“there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” -Shakespeare, Hamlet
My wife was pregnant with our second kid and planning on staying home–still I quit. We had a new mortgage to pay–still I quit. I had no other job prospects–and yes, I still quit. You can too, right now, in four easy steps.
First some background: We’d recently moved to town, and I scored the last teaching job in the district, at an isolated school for kids with severe emotional and behavior problems. When they weren’t sleeping they were fighting. If I wasn’t dodging fists I was trying to wake them up. When they did get engaged in an activity, it was off in a corner on their own. They wanted nothing to do with me. Most days I could have been replaced by a monkey with a pencil dispenser and a pocket dictionary.
This was so far from the ideal vision I had carried in my head when I signed up for my masters in special education three years previous, still high on a post-Peace Corps euphoria.
So I quit. I walked away. One day, sitting with some older colleagues at lunch, listening to them talk of their retirement and feeling my stomach sink (they were just a few years away, while I could still count the distance in decades), I just decided to do it. I quit. I retired, right there on the spot. I’ve never looked back. I’m much happier–and I’m a better teacher.
Here’s the deal. Retirement is a manufactured illusion. Give up the idea. Die to it. It does not exist. Our job is to live life–you don’t retire until you die. You just change activities. My dad retired as a lawyer, and what did he go do? He started teaching. He got a harder job than I had. So I figured I could be retired too, and still “volunteer” at my school. That’s how I got the idea.
It’s all about re-branding.
Step One: I realized that when I retire, I’ll still have to do something from about eightish in the morning until two or so in the afternoon (you gotta have something productive on the schedule to make it until cocktail hour). What would I do? Probably volunteer. Why does that sound so much better? Because when you volunteer, you call the shots. You’re not obligated. People do the hardest things as volunteers and don’t complain, then they go back to their real jobs, which are much easier, and they’re miserable. So I decided, I will be a volunteer.
Step Two: I took on the volunteer mind-set. In the Peace Corps, you learn very quickly that the two-year journey is more about yourself than others. As much as you want to save starving children, dig a well, and stop an AIDs epidemic, most of your accomplishments are personal: using a Turkish toilet; showering with a teacup of water; making it a day without crapping your pants; surviving a taxi cab ride. I thought to myself: would I hate this job if I were a volunteer? And I realized that I wouldn’t. It would be an adventure, a survival story. I would feel good that I was trying to do something. I was waking up everyday with ideas for these kids. I was making little breakthroughs.
Step Three: Create a mantra to remind yourself, following Hamlet’s advice about the power of thoughts. Mantras change thoughts, thoughts control feelings. Mine was: “this is what I do / from 8 to 2.” Or, in the morning, I’d say to my wife, “I’m off to my volunteer position.” Yes, I minimalized my job. I let it go. I gave up and let the work die. I told myself to take on the attitude of retirement.
Step Four: Find a passion. Mine is parenting and music. I shifted my focus from career, to passion. I started a small band. I joined a writer’s group. I focused on my kids. These are my passions. Sure, I would love to work a job that involves my passion, and someday I plan too. But I also like teaching. I like working with kids. Frankly, I’m good at it. It gives me a lot of freedom. It’s a great volunteer position. I just couldn’t muster up the idea that it was my meaning in life. Some teachers can, and they’re great. I need some detachment from the career. Don’t get me wrong. I do my job, and I think I do it well. In fact, since I quit, I believe I’ve become a better teacher.
It worked. A rethinking, or re-branding, of my position in life.
I believe anybody can quit their job. Any job can become a volunteer activity. Waiting tables: you’re serving humanity dinner with a smile, what a better service. Doing any job well, be it a plumber, a banker, or a garbage man, is a gift to humanity. You are a volunteer. The money is essentially meaningless paper that buys the food.
So quit your job. Become a volunteer.
Give Up and Die a little–you’ll be glad you did.