Quit the Rat Race and Attempting a Comeback, Here's my Advice
Hi fellow monkeys…
I'm a brand new poster but have been reading through these boards for a couple of months to pass the time. The preponderance of posts on here regarding happiness and the work life balance have compelled me to add my own .02 cents on these issues, mostly because I think that I have a unique perspective to offer, having actually quit the rat race for some adventure. Take it for what it's worth, with plenty of salt on the side! I'm trying to get back into the game after a 1 yr sabbatical, and I wanted to share my story about what happens just after you give your boss the finger and "go out and enjoy life"
Some background about me:
Nothing phenomenal whatsoever. I've always worked just hard enough to get that next paycheck. I've never been particularly motivated, smart, distinguished, pedigreed, accomplished, or exceptional. Never cared about advancement, personal growth, potential, or any of that stuff. Where I'm from, it's a victory just to avoid getting shot or harassed by the police each day (Cliched as it may be, I'm black and from "the hood"). It goes without saying that I was just a "B" student when I applied myself.
I joined the Army at 17 after my parents died precisely because I had no direction. Absolutely hated it. Don't get me wrong, I appreciate what it taught me about life being unfair, having bosses who frequently went on power trips, doing shyt work, being a grunt, "looking" busy at all times, and having absolutely no freedom or autonomy-and these are all valuable lessons for going into Corporate America and/or banking fyi-however, the 3 yr delay set me way behind my peers, I was homesick and miserable, I hated waking up at 5am each day to go run mini marathons, I hated getting tasked out to details that included grass cutting or trash removal, and I hated having all of my weekend plans blown up at the drop of a hat at the whims of some senior NCO. It sucked hard
I took the GI Bill and Army College Fund and ran. I ended up at some tier 3 shythole college in NY (I'd say the name but you've likely never heard of it). I majored in Political Science (later added Econ). Obviously, my prospects were bleak. I didn't intern anywhere-I spent my summers selling Insurance at GEICO and Working in Accounts Receivable at Worldcom (try handling their A/R during the collapse!). My grades were decent (3.5), but I had an easy major at a shythole school and avoided math/science/computers/engineering like the plague. Goldman was not going to come calling.
Senior year I got dragged to a college fair, and "clicked" with a recruiter from the Walt Disney Co. who happened to be an alumnus. I still have no idea what they saw in me, but as I look back, I probably came off nonchalant and confident since I didn't really care about the outcome. Everyone else there was trying way too hard to impress. I was cracking jokes and asking questions that were probably a little different from your standard "tell me about the culture there" type fluff. Anyways, I was extended an offer in their corporate finance dept-and had a job lined up after college as a Finance Analyst (it is all about who you know).
The job itself was OK. It was mostly financial reporting, some valuations, some forecasting, auditing, and Sarbanes Oxley compliance work. I worked on some cool Disney properties (their entire media/TV division, including ABC and ESPN), and learned some pretty useful finance concepts on the job. I wasn't a quant by any means, but I was pretty good with Excel, and most finance "math" isn't rocket science to begin with. The sheer repetition got me up to speed in a heartbeat. Had I "made" it? Hardly. The hours were great, the money was OK for a single 25 yr. old, but I had no real life. My friends were all dead, military, or imprisoned. Chased some skirts, but that got old (and expensive) fast. My problem was that I'd never cared about anything up until that point, so had trouble really finding my passion. Books, women, trips, video games, museums, etc…all of it bored me. So I just started saving 30-40% of my income each month. I never owned any property or got married, so this started adding up fast.
After about 3 yrs at Disney, I got a call from a headhunter looking to place me into a major financial data/information firm looking to expand their media presence (I think it's fairly obvious where). I'd have basically the same exact responsibilities as before, but I'd be getting a significant pay increase with bonus opportunities as well. I figured "why not?". I would then spend the next 4 yrs in abject misery. The company itself is great, but my particular division had some real "go getters" who had set some ridiculously aggressive targets, and they started to work us to the bone. I went from 45 hour weeks at my last gig to over 80 in a heartbeat. Holy shyt.
I tried to look elsewhere in 08 but the sky was falling back then. Next thing I know it's 2012 and I'm still there! Needless to say I looked terrible and even now had high blood pressure. At that point I'd saved up a mint, and stumbled upon WSO. I read enough hard luck IB stories to realize that 1) I wasn't getting paid enough to be doing banker hours 2) I was in danger of getting locked in if I stayed there long term 3) I was in danger of getting pigeonholed as a spreadsheet bytch 4)Life was passing me by
One day it was 10:30pm and I was helping the corp dev. team price some products for an acquisition target when I got into it with my boss, who was calling from home (of course) to a)make sure I was still there and b) chew me out for missing a deadline earlier (I missed it by less than 2 hours, only because he had tasked me out to the corp dev team!) I told him to "fukk off" because I was busy and hung up on him. I quit the next morning. He tried to get me to stay but I was done. I shook his hand, though. I had enough in savings to take a nice long break and reassess, so while it was an impulsive move, I'd been thinking about it for months.
1st month I just relaxed and watched TV. That got boring
2nd month I started taking Spanish lessons on skype with someone who lived in Central America. Turns out I enjoyed it…and started to acquire the language really quickly. Could this be my passion?
3rd Month I bought a one way ticket to Nicaragua on the cheap. I spent the next 5 months backpacking in and out of various locales in Central and South America. I felt alive. It was the most fun I'd EVER had-and I even managed to become a near fluent Spanish speaker. I went all in-10 hours of lessons a day, homestay families, cultural tours, etc. Even better was that it was so cheap down there I got to live like a king (you can get a 4 course meal in Guatemala for about 7 bucks USD). The most interesting part was running into all of the expats living/backpacking out there-many of them former bankers or big law attorneys. Some of them had quit life entirely and had no intention of ever returning to the States! I also had a blast running into all of the Australian, Canadian, Malaysian, British, Israeli, and Western European folks on the gringo trail-I became part of a great community of backpackers and with Facebook and linked in it's easy to stay in touch. Meeting these people changed my life-I'd never really made friends with anyone "different" before-never really made "friends", period- but listening to their travel stories and details about their lives at home awakened something in me. Sure some were hippies and slackers…but most were on gap years and/or had plans to go home and do big things.
It got me thinking about where I wanted to be, how I wanted my life to be perceived, and what kind of legacy I wanted to leave. Sure it was fun sleeping in and waking up to the best females the developing world had to offer, but surely there was…more? Put it this way-when someone Googles me in 50 yrs, what will they see? My list of misdemeanors from my youth and a Facebook page? Is that what my life would have been worth? I Googled my parents and found nothing. It's as if they'd never existed. No one will ever remember them. The possibility of going out like that really started to bother me…
Didn't realize how long this would be. I'll split this into 2 parts and detail what I've done since the return from my "pilgrimage", along with the actual advice on the next installment!
Mod Note (Andy): Throwback Thursday, this interesting tale was originally posted 3/7/13