Your Job: Why You Can’t Bring Yourself to Quit

Written and sent while we were recently traveling in Hawaii (I know, I know! and I’m going to illustrate this post with photos I took in paradise. . . because I can!), our latest email newsletter struck a chord with more readers than any of our others. (Subscribe at right or at the end of this post if you haven’t.) What resonated most, judging by the number of return clicks and emails, was our reference to a Harvard Business Review blog article from a few weeks ago: “Why You Won’t Quit Your Job.” The comments section in the HBR article is still growing, and it’s some of the most poignant reading I’ve done in a long time.

Citing everything from basic risk aversion and the comfort of the familiar, to the concepts of overall psychological conditioning and premature optimization, commenters celebrated their own breakouts and lamented the inertia that kept them in status quo. It is an absolutely stunning microcosm of what ails the working class (and that means everyone who works a job no matter how much money they make, and how grand their standard of living): Even with the ability to do so, if you’re like most people, you can’t bring yourself to quit your job and pursue your dreams.

In as free a society such as ours, this phenomenon goes far beyond simple “can’t afford it” thinking. We’ve had people tell us, “It’s great that you can act on your dreams. We wish we could do something like what you’re doing, but we just can’t afford it.” And you know, we get that. We found ourselves at such a crossroads several years ago. We took what many people would consider drastic measures, certainly not for the faint-hearted. But honestly? Anyone could do what we’ve done. The difference is most people won’t.

Upon our return from Hawaii, I read a feature in our local Sunday paper called “On the Job.” (Sorry, I can’t seem to find a link to it). It was about a woman who had reached “close to retirement age” with what her financial advisor deemed an insufficient amount of money. “Keep working,” the financial advisor advised (as advisors do). The trouble was/is, this woman is a rehab consultant, which is extremely physically demanding work. Even though she’s in shape, she’s tired: “As you age,” she is quoted, “I think you have fewer resources against stress.” She turns down business that is too far away because she doesn’t want to be in the car all day, fighting traffic. She’s exhausted at the end of her work day.

The most heartbreaking question in the article was, “What have you given up to keep on working?” Here is her answer:

“Travel. Doing nothing. When I talk to people who have retired, they describe getting up at 8 a.m., doing the crossword puzzle.  I envy that. If I die when I’m 80, I’ll be really ticked off, because I’ve given up a lot.”

Helloooo! Get a clue!

She goes on to say that she feels useful and that’s a huge value of hers, and that she’ll probably “just keep on.” I was so angry with this! I just wish someone would have asked this woman, “Why is it that you really can’t bring yourself to quit?” At the very least, the advisor might counsel her to change her business model to something that would leverage her impressive knowledge base and create a source of residual income. It’s been done by online trainers all over the place. Arggghhhh!!!

The bigger problem, and I’m betting it’s why you might not be able to bring yourself to quit your job either, is that most of us are locked into a conventional path, like the HBR author describes and the financial advisor advocates. We’ve accepted that there is a “right way” to live your life: with a regular education, an employer and a steady paycheck, maybe a McMansion and a couple of car payments. You think you can’t bring yourself to quit your job if there’s a big mortgage and the cost of preparing your children to travel the same path hanging over your head, right? We’re begging now: think again. Just a little, even!

Corbett Barr, in “Hell Yes You Should Quit Your Job,” writes that if you’re thinking at all about quitting your job to chase your dreams, it’s a signal. “I knew that when I got to the end of my life and looked back, I didn’t want to leave certain stones unturned.” He goes on to point out that instead of outcome, if you “make the process your goal,” there’s no chance of failure. In “For God’s Sake Follow Your Dreams,” we’re told even taking baby steps to pursue your dreams is better than doing nothing. Jonathan Mead, of The Illuminated Mind, has a great reminder:

If you want to quit your job or pursue any dream, realize that it is not a destination that brings you freedom. It’s exercising your power to be free right now that allows you to choose working for yourself. Sometimes we need a reminder that freedom is something freely accessed, regardless of our life situation.

So, even after all this, maybe you won’t quit your job. Instead your dreams will remain on hold, and your fears and how you perceive your obligations will conspire to keep you where you are. But understand, it’s you who is standing in your own way.

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  1. says

    Hi Betsy .. I think people are realising it – but it takes time and courage for the choices available to sink in .. and people aren’t terribly innovative. There are lots of opportunities – just starting that’s all that’s needed …

    I love what you and Pete have done .. shows us the say .. cheers Hilary
    Hilary has an awesome blog post here: Valentine’s Day, Chocolate and Love Poems …My Profile

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Hilary – You’re right, it does take time and courage. And the good news is, it’s easier to start on the journey – just one step is all it takes – than people think. Thanks for your support!

  2. says

    Very nice, Betsy. Location independence is a goal of mine, and I certainly feel like I should quit my job. Problem is I’m just not quite there – maybe in 6 months I can swing it financially. It looks like more fun trying to scrape by creatively and being able to work anywhere.
    John | Married (with Debt) has an awesome blog post here: Thought Leader: What Makes One?My Profile

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi John – Welcome to PassingThru! Six months is not a long time! Congrats on being almost there! It literally took us years, but it’s totally worth it. Thanks for your comment. 🙂

  3. says

    Very nice post. I think many people do get stuck in a routine that they don’t even really enjoy that much. I have a regular full time job, but in my free time I travel, a lot. I’ve noticed I’m starting to enjoy writing more and more, especially about travel experiences. It’s nice to to know that your independent lifestyle is possible. Maybe one day! Thanks!

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Aloha John – You’re right, one day you wake up and wonder “what have I been sleepwalking through all these years.” Travel experiences make great fodder for writers. Keep at it!

  4. says

    Thank you for this article. It’s something I’ve been dealing with for the last few years. Now I’m ready to take the plunge and follow my heart. It wasn’t easy getting here. Even though I worked freelance, I knew there would always be money coming in. Now I have to find another way to make some income and it’s scary, but I know deep down I’ll make it work. My parents definitely don’t understand it, however, they have always supported me in anything I do. I also hear the comment “Oh I wish I could do that” from so many of my friends. My response I always “Why can’t you?” We have been programmed to think a certain way and that way is you grow up, you work until you are almost 70, and THEN you get to enjoy life. I can’t wait that long. Personally I can’t deal with the What If for the rest of my life.
    Congrats to you for taking that leap. Maybe we’ll see each other somewhere out there in this beautiful world we live in. 🙂
    Sadie has an awesome blog post here: Welcome to DogtownMy Profile

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Sadie – Things have a way of falling into place in the way that they’re meant to. You’re right to question the role you want regret to play (if any at all) in life. We wish we’d taken the plunge sooner, but any time is better than none. Best of luck to you. 🙂