Friday, December 2, 2011

Deciding to Quit & My Last Day of Work

I left a yam in my boss's inbox.

I was known at work for all the healthy food I ate, from readying my sliced apple with almond butter each morning to chopping big salads full of veggies for lunch. I would often steam a yam in the microwave, cut it open and eat it like a baked potato with Earth Balance and sea salt.

One day my boss stopped by my cube and asked, "Why do you have a yam on your desk?"

I replied, "Why wouldn't I have a yam on my desk?"

Now he has a yam on his desk.


On Monday, September 12, I decided to quit my job as a proofreader at an ad agency.

"Decided" makes it all sound very calm and orderly, like the idea just quietly tapped on my brain and asked to be let in. In reality, the pivotal moment was borne out of pent-up frustration, the feeling of being trapped and the absolute certainty that there was so much more out in the world for me.

I had just reveled in a week-long adrenaline rush that included clocking a half-marathon PR on Labor Day and racing my first triathlon the following Saturday. I was on-top-of-the-world high when I went into work that Monday. By the time I left, my white-hot frustration was punctuated only by bouts of hysterical sobbing.

I can't even remember what exactly happened that day. I just remember realizing on the bus ride home: I'm done.

My plan had been to continue working for another year, continue saving all my (very generous) quarterly bonuses and become vested in my employer's 401(k) match. Then I would feel financially comfortable enough to take off on my dream trip around the world. Sounds nice and responsible, right?

I could have taken a few deep breaths, stifled my frustration like I had so many times before and put my head back down to carry out that plan. Maybe on another day, I would have.

On this day, I pictured what the next year of my life would look like. I saw myself dragging my feet to the office each day, doing work that I was very good at but which felt meaningless, stacking up money on the side and feeling completely miserable.

Must be tough to stay vibrant amongst all those thorns.

I realized that the next year of my life — that precious time — was worth so much more to me than the amount of money I'd be able to add to my savings by continuing to work. And we're talking serious money here — easily $15,000 to $20,000. (I'll get into finances more in another post.)

The moment I got home that day, I called my mom. I had to tell someone about my decision to make it real. She calmly listened to my babbling and assured me everything was going to be OK.

I cried so, so hard.


I didn't decide right away to go travel; the courage just wasn't there yet.

Since I had planned on having quite a bit more money saved for traveling, I felt like the responsible thing to do was to look for another job and continue saving. I decided that I would first look for an incredible, creative, fulfilling job, and if I didn't find one, then I would see the world.

The dream remained on hold.

I spent plenty of time on Craigslist and other job sites half-heartedly clicking through listings. I even applied for a few positions, although I secretly hoped they wouldn't pan out (and they didn't). I often found myself minimizing the job-search window to play with the oneworld round-the-world trip planner instead.

I wondered, "Where would I go if I could go anywhere?"


One weekend in October, I had the urge to bake pumpkin-spice cookies with my mom. While home, I caught up with my mom and her boyfriend, Don, on my progress (or lack thereof) since I'd decided to leave my job.

"Are you still looking for another job?" Don asked. "Why?"

I was afraid to take that final leap. But Don pointed out all of the obvious things I had in my favor: I'm young, unattached to anyone or anything (like a mortgage or car payment) and completely debt-free, plus I actually have enough money to travel for a year or more, even though it's not the amount I originally planned on.

In his book 50/50, Dean Karnazes wrote: "Awakenings are always terrifying, as they force you to realize that your past has been lived in confinement. The most disturbing part is when you recognize that the shackles holding you down are largely ones you have placed upon yourself. The prison is self-constructed. 'We are all living in cages with the door wide open,' George Lucas once said."

Plans should always be written in pencil and kept next to a big, fat eraser. There should also be a wastebasket nearby marked "FUCK IT," just in case you decide to start all over. Don't be afraid to use it.

Ducks don't care about plans. Ducks say "FUCK IT" all the time.

I'll always remember that weekend because it contained the moment when I crumpled up my "responsible" plan, threw it in its deserved receptacle and committed to following my dream no matter what. Also, because those cookies were absolutely delicious.


I went into my last day of work feeling completely on the emotional edge. I had gotten exactly two hours and seven minutes of sleep in anticipation of this massive turning point in my life, and the outpouring of supportive comments, emails, tweets and texts about this post already had me feeling weepy on my morning bus ride.

That feeling continued as I realized everything I did that day would be for the last time.

This is the last apple I'll slice as I chat with coworkers about marathon training... this is the last project I'll stamp as approved... this is the last day I will spend in this place where I've worked for more than two years, straight out of college.

