One of the primary reasons I decided to start a new blog was to chronicle my experiences in leaving Corporate America to dedicate more time to other pursuits. This decision was not one I took lightly, and in making it I read other blogs, consulted with others, and talked to friends who had made similar leaps of faith. Without the encouragement and support of my family and close friends, I don’t know that I ever would have actually done it.
One of the friends who inspired me is Hideki (we call him H). He is much more than a friend – we consider him family. We met at the ripe old age of 21 during a boozy weekend in Las Vegas, of all places, and discovered that our places of employment were adjacent. This led to lunches, co-mingling of groups of friends, and a friendship that has lasted through partying, traveling (including a tour of China and an amazing volunteer trip to Ghana), countless jobs, roommating, heated arguments, untimely deaths of loved ones, times of pain, spiritual upheavals, and much more. He is one of the few people I can be completely and brutally honest with – secure in the knowledge that our friendship will last until the end (even though he and I may disagree about what happens after “the end”). 🙂
So when H decided to suddenly quit his job to travel, I took notice. I had never considered him “that type” – he always had seemed like the type of guy to do things the right way. The good education, the college degree, the stable job, the home. But something changed after his sister passed away. He explained it (much more eloquently) as a change in life priorities. And he followed his heart without seemingly any of the fear or worry that I would later experience when I took my own leap. I did and still do admire it – and things have worked out well for him, even without the anxiety!
I asked H if I could interview him for this blog, so that he could share a bit of his experiences and thought processes with others. He was happy to participate.
Thank you for meeting with me today, H. Can you tell us what your professional role was in your former (pre-discovery) phase of Corporate American life?
I was a Product Development Engineer, responsible for researching market needs, developing products, taking products to market, and then analyzing quality trends and implementing countermeasures to improve products throughout their respective life cycles.
Did you like your job? What specifically did you like and dislike?
I did – I enjoyed my job. I worked for an automotive tire manufacturer, which meant a lot of time at race tracks. Who wouldn’t want to spend time at a race track? Also I liked that in Product Development we were inventing new products to fit niche segments or to bring something new to market. Bringing a product to life was a great feeling. When I started developing racing products, to see that product win or change the industry brought validation to our hard work. I also really enjoyed working with my counterparts and departmental VP – we were like a close knit family. And as I said, I loved spending time at race tracks and driving on race tracks. As far as dislikes go, I didn’t enjoy all the traveling. The destinations were usually okay, but waking up early and getting on planes became a pain the ass. I didn’t care for ineffective coworkers and management in other departments. And I despised people who had their own agenda.
When did you begin feeling that you might want a change?
When my sister unexpectedly passed away in 2006 I realized that frustration born from work wasn’t good for the soul – and that life was short. But I didn’t feel like I actually needed a change until maybe 2008 or 2009 (I quit in May 2010).
Did you know what kind of a change you would be looking for?
I wanted to change my employment status with the company.
What prompted you to quit your job?
My VP quit a few months prior to me quitting, so that probably accelerated the urgency. The final straw was when HR and upper management decided to “red circle” our department [this typically means that salary ranges are adjusted and employees with salaries over the new maximum amounts have their salaries frozen at current levels]. They could not explain their methodology or exactly how this new policy was implemented – or even how it worked. They weren’t transparent. The company was struggling at the time so maybe they wanted people to quit.
How did you prepare to quit – mentally, financially, etc?
After my VP quit, I spoke to him a few times about my feelings around not wanting to work there much longer. Financially I knew I was secure for a long time and I knew my skills would allow me to land a job quickly even if the economy was still struggling. I don’t think I prepared much – I might have quickly calculated what my expenses were for a month.
What were your fears or concerns about quitting? How did you overcome these?
I didn’t have any fears about it. It felt right to do it. It was time, and I was at peace.
What was the reaction of others around you when you quit?
I think my dad and my old VP were concerned a bit, probably a “fatherly” concern. Some friends thought I was crazy to leave a job which seemed enjoyable from the outside. Coworkers in my department were sad. The new Director (who replaced the VP) didn’t know what to do or say – even HR people didn’t really know how to handle it. Why do they give exit interviews anyway? Some of those questions should have been asked when people are still employed, not on their way out. A few other coworkers quit shortly after me, so I like to say that I showed them the light. Faye, how did you feel when I quit?
