There are three primary longer-term reasons, which in a lot of ways pushed me further along the path of my self-commitment:
- At the end of 2008, my good friend and co-worker, Jan, died of a massive heart attack while at her desk in the office. The picture of seeing her sitting at the desk that last time is ingrained in my memory. I still hear the words of the first responders and cringe when I have to take the elevator they took that day. It is a reminder that life is short. That sometimes, it’s best not to put off following our dreams until [fill in the blank]. Remembering my own mortality reminded me that I will not live forever, that I better stop putting off pursuing my dream until I have it all figured out.
- The financial crisis made me look more closely under the hood of the capitalist system in the US. What I saw was not pretty. It is build on ruthless exploitation, pursuit of money, and is increasingly turning into an oligarchy dominated by people high up in the financial services industry. And my paycheck came from one of those companies where the CEO makes so much money several of us could retire on a fraction of it. I felt a clear dissonance between calling on people to move their money yet earning an income at one of the Big Four.
- It took me several years to realize that I was in the wrong career, instead of just the wrong job. Though I enjoyed parts of it and received good reviews for the work I was doing, my heart wasn’t in it. It felt socially irrelevant. I wasn’t making anybody’s life any better (arguably, I was making people’s lives worse, see second point). I have ideas that I really would like to flesh out that might make the world a tad bit better. But to flesh those out, I need time and a different kind of training.
And then there are three timing-related reasons – they are answering the question of “why now and not x months from now?” Although longer-term reason #1 certainly also plays into that.
- Actually, this reason was already at play last year when I plunged into going back to school. My son decided to pursue his dreams post-high school a year earlier. So, I felt that this would be my opportunity to make the changes that I’ve been longing to make for quite some time now but didn’t want to make since it felt irresponsible to do so with a child. (It still feels that way but I think I’ve realized that I cannot let that guilt feeling stop me. Otherwise, I’ll never start walking down a different path…)
- Some things at work have changed. The merger has brought a different climate. It’s very subtle but it reminds me more of a good-old-boys network than a diverse place to work. So, on top of the cognitive dissonance that I was already feeling, I started to sense a clear discomfort about the office climate change.
- I am taking two graduate seminars this semester in addition to a logic class (my last prereq!). That is keeping me very busy – spending 3 hours to read a 9-page paper was rather eye-opening. This stuff is dense! But I don’t feel like I am doing time. I am very much enjoying myself. Yet, there is so much other stuff I’d like to read (and write) to be able to pursue my ideas. But I am putting in 25 hours per week to earn money at a job I loath. I decided that I could use those 25 hours much better for things I feel passionate about!
I am still oscillating between being ecstatic about giving myself the freedom to pursue my dream (after all, I do have the financial safety net to do this) and sheer panic (after all, that safety net will not last forever, nor is my dream crystal clear). What if I am not really good at philosophy? I fell into it – it wasn’t a conscious choice, something I’ve always wanted to pursue. What will I do when the money runs out? I don’t have a plan! I shouldn’t do this without a plan! My hypothyroidism might still be out of whack (I got the test results back on Monday and the TSH is rising again). Thanks to the lack of backbones in Washington, we still don’t have universal health care. What if I can’t afford good health care? And then I push back the panic and remind myself that sometimes, we just have to try something to find out if it’s worth pursuing. By quitting my job, I am giving myself the chance to fully pursue this, to give it all I’ve got. If it turns out that I am not good enough at it, well, the nice thing about my first career is that it’s very marketable… I will have learned to live on much less, so I won’t need a high-paying job. And who knows. Like one of my friends put it: In order for new doors to open, we need to close some old ones first. So, here I am plunging ahead, knowing that the bruises will heal and looking forward to creating my own life!