“When I look back, it feels like I was at the borders of common sense, and the sensible thing to do would have been to keep quiet, keep going, learn to lie better and leave later. I have noticed that doing the sensible thing is only a good idea when the decision is small. For the life-changing things, you must risk it.” — Jeanette Winterson
I initially scoffed (I honestly don’t know why, maybe I was grumpy) when Steph read this quote to me. It feels right now, though.
I quit my job on Friday. You should know that I didn’t just walk out and slam the door, I gave a month’s notice and had a great conversation with my supervisor that really opened my eyes. But I still quit. So far, it’s been the thing that has made our trip the most real, and it’s also been the most fraught part of our decision to leave. You can buy a backpack, you can buy gear, you can even start a website, but nothing quite drives the reality home like packing up the one thing that keeps you afloat. I know there are a lot of articles out there about quitting your job to follow your dream, and using that as a springboard to jump in (both feet!) to your adventure. These articles talk about making the decision to travel, they talk about packing up your life and moving on like it’s just a choice you make and that’s it. I know there are some people out there that make it sound easy, and only a few (that I’ve seen) really deal with how hard it can be to change your entire life in one fell swoop.
Quitting my job wasn’t just one step towards our goal of world travel. I mean, in one sense it was, but in reality it felt like THE step. When push came to shove, and it was time to give my notice, Steph and I found ourselves at a crossroad. I was apprehensive about the prospect of quitting, but I felt ready, for the most part. I’ve been at my company for nearly seven years and work closely with nearly every department in one form or another, so I wasn’t sure there would ever be an “ideal” time for me to leave. I had embraced the idea that I was leaving to start the next part of my life with my wife, the part we have been dreaming about for years, and I knew that this is what I really wanted, what I really needed. However, Steph was having doubts.
Over the last few weeks leading up to my resignation (much more dignified than “quitting”), and after Steph set the date for her dissertation defense, Steph and I had a lot of frank conversations about what we wanted to do. Should we really pack up and leave? Should we stay a year longer and save some more money, get a little more ready, be a little more prepared? If we stayed, would I still quit, or would I soldier on for a while longer? I’d be delusional and dishonest if I said that I was anything other than firmly in the quitting and/or leaving camp. I wanted to go. I felt ready and every part of my mind wanted to get on a plane and disappear somewhere foreign. I’d looked at my career and knew it would essentially be unchanged for as long as I stayed at my current job, and I didn’t want that. I was tired of what I did for a living, how I was doing it and needed a change. I was tired of Nashville. I was just tired, in every sense. I was making a lot of “I” statements. So, we made pro and con lists. We flip-flopped. We were sleepless.
Despite all this talk of “us,” there is something I regret: I wanted to go and Steph was ambivalent, she was of two hearts, and I think to some extent, as a partner, I may have let her down. I was (and still am) nearly blinded by my desire to get on the road and go somewhere else. As years pass by, my wanderlust only grows. When Steph and I talked about when we wanted to leave and she expressed a (wholly rational and entirely even-minded and fair) desire to stay that fought with her desire to go, I became selfish. I pledged that, if she needed more time here to save more money, feel more comfortable, whatever she needed, that I would support her. I really meant it, and still mean it. We’re partners and there can’t be a “my way or the highway” attitude. Unfortunately, I also laced my support with a clear disappointment about the prospect of staying. I wouldn’t be happy, but I would do it if need be. This was, to be blunt, shitty of me. It was petulant and I hid behind a veil of “just being honest.” It was true, I was deeply unhappy with my situation for a lot of reasons, none of which were anyone’s fault other than mine, and I went about dealing with it in the wrong way.
Our debate continued, even up to the very day I quit. We were at lunch, and between mouthfuls of falafel, I asked Steph what she thought. Stay or go? Surely after a week of feeling bad for myself, mostly for how childish I was being, I believed I had gained enough perspective to genuinely offer my support for what Steph needed. It would be fair to say I felt agnostic about the decision at this point. Not because I felt like the best option was unknowable, but because I felt both options were good and I didn’t think it was for me to know which was best at that moment. Needless to say, we worked through our fear and uncertainty and decided to go. We knew that if I quit, that was akin to pulling the trigger once and for all. No take-backs.
So I quit. We committed.
There are a lot of stories out there about following your bliss and finding happiness and all of that, but I think a lot of them fail to mention how hard it can be to do just that. Just how hard it is to leave a sure thing and go jump into a grand adventure, blind, new and all by yourselves. If anyone asks me if they should chase their dreams, I say yes, of course. If anyone asks me if I will chase my dreams, again I say yes, of course. When I ask myself I say what if I trip?
Steph says in a good relationship, part of supporting your partner is also pushing them. Pushing them to be more, to do the things they are afraid to do, pushing them out of their comfort zone. After everything, strangely enough she pushed me to quit. She says I pushed her to commit to our trip, to be willing to jump into the arms of uncertainty and that she needed that push. While she may be right, I’m not sure I pushed in a way that was entirely fair. Change is hard, and to some extent we all resist change, especially those of us who are not accustomed to it.
In the end, we had to overcome a lot of fear and anxiety when it came down to taking the plunge once and for all. It wasn’t easy to quit my job. It wasn’t easy to face the reality of changing our entire life together. At one point Steph asked me how to find the bravery to make the plunge, where I found my courage.
I realized I didn’t feel brave, I felt scared and maybe that was the key.
Bravery is not an absence of fear. In fact, there is no bravery without fear. Bravery is a willingness to accept and feel your fear. Fear is not a curse, and should not be ignored, but not all fear signifies something bad. We fear many things that cannot hurt us, sometimes more than the things that can. If someone wants to march into something extraordinary, either extraordinarily good or bad, I won’t say be fearless – that’s folly. We all feel fear, and it’s not about how much or how little we feel, it’s what we do with our lives and ourselves when we feel it. I don’t know if there is a right or wrong answer, but I do know there is only one way to find out.
Ultimately, I’m not sure that there is much to say that can be applied to a general audience other than this: don’t put the life you want on hold because of your job, or because of fear. I can’t even claim authorship of this piece of wisdom, it’s what my supervisor said to me when I put in my notice. She was frank: she told me that she has moved enough times to know, without doubt, that no matter how much you like (or dislike) your job, ultimately if you know that your life is leading somewhere else, you can’t be afraid to embrace that. There can always be fear and uncertainty when you’re starting a new life with no job, no money (or even lots of money), and no home, but in the end if it’s the life you want, you will make it work and you will always be glad you chased that dream.