This post is 100% written by a human. (me, obviously.)
After just over 8 years at my current job, I’ve decided to leave. I don’t have another job lined up. In this post I’m going to try and put down some of the reasons behind my decision. It’s a personal decision, so if you’re expecting me to go on about my employer or some workplace drama, prepare for disappointment. I will be trying to avoid mentioning my employer here. There’s certainly a lot of stories to tell, people to thank, and yes, perhaps a few things I could rant about if really pushed, but that’s not why I’m leaving, so it’s not going on my blog!
The first thing I want to say is that I think the decision is mostly based on intuition and feeling, rather than any kind of analysis or logic. There’s not just one or two things I can conclusively point to; it’s more like a combination of many reasons. This also means it’s difficult to explain, even to myself, so bear with me if it seems like I’m not making much sense!
The way I’ve been thinking about it is to separate the “low-level” or short-term reasons from the high-level goals, because both are contributing factors in my decision to leave. By low-level reasons I mean specific things that I want to spend time on in the next 6-12 months, because that’s how long I’m planning to take before returning to work. So let’s start with the obvious short-term reason, which I think is also the main one: I just want a break. I’m tired. I haven’t had a real break from work in the, uh, 17 years since I left university (wait, how many years?!). Now with two children, it’s not as easy to find time to relax and recharge as it used to be, and I don’t get as much sleep as I used to. When my children were born, both times I used up my entire annual leave so I could look after them until they were 3 months old. I don’t think I could have done it any other way. But that means this year, I’ve not had any leave to take since March, which hasn’t helped.
The other short-term reasons are things like personal development, health, spending time on side projects and other interests, refreshing my skills, and taking time to reflect and decide what I want to do next. Typical things that people would do after leaving work, I guess. I plan to make sure I dedicate time to each of these by setting up schedules and routines, and review progress on a regular basis to make sure I’m using the time productively. I’ll go into more detail about this in a separate post sometime.
Of course, I also want to spend time with my family, and this is the first thing I usually tell people who ask. I think this is what most people expect of new-ish parents: that their purpose is to raise their children now, and make the necessary sacrifices to do so. That if I just focus on being a good parent, that’s all I need to do to have a fulfilling life. I think this is kind of true. Nothing compares to how much I love my children. I’d do anything for them. I didn’t really understand what this felt like before becoming a father. However, I think there’s much more to being a good parent than simply spending time with them. It’s more about the quality of that time, being present for them, etc. etc. There are amazing parents who work full time, and I’m sure there are not so great parents who stay home with their children all day.
My children are both already at “school” during the day (infantcare and nursery), so technically I’m not gaining “extra time” with them by not working. So is it a lie to say I’ll be spending more time with them? I don’t think so. I think the evenings with my children will be much more enjoyable when I’m rested and not stressed or thinking about work. Also, we can keep them home whenever we like at this age, which I plan to do at least once a week. It will be nice to have that flexibility. My children enjoy their school, they have excellent teachers and activities, and like playing with their friends. I don’t feel guilty about them spending their weekdays there, even though they are very young.
Another thing I’ve learnt about being a parent is it’s important to look after yourself. I think this is the most underestimated aspect of being a parent that often gets overlooked. If you neglect to sleep, eat properly and take care of your health, that will quickly catch up with you and make it harder to look after your children properly. It’s never worth sacrificing your health for that. So I know that when I’m doing things that are good for my health, it’s also good for my children in the long term.
Finally on the topic of children, I want to set a good example for them. I want to spend my time in ways that improves me as a person, doing interesting things that inspire them, and ideally contributing good to society too. I’m a little concerned that by not working I’ll be giving the impression that it’s OK to be unemployed, so I think it’s important that I show ‘work ethic’ during my break too.
Now onto the high-level reasons for leaving.
