By Starman322 via Creative Commons license

When Tony quit his job a few weeks ago, I expected there to be an immediate shift in his mood. After being unhappy and feeling burnt out by his job for several years, I thought that making a concerted effort to remove a source of stress and anguish would have him over the moon with giddiness. Since quitting his job, I know he’s experienced relief, and perhaps even some bursts of elation mixed with incredulity, but for now at least, impromptu dance sessions spurred on by sheer euphoria have been surprisingly absent.

Then again, I recognize that we all express happiness in different ways, and booty-shaking may just not be Tony’s preferred means of doing so. Weirdo.

Actually, I think that there may have been something else I was overlooking, something I didn’t take into consideration until I myself was faced with having to quit my job. Many people assume that quitting your job is liberating. I am sure that for some people, this is indeed the case. Perhaps if you’ve already got a shinier, better job lined up, or you’ve just won the lottery, quitting your job is a singularly positive experience, but it sure as heck wasn’t mine. Quitting our jobs was both necessary and the right thing for Tony and me, but that doesn’t mean it was easy or fun.  In fact, I found the whole experience to be mildly traumatic. I know there are a lot of articles out there in which people happily crow about having quit their jobs and espouse the myriad benefits of leaving a position that didn’t fulfill them, but for every person out there who finds quitting invigorating or revitalizing, I’m willing to bet there is someone else who had the exact opposite reaction and I think it’s important to honor that experience as well. Here is something I have learned to be true:

Quitting your job can be really stressful, scary, and surprisingly sad.

After agonizing about where we would start our RTW trip, Tony and I thought buying our tickets to Japan would be heralded by a rainbow gleaming through the sky and this overwhelming sense of a burden having been lifted from us. Buying those tickets was supposed to represent our non-refundable financial commitment to this trip we were making. They were supposed to infuse us with a sense of excitement and exhilaration. There was no turning back! All systems go!

Instead, I felt kind of numb.

In retrospect, I think I was in shock. Unlike Tony, who I know has been looking forward to this trip with every fiber of his being, I have been more ambivalent about this trip. Don’t get me wrong, I want to travel and see the world, but I’m also pretty satisfied with the life we have here in Nashville. I like the little pocket of friends we’ve developed, our apartment is amazing, we have a gorgeous convertible AND I get to ride a pink scooter (I don’t care if this makes me seem superficial and materialistic, I love our car and my scooter! They are fun to drive and bring me great joy!), we have two dogs who make me smile every single day, and the closest person I have to a boss at work is someone I consider a friend first and foremost. Going on our trip means saying goodbye to these things, and honestly, that makes me sad. I thought buying those plane tickets would finally make this trip real so that we could move forward and start the process of accepting that our lives were going to change.

In reality, it wasn’t until I told my advisor a few days later that, rather than staying on for a year after defending my dissertation to work in the lab as a post-doc, Tony and I would instead be leaving Nashville at the end of June did the reality of our decision really sink in. Recalling how unexpectedly positive Tony’s meeting with his supervisor had gone when he resigned, I suppose I was expecting my own experience to follow suit. While my advisor didn’t take the news badly, she was clearly shocked and certainly not overflowing with excitement. I left feeling guilty and like I had let her down. Although telling her had brought us another step close to realizing our dream of traveling, it didn’t make me feel more resolute or excited about our decision.

When Tony got home from work that night, I promptly burst into tears and proceeded to cry for about three hours. I hadn’t expected to have such a huge outpouring of grief over leaving, but as I cried, a torrent of fears and things I was reluctant to leave flooded out of me. Tony was pained by my obvious distress at this choice he felt he had pushed me into and said that we could stay for another year if that’s what I needed. But even in those moments of acute despair, I knew this:

The one constant thing in life is that you can’t ever go backward, but must instead move forward.

Quitting our jobs and buying our tickets hadn’t made me feel better about the decision to uproot our lives, but they had made it so that in moments of weakness, when fear and nostalgia threatened to overtake me, I wouldn’t backpedal.

