How I Found The Courage To Quit My 9-5

Guest post by Mike Felber

So here I am, sitting at Starbucks on a beautiful fall day…

Still warm enough to enjoy being outside, but the air has a cool crispness to it that makes it feel just right.  I’m just sipping my ice coffee and writing this.  I feel perfectly relaxed and stress free.

The funny thing is, I shouldn’t feel that way.  After all, I have absolutely no income right now for the first time since I was 15.

Just about a month ago today, I resigned from my job.  That’s right, I resigned from my job without another lined up, or even a well-defined plan.  If you know me, you would think I’m joking with you.  I stress out over work and the thought of not working, more than I cared to admit.  But yet here I am…. so maybe I should share a little bit about my journey; where I’m headed and how I got here.

Right after college, I took what I call a rest. 

I wanted to continue bartending full time while taking a year to just relax and experience things, before plunging into a career.  I just wanted to party and have fun.  After about 6 months that lost its luster, and I began to search for a job.  Through one of my best friends, I ended up landing a job in the proposal department of a now fortune 15 company.  I was so excited to have my first “big boy” job.  I didn’t know it then, but that one entry level job was the launching point for my career.

From my entry level job – thanks to a merger – I landed in Account Management.  I managed multi-million dollar clients in my book of business.  I grew confidence in myself and my abilities and became someone who was given our problem child clients to fix.  I also helped other staff and mentored them as well.  After getting a bit burned out with such “happy” clients, I ended up in training and development.

I loved being in Training and Development.  I loved making complex things easier for people and finding new ways to teach them and get them to learn.  I was able to be consultative and strategic, solve problems, and make things better for people.  I was truly in my element.

Unfortunately for me, I was severely underpaid and my boss was looking for me to relocate to the mid-west, something I had no desire to do.  Fortunately for me, a colleague I had worked closely with on projects had a position open on her team and was eying me for the position.  Plus it paid 20k more than I was making a year, so I took it.

Looking back, I truly think this new job was the beginning of my journey to the path I was meant to be on. 

I was one of the business owners for an application used by our clients.  The job used my business and technical knowledge of the very complex and specialized industry I worked in, but the hours were brutal.  I’m talking sometimes 60 hours or more per week.

The company didn’t budget for enough resources for the department. I was one of two business people that could answer questions, provide demonstrations for clients, create provide training to internal staff, and provide support to issues that were discovered/experienced in the system. Plus, every other month there was always the release call I had to dial into at 3am on Saturday.  Most of the time something went wrong so I was on the phone till at least 3-8am.

I began to feel stressed out and exhausted all the time.

I would come home, pour myself a drink, and mindlessly plop myself down in front of the TV.  I had no energy to do anything. Often times I had to turn my laptop back on and continue doing work that night just to keep up. I didn’t like making plans during the week and on my weekends. I just wanted to relax and barely do things because I was just so done from the whole week.

The sad part is, I’m pretty sure I felt this was what life became when you started making more money.  People in my life kept saying, well you are beginning to make more money now, and the more money you make the harder things are.  I remember thinking that was a bit ridiculous people had that perception, but these were some of my trusted friends as well as some of my colleagues at work.  They couldn’t be wrong, right?  Especially since some of my colleagues were Directors or VPs.

So I continued trudging ahead, until almost all my energy was gone.

I became burnt out and began looking for jobs outside of the company, but couldn’t find anything that I felt would be any better.  I was convinced it was the position I held and had to figure a way out of it.  Things had gotten much worse when my boss accepted another position in our company. I got left with her responsibilities as well as mine, with no replacement on the horizon.

Just when I thought there was no hope, my old boss tossed me a life-preserver.  She had an opening under her working in product management.  I interviewed and the job paid me about 10k more.  What an added bonus, an escape and more money!

In this job, I would supposedly have total creative freedom, and find ways to make our company’s websites more innovative and a better experience for everyone.  Sounded right up my alley… until I found the job was not that at all.

There I was again, working crazy hours and feeling miserable. 

This time the feelings were overwhelming.  I would wake up every day with my head buzzing with anxiety.  I would fearfully dread even going to work, and even felt like I could throw up.  I had to pep talk myself into going to work every day, and somehow still kept going as if this is how things were supposed to be.  I even remember looking in the mirror wondering what happened to me.

What happened to that energetic go-getter who was always on the top of his game. What happened to my energy and drive?  I felt so defeated and disappointed in myself, and thought there was something wrong with me.  It was shortly after that look in the mirror that something changed.

