In September 2021, Evelyn Lai sat at the brown teak desk in her childhood bedroom and stared out the window. She felt as uncertain as she felt two decades ago.
“I remember sitting at this same desk when I was applying to universities,” said Ms Lai, 36.
Now she was recalibrating her life. Feelings of burnout had left her crying on a street in downtown Austin, Texas three months earlier. It was more than a year into the pandemic, on her day off, which she had spent with her mother and sister. She was eventually overwhelmed by a panic attack.
Ms. Lai worked 50 hours a week as a pediatric nurse practitioner at a community health clinic in southeast Austin. Some of her patients at the clinic, which Ms. Lai said served a mostly Latin American population, did not have access to clean water. Some had family members who had been picked up by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Some had lost loved ones to Covid. As Ms. Lai walked past people drinking and laughing at a trendy Austin cocktail bar, she reached a breaking point. Her mother put an arm around her and she struggled to catch her breath.
“It was heartbreaking to see this and then to think about the world I would return to work in,” Ms Lai said.
So instead, she went home. After considering a career as a writer for pharmaceutical companies, she realized she wasn’t ready to give up seeing patients. Four months later, she started a job as a pediatric nurse practitioner at a Seattle hospital with caring colleagues and a less busy schedule. She now mainly spends her free time in nature, walking along a local river and in the mountains.
For many of the more than 50 million people who have quit their jobs since the start of last year – a large-scale phenomenon known as ‘The Great Quit’ – the change represented a moment of great personal exploration. . Having finally had a chance to reflect on what matters most, some are now reconsidering their work-life balance. Some have made drastic changes, and others, like Ms. Lai, have discovered a renewed purpose in long-standing goals.
“It took a long time to find this job, or for this job to find me,” Ms. Lai said with a laugh.
Here are some stories of people who have changed their lives and careers and feel more fulfilled because of it.
“I’d rather have freedom than a bunch of stuff in my basement”
On a sunny mid-June morning, Jim Walker, 53, took in the view from the roof of a riverboat, sitting next to a man old enough to be his father. As the boat passed through Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island, Mr Walker recalled recently, the man pointed to Naval Station Newport, where he and his wife had married 65 years earlier.
Mr Walker, an ordained pastor who quit his job in June 2021 to become a tour guide, listened to the man describe his wedding day. “Sometimes people don’t need to hear me speak,” Mr Walker said. “They need an ear to share what’s important to them.”
Mr. Walker began religious work at age 24. But when his Pittsburgh-area church temporarily closed in 2020, he moved his services online and had a little more time to reflect. His most enjoyable experiences as a pastor, he realized, had come when he led congregants on mission trips and engaged in volunteer work. He wanted more freedom.
A new office culture
The last two years have profoundly changed our way of working.
- Job titles: “Team leader anywhere.” “Vice President of Flexible Working.” The rise of remote work has given way to new positions, the sustainability of which has not yet been tested.
- office life: Although cubicles remain largely empty in San Francisco and Manhattan, workers in small and medium-sized American cities have been back for some time.
- Trainees at work: These days, working a summer job can mean walking into an empty office, sitting unsupervised with other interns, and desperately trying to impress managers through video calls.
- Conference rooms: These once boring spaces are being rebooted, with more democratic designs and cozier spaces.
After following through with a longtime desire to become a freelance tour guide, he moved into a room in his brother’s house. Mr. Walker has spent much of the past year on the road, organizing tours in Madrid, Paris, Amsterdam, Hawaii and elsewhere.
“Now I find myself interacting with all kinds of people around the world,” Walker said, “and helping people connect with the things that matter.”
WAS IT WORTH IT? Mr. Walker credits the transition with giving him more opportunities to use the “gifts that I received”. He still uses the skills he honed in the pulpit, but with a new congregation each week. “I had to make sacrifices to get there,” he said. “But I’d rather have freedom than a bunch of stuff in my basement.”
“I could understand what it would be like to be able to make my own choices”
For much of her adult life, Jennifer Padham has followed a familiar script. On weekends, she often attended spiritual retreats, and during the week she put on reality TV shows in a cramped, windowless room, dreaming of the outdoors.
A month before the pandemic hit, she quit her job as an archivist at Netflix and, along with her partner, agreed to watch a friend’s property in the woods of New Hampton, NY Then stay-at-home orders of New York came into force.
“Everything has changed,” said Ms Padham, 41. “I could understand what it would feel like to be able to make my own choices.”
She said she started listening to the plants on the property. Eventually, Ms Padham and her partner purchased the property and plan to turn it into a spiritual retreat center called Mystic Hill.
WAS IT WORTH IT? Mystic Hill is due to open in early 2023, Ms Padham said, and will offer nature walks and yoga and meditation classes. Amid the isolation of the early months of the pandemic and far from the darkness of the studio, Ms Padham found a way to connect to her deeper mission: “to show people that the reality they see around them is perhaps not the only reality. ”
“I think I have found utopia”
In high school, Marlon Zuniga killed time at his convenience store job flipping through tabloid magazines, mentally placing himself in images of vacation destinations surrounded by turquoise water and white sand.
When the pandemic hit, Mr. Zuniga, 37, rarely left his home. He spent hectic hours as a commercial manager in corporate banking, and because he was working remotely, the lines between work and play became blurred. His wife, Maria Kamboykos, 32, who also worked in the bank, felt the same exhaustion. So last spring, they both quit their jobs, let the lease run out on their apartment in West New York, NJ, and adopted a nomadic lifestyle.
As the couple traveled to Vietnam, Cambodia, Singapore and other countries, Mr. Zuniga and Ms. Kamboykos picked up items from different cultures that they planned to bring back to the United States.
WAS IT WORTH IT? “I think I’ve found utopia,” Mr Zuniga said by phone from a bar in Bilbao, Spain.
However, the sabbaticals of Mr. Zuniga and Ms. Kamboykos are expected to end soon; they will settle in Charlotte, North Carolina, where they own an apartment, and re-enter the workforce. But they say they will do so by feeling more empowered about how they structure their lives and with a greater diversity of perspectives.
“I have been transformed”
Daniel Raedel became a therapist because he wanted to help young LGBTQ people make sense of the world. He saw himself younger in the students he met. But as the pandemic progressed and his clients’ mental health issues escalated, Mr Raedel, 31, himself became anxious and depressed. He started waking up feeling terrified and started limiting his food intake.
“I felt like I couldn’t put on my own oxygen mask,” Mr Raedel said, referring to the universal commercial airline guideline to parents in the event of a loss of cabin pressure. “I couldn’t help others with theirs.”
Mr. Raedel quit his job at the University of Colorado at Boulder and opened a small private practice to help his husband pay the bills. But he also took the time to look within. Mr. Raedel tapped into his long-dormant artistic side and enrolled in an MFA program. He also revamped his physical appearance: he bleached his hair, grew his nails and wore dresses. Eventually it became non-binary. (Mr. Raedel uses his pronouns.)
“I had never had, like, a year, to nurture that artistic self,” Mr. Raedel said. “Parts of my identity that were more latent came out. I have been transformed.
He eventually returned to an academic setting, landing a job as a clinical psychologist at Yale University, where he incorporates art into his practice: Mr. Raedel encourages students to bring a pen and paper to doodle during sessions therapy, and trying to drip. water on their skin at home as a way to connect with their bodies.
WAS IT WORTH IT? Mr. Raedel feels better equipped to help students after undergoing his own personal transformation. He is also enrolled in a Doctor of Philosophy program at the University of San Diego focusing on education and social justice, which he says will further strengthen his practice. These days, Mr. Raedel’s oxygen mask fits him just fine.