The UX of Life
— 3 Reasons Why I Quit My Job and 3 Ways How You Can Too
I talked about three reasons why I quit my job: the future, my well-being and Pokemon (ok if you don’t read it, you deserve to be confused), and three ways I made quitting my job easier: gigs, savings and worst case scenarios. So far it’s been great, and you should consider it too.
Why I Quit
On Friday, June 10, 2016, 1:47pm, at age 26.84, I walked out of my 51-story office building, one of the forty tallest skyscrapers in New York City. My colleagues were jealous, my friends were amused, my husband was cautiously supportive, my parents were vocally concerned. And I was excited, relieved, full of hope and jobless.
In most people’s eyes, I had a wonderful job — first one out of school, comfortable six figure salary, doing exciting startup-like work inside the bubble of a Fortune 100 company, 9–5 schedule with plenty of wiggle room. Why would I ever leave?
“Why”, was the question I started to ask a lot. As a User Experience designer, it is in my nature to ask why after why, to get to the root of problems and figure out the most efficient and effective solutions. Soon, I started to find myself asking bigger and bigger “why”s no one seemed to have answers to –
Why exactly are we having these meetings when nothing comes out of them? Why do we need three people to do one person’s work?
Why do I have to be physically glued to my chair and computer when I can be more productive otherwise?
Why do we have to pretend to busy ourselves with nothing until the end of day? Why can’t we just get things done and leave?
Why does that look bad?
But why, why is this just the way it is?
To me, something was broken — something about this experience, and I had the urge to fix it. I continued to ask “why”s and started to search for answers to all my questions. Eventually, three revelations nudged me over the tipping point to quit my job:
1) I don’t see my future self here
One of the “why”s I reached was “why exactly am I here?” Coincidentally, there was a re-organization going on in the company at the time and I was facing a decision between two paths I could advance my career to. I looked at both paths and the people who’d gone on them — my colleagues, managers, VPs, executives — and couldn’t find my future self among them. I didn’t see my ambitions and aspirations reflected by either path. Then I asked, “why am I here now, if I don’t see myself here any time in the future?”
2) I shouldn’t have to compromise my well-being for work
I have always been very attuned to my body and put my health and fitness in high priority. For people like me, there seems to be a line of no return, passed which our bodies start to live and breathe movement, and we start to find the constant need to use and push our physical ability. On the other side of this line, far far away, is a desert island called “Corporate Life”. On this island, our bodies are restricted to minimal movements like sitting and strutting in heels, anything else risks being deemed as “unprofessional”.
Not long after arriving at this island, I started to get stifled and notice my flexibility and mobility decaying. My neck and back started to scream for stretch breaks during the day, but the supposedly professional environment muffled that scream. I tried to find a remedy. I started emphasizing the “casual” part in “business casual” a little more everyday. As if I wasn’t already standing out from my standing desk, I was twisting my back or stretching my arms overhead. But eventually, it became clear that the corporate life and my well-being were in direct conflict.
It pained me to watch people sit in front of their computers and let their bodies get frozen into a hunched, fragile and immobile cast day by day. I asked, “why do we have to compromise our bodies in order to work professionally”?
The bigger question here is, why do we even have a body and what are we supposed to do with it? Is it supposed to be, as is for most people, just a vehicle we try to use to go places, a vehicle we don’t have full control or understanding of, and of whose potential we have no idea? I decided that I wanted a work environment where I could also fully take care of my body and realize its full potential. So I had to get out of that office life.
3) The optimal way to evolve Pokemon
I will admit, there was a period of time I was obsessed with Pokemon Go. One day while I was evolving my Pokemon, I had an epiphany. I found myself calculating and strategizing so I could gain the most XP (experience points) in the least amount of time. For those of you who care, I would take a 30-minute walk around a park full of PokeStops set up with Lures by others (free-rider!), during which time I also turned on a Lucky Egg to double my XP while hatching Eggs to gain new Pokemon. If I had too many Incenses, I’d also throw that in (because why not?) to attract Pokemon to me. Towards the end of the walk, I made sure I left enough time to evolve all the Pokemon I could with the highest Combat Power and closest to their potential.
You see, I was living my Pokemon life in the most optimal way. Most of us would do the same. In any situation with a terminal state and with restrictions and limitations — be it a video game or card game, route and trip planning — we clearly define our end goal and try to achieve it in the most optimal way. But what about real life? Isn’t life the same way just over a longer span of time? I started imaging myself looking back at the end of my life and asked — would I want myself to be spending my life the way I am now? The answer, was a clear no.