I flew to the Midwest to have a meeting with my boss.  She and I are friends, so being around her helped me feel slightly better.  We talked out some ideas and did things I liked to do workwise, she vocalized how she was also unhappy but felt together we could make changes. I thought she was right.  She made me feel like this was manageable, would change, and I would be happy again.  I flew back home to Rhode Island feeling still mentally drained but more determined.

The drive to my office the next day was the universe giving me a wakeup call that I desperately needed. 

I’m a believer in signs, and while I was flying home the day before, I had asked for a sign if staying with my job was the right thing to do.  I got up and started my usual pep talk with myself.  This time I was saying it’s going to be a good day, no more pessimism, we are going to be the change!  I was going to make this a great day.

So to start my great day, I was going to reward myself with my favorite iced coffee from the coffee shop I passed on the way to work.  I waited in the drive thru, and when I drove up to place my order, there was a sign posted that said, “Sorry for the inconvenience, we can only accept cash at this time.”  I rarely ever carry cash, and had none on me.  Disappointed, I figured I would settle for the cafeteria coffee, as gross tasting and unsatisfying I knew that was.

When I finally got to the cafeteria, and got my coffee, someone managed to knock the scolding hot coffee all over my hand.  I decided after that and a great deal of swearing, it was time to abort my mission for coffee.  I then tried to snag breakfast and that adventure proved just as fruitful.  I went to order my favorite omelet and apparently the grille was not working.  So in the end, I left the cafeteria with a fresh burn and two breakfast items I settled on, OJ and a bagel with cream cheese.

Still feeling determined, I docked my laptop in its docking station and turned it on.  That’s when I got what I would affectionately term as the blue screen of death.  Rather than get frustrated and want to throw my bottle of OJ, the oddest thing happened.  It’s as if a light turned on.  I just stared at my bright blue screen, and thought my computer doesn’t workNothing about this is working.  This job isn’t working.  All day all I have done hasn’t worked and I’ve had to compromise and do things I don’t want, and I am miserable.

Somehow, staring at that screen gave me the epiphany that seems so obvious now looking back.

It was at that moment I decided that I needed to talk to someone.  I ended up seeing a great therapist. She helped me realize that the situation I was in was completely unhealthy and unsustainable.  The issue for me was I still had to go to work every day.  I felt like I had been unplugged from the matrix, or seen the wizard behind the curtain; there was no going back to the way things were.  I even looked around wondering how everyone else was just doing this and going along as if this was normal.

I did reach a breaking point though.  I was working on a project that I was literally 8am-12am every day for a week.  Each day I came in, the project manager or team I was working with kept making massive changes every day.  So all of the work I did the previous day meant nothing.  I was so angry, tired, and frustrated, I just didn’t have it in me.  I just felt numb an apathetic.

I remember midway through that week, I was driving home from work and the song Everyway by Circa Survive played on my iPhone. I’m not the best at hearing or listening to the lyrics of a song, but somehow it’s like I just became tuned into the song.

I started to cry.

And not just sobbing, I burst into full on tears and could not stop.  I knew at that point it was time to go to my doctor’s office.  The next day I got an appointment, and when the nurse practitioner asked me what was wrong, I began to burst into tears while talking to her.  She told me within 5 minutes that I needed to be written out of work for at least 3 weeks.  My leave began that day.

My first two days on leave were spent feeling exhausted, constantly napping and falling asleep on the couch watching TV.  I felt like I was getting over being sick.  On day 3, I got some energy back and started to go out and do things.

I started to enjoy my time and feel happy again. 

Gone was my anxiety, depression, and feelings of constant fatigue.  I felt like a whole new person.  My friends and family were all telling me I was just like my old self again.  Like the self that existed 4 years plus ago.  I felt like I was finally enjoying life.

Long story short, I gave my two weeks while on leave after getting a job at a competitors.  I finally felt free from the shackles of my old job and felt like I was finally taking my life in the direction I wanted.

When I started my new job, I loved my new company’s culture and employee-centric workplace.  However, about 3 months into the job I started to wake up feeling oddly stressed out and full of anxiety again.  This time however, there were no major stressors at work that I felt should prompt this.

It was really quite confusing.  I began to notice I was really apathetic with work.  I am someone who has always had a very solid work ethic and have been lauded for it, so this was not me.  I felt guilty that I felt so apathetic; I just didn’t care.

