Off The Grid

Off The Grid

                              “If you think adventure is dangerous, try routine; it is lethal.” – Paulo Coelho


001 (2)I quit my job today. It was a good job; I was paid well, I learned a lot, I worked with cool people on challenging problems, I grew as a person, as a software developer and, for the most part, I had the freedom to come into work and do whatever interested me. The perks were also first-rate. We took a yearly trip to Mexico. There were free meals at the restaurant downstairs and catered lunches every Wednesday. They paid for a cell phone, a gym membership, health insurance.  All in all, it was the best professional job I’ve ever had.


Admittedly, I’ve had gripes with my position, as most people do, but all of these benefits make it really hard for me to justify why I just did what I did. I did what I needed to do though and I hope that in a year’s time I can look back and say to myself that today was an inflection point – the first material step taken down a path decorated with experience that far outweighs the comfort of free lunches, a desk by a window and three days at a Mexican resort.

Over the past few months a unique situation had developed at work. Along with another co-worker, I had become a rogue software developer, straddling two, sometimes three departments, wearing many hats and answering the call of anyone with a problem not important enough to be prioritized by another engineering team yet still solvable by code. To some extent this role meant freedom from the rigid structure of a company trying to grow up. At the same time this role also carried a persona non grata vibe and it certainly seemed as if a mutual understanding had developed between myself and the people keeping me on the company roster that the corner I had carved out for myself needed resolution.

On some level it’s relieving to know that the actual conversation, the ‘quitting’, is over and done with. I’ve been wracked with anxiety for the past few days and nights over the thought of mustering the words “Hey, can I talk to you for a second” to my manager. I’m an anxious person in general but the idea of quitting a job without another lined up, that’s a solid recipe for a shitty nights sleep.

The conversation itself went better than I could have imagined. When I asked my manager if he had time to talk, he countered and asked if I was about to make him sad. It was as if he expected that this conversation was overdue, as if he knew that the aimless freedom I’d been extended over the past few months had reached a tipping point. I responded with an honest ‘maybe’, genuinely unsure if the ambiguity behind my current role with the company was an undue burden on those higher in the ranks than me and if the ensuing conversation would be a relief to both parties.

I laid out the course that Shelby and I had put in motion: we were headed out on the adventure of a lifetime – the better part of a year on the road – traveling to foreign places with little in the way of commitments. Plane tickets already booked. No turning back now. To my surprise, my boss responded with candor. “What you’re about to do, my wife did that before we were married. She traveled for nine months and it’s a big regret of mine that I haven’t done something like that. Of all the reasons I’ve heard for leaving a job, I’m happy this is what you’re telling me”, he said.

 I think he was relieved that he hadn’t failed as manager while succeeding at ushering me into the arms of another company. At the same time, I was relieved that ‘quitting’ wasn’t met with criticism. The coupling between one’s work and one’s identity or purpose has grown into this sort of truism in my mind over the past few years and bucking the social norm of the nine to five, even just for a year, seemed like it could only be met with disapproval. Maybe the candid response confirmed that he didn’t know what my future with the company looked like but I believe his response was that of genuine respect and excitement for us.


The weight of the anxiety I’d been carrying for the past few days lifted. Victory. Triumph. The long dreaded moment was over. But alas, the true reality has just started to sink in. No more pay check. No more health insurance. No more free lunches. No more job. Hell, prior to that moment, I could keep myself fed just by showing up to work but now that safety net is cut. Into the great wide open we go. Uncharted territory, for me at least.


When Shelby quit her job a couple months ago, it seemed to come out of the blue. I think she had let the anxious feeling that I had become familiar with build up to a point where action was the only option. Part of me was struck with sheer admiration when she came home and dropped the bombshell of what she had done that day. Another part terrified that she had actually done it – we were going on this trip and suddenly it had become real with real life consequences.


Now, having followed her down the path of nine to five freedom, liberated from the burden of…a paycheck, I can only strap myself in and enjoy the ride. At the same time I can take comfort in knowing that the fear of losing what you already have is usually a stronger motivator for not taking a given action than the prospect of finding happiness is for actually taking action and finding what hides ahead, just out of sight.

I still have two more weeks of work left but I anticipate that they’ll fly by. There are loose ends to tie up, projects to document and knowledge that needs to be relinquished to my teammate who now leads a team of one.  Beyond being my co-worker, this particular individual is also a friend and I do feel genuinely guilty that my responsibilities now fall on him and that our weekly on-call rotation isn’t much of a rotation anymore. Hopefully it won’t be too rough on him.

There’s a mixed sense of excitement and disappointment after today. I had worked hard to put myself in a position where a spot on another engineering team was within reach. And while I think that I was close to getting the call up to the big leagues, I have to imagine that the life of a mercenary is more desirable to that of a infantry man. I had the freedom to accept and turn away projects on my own volition, something that wouldn’t have been a possibility as part of a larger team. I had the liberty to re-write the same five lines of code until they felt just right, as opposed to the get shit done approach that comes with commitments and deadlines.

Maybe this realization that I was on the verge of acquiring structure and a well defined role makes quitting oddly satisfying. Maybe quitting is actually what you do when you can’t take the stress of a situation anymore and leaving is the only option and maybe what I just did is simply moving on to the next cool thing in life, the next adventure. Jobs will come and go, perks can be negotiated, paychecks will be had again but time and experience are elusive. In the end, time is the only resource we can’t get more of and most people go through life trading their time for money. We’ve chosen, for the time being at least, a different path and underneath all of the mixed emotions that surround today, I feel confident that actions Shelby and I have taken – the course we’ve set in motion – emphasize the high regard that both time and experience are due yet rarely receive.

When someone joins the company that I just left, they get up in front of everyone at the weekly company meeting and they give an interesting fact – something for people to remember them by, a softball for the tenured employee to strike up that water cooler conversation about. I don’t recall what my interesting fact was two and a half years ago but I’m sure that the trip Shelby and I are about to embark on will leave me with no shortage of things to talk about should the situation ever arise in the future and that’s fucking exciting.

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