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You Should Probably Quit Your Job

Life is short. It’s “go to bed worrying about your English final, wake up with grey hair and three kids” short.  And shorter yet are the “productive years;” that period in your life when you can make a difference, when your knowledge, experience, and influence add up to something.

Those productive years are fabled. They represent the promised land where, one day, we’ll start doing something important and meaningful. I know an investment banker. “One day” he tells me, “I’m going to get out and do something worthwhile, make a difference.” A friend told me yesterday “One day, I’d like to move to Montreal.”  Even my five year old daughter is craning her neck towards this promised land. She tells me “I’ll be a vet one day.” But the banker won’t change jobs, my friend will not move to Montreal, and I doubt my daughter will be a vet.  One day never arrives.

It never arrives because our short lives move so fast, and we have so much to do. So many phone calls to be answered, emails to be read, payments to be made. They pile up in front of us, a small mountain of immediate problems, blocking our view, preventing us from seeing beyond the next few months.

One day never arrives, and those meaningful dreams are gradually forgotten, hidden behind the pile of today’s tasks.

But occasionally someone remembers that our lives are so short, the time is so precious, and they push aside the pile to look again on the “promised land.” And then they do something important. They quit their job.

This happened to Kai Nagata this week. Kai was a Canadian TV reporter who suddenly resigned because he realized he could be doing more if he was doing something else. In his words:

I quit my job because the idea burrowed into my mind that, on the long list of things I could be doing, television news is not the best use of my short life.

The reaction was visceral. His essay went viral, hundreds of people commented on his blog, Roger Ebert tweeted about it, and it made news across the country. People didn’t care about a reporter in Quebec, but they saw themselves in Kai and they realized they will never be brave enough to do the same thing.

I quit.

Another example of this is John Wood. Working at Microsoft, he was locked in to a solid management career. But one day he realized he could do more, that his productive years could be better spent on something more meaningful to himself and to others. So he quit, and launched Room to Read, a charity that increases literacy in some of the world’s poorest nations. (I recommend his book.)

Take this job and shove it.

Take an honest minute and think about your job. Is it making a difference? Is it making the world a better place? Is it as valuable to you as the few short years you have on this planet? Some of you can say yes. Most of us, if we are truthful, cannot.

Most of us, if we are honest, know our jobs are simply a means towards a prosaic end.

It pays the bills.

What else am I qualified to do?

The economy is terrible, where else could I work?

We are so focused on the pile of immediate problems that we fail to see what Kai and John saw, which is life is too short to be wasted on meaningless work. We all should be doing something important for ourselves, our community, our children, the environment, poverty, or politics. Remember how you, too, wanted to be a vet? It’s not too late.

You should quit your job.  (But sadly, you probably won’t)

 

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DISCLAIMER: If any PDT employees are reading this, please disregard all of the above and get back to work.

 

 

 

 

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16 Comments

  1. Sue Heublein says:

    Hopefully not everyone will rush right out and quit their jobs, especially the surgeons with surgeries on the schedule and the cooks and servers with patrons in the restaurants. But if all of us continually look for and move toward our next best efforts–for ourselves, our core group, our planet, our lives–that would be pretty wonderful to witness. Right now I have found satisfaction and soul nourishment in writing to encourage many to help get dogs off chains. I do it and I write to encourage others to do it. It’s a ‘job’ I don’t get paid for, and it’s all good. Found you because Nathan Fillion follows you; sure hope he doesn’t quit his job!! Suzie-Q

  2. Sue Heublein says:

    Hey, I didn’t stop to think I could have shared the ‘fences’ website. Here it is: http://www.fencesforfido.org Take a look, the website and the mission is amazing. Prepare to warm your heart… Susie-Q

  3. The construction economy in the US is in the dull-drums as of late and has caused me (concrete supply chain) to wonder many of the things that you articulate.

    Over the years we grow in both our expertise and dependency upon a chosen profession. Exploring an escape from dependency is risky and scary, but there are alternatives.

    I find that sharing my expertise in a worthy cause allows me to expand my horizons and possibly open new opportunities for the future. The opportunity to blog and write thoughts and suggestions provides an outlet for my inner desire to do something good for the world around me.

    Will I ever have the courage to “quit the job”? I won’t know until an opportunity presents itself. In the meantime I am a part-timer in this “make-a-difference” business.

  4. Tiffani M says:

    The majority of us are pee-ons and yes we probably can make some very small difference somewhere somehow. But the reality may very well be that we would end up failed at age 85 fighting a cat for it’s food wishing we had not dumped that soul crushing job 45 years ago. Some one has to wash the underwear, ya’ know? Some times dreaming and wishing just has to be good enough.