I'm sure my coworkers thought I was crazy to be so sad about leaving — after all, I'm going on an amazing adventure — but everything I knew to be constant and secure for the past two years was about to end for me. I was about to strike out on my own in this world, and the agency would just keep chugging along without me.

Why yes, I will cry if you leave this on my desk.

When 5:00 rolled around, I lingered at my desk a little longer than necessary as I wrapped things up. I sent a goodbye email to all the people I had enjoyed working with, and yes, I cried as I wrote that, too. Then I made the rounds of hugging the people I really, really liked and packed up my stuff to go.

That job gave me lots of stress and anxiety, it's true, but it also gave me a strong backbone, a knack for frantic problem-solving and the means to fund a life-changing round-the-world trip. I'll say it was a win.

I'd like to think I left echoes of some good things there as well: A passionate desire to get things right. A penchant for making up processes to help things run smoothly. A fiery hatred of inconsistencies, serial commas and apostrophe abuse. A yam.

And a little inspiration, which I left taped next to my name plate, for anyone who might need it.

The Holstee Manifesto.


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  1. I love this. I actually went through the exact same thing this fall (on basically the same timeline!) but didn't choose to take the risk and move across the country like I wanted to. But, like you, I have all of those things working in my favor and with a little bit more planning and saving I'll be able to make it happen. Congrats, I can't wait to read about your adventures!

  2. Thank you! It really is about making the commitment and not letting yourself waver. It's tough when you're leaving behind everything you know to be safe and secure! Best of luck to you.

  3. You are such an interesting person, and I enjoy reading all of your posts and look forward to them when I need a break from work. I like that you are so relatable, funny, and inspiring to many people. I'm excited for your journey around the world, and know that you won't be disappointed or ever regret the decision you've made. I can't wait to hear about the new adventures you've set out to do. Good luck in Las Vegas too!

  4. Wow, so many wonderful compliments — thank you so much! And thanks for reminding me I must pack for Vegas TODAY : )

  5. 'a wastebasket nearby marked "FUCK IT,"'
    I remember those feelings when I left my job over a year ago to head to Brazil, leaving behind everything I knew except my laptop and my now husband. So happy for you! Can't wait to read about what comes next.

  6. I have a feeling I'll be referencing (and using) the "FUCK IT" bin a lot in the coming months! Wonderful that you took off for Brazil — I hope to make it there as well.

  7. I remember when I left DC to move to Seattle, I was leaving behind so much, a lot of friends and a secure 9-5, to venture into the world of freelancing. My last day at Nat Geo was so tough, it was also my first "real job" out of college, and I made a lot of friends there and it's where I started my career.
    It was the best decision I ever made. I left everything I knew for a world of the unknown, the experience of freedom is indescribable, you have so much ahead of you, and you are going do and see amazing things. You will never regret this decision.

  8. Thanks for being so supportive from the beginning, Meg!!

  9. 'We are all living in cages with the door wide open', wow, mind-blowing.

    I absolutely love this part of your journey. I'm sure you'll find that will better than expected.

    "Life is a journey, enjoy the ride" I always say.

    Congratulations! and don't forget sharing with us the travel planning, I've been traveling for business for a decade now, and might be able to give you some pointers ;)


  10. I will be sharing every bit of travel planning and would love pointers! Thanks for your lovely comment : )

  11. How did I sit next to you for a year and a half and not know that you hate serial commas? (Did you know that I love them?) Worse, how did I not detect that you felt as trapped and frustrated as I did (and still do)? I'm so glad you express your true self here, Devon.

    Oh, yeah---good luck on Sunday!

  12. Congratulations and I think you will find that being unemployed is not as bad or as scary as many make it out to be. I applaud you for doing it while you are you, I did it this past June and haven't looked back. I am just a lot older than you when I did it.

    It is a big step, but one that you will enjoy.

    Good luck


  13. Just discovered your blog and just wanted to say that I feel like you have read my mind! I'm 25 and quit my job recently (after 4 years), and will be finishing up at the end of this month. I'm still in the process of deciding what to do post employment and did think that the most logical ( and safe!) thing to do would be to find a fantastic new job.. But I think deep down I know that's not the path I really want to take. Now to take another plunge and perhaps try to leave the comfort and safety of what I know. Thank you for your blog! You have been inspiring!

  14. congrats to you and the next steps in your life!! hopefully you will find something more fulfilling!

  15. Devon: You are a brave and wonderful person. You get to my age (62) and friends start dying, and you wonder how much time you have. Truth is, you never know. Your reasoning makes perfect sense. As time goes on, it will become harder and harder to make that kind of choice is your obligations and commitments increase. Carpe diem!


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