Why Dropping Out Was The Best Decision I Ever Made


At the end of 2006 I was a wreck.

I was bowed down by financial commitments, a huge workload and deadlines. I felt time poor and hugely burdened by household chores. I also felt like I was drowning in the advice, advertising and admonishments the modern world sprays at every consumer, like a police riot squad using water cannons against G20 protesters.

At the time, I thought things were relatively normal. Just a career girl getting on, up the ladder one hard-won rung at a time. All my friends were similarly exhausted, similarly shining at their jobs. Same old, same old.

In hindsight I see there were a series of wakeup calls. I’m so grateful that I finally heard one, or the echo of one. Whatever. I changed my life. I walked the plank and jumped into my dream.

Some of the events that led up to the big career dropout included:

  • My mum, after a party with all my glittery successful friends, saying in kind of sad wonder: “Having a career these days just sucks the life out of you, doesn’t it? Look at all your friends, so intelligent and funny and beautiful but they’re all in their 30s with no kids. All they do is work.
  • Reading yet another “lifestyle” article and feeling like I just couldn’t cope with any more advice. When do you get a spare moment when there’s so much to do?And how soon til you die an agonizing death because you didn’t floss, do thirty minutes of exercise a day, eat five serves of fruit and vegetables a day, tofu once a week to protect against breast cancer, salmon once a week to ward off Alzheimer’s, five superfoods, low fat, low carb, low GI, cardio, stretching, weight-bearing exercise, yoga, boot camp, mixing up your routine, sticking to a routine, meditation, eight hours sleep (always at the same time), 30 minutes of sunshine while staying out of the sun to avoid premature wrinkles and skin cancer, steam cleaning your soft furnishings to kill dust mites, slow food, counting food miles, eating seasonal foods, farmers markets, new beauty products to keep you looking young… you get the point. And then there’s the shopping. What’s a girl do when she feels overwhelmed. Well, a new pair of shoes will cheer her up. But a new pair of shoes, bought with a credit card of course, causes blisters and unsightly red marks. Naughty new shoes. Must buy a more comfortable pair. Too tired to cook. Buy takeaway. Pants getting tight. Buy new pants and begin a new exercise routine that cuts into valuable sleep time. Too tired to cook again. Buy takeaway. Scold yourself, slack lazy cow. Try to watch tv over your ballooning stomach. Too tired to exercise, too tired to eat properly, just work, eat, sleep, work, sleep, eat. Maybe meet up with friends on the weekend to complain about work. Procrastinate at work by reading motivational articles like “7 Steps To Enjoy Your Job More” and “10 Ways To Improve Your Life”. And always, in the background, the niggling thought: “how are you supposed to do this and have kids?” The weeks slip by, suddenly it’s your birthday and you’re another year older, feeling another year more ripped off.
  • I realized that I had been complaining for the same thing for more than 15 years – that I never had the chance to participate in a student exchange program and live overseas, learn a new language and experience a new culture.
  • I remembered some advice a former colleague gave me – “if you don’t like something there’s three things you can do about it. You can complain about it, you can do something to change it or you can shut up and put up with it.”
  • I thought about the last funeral I’d been to and I thought about what I wanted people to say at mine, how I wanted to be remembered. And I didn’t want to be remembered as a whiny complainer but as a woman of action who had led a wild and exciting life.
  • I tried to get some sympathy from a terrible bout of post-holiday depression from my Mum, who snapped over the phone: “You can’t be on holidays all the time. Life’s not like that.” Her comment sparked a teenagerish rebellious “well, why the hell not” thought, a thought once thought that just wouldn’t go away.

I drew up a list of pros and cons for going to Asia for three months. When I added “I like soup” to the pro list, to make it look a little longer, I realized I’d made my decision. I just had to convince myself to go. (I really do like soup, though.)

In May 2007 I flew to Ho Chi Minh City on a one-way ticket to take a Teaching English as a Second Language course.

Life As A Dropout

It took a while to unwind from years on the career track, meeting deadlines and pleasing bosses. But after six months in Vietnam, even though I wasn’t thrilled by my teaching job, I realised I was so much happier. I was only working 20 hours a week. I was living in a room in a guest house. I was riding a rented motorbike. I hadn’t read a newspaper in months, no magazines, no lifestyle sections, no glossy catalogues, no “best and worst dressed” lists, no reality tv, no ads pushing me to buy things I didn’t need. I had no stuff, a meagre income, a handful of new friends but my life was so much richer and so much more relaxed. I had time to think. I was experiencing new and interesting things. I was living! I told my Mum I never wanted to work full-time again.