Firstly, there is a sense that I want to try something different; to start the next chapter in my life, to move on, to challenge myself, however you want to put it. After 8 years at my current job I do feel like I have stability, and maybe a certain level of familiarity and comfort. I’ve never been one to sit still for too long. Now that I’m in a position to do so, I want to feel the excitement of not knowing what’s next. The kind of feeling I had when I booked my flight to Singapore without having a job, just trusting that things would work out OK. The kind of feeling I had when I left university, being as free as I liked. So I’m kind of forcing myself to be in that situation again, leaving behind the safe job that’s provided for me for so long to experience the thrill of having to figure things out again.
Of course it’s not like I’m taking a huge risk or leap of faith here. I know I’m very privileged that I can afford not to have to work for a while. It would be reckless of me, as a father of two, to quit my job if our situation was not already quite comfortable. But while the financial risks might be quite low, I think there are other kinds of risks. I worry about not being able to re-enter the workplace for example, due to my age and the increasing capabilities of AI. I think the software industry is going to change very quickly over the next year or two.
The second high-level reason is I have a strong feeling that I want to achieve something independently of employment. I don’t know what that will be yet. When I look back on my life, the things I’d consider “achievements” are mostly tied to academic achievements (like graduating from Univeristy) or things I’ve done at work that I’d put on my CV. Of course I’m proud of having moved to Singapore, bought a house, started a family etc. but those aren’t quite the things I mean. I want to do something on my own that makes a difference, whether that’s making a game or app, writing a book, volunteering or starting a business. Something I did on my own to bring others joy, that kind of thing.
The reason above is also one of my biggest fears about my time after leaving my job: I’m afraid of not achieving anything, squandering the free time doing unproductive things. Increasingly I’ve felt like my career is one of the most positive, defining things about my life. Which isn’t a bad thing - it’s meant that whatever is going on in my life, I can at least be happy and proud about my job. People respect me there, so I must be at least somewhat good at it, which gives me self-confidence and reassurance. But in some ways I think this has become a bit of a crutch, and I’m afraid of this overshadowing the other parts of my life. I don’t want my job to define me. But my fear is: what if I’m wrong? What if I don’t achieve anything, and that I’m nothing special without my job? What kind of person will I be without my job propping me up? I don’t know.
And the final high-level reason is that I want to take a break from technology in general. Not completely, but at least doing other things that don’t involve tech. Actually there are two parts to this. The first is that I’m a bit disullisioned with the wave of AI that’s sweeping the industry and everything else. While there are things I love about AI, there’s also a sense of unease and sometimes even nausea that I get from AI-generated content that puts me off the whole thing, especially at the rate that companies are scrambling to push it out. So I want to actively seek out hobbies that aren’t likely to be consumed by AI in the near future. As a stretch goal, perhaps even train in an entirely new skill outside of tech as a side job or backup career in future. I’ve always quite liked the idea of becoming a chef for example. On a yacht. Below Deck, anyone?
The second part of the above is just spending time away from screens in general, challenging myself in new ways and appreciating the beauty of the world that I’ve been missing. So a lot of the things I plan to do don’t involve or at least don’t require computers.
I think that’s about covered most of what’s been on my mind. If I think of anything else, I’ll update this post later. One last thought though: I think that making this break a success will require a lot of self-discipline, and I’m worried that it might get too much. I remember when I left university I took a holiday on my own to backpack around remote parts of Scotland. This was only after a month or so, and I was spending a lot of time alone, and I became almost consumed by introspection. It was a meaningful time, but also quite dark and I’m worried about something similar happening again. I’m much older now, and I have the support of my family, but I worry about the loneliness after losing the sense of purpose, structure and support I get from work. I know I’ll have to consciously make an effort to make new social connections and friends to maintain good emotional health.
Anyway, not wanting to end on a bad note, I’m still very excited about the possibilities for the next 12 months after leaving my job. I’ve never had any regrets when I’ve made similar choices before, and although I might not be able to fully explain all the reasons, I’m still very sure that I’m making the right decision and will have lots of interesting times ahead. Cheers!