It’s fair to say that at least for me, quitting my job, was a fairly traumatic experience. However, in the end, several things (other than sheer stubbornness) got me through the meltdown I experienced and transition from simply acknowledging the upcoming changes in our life, to truly accepting them and preparing to meet them head on:

First, I reminded myself over and over again that I cannot feel guilty about following my dreams. The people who care about me would want me to do nothing less than to live a life of meaning.

Second, I took some comfort in knowing that there was actually a silver lining to the pain I felt in leaving behind this life. When Tony and I initially concocted this scheme to travel long-term, we devised it as an escape hatch because I was so dissatisfied with my life at that time. Now, three years later, I realize my sadness in leaving stems from the fact that I actually do like my life here. It doesn’t make it any less sad to go, but it’s so nice to realize that I’m choosing to leave a good life in search of an even better one, rather than simply running away from a bad situation.

Third, I’ve given myself permission to feel whatever I feel during this journey without judgment or censure. If I feel scared or sad, that’s fine! It has become increasingly bizarre to me when I think of people saying things like “It must be so nice to quit your jobs to travel.” Actually, no, it’s not nice to quit your job. It’s terrifying and upsetting. Jobs provide most of us with financial security as well as a sense of purpose that we don’t necessarily get from other parts of our lives. Moroever, both Tony and I have worked very hard to get to where we are career-wise, so to relinquish all those things is actually very hard and not what I would personally define as nice. Again, no one is forcing us to leave our jobs, but that brings me to my last point:

I’ve found that most anything in life worth having requires hard-work and sacrifices of some kind. Deciding to travel long-term is no different.

Before Tony and I committed to taking this trip, I was all about having my cake and eating it too; both ways was exactly the way I wanted it. I wanted to somehow find a way where we could travel the world without giving up all the things I love about our life right now. This great post over at Married with Luggage, helps make the point I’ve taken some time to learn, but I think the way we truly assert ourselves and make our lives our own is not by “having it all”, but in making choices. By choosing one thing, you are necessarily choosing to not have something else. This is hard when you are choosing between two good things. In deciding to travel, we’re giving up our well-paying jobs and the security of a “sure thing” in order to venture into the unknown. We are giving up a year with our dogs—who we love to a ridiculous degree—and a year with our families and friends (who we also love a lot, but perhaps less ridiculously). We know their lives will not simply pause to wait for us while we are off traveling, and we can’t know what space we will fit ourselves back into when we return.

No matter what conventional wisdom may tell you, it is actually hard work following your dreams. People seem to operate under this false impression that all you have to do to pursue a dream is decide to do so. After all it’s easy to say, and it seems so obvious, so it should be easy to do, right? Personally, I have found that there is a world of difference between saying and doing. No one sets out to NOT follow their dreams, yet more often than not, people wind up in a life half-lived. In the end, it comes down to this:

If it were easy to follow your dreams, everyone would do it. But they don’t.

I have realized that committing to this trip and transforming it from dream to reality has taken not only determination but bravery as well. As Tony always reminds me, being brave is not the absence of fear, but rather feeling fear and doing something anyway. For me, quitting my job has been the scariest thing I’ve done in preparation for this trip to date. It wasn’t just another thing to casually cross of a list, and it affected me deeply. In many ways, I’m not just saying goodbye to a job, but to a set of dreams and goals I had for myself, and that is something that will likely take some time to fully come to terms with.

When I’m having a really bad day, and none of the above reminders help me rule my fear and sadness, I turn to this quote by Joseph Campbell:

You must give up the life you planned in order to have the life that is waiting for you.

No one said that act of giving up one life for another would be easy or fun. As it turns out, “life”, just like “quit”, is a four-letter word as well.

Written by: Stephenie Harrison


In another life, I moved from Toronto, Canada to Nashville, TN to pursue my doctoral degree in Psychology. That chapter of my life is now finished, but I did earn the right to demand you call me Dr. Steph (though I respond just as well to plain old Steph). I am an avid reader whose book collection is rivaled only by my many pairs of cute shoes. I also like to knit, hold impromptu karaoke parties, and try new and unusual foods. Generally not all at the same time. I also really love to learn languages, which may explain why I took 3 years of Latin in highschool. I'm turning over a new leaf, so instead of looking forward, I'm going to work on enjoying the present, so the country I'm most looking forward to is whichever one we're in right now!

