can make a good case that they are the ones who are nuts!
Finally, before I get into the 10 reasons you should quit your job I’m going to anticipate some of the feedback from this article. I know it’s going to make some people angry. People don’t like to be reminded or told that the way they are living their life should be questioned or changed. But it should. People will also say that I’ve been lucky; or fortunate; or that I had good parents; or that because I don’t have typical “responsibilities” like children or a mortgage that it’s a lot easier for me to choose to live a different way than the norm. Fine, I can live with that. And it’s probably true. Anyone who knows me knows that I got here, wherever “here” is, the same way that some of the our insanely wealthy clients did: by working hard. I’m not associating money success with life success though. I’ve observed many who have found that balance, but I know for sure that one does not equal the other. For some strange reason I’ve chosen jobs that require an impossible work load for very little monetary reward, so following my advice is definitely reckless! So let’s not call it advice at all, but the observations of someone who’s chosen a very different way to live life and had the fortune to meet a lot of successful and inspirational people along the way. But by “successful”, I don’t necessarily mean money success. In fact none of my heroes are wealthy by monetary standards at all, but they are successful in this little thing we are all doing called life.
Ok, so here we go. 10 signs you should quit your job and admittedly a little personal push to help make it happen:
1) One day…
I hate this one more than anything. You can’t believe how many times I’ve heard this. “One day I’m going to sail around the world.” “One day I’m going to climb Everest.” “One day I’m going to bike to Tierra Del Fuego.” No you aren’t. This may be too simplistic or maybe not even fair, but in my experience there are two types of people- people that DO, and people that talk about what they are going to DO. The ones who talk are just that- talkers. You know how many people have promised me they are coming out here on the boat? Just as soon as they get the money, get the time, find the right job…Yeah ok, sure. They aren’t coming out here. They want to think of themselves as the type of person who would…but just can’t right now.
2) You like to sleep in.
Definite cause for concern. If you are happy in your work, you’re probably happy in your life. Which means you want to live it, and you can’t live it in bed. Parents listen up- DO NOT LET YOUR KIDS SLEEP IN! When I used to instruct for Outward Bound, our program director and one of my very favorite people on earth Doug Mann used to say “you can sleep when you’re dead.” He was right. Life is too short to spend it in bed. Be wary of the couch too!
3) You can’t wait to watch TV when you get home from work.
TV sucks. Period. End of story. Throw a brick through that piece of crap. Grow a garden, read a book, talk to the neighbors, go for a walk. Kill your TV and life will look very different immediately in a very good way. Real dreams will take hold, network fantasyland will die. When I had a corporate job I couldn’t wait to get home to the TV so I could just shut off my brain. Time is precious. None of us knows how much of it we’ll get, but one thing is certain- it will run out. If you’re watching too much TV, have a close look at your work.
4) You want to quit, but you’re scared.
Being out of your comfort zone is going to open up all kinds of possibilities. Go on, take the step you know you should take. Once you take the step you’re going to realize the world is your oyster- the possibilities will literally overwhelm you. This is a nice predicament to have.
5) You find yourself saying or thinking “I wish” a lot.
Everyone dreams at night. But it’s the day dreamers, the ones who act on their dreams who are doing amazing things with their lives. You’ve probably met a couple people like this in your life. Those people who just seem to have really clear and excited eyes. People who are full of life, full of joy, hope, and seem to inspire the people around them. If you aren’t one of those people, take a good look at your job. It’s pretty hard to be full of life and energy if your job is sapping it out of you. I’m not advocating any TYPE of job, and I’m not advocating something like I do at all- but whatever job you have should be something you can take a lot of satisfaction from. Something you can be passionate about. Taking care of a family, being a nurse, being a social working, volunteering. The best jobs invigorate and motivate you to do great things. These jobs exist or you can create them. Do it! Don’t wish it.
6) You’re doing it for your family.
