I quit my job over one year ago to travel the world.
I’m writing this post to share my experience in the hope that it helps others who are going through a similar situation make sense of it all.
There is no stock answer to the decision of staying at or leaving a job, particularly one you care about. There are undoubtedly some of you reading this who should NOT quit your job to travel the world! For others, it is the right choice since there are times when quitting a project or job is a great idea. The decision must be made by oneself. However, it can be helpful to examine the paths that others have walked before coming to your decision.
A year on the road
It’s been over a year since I left my job as a product leader at Microsoft.
I started there as an intern and never left. I got an offer to join full-time, and despite not having yet graduated from college – I decided to take it. I flew home, convinced my college thesis advisor to let me finish school through distance education so I could get my degree, and flew back to start work as a full-time employee hardly two weeks later. The place was excellent (and still is in my opinion). I was captivated.
During the 14 years I spent working in Redmond, WA – I learned a ton. I took on more and more responsibility with steady promotions. I became a people manager, which I enjoyed. Tried out various jobs – ranging from finance to strategy to product planning to marketing. I got married, bought a house, cared for two dogs and had a great circle of friends.
Microsoft was an integral part of my identity. I noticed that my family took great pride in my work there. At parties, my work gave me an easy and engaging answer to the “What do you do?” question. I spent most of my time working, thinking about work, or hanging out with friends from work. I traveled all over the world meeting with customers and business partners. It was fun and rewarding.
My decision to quit a “dream job”
I didn’t leave to join another company.
I didn’t get fired.
I just decided that it was time to leave.
I get this question often – “Why did you decide to quit your job?” – and I struggle to answer it. However, I know how it felt when I made the decision and how it still feels now. It felt right then and still does.
I have zero regrets and am confident that it was the right thing to do for me, even though many people who care a lot about me (including members of my family!) think I am insane to leave a well-paying job during the height of my career, and give up a significant portion of my net worth (unvested stock) in the process.
Doing the right thing
The right thing to do isn’t always easy, but with enough awareness, it can at least become apparent when it is the right time to act. Leaving a job shouldn’t be a cop-out to keep from dealing with problems that should be solved, an excuse to avoid seeing through on a commitment, or even worse, an act of laziness. After all, it’s possible to be happy even if you hate your job.
My situation was not black-and-white. Here is the cold, hard truth:
I definitely felt stressed in my job. Very much so at times.
I resented spending the best hours of the best years of my life chained to a laptop.
I grew increasingly frustrated at having to play office politics and deal with people operating with ulterior motives – though the fact I also had some amazing peers to work with made dealing with bozos more bearable.
I also just wanted to move quicker and faster, taking my ideas from plan to reality, with less need for reviews and rubber stamps – a tricky thing to do at a large corporation. In my opinion, Microsoft is quite agile for a company its size, but there are still limits to how quickly a company with 100,000+ employees can move.
However, none of these reasons were why I quit my job.
The real reason I left my job
I put up with the negative aspects of big-company work for my whole career. That wasn’t why I left. Instead, it turns out that I wanted to try my hand at doing my own thing and living without a career.
I wanted to be myself and shed the “that Microsoft guy” identity.
I wanted to be more than just what I did for work. I wanted to travel and see what life would be like without the type of responsibility a corporate job entails – and do so together with my wife.
Perhaps most importantly, I wanted to learn and do more without work dictating specific boundaries.
I always knew that at some point (I quit my job when I was 34) when I was older – 40-50-60-70 years old – I would want to cut back on the sheer volume of time I spent working. I didn’t know precisely when this would happen, but it seemed like I’d only cut back on work when my hair turned gray.
Then it hit me, why wait?
Why not figure out how to live a better and more balanced life now?
Should I quit my job now or wait a few more years? Five more years? Maybe ten?
I have many more years of work left in me, but I only have my health and capacity to travel untethered (with my wife!) now. This was my thought process. So I decided to leap – as did my wife.
My job and working in a corporate setting became too familiar. It wasn’t dull, just far too familiar. I needed to do something different and throw my brain for a loop. I needed to get off the linear path a corporate uphill trajectory put me on. I needed to leave the familiar comforts of my job to learn how to experience life differently.
My motivation for leaving Microsoft is this:
I was called to experience life in a different way.
So, I resigned from Microsoft (my wife also quit her job). I sold my car. We moved everything we owned into storage. We rented out our house (that we had just bought a few years prior!). We packed our bags (one backpack for each of us) and booked a one-way ticket to India.
We traveled the world. We crisscrossed the US. We visited dozens of national parks. We spent time with friends and family. We hiked scenic mountain trails until our feet were blistered. We sweltered in the heat of the desert. We enjoyed the mountain air of the Rockies, High Sierras and Himalayan foothills. We dipped our toes into the Atlantic and the Pacific. We made it to the lowest and highest parts of the USA. We spent over 80 nights camping out under the stars.
We even said goodbye to the love of our lives, our faithful 15-year-old lab/husky sidekick “Spike,” as he took his last breath, with us holding him, during the end of our North American road trip.
I have never looked back on or questioned my decision to make this move. I know that I will work again – but I don’t know what form that will take. My experience and learning over the past year have been immense. It has changed me, and I hope changed me for the better.
If I do return to work at a big company at some point, I will surely be better equipped to deal with the things I wanted to leave behind when I left. I am more energetic, more patient, more creative and more inspired than I have been in years.
If nothing else, this year of travel has given me a few fringe benefits:
(1) I feel amazing inside and out
(2) I’ve lost 40 pounds
(3) I sleep like a baby!
That alone has made my decision worthwhile.