Five weeks ago, I gave notice at my job as a restaurant manager. I started working there part time while I was in school and it was my first full-time job after college. I started full-time two weeks after graduation. Last Monday was my last day.
When I first started in the restaurant industry, I loved working all hours of the day and night, I loved the rush of having a restaurant packed on a Friday night and being able to help lead the staff through the service. I particularly loved helping people, even the guest who sent back their burger three times because they do not agree with our definition of “medium-well.” I would love sitting down at the bar after my shift with my co-workers and talk about the shift, have some laughs and go home with just enough time to get a little sleep and do it again the next day.
Over the last year or so, I slowly felt myself falling out of love with it. The hours started to weigh on me. Working every night, every holiday, every weekend; the job was taking its toll.
More so than the hours, I started to have doubts about whether or not I wanted to work in the restaurant industry for my entire life. I have loved it, it has been good to me, I am pretty good at it; but will I be satisfied if I never do any other type of work or lead any other type of life?
Even as these thoughts began swirling in my head, the prospect of quitting seemed daunting. The restaurant industry was all I had known professionally. The restaurant was a big part of my life as I became an adult and it was hard to imagine life without it.
Had these thoughts and fantasies of finding another path fizzled after a few weeks or a month, I would probably not be writing this story now. This idea was tugging at me for over a year and those fantasies started seeming like a real possibility. I began to realize that I needed to make a change.
With that realization in mind I struggled for a long time with a feeling of guilt about quitting; I found myself thinking about how this company took a chance on a 22-year-old manager, how they had promoted me and how they made me feel like I had a promising future with the company.
To be honest, more so than feeling guilty, I was scared to quit. I was scared of giving up a steady paycheck. I was scared of getting out of the routine that I had developed over the last 5 years. I was scared of leaving the relationships, both personal and professional, I spent time forging. I was scared to let people down who expected me to grow with the company. I was scared to leave a job I was good at.
I found myself slightly overwhelmed, I knew I wanted to change, but what type of change? I read countless articles and books about changing careers, starting online businesses, blogging, freelancing and just about everything in between. Reading about the stories of others was inspiring. Learning that I was not alone in feeling that maybe there is another way was a relief. Yet, after all that reading and research, I had not read or heard of one job or path that really called out to me.
Two things ended up being the tipping point for me: a trip and a book.
First, the trip. I went on a two-week vacation to Japan with some friends of mine. This was my first time overseas and I quickly realized that I did not want it to be my last. Being on the other side of the world, experiencing a different culture and yet, seeing how people 6,000 miles away are not as different as I thought they would be, opened my eyes. I was realizing how much can be missed when you are stuck in the office or restaurant all day everyday.
Second thing, the book. I read “The Happiness of Pursuit” by Chris Guillebeau, which chronicled a variety of “quests” that people from all different walks of life embarked on. Some were small; there was a family that decided to make a meal from every country in the world over 193 weeks. Some quests were large; the author actually went to all 193 countries over 2 decades.
When I finished the book, I found myself thinking about my trip, my job, my life and what kind of quest I wanted to embark on. Growing up in the suburbs of Long Island, New York, I was programmed at a young age to follow this all too common script: College, job, family, work your way up whatever professional ladder you are climbing, sprinkle in a vacation when you can, pick up golf and retire (not that there’s anything wrong with that!). Of course there are millions of ways that script can play out, but I was not sure that was the way I wanted the story of my life to go.
The biggest epiphany I had after that trip and book was that I am not going to find that path of happiness grinding it out at the restaurant night in and night out. I also realized that the feelings of guilt I had been having were not fair to me and I realized I was way more frightened of looking back on my life and wondering “what if” than I was of taking a leap of faith.
Since I put in my notice, the most popular question I have received is, “what are you going to do next?” Like most people, I have always enjoyed knowing the next step in my life, always liked having a plan. For the first time, I am really excited to take a leap of faith and take a step without knowing where my other foot is going to land.
So what is my plan? I saved up some money (not that much) and am going to take a “mini-retirement” for a few months. I am going back to Japan which inspired my thirst for travel and have a ticket booked to see South Korea while I am here. I am going to write about my adventure, I am going to experience different cultures, I am going to eat all the strange things, I am going to drink all of the local favorites, I am going to decompress and reflect.
Even when I write that down, it sounds like a pipe dream. But it is no longer a dream. Now, it is my new reality.
When I thought about how I would explain this “plan” to my friends and family, I figured I would get a lot of comments to the extent of, “what are you crazy?” The reality caught me by surprise. The overwhelming response has been positive, supportive and even a bit envious. My fear of letting people down ended up being a pretty baseless fear after all.
I realize that this undertaking will consist of ups and downs, great days and some where the free time and lack of structure could be a challenge, however, I am endlessly excited about taking control of my life and more importantly, taking control of the one thing we all have a finite amount of, time.
My Grandmother always told me, “more things happen by chance than by choice.” I am hopeful that a fresh perspective and this time to expose myself to more chance encounters will lead to opportunities and options that I cannot fathom at this point.
My goal here is to share my experience of my travels, stepping out of my comfort zone, doing things I did not think I was capable of and taking back control of my time and my life. There may be a smattering of stories reflecting on my time as a manager; thoughts on leadership and human nature (Warning: there may be a sports or Seinfeld reference or two). I hope you find it useful and maybe help give you the confidence to make changes, both big and small, to improve yourself and your life whether you work in a restaurant, office, farm, brothel or don’t work at all. On the flip side, if this experiment is a complete crash and burn, it will be a good reference when you try to convince your friend not to quit his job and travel the world with no back up plan. Either way, it should be a memorable journey.