After a few weeks of feeling this way, I woke up one morning feeling the happiest I had ever felt in forever. It was so weird that I remember wondering what I had dreamed about.  Before I had fully woken up, the thought “just resign” came out loud and clear.  For a moment, I accepted that as what I should do and needed to do, as if it was absolutely right, no question.  Then I became fully awake, and the logical part of me mounted its defenses and quickly shot that down as an idea.

“How can I just resign with nothing else lined up?”

“You can’t just resign!”

“How are you ever going to get another job?!”

…and other thoughts designed to protect me.  For a while, I agreed with my logical side and continued on, still waking up stressed and depressed every day.  That worked for a week.  Then that pesky little resign thought came booming back into my mind, every time I questioned why I continued to work in a job I was so apathetic about.

I still wasn’t ready to accept resigning as an option, so I hopped back to my old way of doing things and started job hunting. I searched for training and development jobs all over the place, and was quickly turned off by how corporate the job descriptions were after reading them for a few minutes.  As I went to put my iPad down, the stray thought came into my head: why don’t you search for jobs that match your strengths rather than just searching for what you think you should be doing.

I had actually just taken a strength finder test at work, and used my top 5 strengths (which were very accurate) to do a search.  I decided to search for jobs that use empathy, development, individualization, and communication (I know, it’s only 4, but strategic didn’t really fit into this mix).  That’s when Google introduced me to a job I didn’t know much of anything about;

Life Coaching.

I spent the next four hours just reading and researching life coaching.  I felt driven, motivated, and so interested.  In fact, I was so immersed and interested I only thought I had spent an hour or so researching, not four!

I then remembered a former coworker of mine ended up going into this field, so I picked her brain on it.  It was funny to learn how similar her journey/experience with work was so similar.  It truly inspired me and made me feel not alone.  I continued to research the field and began to network with other coaches as well.

I also figured, if this was something I wanted to do, why not work with a life coach? Which I am continuing to do.  After all, I figured it was a great way to get into the field, gain some experience/help from someone knowledgeable to achieve my goal, and if I was going to be a coach, I wanted to show others I too had made this investment and it paid off. That’s when I took the leap of faith and signed up with Dan!

Now back to the job front.  The feelings of resigning just kept bubbling up.  Still to this day can’t explain it, but it just felt as if it was the right thing to do. Somehow I knew that it would all work out for me if I did.  It was as if someone had travelled from the future and told me, hey just do this and it will all work out, I’ve seen the future for you and it’s great once you do!  That’s the kind of certainty I felt.

It definitely caused two parts of me to battle each other, my ‘logical’ side who just couldn’t accept that was even an option, and the part of me that just overwhelmingly knew it was right.  I chatted with some of my closest friends, and they basically all agreed that resigning was a good option for me (no one would directly say it, since I think they didn’t want to be culpable should anything not have worked out).

Just like I did at my previous job, I asked the universe to give me a sign.  Basically I said;

“Alright universe or whatever helps guide me in my life, I have this strong feeling to resign and I’m afraid to do so.  It goes against everything I would normally do in my life, but feel so strongly that it’s the right decision.  Can you just give me a sign?”

A few days after asking, I was on my way up to New York to visit my close friend for a BBQ.  I was driving up with my best friend Kerri (who knew my whole situation) and had even told her I asked for some kind of sign a few days prior to our NY trip.  During the BBQ, I was chatting with my friend Kelly about my job and how I was feeling.  Then I asked what she thought if I just resigned.  As I said it, her cousin walked into the room and Kelly started to laugh.

She told me I had great timing and asked her cousin if she wanted to take that question.  I learned her cousin had actually done just that a few months earlier.  She’s a few years younger than me and worked in the financial sector.  She began to tell her story and it was so similar to mine it was crazy.  I felt like I was listening to my own thoughts most of the time she was speaking. Through sharing her own experience, she touched on pretty much every way I felt, addressed all of my fears, and told me it completely worked out for her.

I barely had to ask her anything.  It was if I had shared everything with her prior to our conversation, and she came prepared to answer it.  Once we stopped chatting, my friend Kerri turned to me and said, “OK, so that’s a sign, you know that right? She literally addressed every concern you had without you asking, that was crazy!” She was right, and it was enough of a sign for me.  This happened on a Saturday, and I gave my two weeks’ notice that Monday.

So here I am, writing this on a beautiful fall day at Starbucks. 

I’m unemployed and trying to figure out what my next move is.  I’m working on becoming a powerful coach and pursuing things that make me feel happy.  I’ve just started my journey and am trying to figure out where it leads, and letting life help take me there.  I feel unbelievably calm and so certain it will all somehow work out for the best.  Let the journey begin….


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