How I Quit
We hear people thinking about, talking about or even threatening to quit their jobs all the time. Some of us are even among them. But something always seems to be holding us back — maybe the upcoming bonus, the unpaid student loans, or the fancy dinners our steady paychecks allow us to have — that keeps us waiting and waiting for that perfect moment somewhere in the future when there are layers of safety nets around us and we could finally quit with ease. But that perfect moment keeps on getting away from us. What it really comes down to, is fear. We fear the uncertainties. We fear that we will lose the comfort. We fear that we will fail. But ultimately, the decision in our own hands. Life is not going to hand us a safety card out of the blue so we could pursue what we want with nothing to lose. For me, I had to take a leap of faith. I didn’t have a perfect plan or a constant stream of income yet, but a few practical safety nets gave me enough courage to take that leap.
Safety Net 1: New Opportunities
About a month before I quit, I started looking for freelance opportunities and quickly secured a project. Luckily, a former colleague also reached out at that time about another project. With these two projects in hand, I knew I would be covered financially for at least a couple of months. Of course, contract projects are not as predictable as bi-weekly paychecks. Things can change drastically within a matter of hours. But if you are looking for opportunities, don’t be afraid to make it known to people around you. You never know what surprises might come your way.
If there is one secret to success, it’s this: communicate your plans with other people and keep communicating those plans in every way possible. The more others understand where you are going and why, the easier it will be to attract the ones who will help you and let go of those who hold you back.
Safety Net 2: Temporary Buffer
Although I was still early in my career, I had enough savings to keep life running for a couple months even if everything else fell through. So I knew the whole world wouldn’t just collapse in one day and I would always have some time to figure things out. However, I try to keep my distance from this fallback. I constantly assess my current projects and see how much runway I have, and am always on the lookout for possibilities. I browse websites that might contain relevant opportunities from time to time, and keep doors open to recruiters and potential clients.
Safety Net 3: Worst-Case Scenario
I’m a “worst-case scenario” thinker. Instead of it being pessimistic, I find this way of thinking liberating. Once I decide that I’m at peace with the worst-case scenario, I feel burden-free to fully pursue every scenario before then. In this case, my worst-case scenario looked like this:
I quit my job and start on the contract projects. They fall through and I have trouble finding more projects. I start burning through my savings and reach the end of them, during which time I might get discouraged and hopeless. This might create conflicts between me and my loved ones, but I know they would stay supportive. Soon I have to start looking for a new job. It might take a couple months and I would need to cut on spending. I might not be able to find a great job in a crunch, but I know I can find a decent one in time with my experience and qualifications.
If this happened, I might feel dejected for a while and have to swallow my pride. I might lose some confidence and be embarrassed to see my former colleagues again. But life would go on and I would be fine with it. Once I came to terms with this worst-case scenario, I had no more to fear to take the leap.
How It’s Been
I’m happy to report that it’s been working out pretty well since I quit my job, and taking that leap of faith remains one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life. Fortunately, some of my earlier projects have brought me long-term clients, and temporary work trickles in from time to time.
I wouldn’t change the lifestyle for anything. The first thing I have to do in the morning is no longer scrambling against the clock, wolfing down breakfast and squeezing into a subway cart that’s either too hot or too cold, filled with expressionless and grumpily tired people. Instead, I take my time to do a 2-minute breathing meditation when I wake up. I foam roll and stretch out my body and head to the gym for a morning training session. (I’ve surprisingly become a morning person now that I look forward to the morning routine.)
I try not to open my laptop before noon and avoid working for more than 2–3 hours straight. I enjoy client calls that are straightforward and BS-free. I have been working less and earning more, and have been able to do work (read: get paid) anywhere any time — in a car, on a plane, in a café during an impromptu trip, and on the rocks out in the nature with just a pen and a piece of paper. I find myself much more productive now, focusing on what really needs to be done, rather than trying to fill up those 8-hour office days with busy work.
Of course, there are trade-offs that come with this lifestyle. There are days when I need to stay up all night to meet last-minute deadlines, and days when things are slow and doubts start to creep in. Most importantly, it can get a little lonely. Sometimes I can go by a whole day without talking to anyone. While I have all the freedom to go places, it’s hard to find company when most people are following another schedule.
Which is why I want to urge more of you to consider coming to this world. “This world” doesn’t have to be the same as mine. In fact, it could very well be a traditional office world. But it has to be a world that contains our future, a world where we can be fully attuned to our body, and a world we would be proud of at the end of our lives.
If you are already living in that world, I congratulate you on this huge achievement. If you are still searching, be tenacious and do not settle until you find it. You might be in a different profession where a certain lifestyle seems impossible, but my profession has taught me that there is always a solution if you ask the right “why”s, and even venture into the “why-not”s. I do not yet know where exactly the future holds, but I know it’s a world of limitless possibilities. As I build this world of mine, I’m happy to help with yours too. So feel free to reach out here :)