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Read comments (16)

  1. May 14, 2012 at 6:52 pm
    May. 14, '12

    I am finding these posts amazingly courageous and utterly compelling. As someone who quit a job that I didn’t necessarily love, I can understand that even giving up a job you hate can bring out dormant emotions of sadness and loss that can emotionally cripple you for awhile. I can only imagine what it’s like when you leave a job that you love and that somehow defines you in some ways. It is hard, and there is no other way for me to express that I find your decision and the anguish that it caused you to be emotionally affecting to a tremendous degree. I admire you a lot Steph. I think you are really strong and very brave.
    zibilee recently posted..The Most Dangerous Thing by Laura Lippman — 368 pgs

    • May 17, 2012 at 3:30 pm
      May. 17, '12

      @ zibilee: Your support means so much to me! Some of these posts have been so incredibly hard to write, but I ultimately feel like they are worth it. As someone who looks for emotion behind the words I read, it feels good to tap into emotions and thoughts that are true and use them to fuel my own writing. I am glad to hear they are resonating with you!

  2. May 15, 2012 at 9:57 am
    May. 15, '12

    Thanks for the honesty! Sometimes throwing yourself into your dreams can be really scary, and most definitely overwhelming. As we’re selling our house, I keep thinking – this is not my dreams! We’re just homeless now! ha ha… Best of luck with your plans and travels, I look forward to following along and seeing how you reflect on your new life 🙂
    Dana – Our Wanderlust recently posted..Imma Back!

    • May 17, 2012 at 3:33 pm
      May. 17, '12

      Yeah, it’s funny how sometimes in the pursuit of a big dream, you realize that you have to trample on some little ones (or at the very least, let them go) to achieve it. I know in the end it will be worth it, but that doesn’t mean the road is an easy one.
      Now that you’ve sold your house, I’m really looking forward to hearing how the next chapter in your life goes. Excitement abounds!

  3. May 15, 2012 at 10:55 am
    May. 15, '12

    I think that almost any change involving your life can be incredibly riddled with anxiety, fear, and a bit of excitement. The last three years have been incredibly rough for me, and part of me wonders if it’s because something is trying to push me to reach out and try to make my life more along the lines of what I want it to be.

    It’s incredibly terrifying. Even thinking about it can be scary. I’ve left jobs I’ve loved and jobs I’ve hated. It’s never been easy, even with another job lined up. I always feel like I’m letting someone down, and I always wonder if it’s the right choice. But I’ve realized that sometimes there isn’t a *right* choice – it’s a different choice.

    I can’t imagine the stress you felt leaving a job you love, particularly since you just finished your dissertation. Especially in academia, there are expectations for people like you, and in doing something different, you are outside those expectations. As someone in academia, I get that. I don’t fit any particular mold, but I don’t want to. You’re stepping outside purposefully, and the experiences you’re preparing for will change you and open you up to different paths as well. Scary? Hell yeah. Worth it? Ditto.
    jennakathepickygirl recently posted..Fridays at Home: Let’s Play Pretend

    • May 17, 2012 at 3:36 pm
      May. 17, '12

      I am sure that it is always hard to leave a job, but I think it’s especially hard to walk way from academia. You don’t really get exposed to people who decided to leave, so most people can’t understand why I’m making this choice, ESPECIALLY because it flouts the whole “five-year plan” notion. In some way, shape, or form, I’ve been working towards a career in academia for a decade now, so it is really hard to walk away from not just the dream of that life, but also facing the reality that without that dream, I feel untethered. Who am I, if not an intellectual? What am I meant to do if not learning and researching? I don’t know, but I guess this trip will help me find out!

  4. May 15, 2012 at 12:40 pm
    May. 15, '12

    I think leaving your job is incredibly scary, even if you don’t like it!! So I can imagine how much more so it would be if you do like it. I know for me, I change jobs at least once a year or so because I end up hating it, but even then and even when I have another “better” job lined up, I am still scared to quit. I am going to be scared to quit this job I have now, even though I’m not happy with it, I’ll have tons of money in the bank, my lease on a just ok apartment will be up, most of my friends have left the city I live in, and I certainly don’t have an awesome pink scooter (JEALOUS!). Hell, I’m still not looking forward to quitting my part-time gelato shop job that drives me nuts, and they even KNOW I’m leaving in September! So don’t feel bad about getting stressed out by this. It’s normal. But you will be surprised about how many of those things (and better ones) will still be here when you come back!
    EM recently posted..When your brain starts to leave.

