Go Quit Your Job and Live Your Dream! (Well, not exactly.)


Today, May 24, 2012 marks the one-year anniversary that I left my job to move to Northeastern Turkey. There is a rising trending culture in America that is very much oriented around: “Quit your job! Live your dream! Meet your full potential in your own special way! XOXO!”

I am one of the culprits of this culture. Anything you read on my blog will be about how I left everything and started all over to follow a dream. And in many ways, I think everyone should have that amazing feeling, at least once, of walking away from something that really isn’t that good for you, and instead, doing that one thing you have always wanted to do. But actually, speaking from the other side, and even loving what I am doing now, I believe more than ever that this is not what I would advise for most people as the first course of action.

Here’s why I left and this is how I would have done things differently.

I left because my job was the very deadly combination of incredibly inspiring and ultimately stifling. This is the typical working cocktail of most non-profits (including the three I have worked at previously, and the work places of many of my friends. There is an absolutely inspiring mission and direction, but operations are rife with your standard dysfunctionality, favoritism, and workplace politics).

After exploring our dissatisfaction, disillusionment, and all potential alternatives, the light bulb blinks bright: why don’t I start my own company! I will design websites, I will blog, I will teach myself programing, I will farm organic cheese, I will start a honey tasting company in Northeastern Turkey that supports women entrepreneurs!

I talk to many young people who want to start their own companies, and they tell me about the need for a flexible schedule, the need to rule their own roost – to be their own boss, work in their underwear, establish a work life balance, never have an annoying unproductive conference call again!

These are all legitimate feelings, and not one day since I have left to blaze my own honey road have I looked back. However, do consider this.

1. When you start your company, every single client becomes a boss to which you are accountable. The public who love to write emails with clear ideas on how you SHOULD do things, the self-appointed mentors who just want to help you with boats of criticism and zero positive feedback, the bureaucracy of governments, competitors, other firms, legal, accounting and whatever have you – in some way – they are all people that demand respect, patience, and an even-headedness far more than anything a single boss would ever require.

2. Sure you can work in only your underwear, but if I could have a lira for the number of days I have left my house for eggs, and ended up in a mayor’s office, or a governor’s office, or a hotel manager’s office, I would be able to pay this month’s heating bill. You always have to be ready for anything when you are fighting for your brand, your baby, and your vision.

3. When you have your own company – it is you. There is no separation. Maybe there should be a separation, I don’t know, and I don’t have time to care! The company represents you, your ideas, your values, your brand, your culture, the way you approach the world, and your team.  The company becomes you, and you will do what it takes to make sure that representation is loyal to your vision.  That means 9-5 is an absolute joke. I have never worked more in my life. The lows are so deep, they make the Grand Canyon feel like a toy castle moat. The highs are so high, you can call them rocky mountains.

4. As for conference calls? You have so many more unnecessary meetings than you could ever hope for! Sometimes you have to do them, sometimes you don’t. But the great news, is if you are lucky enough to work with people you love – at least the meetings with them are jolts of energy that are very far from annoying or unproductive.

It’s likely when you quit to start that company, most of the things you were running away from – the bureaucracy, the politics, the favoritism, the long hours, the inflexibility – they’re even more prominent when you are all on your own building something something for the first time. So maybe you’re like me, and you want to quit because you needed to build something great, to create something meaningful, to challenge your brain and body fully and completely…those are actually pretty good reasons to quit, but leaving shouldn’t be our only option. We should be getting that kind of stimulation from our existing work places. Because they have already gone through all of the crap of becoming a 501 c3 and gained their government clearance to sell food products.

So what would I have done differently?