I was surprised. Probably a bit concerned as well – my hope was that you were not making a rash decision and that you would be okay financially and in other aspects. And you were. I think it changed you for the better.
Did you have any doubts? What were they?
No. No doubts.
What was your plan for after you quit?
Hang out and not worry about work. Clear my mind. Take a road trip.
Did you follow through on this plan? What changes did you make?
I mainly followed through. I wish I would have traveled more, a lot more, and out of the country.
What did you do during your period of unemployment?
I cycled and took a 5,000 mile road trip throughout the western United States and into Canada. I hung out with my sister in Denver and babysat for my couple-months-old niece when my sister had to go back to work and my brother-in-law’s schedule was still being worked out. I traveled up to San Francisco with a buddy. Mainly, I just relaxed and turned off my mind. I was okay with waking up and not worrying.
How would you characterize this experience?
I just think of it as turning off the mind. It was refreshing and relaxing. Literally not even having to think at all about what to do during the day. It was pretty amazing.
How did this experience change you?
I don’t know if the time off changed me.
How and when did you decide to go back to a traditional job?
I had a plan to start looking after the New Year (I had quit in May 2010). I don’t know why exactly that time frame – I guess some type of responsibility to make a plan is a part of my make-up. So I knew I had to work again. I ended up going back to work in November or December 2010 because my friend had an easy contract job for me that was only 32 hours a week. Three day weekends were perfect. Unfortunately after a short stint the contractor had “better” ideas for me and placed me at my current company.
Did your experience of not working change the way you went about looking for a job, and the type of job you sought out?
I had thought about changing industries and making a life change, but ultimately I enjoy the industry I am in. It is something I have wanted to do since high school. I had always been lucky in the past finding jobs – almost always through someone I knew – so I didn’t think I would have to do much in finding the next job, and I was right.
What type of professional role did you ultimately end up in?
Similar role as previous, but more on the quality side instead of development – although I do get to help develop the products in my specific area.
How does this role compare to your previous Corporate American role?
It is very similar since that is where my experience is, but I can do it with little thought. It is mindless work. A lot less frustration.
What do you like or dislike about this new role?
I like that I mainly just work within my group and that it is mindless – it takes little thought. As far as dislikes, it is still work, and I still have to be there for at least eight hours a day. I also dislike ineffective management.
Do you see yourself taking time off work again? If so, when and for how long?
Quitting has started to cross my mind again. I have some frustrations with coworkers within and outside of the department, and a Senior Group Manager’s ego and management style bother me. Professionally I have accomplished the primary goals I had since high school, so if I quit now I might be able to take on a new challenge. If I quit, though, I worry about they type of work I could find. My network and experience are strong, but I feel it would be difficult to explain quitting twice. If I quit, I hope it is for my retirement – hopefully an early one.
How have your experiences changed you and your philosophies?
From my sister’s death until now, I think it is all about having fun. What happens – happens. I try not to worry too much or at all about work – I want to leave it at my desk. Life is too short.
What would you say to your former Corporate American self now in terms of advice?
I am not sure. I think that everything happened the way it would have. I guess I could have quit sooner, but I’m not sure that I would have been as at ease because of the passion I had with developing a certain product. But I do think that quitting earlier and letting go sooner would have been the right thing to do. I would advise my younger self to do things less “responsibly” during school or after graduating. Not focusing only on work and then buying a house as the next steps. Instead, focusing on traveling, having fun. Being a kid.
What advice would you give others dreaming of taking a leap of faith?
Do it! You only have one life to live. Nobody on their deathbed says, “I wish I worked more.” I am sure that it’s always, “Why didn’t I….” I assume that anyone even thinking or dreaming of taking a leap of faith is probably more financially well off or has the support structure needed. So don’t hesitate. If you need to work, I am assuming that work or a job will be easy to find.
Any other words of wisdom to share?
Take happiness over money. Don’t let money be your drive. Even after four years at my current company, I still make 10% or so less than when I quit – but I have been 100% more happy from Day 1. Don’t take work so seriously. Ultimately you have to think of yourself because the company won’t. Life is too short to live in misery.
Thank you, H. I appreciate you taking the time to talk with me – and am excited for all the adventures ahead of you!