Courage to Quit Your Job
Five years ago, I quit my full time job and, in essence, my full-time career in television. Since university, I'd worked in broadcast journalism, starting after my sophomore year with my first internships, including one at "Late Night with David Letterman." I graduated college and worked full time ever since, at three different television stations, directing, editing, writing and producing. I built a "career." I was stable and secure. I was saving my pennies and hard-earned money for... something. I had a bi-weekly paycheck, a really good health insurance package, a retirement plan that I funded generously and some stock shares in my parent company, Disney. I was living and following the path of the "American dream."
Then in the summer of 2006, at the height of my career, with three Emmy-awards on my shelf, I slammed on the brakes. I quit. I gave it all up to travel the world. And I don't regret it one bit.
Networking on the Road
I didn't know what I would do when I "returned." I wasn't sure, but I was open to new things and willing to just see what happened and live in the present. What I didn't realize was I was already working while I was traveling. I remember back in high school learning about something called "networking." Yuck. It seemed so phony and forced. Now networking is all I do. And I love it, talking to people, learning what they do and how they got there.
When I travel, I'm constantly subconsciously "networking" which has landed me random opportunities from working for Turkey's largest media conglomerate, the Dogan Group, to doing research at the University of Cologne, to landing a year-long, location-independent freelance gig doing publicity for an English immersion program based in Madrid.
Working Around the World
There is no way I could just be a tourist in the world for two-and-a-half years. I knew I had to mix it up to prevent boredom and burnout. I crave variety in my everyday life, so why would my life on the road be any different? Yes, of course, the constant change of scenery, culture and people was variety in and of itself, but I knew I couldn't just keep showing up in a new town each week and essentially continue to "walk around the world for a year." I needed to do, ya know, stuff. I needed to immerse myself somehow in society and feel like a part of it.
To start this process, I did different things like a Spanish Immersion program in Costa Rica (Spanish lessons in the morning and yes, surfing lessons in the afternoon) or a two-week, several-hundred mile bicycle trip down the length of Vietnam. But I needed even more structure. I needed... a job.
Now, just the sheer fact that I decided to blog about my trip and also write travel articles to be published elsewhere means that, without realizing it, I was already working. I was trying to make time each week to sit and just write, a very hard thing to do when you are sitting in Rome or Cairo or Hong Kong and there are so many things around you vying for your attention.
Besides my new "day job" as travel writer and photographer, I landed a few other actual jobs around the world.
- Barrista and sandwich maker at a café in Melbourne
- TV producer and reporter in Chile
- Private business English tutor in Istanbul
- Media proofreader in Istanbul
- Actress in American feature film in Istanbul
- Research Assistant at the University of Cologne helping conduct an international survey on airline-airport relationships
- Writer and proofreader at publishing company in Berlin
- Publicist for English immersion company in Madrid
- An Extra in Hollywood
- Pet sitter around the world (Istanbul, LA, Chicago, NYC)
All these part time jobs helped me pay for my travels and, in some cases, I broke even which is also how I was able to travel longer than I expected. But many have asked me how did I find all these jobs? Did I look before I went on my trip? The simple answer is no. I just arrived in a new place with the random idea that I could maybe find work there. In Australia, I spoke the language (sort of), so it seemed like a natural place to find a job other than teaching English. In Turkey, it's all about connections and once I met one person, the ball just started rolling. Besides that, I used persistence, word-of-mouth and friends' connections -- and a lot of smiles.
So, on this adventure, I worked all over and found it to be another great way to "go local." I lived in one place for an extended amount of time. I took public transport (or a bicycle) to work. I had a schedule. I had a paycheck, well, cash. I truly felt like part of the fabric of society. And I actually gained some new skills, but most importantly I made real friends.
Finding Work Back Home
For the most part, I know the "career break" I took has enriched my resume, not subtracted from it. The skills I learned from just traveling the world -- negotiating, planning, organizing, being completely self-reliant -- would absolutely help me in work and life in general. Plus I learned how to parlay my already existing skill-set and journalism background into my current full-time freelance career as a blogger, writer, photographer and video consultant.
Now that I am back: What am I doing? I find this question hard to answer succinctly. While I was gone, I built a blog and a brand and through it have organically made so many new contacts and connections, from which random and unexpected leads and jobs have come. So before I even returned I was already building a new career. It wasn't as segmented as I thought. I didn't need to go right back to a full-time 9-5 gig and live the life I previously had. I could create my own life and career. And you can too.
Many people asked me, "What about the economy?"
Bottom line, I make much less than I did previously, but it frankly doesn't matter and hasn't changed my quality of life at all. I spend less. I live simply. I have freedom to explore new possibilities and also the freedom to still travel. I seem to be cobbling together a new career and that's fine with me.