Being more relaxed certainly made life easier. And, once the feeling of carrying the world on my shoulders lifted, all kinds of wonderful things just seemed to happen. I found a new, much more enjoyable job that taught me so much about Vietnam and its history, politics and culture.  Then I met a wonderful man and life got even better.

I eventually slipped up and ended up working full-time again. It seemed like our only option at the time. But now I am aiming to return to the no-career lifestyle. I want our little family to travel slowly, eating the world’s best street food. I want to set off before we have to worry about schooling. Darling Man doesn’t want to go until we have a regular, guaranteed and predictable monthly income. So we’re working on that. It sounds like a pipe dream but I have found so many examples of people who are doing this now.

The challenge does seem a bit daunting. But I tell myself I’ve already done some pretty amazing things. When I was in Vietnam feeling overwhelmed by the traffic and the frustration of dealing with motorbike taxi drivers, I looked at all the little old ladies zooming around on motorbikes, so unfazed by the chaos they were still in their pyjamas. I told myself “if they can do it, I can do it too.” That’s how I feel when I read stories of people who are traveling the world, with or without kids, and financing their travels by working online. I can’t help thinking to myself: “If they can do it, so can I.”

If you are feeling overwhelmed by work and underwhelmed by the career track and consumerism, think about taking a break. Take some time off. Disconnect. Go away without your phone, keep off the internet. You’ll probably hear phantom phone rings and feel an almost-irrestible urge to check emails. But you have to resist. You have to learn how to slow down. The world has gotten too fast. Information overload has become the norm.

When was the last time you lay on the grass and looked at the clouds passing by? When was the last time you watched drops of rain slide down a window, how they splash into puddles? When was the last time you stared into a flickering fire or watched snow fall? Maybe you could spend a few hours sitting in a park and watching the ants.

Life doesn’t have to be so difficult.

(This post is dedicated to my friend, the Lovely Ms L, who is having a crappy time at work right now.)

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9 years ago

By: Barbara

A career girl who dropped out, traveled, found love, and never got around to going home again. Now wrangling a cross-cultural relationship and two third culture kids.

31 Comments

  1. t-cat says:

    May fortune continue to smile on you eatlaughlove. You are leading a wonderful, wild life! What an inspiration you are
    t-cat x

  2. kerri nichols says:

    Oh I love that you have shared how you got to be where you are now.

    I applaud your decision to opt out or is that opt in ? to a better life….

    I love your rejection of the corporate world and your description of external pressures on women…. Keep up the writing and the adventures > I await your next installment.

  3. Sonia says:

    There’s the girl I knew decades ago!!! Good to hear you are back! You are my inspiration- living the life many of us wish we were brave enough to live.

  4. rebecca dowman says:

    Hi Anon,
    Love your blog. Hoping all is well with your world. Best, Rebecca (who almost gave you a freelance job…)

  5. Wow! Thanks for all your lovely comments and welcome to my blog!

    This post has really struck a chord. Several former colleagues have emailed me to say it brought tears to their eyes. Hang in there, lovely friends. Little changes can make all the difference. Good luck!

    Anon

  6. beautiful! i needed to read this today 🙂

  7. gettingready says:

    WOW LOVELY STORY!!

  8. Amy says:

    Beautiful post! We are planning the same sort of thing. Maybe we will one day meet up in Asia!
    Amy recently posted..10 Reasons for Long-Term Travel With Children

  9. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Amy, dropoutdiaries. dropoutdiaries said: Why dropping out was the best decision I ever made http://bit.ly/fc8hd9 […]

  10. ayngelina says:

    I can really relate to this post. I had a great career but it was sucking the life out of me and I felt my ambitions for happiness slowly slipping away.
    ayngelina recently posted..Are you ready for bigger- bolder bacon goodness

  11. Nancie says:

    I left the corporate rat race back in 2000. Teaching is a lot less stressful in many ways, although it still has its moments. Now, I am getting ready to leave the teaching rat race…haha. No idea what I will do other than hang out with Indy (my kitty cat) in Chiang Mai. Don’t really care at the moment.