    • May 17, 2012 at 3:39 pm
      May. 17, '12

      Pink scooters are the best, even if Tony tells me that it will be harder to sell Little Rose because of her color! Je ne regrette rien!
      And you are talking to the queen of guilty consciences, so I totally understand where you’re coming from re: quitting the gelato job. Even though my advisor and I both knew that the longest I could work with her following obtaining my PhD was a year, it still felt SO bad to tell her that actually, I’d only be here for a month after all was said and done. I seriously felt like I was THE WORST.

  5. May 17, 2012 at 2:28 pm
    May. 17, '12

    This is beautiful. I’ve never heard someone actually come out and say that it was hard to quit her job. Not really, at least. But it’s so human to feel traumatized by leaving behind a life that you love. I think it’s kind of a prevailing belief among long-term travelers (at least the ones I read) that quitting is that moment at which everything becomes beautiful, the skies part, the rain stops, and it’s glorious. And that’s not always the case with everyone. Kudos to you for admitting that, for knowing that you do have a life that you love, and for knowing that you’re about to embark on a really awesome and really scary adventure. It’s wonderful.
    Arit recently posted..Season your own food

    • May 17, 2012 at 3:41 pm
      May. 17, '12

      Thank you so much for your kind words. I’m so glad that they spoke to you on a personal level. Like you, I have read a lot of posts that speak of quitting like a triumph, but to me, it certainly felt like a defeat at the time. I know that sacrificing this life that I do like quite well is the right choice in the end, but that knowledge didn’t make quitting any easier. I just wanted to speak about what I have found to be my truth, which is that long-term travel appears glorious and frivolous on the surface, but it’s actually really hard!

  6. May 18, 2012 at 1:41 pm
    May. 18, '12

    Wow, wow, wow. I relate to so much of this post. I was ready to quit my job and move on. In most cases it would have been to a new job but now, it is to travel the world and not have a “real” job for awhile. My coworkers and my boss were great about it but you are absolutely correct that there is sadness in it too, as well as fear.

    I went running on my third day of unemployment down by the waterfront, on a loop that I used to run at lunch. It is used by almost everyone that works downtown who go out exercising at lunchtime. By the time I was halfway done with the loop I felt like I couldn’t breathe. Suddenly I looked at everyone and thought “I’m not one of them anymore.” I remembered to four years ago when I so badly wanted the great job downtown so that I could go and run at lunchtime. At that point I was commuting an hour each morning and working downtown felt like a dream…

    We give a lot up to pursue this travel thing and it is not always easy. Is, and will continue to be (I’m sure) a rollercoaster of emotions. Thank you for sharing honestly.

  7. May 24, 2012 at 9:45 am
    May. 24, '12

    Wow, this is an amazing post, Steph, so well written and succinct. Yes, it is the ultmate conundrum, sacrificing safe, secure and even happy, for uncertainty and an adventure you can’t even fully make out yet. You are not alone. To be honest, this post really helped me put things into persepective. Even though I was actually quite unhappy in my job, when I decided to leave, it seemed better for a while. My colleages began opening up to me, menial tasks didn’t seem so bad etc. Weird. It was actually an indication that I needed to make the change, however. That’s when the love started to flow in to my life (corny but true).
    I am sad about the pink scooter though, man, you ARE brave!

    • May 24, 2012 at 10:48 am
      May. 24, '12

      Thanks for your kind comment, Sarah. It was actually really therapeutic for me to write this post, and I think it helped me grieve and let go better than holding in all of those feelings would have done. You’re right that ever since we decided to leave, although it was rough at first, I have a new bounce in my step and am looking the world with renewed enthusiasm.

      But I am really sad to say goodbye to my scooter, Little Rose. Whenever I ride her, I can’t keep the smile off my face!

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