I left my job a year ago to travel the world.
I’m writing this point to share my experience, in the hope that it helps other readers who are going through a similar situation make sense of it all. There is no one-size-fits-all answer to the decision for staying in or leaving a job, particularly one you care about. The decision must be made by each person on their own. However, it can be helpful to examine the paths that others have walked.
It’s been almost a year since I left my job at Microsoft.
I started there as an intern and literally never left. I got an offer to join full-time, and despite having not yet graduated from college – decided to take it. I flew home, convinced my 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 amazing (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. 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, took care of 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 I made at work. I traveled all over the world meeting with customers. It was fun and rewarding.
So why did I decide to leave?
I didn’t leave to join another company. I didn’t get fired. I just decided that it was time.
I get this question time to time and it is something that I still don’t know the exact answer to. However, I definitely 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 many members of my family!) think I was and am insane to leave a well-paying job during the height of my career, and give up a significant portion of my (former) net worth in unvested stock grants.
The right thing to do isn’t always easy.
The right thing to do isn’t always easy, but with enough awareness it can at least become clear 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.
For me, I definitely felt stressed in my job. Very much so at times. I resented having to spend 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 the 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 tough 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, these reasons weren’t why I left.
I put up with the negative issues for my whole career. Instead, it turns out that the I wanted to try my hand at doing my own thing, and living without a career. I wanted to shed the identity of “the Microsoft guy” and just be Ravi. 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 more and do more without work dictating any sort of boundary.
I always knew that at some point (I stopped working when I was 34) when I was 40-50-60-70…I would want to cut back on the sheer volume of time I spent working…I didn’t know exactly when 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 leave work now or wait a few more years or five more years? Maybe ten?
I have many more years of work left in me, but I only have my strong health and capacity to travel untethered (with my wife!) now. This was my thought process. So I decided to take the leap – as did my wife.
If I had to sum up my motivation for leaving Microsoft it is this: I NEEDED TO EXPERIENCE LIFE IN A DIFFERENT WAY.
My job and working in a corporate setting was become too familiar. It wasn’t boring, it was just far too familiar. I needed to really 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 corporate job to learn how to experience life in a different way.
I resigned from Microsoft (my wife also left her career). I sold my car. We moved everything we owned into storage. We rented out our house (that we just bought a few years ago!). We packed our bags (just 1 backpack for each of us) and booked a one-way ticket to India.
We traveled the world. We traveled the US – visiting dozens of national parks. We spent time with friends and family. We hiked 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.
I have never looked back on or questioned our decision to make this move. I know that I will work again – but don’t know exactly what form that will take. My experience and learning over the past year has been immense. It has changed me, and I hope, changed me for the better.
If I do end up going back 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 two fringe benefits: (1) I feel amazing and have lost 40 pounds that slowly accumulated – mostly on my waist – during my last few years of work (2) I sleep like a baby!
That alone has made my decision worthwhile.
Call for comments:
- Have you every resigned from a job you cared about?
- How did you know it was the right time?
- What did you learn from that experience?