Amelia Longo spent four years helping to build a web design firm with values she believed in.
For a while, Longo, who had bounced around the arts nonprofit and tech worlds since graduating from college, thought maybe she had finally found her “forever” job.
But then she realized something had changed. No matter how committed she was to the team and the company, she was unhappy working there. She wanted to do something else, something, she’d half-joke, that would more directly help “dismantle the racist capitalist ableist heteropatriarchy.”
So she quit. She gave her boss three months’ notice, is working on finding her replacement, and did it all without a job lined up, without much more than a plan to just, you know, figure it out. And this was the second time in her 10-year career that she had left a job without anything in place.
Declaring this quitting-sans-new-job a bona fide trend is hard to prove — there aren’t the numbers to back that up — but at a time when employee burnout is at a high, more people are freelancing and working in nontraditional work environments, and companies are now built around the idea that everyone is always looking for the next job, it’s become common to see “Looking for my next opportunity!” on LinkedIn, and certain corners of the professional world are changing their perspective on the once-taboo resumé gap.
You are probably rolling your eyes right now (What an exercise in privilege!). Or, you might be nodding your head (Girl, I feel you). You might be a tad envious (If only I could do that …). Or, maybe you feel a mix of all three. This is, after all, not a thing everyone has the safety net to pull off. But before you hate-read the rest of this article, here is what the trend is not about: quitting on a whim.
Although there will always be those who make impulse decisions, the people who are quitting without jobs are doing it in calculated, strategic moves due to emotionally and mentally exhausted states that they say prevent them from searching for other jobs. In a lot of ways, it’s an act of desperation. But it’s also a way to take back control. And it reflects a now widely acceptable belief among young professionals that work shouldn’t kill you, that it must be meaningful and fulfilling.
Abby Mosconi, 34, started suffering from regular panic attacks at her ad agency office and eventually quit. Having been socialized to “get on the conveyor belt” — go to school, get a “real” job, retire — it had taken almost 10 years to realize that wasn’t the right path for her. Quitting, she says, was necessary to figuring out how to build a career that made her happy.
Umm, can you really do that and not kill your career? ask parents everywhere. It depends.
Tessa Dill, a recruiter with Uber, says taking time between jobs is so common in the tech world, especially for those working at Silicon Valley companies who often quit once their stock vests, that from a hiring perspective, a resumé gap is no big deal. Jeanne Meister, a partner at HR advisory firm Future Workplace, says she’s noticed less of a stigma around being between jobs — as long as you can explain the gap. It’s often a marker of ambition, Meister said.
That ambition — and the impatience to see results — is a quality of the millennial workforce, according to Northeastern University professor Alicia Modestino, who studies the youth labor market.
“Other generations played by the rules,” Modestino said. Not millennials. “That’s in part shaped by the fact that all those rules went away.”
Ah, the dreaded m-word. It’s a loaded term that many associate with other words like irresponsible and entitled. And that’s exactly how quitting without a job lined up could be perceived by other companies, said Mikal C. Harden, cofounder of Philly recruiting firm Juno Search Partners. Not to mention, Harden added, that it would put you in a weaker negotiating position when you get that next job. (In the tech sector, Dill pointed out, established companies generally follow salary ranges for specific positions.)
You also might not survive the break, Meister cautioned. Brand-name companies are stretching out the recruiting process, so “if you’re going to go down this route, you have to be aware that if you want your next dream job, it could easily take six months,” she said.
Ashley Bernard, 27, who in March quit her marketing job at a digital agency because she didn’t see a future for herself there, wasn’t worried about her negotiating power for her next gig. In fact, it hadn’t crossed her mind. She’d take a pay cut if she had to. What was more important was giving herself the time and space to find a job she was passionate about. Meanwhile, she’s living off her savings.
Although by definition millennial means you were born between 1981 and 1996, the term tends to conjure up white, college-educated, young professionals. And, for the most part, it is early-career people with degrees who are more likely to quit without anything lined up, Meister said.
But other kinds of privileges allow people to take these leaps of faith: savings, freedom from financial responsibilities like taking care of a family, social capital, and confidence in your skills and hireability.
Longo talked about how, after the first time she quit without anything lined up, she went to an event at a local theater and got offered two jobs. It made her realize: “I have a deep network. I’m a talented person. I’m going to land.” It also helped that she had gotten a settlement from a bike accident and that her parents live nearby, so if she ever really needed to, she could move in with them.
Dave Labold, 31, a former teacher who twice quit without a job because he was so burned out it was affecting his work, survived with odd jobs offered by friends. His housemate, who owned their South Philly home, gave him a pass on rent when things were particularly hard.
Then there’s the matter of what your parents think, or rather, how honest they’ll be about what they think.
Bernard, whose mother is an immigrant from Haiti and longtime nurse, burst out laughing when asked about her parents’ reaction.
“She was like, ‘But you don’t have any money.’ I was like, ‘I have my feelings and intuition!'” Bernard said.
Her mother eventually came around, but Bernard says she still feels a lot of “first-generation American guilt,” knowing that she’s in a position to do this because of the sacrifices her parents made.
Bernard is still early in her quitting process — “Ask me in a few weeks and my answers might be totally different,” she acknowledges — but so far, she’s felt good about her decision. Longo says, because she is someone who is always working at 100 percent, she has realized this kind of break is what she needs to figure out her next steps. Mosconi has built a hybrid career for herself doing two things she always wanted to do but never thought she could make a living from: writing and singing.
And Labold — well, he’s still not sure what he wants to do. The career he thought he’d have by the time he hit his 30s — being a social studies teacher — never panned out. He’s working at a Trader Joe’s right now. But he’s happy. Happier than he was.
He says this whole process has forced him to rethink some of his assumptions.
“Life isn’t really defined by your work,” he said. “I’m trying to find the other things.”