When I set the appointment to give notice at work – to quit my job to travel – I almost immediately went numb. I stood up from my desk and my legs wobbled. I tried to send a text message to a friend and my fingers were shaking.
I was more nervous than I was before I performed improv in front of 700 people.
And then I arrived at my boss’s office and he was late. Forty-five minutes late. So I hung out and chatted with his assistant and in the midst of all that, I relaxed and the nerves went away. And before I knew it, I was sitting in his office hearing the words “I’m leaving” flowing out of my mouth.
I had very mixed feelings about the decision to quit my job to travel. I have never considered myself a quitter and I have always been one to take only calculated, well-planned risks (a bit of an oxymoron, I suppose?). I have never left a job without having another one lined up. The idea of being jobless now scares the heck out of me. I mean, it REALLY scares me to death.
I wish I had done this 10 years ago but I didn’t know I wanted to.
When I was a senior in high school, I predicted that I would become an international corporate attorney living in New York City or Chicago. By the time I went to law school straight out of college, my goals had changed and I saw a legal education as a great background to go into international relations. I envisioned myself eventually working at a U.S. embassy overseas.
But I got sidetracked in law school and the lure of a six-figure salary led me to take a job as a tax attorney at a large law firm in Chicago. I moved right along on the partnership track, working hard but also playing hard, taking advantage of four full weeks of vacation each year to travel. I loved the people I worked with, but eventually the work started to bore me and the lifestyle exhausted me.
So when a headhunter approached me to apply for another tax attorney job at a smaller firm doing entirely different work, I didn’t hesitate to leave.
After two years at the smaller firm, circumstances within the firm changed and I did some soul-searching. I realized that I didn’t see myself working in tax law for the rest of my life. I started to consider other options, the first being a career in travel. I loved to travel and I loved to plan my travel, so it seemed like a perfect fit. I explored travel agent training courses and thought about starting my own travel planning business. But it seemed too difficult, too risky, too much of a stretch for me to actually pursue.
So instead I focused on things that seemed more realistic, like legal recruiting, career counseling and law school alumni relations and development (i.e., fundraising). I ended up being extremely fortunate and had my choice of positions. I went the alumni relations and development route primarily because it seemed to have the best career path and opportunities for advancement.
Now, four years and one promotion later, I am saying goodbye.
I enjoyed many aspects of working in alumni relations and I accomplished a lot in my first few years. I built a program from scratch and enjoyed planning events, writing the alumni newsletter and working closely with student organizations. I met some wonderful people and I strongly related to my employer’s mission of public service and providing access to education. On the best days, I felt like I was making a significant positive difference, either for students or alumni, or both.
But then there were the bad days and as time passed, I grew frustrated that my success seemed to be largely outside of my control, particularly as I transitioned into major gift fundraising. I increasingly resented the idea that I could work hard and have no tangible results to show for it. It became more and more common for me to leave the office feeling demoralized and exhausted.
On top of that, I was growing tired of Chicago. Ten years is a long time and I was starting to feel like my time in the Windy City had run its course. I needed to make a change and taking a career break to travel seemed like the perfect opportunity.
Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end
I leave on my 35th birthday to travel and volunteer overseas for at least 9-10 months, maybe more. Despite my tendency to be a perpetual planner, I am trying to keep it flexible and open-ended.
Not surprisingly, since I announced my plans to quit my job to travel, everyone keeps asking me when I am coming back and what I am doing when I return.
It goes against everything in my nature to say I don’t know, but the truth is, I don’t. But I do have a few ideas.
I might work for an international nonprofit organization with a mission that resonates with me, perhaps in volunteer management or grant writing.
I might finally pursue my dream of starting a travel planning business.
I might find some other job in the travel industry – maybe with a travel agency, tour company or travel website or publication.
I might teach business or legal English to attorneys overseas.
I might go back to the law school development world in a different role.
I might do something that hasn’t even crossed my mind yet.
So while I am absolutely terrified about the uncertainty that I now face, I am incredibly excited as well.