    Thanks for posting this. Had an email yesterday saying I have to provide copies of my passport showing that I was back in country “on time” from semester break. I am pretty ticked at the moment, and prepared for battle. Chiang Mai here I come!

  12. Peter says:

    Excellent post. Both my wife and I left the corporate world in 2009 and do not have any thoughts of ever going back. Our lives are certainly richer without all the riches. No stress, no sickness, no worries. We certainly have seen a drastic change for the better in our lives.

    Every day we take in life, not let the world take it from us. Cheers!
    Peter recently posted..Foto Friday – Cafayate- Argentina

  13. Andrea says:

    Good for you! I loved reading all the details of things that influenced your decision.
    Andrea recently posted..Inspiring Travellers Turns One!

  14. wandergurl says:

    This is very inspiring 🙂 I plan to do this too, in about two years (there’s this little thing called debt that I have to deal with first…). It’s lovely to hear stories from people that have done it.
    wandergurl recently posted..lovedesignlife-For all of us lonely hearts who patiently or

  15. Krista says:

    I love this so much. 🙂 I’ve been wrestling with naysayers a lot this year, but am learning to drown out those negative voices and live life as beautifully as I can. This weekend that meant staying home and doing only things that made me happy: reading, watching movies, going hiking, baking and eating, lots of Earl Grey tea, lots of sleep. It was heavenly. 🙂

    • The Dropout says:

      Living life beautifully sounds like a wonderful ambition. I’m going to try to do that too, although I seem to always go for the adventurous option.
      Try not to let other people’s negativity wear you down.

  16. Rease says:

    Great post! I realized at 21 that I hated my job. I was graduating college in one of the WORST years for jobs (2009) and I didn’t care. I quit, traveled, find a low paying but totally fulfilling job and started saving for my next trip. I’m so glad you decided you are worth it and your life needs to be lived!
    Rease recently posted..Warning- Do Not Lick the Screen

    • The Dropout says:

      Hi Rease, I was quite a bit older than 21 when I dropped out! I’m glad you made the right call for you. Life does need to be lived!

      This post has inspired so many people. I’m so pleased to report that the Lovely Ms L, who I dedicated this post to, went out an found herself a new job. She’s so much happier as a 9-to-5er than she was as an 8-to-8er.

  17. FutureExpat says:

    Wonderful post! I think you really nailed the reasons why so many people yearn for an untethered life.

    I’m a bit on the opposite spectrum from you — I had my kids relatively early (23 for the first), and was always annoyed with myself that I hadn’t taken some time for adventure first. Now they’re grown and our adventure is starting as soon as we can sell our house.
    FutureExpat recently posted..Comment on 10 Steps to The Global You by FutureExpat

  18. WORD. Same here! I was in a company that was growing fast, would have been a high exec by now. But I never had time for anything and I was always too tired to be fun or active. It literally drained the life out of me. I’m back to my old ways and will literally be poor and work at mcDonalds if I have too before going back to a job like that.

    PS It’s not a pipe dream. If you keep working towards it, it will become reality. Trust me, I’m almost there myself.

  19. Go for it and stick through to the end. Working 50-60hrs a week only to talk about your JOB on the weekend simply sucks.

  20. Only just seen this post – better late than never! 🙂 There’s always a way. We quit our careers when we were young (early 20s) after finishing uni, getting the nice car, nice house, loads of credit / debt – and then thought, ‘Is this it? The rest of our lives?’ Sold up after 4 years in house and career and we ran away. There’s life outside of careers. We’re still going 8 years later – AND HAPPY! 🙂
    You’ll find a solution so you can do what you want to do.
    Julia
    Turkey’s For Life recently posted..Turkish Food- Honey- Nuts and Kriko

  21. […] Popular Post Why Dropping Out Was The Best Decision I Ever Made – Another early post, which dropped into the blogosphere with barely ripple. Somehow, it got […]

  22. I’m also transitioning from a 9-5er to a happier, better life. Loved happening upon your post- just more affirmation that it can be done!
    Melissa Banigan recently posted..The secret to happiness

  23. Work Life balance… sadly for many there just is no balance and it’s not been helped with recessions & downturns that companies continue to ‘squeeze assets’ even more. Employees are expected to take on more and more… where’s it gonna end?

    I’m ready to clock out and head off to Thailand next May – I just know how much richer our lives will be with no stress and no worries… just positive experiences!
    World Traveller recently posted..The Cancun Carnival, Celebrate with The Locals

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