Why I Chose to Jump: What Tall Trees and Unemployment Taught Me About My Future

I have a burning memory from my teenage years. Yes, there were braces, and yes, there was acne and everything else your teens encapsulate, but it has nothing to do with those. This memory has to do with fear.

If you’ve ever been to June Lake, you surely know of the rope swing that dangles above the lake awaiting eager daredevils vying for a plunge, or if they dare, a backflip. Above the rope is a tree, and if you’re extra zealous, you can climb to the top where you’ll find a perfectly shaped Y branch. For those who don’t fear heights, the Y creates a perfect jumping point. For those who do, it creates a crevice of fear.

I once ventured up the tree, following in my older brother’s footsteps, as I often did. He plunged into the lake like a champion, shouting cheers of glory the entire way down. It looked easy.

When I got to the top, I froze. Everything looked different. It was as if the tree had grown 50 feet taller and the branch had shriveled to less than half it’s size. I was shaking, clutching the branches as if letting go would be the end of my life.

The rope swingers below gently prodded me to jump. What began as, “You’re doing great!” and “You’re so brave!” quickly turned into, “Just do it already!” and “You may as well climb back down.” A crowd began to gather to observe the spectacle. Fisherman offered to count down for me, strangers offered to climb up the tree and push me, my brother threatened to make fun of me for the rest of my life. Nothing worked.

I am a woman of pride, but sometimes pride isn’t enough. I didn’t jump. I climbed back down the tree in shame while people grunted with dissatisfaction and disbelief. I’d never felt so ashamed.

Years later, I’ve decided to jump. Not into a lake, but into uncertainty.

Two weeks ago, I left my job. I don’t have another one. I don’t even have a plan, really.

At June Lake I knew what would happen if I jumped. The fall would last longer than expected, I’d nearly cry as I fell, and I’d hit the water and live to tell the tale. I wouldn’t have regretted it, and I’d likely still be boasting about it.

So what convinced me to jump this time? I didn’t have the friendly fishermen or the vicious rope swingers. I didn’t even consult my go-to life coach, my brother. Instead I forced myself to look deep inside, into the history of my various work experiences, my passions, my ambitions, my fears and desires, and simply took a risk.

I am a person who makes most decisions based on logic and balance. I like math because there is often one answer, and if you know the equation, you can get to the finish line. I like baking because following the recipe precisely almost always ensures success. While I take risks, they are calculated and considered. This was different.

What I realized is that a job isn’t a paycheck to me. It isn’t a fancy title, a knotch on my resume belt or a step up the career ladder that gets me closer to what the world expects of me, and what I expect of myself. Instead, my job is a part of me. It always has been, and it always will be. I not only need a mission I’m passionate about, team that inspires me and pushes me to grow and role that takes me out of my comfort zone, but I also need a job that I’m invested in, personally, emotionally and even physically.

When I graduated from college I wanted to join the Peace Corps so I could make a difference. When I interned at various news organizations I wanted to change the way my generation was spoken to and educated about what was happening in the world. When I first experimented with content marketing, I wanted to change the way brands connected with consumers and help them share powerful stories about who they were and why they existed.

Wherever I was, I wanted to have an impact. Every role I’ve taken, I’ve poured myself into and treated the company as if it were my own.

But then the moment happens when you take a look under the lid and realize it wasn’t what you thought, or that you weren’t able to achieve what you set out to accomplish. These are the moments that often lead people to reconsider their careers. And this is what led me to make my decision.

The company I was most recently working for is The New York Times. It’s possible you’ve heard of it.

When it comes to mission, it has everything. I went to work most days humbled and honored to be doing work that helped ensure the paper stays alive, and even thrives. I was surrounded by some of the smartest coworkers I’ve ever had the pleasure of being in the same building as. I was challenged daily (in ways that I’m still learning to appreciate).

What was missing was the opportunity to be myself.

I am someone who wants to nurture and watch things grow. I like to experiment, fail, learn, try again and challenge longstanding systems. I think prioritizing employee happiness is crucial to long-term success, even if that means taking financial risks and changing business plans. As millennial as it sounds, I want to make the world a better place and I want to change lives. Idealistic, sure, but this is who I am.

So what now? The search continues for places and opportunities that challenge my ideas, push me beyond my limits and embrace the many values I have when it comes to work. Some may say I’m looking for something that doesn’t exist, but I’ll keep trying until I’m proven wrong.