One of the most important observations that Peter Drucker established is that it takes more than a paycheck to satisfy a knowledge worker. We're nearing the end of an era where people work primarily to collect a paycheck, and have entered an era where people expect to find personal satisfaction from their work.
A bit of a tall order for a company to fulfill, don't you think? If you've built a company from the ground up, then your desire to see the company succeed will keep you going through a tough period. If you're directly responsible for saving people's lives, you might be motivated day in and day out for years, even in the absence of a paycheck (like my mother in law). But if your primary contribution is getting people to buy more from you than from your competitors, or finding the perfect shows to recommend to customers, or figuring out ways for Facebook or Apple or Amazon to make more money, you might enjoy your job. You might even enjoy working on complex problems with interesting people. But its difficult for me to believe that you or I could be very satisfied with our job for years and years and years.
Which is why I've come up with a unique solution to 21st career maladies that is not unique at all. Work really hard at your job, get your finances in order and quit. And while you don't have a job, try to create and add value to the world in ways that you couldn't when you had a full time job. And when your funds start to run low, start looking for a job again, where you can wholeheartedly direct your energy to solving problems for other people. Rinse and repeat.
Why don't regular people quit?
Serial entrepreneurs will sell their businesses, or the business will go under, or the idea will completely flop, so the broke (or newly wealthy) entrepreneur will go back to work. Even if they go back to a cushy salary and a great job, its only a matter of time before their wheels start churning, and they get enough money to quit again.
Professional athletes quit (though they usually go broke in the process). Politicians quit (at least for the campaign season), and professors quit ("sabbatical").
If all those people quit, why can't teachers, computer programmers, financial analysts, and directors of marketing quit?
I posit that there are three main obstacles that prevent people from quitting more often. The first is that it is difficult to break the dependence on paychecks for financial security, the second is that we fear that quitting is forever, and the third is that we have a desperate need to create.
People gain an incredible security in knowing without a doubt that the next paycheck will come. My Father-In-Law is an on again, off again welder. He earns an hourly rate nearly double that of the union welders, but he doesn't know if his next paycheck will come.
Security is like that. Even if its not real. You could lose your job. Fifteen percent of my colleagues lost their jobs a while back. Most of them were able to find new jobs within 2-3 months. Some within 2-3 days (seriously).
Still, many people need the security of a paycheck because without a constant influx of cash, they will soon find themselves broke. One third of households earning more than $75K and one quarter of those earning more than $100K self report that they are on the edge financially.
If I told you that breaking the paycheck to paycheck cycle could yield the freedom to quit your job without anything specific lined up, would that motivate you to pay off your debt? What if I told you that you could payoff six figures of credit card debt in four years, build up a healthy emergency fund, and take being laid off from your job as an opportunity to build a business you've dreamed of? Would you do it? Here's a guy who is doing that now.
For those of you with a nice cash cushion and good financial habits, the thought of losing a paycheck is nerve wracking because we know eventually the cash will run out. Eventually, we will need an influx of cash again, and its not always obvious where we will draw that cash infusion. Still, your ability to make money in the future isn't going to dissipate into thin air, or if it does, you're no more screwed than the rest of the country.
My personal opinion on this matter, is that taking control of your finances, and especially reducing your spending is the most important thing you can do to break your dependence upon a paycheck. If you want to take a break from work, this is a must, and if you want to be an entrepreneur, this is a double must (because let's be honest, you'll pour all your money into your business for a long while).
Quitting isn't forever
The corporate world can be brutal, and for those of us in technology sectors, we fear that not getting back in that world again will leave us far behind. But its simply not true. Yes, technology will evolve at a breakneck speed, but C++, Java, SQL and NoSQL aren't going anywhere in the next six months or a year. Your ability to frame a business question as a math problem will be even more valuable in 20 years than it is today. The fact that you use principles of uncertainty rather than principles of certainty to do your job isn't going to change.
Stepping off a career ladder for a while to do some self reflection, to work with a non profit, to lead your kid's scout troops for the summer doesn't have to be a devastating career move. You won't start over at the bottom of the career ladder. Even if you change career paths, you will still be able to market yourself as experienced and not a beginner if you choose to do so.
In some senses, it would seem that if you drop out of the workforce for 10-15 years that you really will have to start all the way over. I certainly won't expect to come back to a BI career in 10 years and still have relevant technical skills. But I have gained enough transferable skills that I think its reasonable for me to "reinvent" myself as a mid-career professional, especially if I manage to keep some semblance of a career going during those years.
I know a lot of people think that I'm crazy to think that, but I don't think I'm crazy. I honestly think that excellent self knowledge, an ability to leverage my persistent strengths, and high quality self-marketing will help me to launch Career 2.0 at about the same level that I'm leaving my career now (with plenty of time to make it to the C-Suite).
We desperately need to create
I think its great that we live in a society where we can build businesses and cities and art, but I also think that its okay for us to create things and not get paid for them. Would you like to create a counseling program to help impoverished drug addicts? You're not going to get paid. Do you want to help single moms shake their dependence from government programs by providing financial, career and life coaching? You're not going to get paid.
Maybe, you just want to build a beautiful garden or a remodel your house or create a wooden rocking chair for your grandma. Go ahead! Go Crazy! Nobody is going to pay you for that though.
I'm not saying its bad to direct your creative nature towards making money, I think that's just fine. I also think its fine to create without the immediate need to get paid. This is how many non-profit and for-profit endeavors are started. These things come to life when the person feels free to create something great without needing to get paid now or in the future.
Maybe, if you quit, you'll become really lazy. Maybe, you'll stop being creative and start watching a bunch of Netflix and reading trashy novels. Well, then its probably better for you to go back work- to be useful as something other than a consumer. But I think that many people would use the opportunity to reflect on how they can enjoy God more, how they can love their family and others better, and how they can best use their unique talents.
Quitting is good for employers too!
But again, when you aren't working for a higher purpose, or you believe that your talents could better be directed at the higher purpose you may have trouble maintaining that engagement.
I think you should fight through a few days or a few weeks like that, but if your engagement level slips for months, it might be time to quit. Do you think an employer would rather have this conversation, "Hi boss, I'll be resigning in three months because I no longer feel I am able to give my best at work. I want to train my replacement and then take some time to figure out how I should move forward in my career." or "Hey associate, you've performed at a mediocre level this year. Here's a 2% raise. Keep up the mediocre performance." I'm going to guess the former is a better conversation.
As much as employers want to motivate their employees, employers know that the mission of the company doesn't rest on the hearts of all of their employees. That's why its good for employers when their employees quit. You were becoming a bad employee anyways.