    Bravo to those who have the means!

  5. Scott Gilmore says:

    Suzie-Q:

    Oh Suzie Q
    Oh Suzie Q
    Oh Suzie Q Baby I love you
    Suzie Q

    I like the way you walk
    I like the way you talk
    I like the way you walk I like the way you talk
    Suzie Q

    Bruce: Good point. We can repackage and share what we’ve learned in our day job, to add more meaning to our lives and others. I see that all the time overseas, with some of the more productive (as opposed to self-interested) volunteering that goes on.

    Tiffani: None of us our peons. Our world is so large, and there are so many opportunities to do something different, no one is truly fenced in. Nonetheless, I’d rather be fighting the cat for scraps, then living in luxury and dead inside. You have the means, too!

  6. Edward Rees says:

    I am a PDT employee and I quit my former job in the UN HQ in 2007 for many of the above reasons. Many of my friends thought I was crazy to quit the UN and join PDT. But I am impetuous and so I quit.

    By the way – I just want to let you know – I quit. Ha!

    Edward

  7. Steve says:

    Hey Scott,

    Good post.

    I had two things I wanted to share.

    First, as-is I feel what you’re advocating for is a wee bit irresponsible.

    If I read your website right you were well-established as a DFAIT diplomat, well-versed in disaster zones (i.e., Afghanistan) before choosing to set up shop. You underwent a powerful experience – you witnessed the tons of wasted opportunities for local market growth before you said “enough”. You knew people, and people knew you – I presume you floated things with key players before launching. My point: correct me if I’m wrong but you speak from a place of experience. Others may need more careful planning – Before I quit I should (a) think a little bit more about what I really want/makes me happy, (b) talk to people who are doing it already, (c) transition out; find overlap between what I’m currently doing and what I want to do…. Yes, quit your job. But do it well.

    Secondly, and the first leads into this, do you think everyone and anyone can be an entrepreneur?

    8 or 9 out of 10 businesses fail within their first year of operation. Those odds make succeeding require a certain, dare I say special, type of person. Your post does read like something I would read in the memoirs of a successful entrepreneur. I perceive PDT to be in the business of helping entrepreneurs succeed so I think this question goes beyond just this post to how PDT views its work, which small shopkeepers in each local market get more of its attention and which ones don’t… can anyone quit their job/succeed as an entrepreneur or is total life fulfillment only for a privileged few?

    Was that too long? Sorry.

    Steve

  8. […] issues, it’s just not something a lot of people choose to do. PDT boss man Scott Gilmore will tell you you should. I agree. And if you do, perhaps these films will serve as a guide to make the journey a bit […]

  9. Bruce Plante says:

    Your words are very wise, Scott, and I know they come from a place of integrity and strength. I had the privilege of teaching you (and learning from you) when you were in elementary school, and you had a fire in your belly even back then. It is a truly beautiful honour to be a part of something that can make a difference in adding to the betterment of our world. Having just retired from teaching after a rich and wonderful career, I am going to take your words deeply to heart now as I begin the next chapter of my life. After a break for the summer, I will look for and find a way that I can continue to put my skills and talents to use in “making a difference”. I am sure my fellow teachers would join me in saying how proud we are of you and your brother. Thank you for making a difference.

  10. Scott Gilmore says:

    Mr. Plante! I’m honored and delighted to hear from you. You were without a doubt the most memorable teacher I’ve ever had. Congratulations on your retirement and on such a meaningful career.

  11. […] should probably quit your job – http://buildingmarkets.org/blogs/blog/2011/07/12/you-should-probably-quit-your-job/ A political history of Africa since 1900 (interactive) – […]

  12. […] You Should Probably Quit Your Job « Peace Dividend Trust Blog Jul 12, 2011 … Life is short. It’s “go to bed worrying about your English final, … I quit my job because the idea burrowed into my mind that, on the long … […]

  13. Saswati says:

    I’m a kind of person who is great at doing a lot of different kinds of things. I find writing a resume for myself particularly irritating as it can’t showcase who I am at the workplace. Anyone know of other ways to find me a job?

  14. Anuttama says:

    Come to think of it, I know exactly what you mean! I’m a software guy but that’s hardly the only thing I do. I do sales and marketing as well! My resume seems confused!

  15. Shyam says:

    Guys, I think you can give this site a try: http://www.lookbeyondresumes.com . They apparently hate resumes too. Seemed different enough.

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