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The Minimalists

Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus write about living a meaningful life with less stuff for 4 million readers. As featured on: ABC, CBS, NBC, BBC, TODAY, NPR, TIME, Forbes, The Atlantic, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and National Post. They live in Missoula, Montana.

Why I Walked Away from My Six-Figure Career

Today, March 1, 2011, was my point of no return: I quit my job. It feels great to write those four words, but it is also terrifying and exhilarating and scary and exciting and surreal and unbelievable and, in many ways, indescribable.

I’m listening to Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good” as I write this. Her words, “It’s a new dawn / it’s a new day / it’s a new life for me / and I’m feeling good,” best describe what I feel right now.

A new beginning.
A fresh start.
The precipice of something exciting.

Yesterday, February 28, 2011, was my last day at my suit-and-tie corporate job. Over the past dozen years, since age eighteen, I’ve spent nearly 80 hours a week working my way up the corporate ladder at a large telecom company in the Midwest—from retail sales rep to sales manager to store manager to regional manager to, most recently, director of operations for 150 retail stores, where I led hundreds of employees and managed a multi-million dollar operations budget. Throughout my tenure, I opened dozens of retail stores, hired hundreds of employees, and help many people grow professionally.

And I was very, very good at my job. In the last few years, I won back-to-back President’s Club trips to London and Hawaii for outstanding sales performance. I hired some of the best people in the industry, people who quickly advanced throughout the organization (including Ryan, who runs this website with me now, as well as Stan, one of my closest friends). And I was was poised to become a C-level executive before age 40. In short: I had it made.

So, when I announced my departure last month, it seemed illogical to nearly everyone: dozens of employees asked where I was going and whether they could come with me. When I told them I was changing my life’s path, many people didn’t understand. After all, I was living the American Dream, wasn’t I? A six-figure salary, a huge suburban home, several luxury cars, and all the stuff to fill every corner of my consumer-driven lifestyle—who the hell walks away from that?

Of course, I’m not trying to impress you, dear reader, with the details of my supposedly “impressive” career. If I thought that my “accomplishments” were impressive—if I were impressed by my lifestyle—then I wouldn’t’ve left in the first place.

Rather, I present these details to impress upon you my need for change. Yes, I was ostensibly successful, but I didn’t feel successful. I felt overwhelmed, stressed out, depressed.

Even worse, I was up to my eyeballs in debt. True, I made great money in the corporate world; but, for most of my adult life, I spent more than I earned—a doomed equation no matter your income.

You see, even though I was living the Corporate Dream with a big salary and elevated status, I was not completely happy because I’d lost site of what was truly important: I was unhealthy, my relationships were in shambles, and I wasn’t passionate about life—all of which I attempted to cover up by amassing more trinkets and trophies.

Sadly, I didn’t realize my missteps until it was too late. Two years ago, in 2009, my mother died and my marriage ended in the same month. Shortly thereafter, I discovered minimalism and started making radical changes—regaining control of my finances, refocusing my relationships, and asking difficult questions about my life’s direction.

In time, I realized I was not pursuing my passion, nor was I growing as an individual or contributing beyond myself in a meaningful way.

I wasn’t living the Dream; I was living a lie.

But today, that chapter has ended.

To be clear, I didn’t barrel into by boss’s office and yell “Screw you, I quit!“ No, I had mixed emotions about leaving my job. I care about many of the people there and enjoyed much of the job itself.

So my “screw you” is not to my former job at all. I’m not quitting a job—the job is not the point. Instead, I’m walking away from my old lifestyle. I have to stop living the lie, and start living the life.

How will I earn a living? To be honest, I’m not entirely sure, but I’ve spent the last two years working hard to reduce my bills substantially and pay off massive amounts of debt. Yes, I’ll still need to earn enough money to keep the lights on, but making money is no longer a priority. I need only work to earn enough money to live—not live to work.

My initial plan is to be a part-time barista at a local coffeehouse and earn enough to pay my bills—food, rent, utilities, insurance—while writing full time. Who knows: maybe this writing thing will yield a full-time income one day. But even if it doesn’t, that’s okay because I’m passionate about writing, especially literary fiction. (2012 UPDATE: I’m happy to report that, only a year later, I’m making a full-time living as an author. Even though I earn considerably less than my corporate salary, I also think about money differently these days, and I’ve never been happier.)

Rather than spending my time herding masses of people into cubicle farms, I’ve decided to focus on my real priorities: health, relationships, passion, growth, and contribution. These values comprise the foundation of a meaningful life—not money or stuff or the title on a business card.

I’ll contribute to people via this website—I’m thankful people find value here. I’ll also contribute through other means, such as charity and donating my time to help others:

 

 

 

Writing and contributing. That’s what I’m doing now. I refuse to be a slave to cultural expectations, ensnared by the trappings of money and power and perceived success. So, to my old life, I bid you farewell: Screw you, I quit!

Update: Read Ryan Nicodemus’s essay Getting Laid Off from My Six-Figure Job. You can also subscribe to The Minimalists for free via email. And if you find value in The Minimalists, consider donating a dollar.