Oh Hey, I Quit My Job
A few years ago I had an idea. I had been noticing that our society in general, but specifically social media, was starting to feel much more polarizing.
It seemed there were less people sharing things for the sake of expanding knowledge and more people who had to assert that their opinions also happened to be the best opinions and if you felt differently you're a dumb dumb.
Now there's definitely some things anyone sensible can agree are intrinsically terrible because of their broad negative impact — hate, nazis, Ronald Reagan, etc — but for the most part the quality or appeal of things at the end of the day are subject to everyone's own specific taste.
Every person is different and should be able to like and dislike different things as they see fit, that’s part of the beauty of the diversity of humanity!
So I had the idea that I would start reframing how I critiqued things (whether food, experiences, music, art, design, etc) to reflect my own personal experience, because that’s all that I could really go on — to no longer frame things as “bad” but instead say "that’s not for me."
The beauty of this is, not only does it allow for multiple viewpoints to exist and for conversations to be more nuanced through people’s personal experiences, it also gave me permission to decide for myself whether I liked something or not.
"That's bad" < "That's not for me"
The ability to frame things as “not for me” gave me my own perspective on what it is that I actually value instead of trying to align to some central viewpoint all of society must revolve around (which will always be biased towards specific types of people).
This became even more magical when I started putting my career experiences in this framing and ultimately that helped me decide recently that the current job I was working simply wasn't for me.
Yet, it was still a very difficult decision. I loved working with some very talented coworkers and the product problem was a very interesting one. Also the current economic environment is not exactly the most friendly for finding a new role and there's always the fear of how people will perceive the decision. Careers are framed as linear ladders that should always move up and forward after all.
Though my career journey has definitely been winding and I’ve been extremely lucky to get to work with different types of companies in differing roles with extremely talented people, I definitely still found myself on a treadmill of sorts — trying to walk a path of growth that I thought the world wanted me to walk instead of fully asking myself: what path do I want to walk?
The best articulation I’ve seen of this recently is a tweet thread by Mel Haasch, where they state "I think its important to believe in a practice, not a career.”
I love this framing because a practice is something you conduct, where a job may or may not fit into it, whereas a job on a career path feels like something that happens to you and the path feels much more preset.
Much like the difference between a board game piece moving along the preset course set before it and an open-world video game character that chooses to go in the direction and path that works best based on what you’re trying to achieve (yes, I’ve been playing the new Zelda game a lot and it shows).
Am I trying to build a career or a practice?
Leaving any job is difficult, especially when things don’t always work out the way you hoped they would, but thinking in terms of a "practice" over "career" has made me more invested in my own sense of what success is for me.
Every experience is a learning experience. Each job can be a way to ask: does this align with my values and further my practice or am I sacrificing my practice to try to become something someone else wants me to be?
I feel this with my most recent experience. I’m very thankful for the opportunity to better understand what I’m looking for and what I’m not (and also get to work with some really amazing designers who I’ll miss very much).
I know I’m definitely in a privileged place to be able to ask these questions in the first place. Mostly because I spent a good portion of the first part of my career saying “yes” to nearly everything that would push me to the next level.
And that’s the thing: a traditional career can definitely help you go far in life, especially as you climb the ladder from a junior position to a more experienced place.
The problem becomes when you start to make your career, portfolio, and resume your entire identity.
When that happens you are ultimately giving up your agency as a practitioner. You're submitting yourself to the assessment of others instead of understanding what it is about your skills and talents you love bringing to the world and might miss out on the people who are looking for and value those things.
Now, there will always be core skills you need to develop to conduct your practice effectively, especially as you’re growing in that practice. You can’t just say “I want to work this way regardless of how anyone else wants to work!” (well I mean you can, it might just mean few people want to work with you).
There's also moments of personal growth and discomfort you need to lean into and it's important not to confuse good challenges with bad challenges (Jessica Harllee wrote a fantastic article on how to understand the differences between them).
However as you start growing your practice and better understanding where things are less about fact and more about opinion, it really does help to ask: “does this align with my practice and with what I want to bring to the world?”
There will never be a perfect job — every company has it’s own problems and benefits — but when you adjust your framing to understand how your practice fits into a job instead of how a job furthers your career, it makes it a lot easier to be okay with saying: “you know what? this isn’t for me.”