Don’t you want to be alive before you die?
Anthony Doerr, All the Light We Cannot See
I used to work in the offices of a huge global bank. I won’t name names, but you’ve definitely heard of it. I enjoyed my day-to-day work, and as far as banks go, I felt like the pay was fair, the atmosphere was agreeable, and I had a lot of opportunities for moving up.
We had these “Meet the Leaders” events, where we would meet the big leaguers in our department and ask them questions (related or unrelated to work). People asked things like, “If money weren’t in the picture, what would your dream job be?” and “What is your biggest regret?” The answers were utterly heart-breaking.
There were wistful smiles as regional directors talked about teaching high school math, as global managers remembered expired dreams of coaching sports and writing novels. There were uncomfortable comments made by every single one of them— they regretted not spending enough time with family, missing important events in their children’s lives, never being home for their husbands or wives. Then, as if to to quickly bury a point that was becoming a way too personal and anti-ambitious, they followed their comments up with awkwardly cheerful remarks along the lines of “but if I didn’t work so hard, I wouldn’t be where I am today!”
And I wondered… where ARE you today? You make money. You have the respect of those who work for you. But what does that really matter if your passions lie elsewhere, if you don’t have time for the ones you love? What kind of life is that?
A little over a year ago, I quit my job at the bank to stay home with my baby girl, and my family went down to one income. I had been making a decent wage, compared to any other job I had held. I had the opportunity to work as much overtime as I wanted for time and a half. I had just received a promotion and was a very likely candidate for upcoming promotions on my team. I would have gotten three months of paid maternity leave. Some might call me foolish for quitting before my maternity leave. Others might call me foolish for quitting at all. I haven’t looked back once. And if I ever do, all I will have to do is imagine myself 20 years from now, graying under the stress of working 80 hour weeks, dreading retirement because my identity exists in the work I do, busily checking my email on my expensive phone, on my expensive vacation, because I can’t think of anything to say to my family.
I’d rather be camping.