When To Step Away From A Successful Career

Our Adventure Begins

Our Adventure Begins

It’s 5:30 PM Friday night and I’m trying to finish up my last day at work. It’s just me in my home office, a large but mainly empty room at the end of the hall at the far end of our home. I have a view out my window of the dry and golden hills out back dotted with oaks roasting in the day. And I’ve reached the end of the line. July 31st, 2015 is the date my computer displays. It’s hot outside, just a degree or two shy of 100 degrees. Seems like the entire State of California has been set on fire this week and a low band of smoky haze sits right above the distant hills to the north. I often look forward to winter when I can open the window and code to the sound of raindrops falling on the burgundy Japanese Maple which now filters my view and gently reminds me it needs to be trimmed. I lift my hands off the keyboard and my fingers land on the mouse. I hit the Send button thinking I’ve just sent my final work email then power down my company issued laptop. No one to call and no time left for more emails, I slip on a pair of running shoes and head out for a short 30 minute run to start shedding the 20 pounds I’ve gained the last couple of years.

Four months ago I decided the time had come to take a break from the only career I’ve known since college. My 44-year-old body now resembles the body of a middle-aged dad who has shifted priorities away from physical training to something that rewards in different ways. The sharp lines my body once followed have evolved into bumps and handles. The long hours of sitting at my desk and lunch rides postponed now appear more and more evident. I’m not the man I once was and that is a good thing.

I’ve poured nearly everything into work for the last 20 years and for the last 7 years I knew this time would come. In fact, 7 years ago I had come to this same decision and at the time told the company I would leave at the end of that year. But that year our little company was bought by a bigger company and I needed to stay for another year. I waffled in my decision and a year turned into 2 then 3 as new projects surfaced and I kept delaying the decision. But at the start of each year, I would remind myself it needed to be the last. I’d tempt myself with thoughts of slipping away by the end of year. I’d mention this to a few friends and talk about the importance of refocusing but another year would pass and I’d be back in the same place each year. None the wiser.

So four months ago I picked up the phone and called work and said my last day would be July 31st. I had finally made the decision. I’m not lucky enough to have a job that offers a sabbatical. We don’t have a trust fund to rely on. Nicole and I worked hard early in and throughout our marriage to help our financial situation later in our life. Leaving a well-paying job at 44 years old to wander the world is a gamble. When I made the call and shared my reason for leaving, I’m sure it was not convincing. No, I wasn’t leaving for another company. No, I wasn’t unhappy with work. Having a great team and good relationships with my development team made this decision even more difficult. The time had come to step away and pursue something else for a time. I was both relieved and scared. Yet, scared as I was and still am, I know I made the right decision. Or it could be the worst decision of my life… I’m not a gambling man, but I have a feeling the odds are in our favor. It’ll be alright.

We could have waited another 5 years to fulfill these dreams. There’s always a reason to put change on hold. Work has been challenging. Nicole’s never been busier with her photography. Dylan is starting 2nd grade. There’s a ton of reasons to keep doing what we’ve been doing. Things are going well so why upset the apple cart. Dylan’s at the age when he should remember big events in his life. And when he looks back at being 7 and 8 years old, he should have an entire suitcase full of memories. For us, this will challenge us. I’m sure there will be times we will find ourselves lost and confused and we’ll need to find our way. Yet that is what excites me about this journey: getting a little lost as a family.

John Lennon’s famous quote of “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” reminded me sometimes the best events are those that are unplanned. I can talk a good game and say all the things I plan to do, but unless those plans come to fruition then I’m just talk. I realized for the past few years I had been doing a lot of talking. Now it’s time to do something completely different for change.

Some events in life prove to be game changers. Pivot points. Instead of following your same proven pattern over and over, you decide to do something completely different. You pivot. Your perspective on life completely changes. For me, change can be difficult and slow and it has taken a while reach this point. Yet, finally, we have arrived. Or rather, finally, we are starting.

Our bags are packed and our first stop will be Norway and then we will make more permanent roots in Barcelona. For the first time since graduating college, I’m unemployed. I don’t know what will be next. I enjoy software development and if I miss it too much while away, then I’ll know it’s what I should be doing when I return. I’m still too young to sit idle and I still want to build things.

I’m constantly reminding Dylan that no matter what he does in life, just be a maker. Build/make something. It doesn’t have to be related to software or computers. It can be machines, buildings, pictures, stories, music. Just be a maker. And I need to be an example and still make and build things. So I’m not done yet. As to what lies ahead and where we will end up, I haven’t given it much thought. But I will. That is what the next few months are all about.


4 thoughts on “When To Step Away From A Successful Career

  1. What a wonderful read! Have a joyous new journey, and I looked forward to more of blogs.

    “Sent from my iPhone; I wish I still had my trusty pigeon”


  2. Carry on Michael!….and enjoy your journey. Glad to have carried your 3:15 pacer paddle for a few miles at Santa Rosa Marathon(while you pee’d) before I blew up: )
    Rod Matteri

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