Quit Your Job

When I resolved to quit my "day job" last year so I could return to freelance writing full-time, a few of my closest friends were flabbergasted. I knew what they were thinking: I was crazy for leaving a decent, stable job with advancement potential in this economy. Actually, their thoughts were probably more along the lines of, "You're leaving your real job to sit at home in your bunny slippers eating bonbons while I'm eating ramen and conserving toilet paper squares???"

Yes, the high unemployment rate is problematic, but that doesn't mean you have to resign yourself to serving your term in a drab, gray cubicle prison. Forget what your friends, your family, and your current co-workers think. Ignore the nagging "inner mother" who whispers about things like retirement benefits and health insurance and not ending up living in a cardboard box and dumpster-diving for McDonald's leftovers. Quitting your job can be worth the risk — even during a recession. Just ask Susie Timm.

Timm is a polished, professional-looking blonde from Phoenix with a radiant glow and a fondness for gourmet eats. Confidence rolls off her Banana Republic cashmere cardigans in waves, and she smiles more than a Walmart greeter — all because she quit her job. Timm was a successful, highly paid bank manager who quickly leaped rungs on the corporate ladder. By 28, she was president of UMB Bank's Scottsdale branch. In early 2009, things changed.

"It was the year that banking lost its luster — not just publicly, but for me personally," Timm says. "It wasn't fun anymore. I went from making great money, getting incentives, always being a national sales achiever, to sitting looking out the window at the freeway wondering what the hell I was doing this for."

Her longtime friend Jay Pizarro pitched the idea of starting a food-centric Web site, and Timm began developing content on her off-hours while still working at the bank. Two months later, she quit her day job to run Foodies Like Us, a social media network that brings foodies together.

"The lesson that I've learned in this is to take the risk," says Timm. "If you're unhappy, why would you stay in a position if you can either start making your own destiny or find another job?"

If you're stuck on those news articles about 10 percent national unemployment or 600 people showing up to apply at Krispy Kreme, relax.

"If you have a trade or a niche, you'll find a job," says Timm. Agreed. I managed to land 12 jobs in one year before my freelancing career, a tidbit my husband never fails to dredge up come tax time. (He did my taxes that year.)

Now, I'm not saying everyone experiencing job dissatisfaction should march into their boss' office and quit today, leaving their wife/husband/kids/pets/potted plants hungry and destitute. I'm not advising the disenfranchised to give up steady positions with decent pay and a solid retirement plan to pursue a lifelong dream of opening a New Age bookshop or becoming a master pastry chef.

Oh, wait. That's exactly what I'm advocating. Then again, I once held 12 jobs in one year, so you might not want to take my advice.

Perhaps restraint is in order, given the turbulence of the national economic situation. Timm suggests a calculated approach that revolves around your worst-case scenario: Imagine the worst that could happen after your job loss. Perhaps you fear going through all of your savings, losing your home, and living in a beat-up 1985 hatchback. Or being forced to work as a fry cook after maxing out your credit cards.

Whatever your disaster scenario, consider how long it would take you to reach that point. That will help in determining whether you can afford to open a business or move into a lower-paying field, says Timm. "If it's going to take five years, take the risk. If it's five months, you should probably try it on the side."

It may seem an imprudent — even selfish — decision to quit your job during a recession, but that doesn't mean it's the wrong decision. For me, it has meant less stress and more freedom, which I value more than wealth and security. Timm found an inner strength and happiness that she might've never realized in her ivory bank tower.

"My biggest fear has been that I won't have a solid income and health insurance," Timm revealed during our interview, over lunch at La Grande Orange. "My husband just lost his job, so we don't have a solid income or health insurance. And I'm the happiest I've been in a long time."

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Wynter Holden
Contact: Wynter Holden