This is western society 101. It’s what we learn in school, it’s what’s preached in the magazines, it’s what’s going to magically “make us happy.” Consumerism and having “stuff” isn’t going to do diddly for your well being and you know it. Shopping isn’t buying things- it’s selling a piece of your soul. Want to do something for your family? If you hate your job quit it. Pare back and get back to simplicity. Take time with your kids and your dog. Instead of working weekends teach basketball or volunteer. Try buying food from the local farmers. Start a food co-op with your neighbors. The average American child gets 70 toys a year! If you’re working to sustain that then you are GUILTY of buying into the biggest sham of all and all you’re doing is selling out yourself, and your kids. If your kids are more into Gameboy and Nintendo than playing in the outdoors or learning music you are doing a poor job of being a parent, which probably means you’ve got a poor job to go with it. Sorry, but the truth hurts. If you are thinking right now “but all the other kids have them” then double shame on you. The most joyful, happiest, most fulfilled people we meet over and over again have nothing in western terms. They live simple lives, in simple places. And to compare the two is way beyond the scope of this article, but suffice it to say I’m convinced we live rather complicated lives in comparison. And I put myself in this category!
7) I’m just going to work until I get XXX amount of money.
You’re lying to yourself and you know it. It’s a stupid game of keeping up with the Joneses and if you’re playing it you’re a pawn and not a queen. Get out of this race it’s not one you can win. I’ll even go so far as saying this- the more you “have”, the more miserable you’re going to be.
8) I’ve always wanted to be….
Ok maybe this is too simple, but…..go be it! Unless you believe in reincarnation or the afterlife this, right now, right here is your ONE chance. Life is not a dress rehearsal. Do you have any regrets? Most people do. Think about 5 years down the line- do you want more regrets, or less? I met a guy once who had always dreamed of being a geologist. Loved volcanoes, rocks, dirt, earth. He felt connected to it. He worked for some massive corporation that made shampoo and perfume and cosmetics. He despised his job but his wife said he couldn’t be a geologist because it wouldn’t “pay the bills.” He was “doing the right thing.” What a crock. I gently suggested they should just cut the bills a bit. You would have thought I’d suggested he become a comedian for how hard she laughed at me. But he wasn’t laughing.
9) You don’t look forward to going to work.
Unless you’re one of the truly lucky (or unlucky, as history often proves) who doesn’t need to work at all you’ll be spending at least 1/3rd of your time on earth working. And another 1/3rd sleeping. Which leaves 33% to play. I’ve met a lot of people in our wanderings around the world who don’t consider work to be work at all. Work should be something you love, something you’re passionate about, something that excites you. Suddenly then you’re playing 66% of the time! The most rewarding job I’ve ever had was instructing youth and adult populations when I worked for Outward Bound, an outdoor education school. They paid me $50 USD per day. I couldn’t believe I got paid at all. When I wasn’t working I was doing the same thing as when I was- playing in the mountains and in the rivers. And so were all my co-workers. Each of us was passionate about what we were doing because you could see the amazing impact on the kids and adults in the program. When you have a job like that money is not a concern. Life just has a way of working out when you’re doing the right thing.
10) Deep down you know you should
Those of you who have the right job probably left this article a long time ago. Those of you who are still here are probably here because you’re somehow connecting with what I’m saying. You’re nodding your head to some of this stuff, trying to build courage to do something that unfortunately you probably won’t. Excuses are already filtering into your conscience. Maybe next year…Maybe after the recession…Maybe when the kids grow a bit older. If I just caught you thinking anything like this then I’ll leave you with this one thought. Making excuses just gets easier and easier and eventually those dreams and aspirations you have will become distant memories. You’ll be like I was all those years ago sitting in my office in Boise Idaho, wondering what happened to the last months of my life. For many people those months turn into years and then decades and then comes the inevitable for all of us. I said very honestly in one of our very first videos when we started this expedition, “life is about living, it’s about right now, this moment- because this moment is never going to happen again.”
Here’s that video:
I’ll leave you with this quote from Edward Abbey, my favorite author:
“One final paragraph of advice: do not burn yourselves out. Be as I am – a reluctant enthusiast….a part-time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it’s still here. So get out there and hunt and fish and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, climb the mountains, bag the peaks, run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, the lovely, mysterious, and awesome space. Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to the body, the body active and alive, and I promise you this much; I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies, over those desk-bound men and women with their hearts in a safe deposit box, and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators. I promise you this; You will outlive the bastards.“