Since covid hit, I’ve known dozens of people who tossed their careers aside and decided to do something radical — pursue an activity that they love, but has little hope of long-term economic benefit.
Back in 2009 I remember amidst the waves of layoffs, everyone was scrambling to learn to code, to make mobile apps or start tech companies, in hopes of making it big. This time around it seems like people are trying to make it small.
I talked to a few people who recently exited well-paying jobs in the corporate world to pursue their passions — here’s what they had to say.
Henry worked in a drug discovery lab during covid and quit to move into a van and rock climb full time while making the little money he needed to live on doing permaculture gardening projects on the side.
"I really couldn’t stand the thought of a nine to five grind and a 7+ year path to a PhD. Now I get to spend all my time outside climbing in Yosemite and Red rocks, tending to plants and hanging out with friends. It’s really not a bad trade if you ask me."
Lisha was a school teacher, covid made her rethink her priorities, she wanted to spend more time in her beautiful home in Coachella Valley and work with plants. She quit her job and now airbnb’s her guest house and runs a thriving native plant nursery, by appointment only, on the property. "It’s two side hustles but it’s what I love, I get to meet interesting people and work with native plants all day. I have no one to report to and I couldn’t be happier"
Carly was a writer at one of the biggest tech companies in Silicon Valley. She said it was an easy job and the pay and benefits were great, but she just wasn’t feeling fulfilled. "I left to follow my bliss and write the story of my life. I don’t spend a lot, I live in a big house with 15 of my friends and somehow manage to make ends meet. It’s not just about making a living, it’s about living."
Sante and his big husky live in a tiny Volkswagen van, on the back of it in big stick in letterbox-letters it says "I’M NOT IN YOUR RUSH". When I talked to him he had a dripping wetsuit, a surfboard, and speargun hanging off his van. We were camped on the beach in Baja. "I’ve been really focused on running a couple men’s groups, helping people through personal transformation. It’s incredibly powerful, nothing like I could have experienced in the corporate world. I code as well, but only on my own start-up and projects I’m passionate about. And obviously I’m here, doing what I love spending time with people I care about."
So what’s different this time around? A couple factors, covid and remote work broke the cycle of work/consumption. Impressing people to get ahead. Gone are the days of "hard clothes" –getting dressed up to go to the office. Being home gave people a little more time and freedom to do what they want. Pulled out from "the rush" people had time to think about what they were rushing for, and many times, it seems, they were rushing for something they didn’t actually care about.
I think the other factor, the real elephant in the room is what the outcome of this next tech cycle will be. It’s so hard to predict, but it certainly feels like the turn of the 20th century when 90% of all jobs were eliminated by the Industrial Revolution — only to be replaced by wholly new jobs that no one could have imagined before. It’s hard to tell someone they should put a couple years into learning current design tools when midjourney just showed a taste of what’s to come from AI. Can you just put your nose to the grindstone answering customer service calls when you can pretty much bank on an AI chat taking that job in the near future? I asked a Professor of Education at Stanford, Ben, if he was worried teachers would lose their jobs to individualized AI lesson plans — he shot back, "the real question is, with AI, will we really need all this education?"
Some great designer smarter than me said when technology is changing so fast, focus on what isn’t. The human things.
The only thing certain is what’s true inside of us. Our passions and what brings us joy. It’s time to step out of the rat race, focus on how the things we do make us feel, and follow our dreams.