As much as I love Balyolu, it was in many ways a final choice for me. It is a choice I adore with my heart and soul. And it is a choice that has taught me more than any degree or promotion. But what I wish for my generation is this: instead of rallying everyone to quit their jobs because they are unhappy, I think we need to be demanding that our leadership support creativity, exploration, vision, and self-direction IN the workplace. How can we make employment for young people a greater experience of growth, development, and fulfillment? We need to ask ourselves this, and vehemently request this from our institutions and workplaces. And I am not talking about an elimination of b*$ch work…since starting my company, I have filled out more spreadsheets, reports, budgets, and presentations than I could have ever dreaded. But I get to be part of a whole incredible process of making something that is my own come alive, so heck yes I will stay up all night with excel. And yes, power point, our dates rock!

Look, we can’t just keep job hopping looking for some semblance of satisfaction. Everyone needs to become more accountable, and we need to start by making work feel meaningful. Young people are so important for EXISTING non-profits, governments, corporations, institutions – they are the fresh vision, the blood, the ideas, and the energy that these entities NEED. Senior management, you are the experience. Don’t be a wall, be a bridge. Cancel your meetings for a week, sit down with your staff, create a safe space, start taking notes, really listen, and then make a plan to actually change the whole way it works. Start with micromanagement. Please. Just put it in the garbage disposal and press “on.” Or if you are in Northeastern Turkey, feed it to the geese.

All this being said, in the end, some of us very well may be just better fit to start and run our own companies – in which case – stop making excuses for yourself and get your arse away from that cubical and into the world. Happy one year anniversary! Xoxo!

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About Cat

Catherine de Medici Jaffee is a National Geographic Young Explorer, a Fulbright Scholar, a Luce Fellow, the Founder of Balyolu: the Honey Road, and a lunatic about honey culture in the Caucasus. Raised on a farm in the Colorado Rockies, Cat grew up loving animals, dirt, and altitude. Her dedication and passion for animals, agriculture, and women leaders has launched her across the world as a Luce and Fulbright scholar: to raise Aigamo ducks in Japan, to research yak trade caravans in Sikkim, and to study rural women’s migration in Turkey. In particular, Turkey - with its fish hung like laundry from windows, its 9,000 species of flowers, and its delicious honey - continues to lure Cat back to its borders. Cat’s love for Turkey, the mountains, agriculture, and women’s leadership blend together sweetly in her new venture Balyolu and her blog Inspired Beeing. You can most frequently find her jumping on a mountain, running from angry bees, cooking in villages, hitching on dirt roads, or joking with Turkcell about her internet woes. Cat is joined by her partner in crime Claire Bangser, artist, photographer, writer, and globe wanderer who believes in creative storytelling as a way to powerfully connect people across mental and physical borders. From working with small-scale women farmers in Mali, to documenting peoples' lives along a 2,000 mile bike tour in the US, she finds that every person (and bee) has an important story to tell and much wisdom to share (speaking of Wisdom, Claire just published her first book, Ride Somewhere Far. Check it out on our Link Roll). These days, you're most likely to find Claire upside down, yodeling from a mountaintop, making tragic mistakes in Turkish, or eating meat for Cat.

Posted on May 23, 2012, in Business, Culture, History, youth and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Merhaba Cat,
    Blog’unu ilgiyle izliyorum. Çok güzel yazıların ve düşüncelerin var.
    Bu metinleri Türkçe olarak da yayınlamanı çok isterim. Senin dünya görüşünden ve fikirlerinden etkilenecek çok insan olacağına eminim.
    Yolun açık olsun, başarılar.

    Hasan/Eylem/Ozi

  2. A very lucid and candid introspection Cat. Thank you. You have worked so hard for your dream and deserve every morsel of praise that comes your way. But most of all that in one year’s time you are able to say that you are still fulfilled. Bravo!

  3. I think you’re right about working for yourself… It’s ultimately more work, but the satisfaction of doing something from start to finish for your benefit is what makes the difference.

  4. Reblogged this on travelwyse.

  5. I have nominated you for a very Inspiring Blog Award. The nomination is at http://davidherbert.me/2012/08/09/a-most-inspiring-award/

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