We Revisited People Who Left Their Jobs Last Year. Are They (Still) Happy?
Calling It Quits is a series about the current culture of quitting.
Last summer we asked readers who had quit their jobs to share how their decision affected their lives. We heard from people who carved out more time for family, sought out less hectic schedules that better suited their physical and mental health and worked through financial challenges.
As Americans continue to quit their jobs in record numbers despite soaring inflation, we reconnected with six of those readers to see if they still felt happy about their decisions — and if the United States’ current economic health had changed their calculus.
Ana del Rocío
Ana del Rocío, a single mother, quit her job as executive director of a nonprofit group, Oregon Futures Lab, on Dec. 31, 2021. She wanted to spend more time with her sons, Tupac, 10, and Inti, 7, in their Portland, Ore., home. But Ms. del Rocío, 36, knew the experiment had an expiration date: Her retirement savings were likely to run out before the end of 2022.
Where is she now? Ms. del Rocío returned to the work force in September 2022, serving as chief of staff for her sister Andrea Valderrama, the Democratic state representative in Oregon’s 47th District. Then, after the New Year, Ms. del Rocío made the decision to seek office herself. She is running for commissioner of District 3 in Multnomah County, the most populous in Oregon.
Her decision was solidified on Christmas Day, when, on the car ride back from her sister’s home, she and her sons saw a family setting up a tent on the side of an icy road.
“I realized, yes, I have fully committed myself to being their mother, that’s what drives me, that’s what I want to do with my time, but I’m not raising my children in a vacuum,” Ms. del Rocío said. “I needed to be able to tell them, actually, this is not OK. And this is what mommy is going to do about it.”
Was quitting worth it? Ms. del Rocío doesn’t think she would be in the right head space to pursue public office if not for her nearly 10-month hiatus from work, during which, she said, she developed more healthy relationships with her children and overcame burnout.
Ms. del Rocío did deplete her retirement savings, but she’s hopeful that serving office will benefit both her family and her possible constituents. “It’s very much an extension of my mothering. Raising children for the world, and raising the world for the children, those two things very much go together for me,” Ms. del Rocío said.
After quitting her job as a local newspaper reporter in Chico, Calif., in June 2021, Natalie Hanson, 26, took a similar role at a paper in Oakland — and then quit again. In May 2022 she started as a reporter for Courthouse News Service, but anticipated needing to move by the end of the year because of rising rent.
Where is she now? Ms. Hanson did end up moving, from downtown Oakland to a cheaper and larger apartment in East Oakland, where she now lives with her partner, dog and cat. She said she was saving at least $500 in monthly rent. “Rental prices have started to fluctuate in the Bay Area, depending on where you live,” Ms. Hanson said.
Ms. Hanson is also writing freelance articles for local newspapers to supplement her income with Courthouse News Service.
Was quitting worth it? Ms. Hanson’s initial quitting spawned a cascade of major life decisions, ultimately leading her to a place of satisfaction. “I’m pretty surprised that I’ve been able to make it work, living in such an expensive place, but also such a beautiful place,” Ms. Hanson said. “You have to be really creative.”
Jim Walker, 53, had spent his life working in churches but changed course when the pandemic shut down his church. He left his job as a pastor and became a freelance tour guide, spending much of his time on the road exploring new places.
Where is he now? Mr. Walker continues to enjoy the freedom afforded by a freelancer’s schedule, but is considering taking on longer-term roles with larger companies for more pay. As much as he finds meaning in the work, he conceded that this phase of his life might end at some point. “I don’t know if you can live on the road forever,” he said. “Have I enjoyed it this past year? Heck, yeah. Does it fit me really well? Obviously, yeah, it’s really good. But maybe 10 years from now, I don’t know if I’ll still be doing this. It’s hard to say.”
Was quitting worth it? Mr. Walker acknowledges the privilege that allows him to make this lifestyle work — he lives at his brother’s home and his only major expenses are his health insurance, car insurance and cellphone bill. But he feels more fulfilled in his work than ever. “I wish I had done this to begin with, because it’s the kind of thing that works with my personality really well,” he said. “I’m like a fish in water.”
Rachel Sobel, 53, left her job in Chicago as a communications director for a health insurance company in February 2022. She got into freelance writing and editing and planned to start her own creative collective. After quitting, Ms. Sobel faced some financial challenges — her basement ceiling was in desperate need of repair — but was adamant that the shift had been a boon for her well-being. She had planned to re-evaluate her professional future at the end of 2022 and didn’t rule out returning to work full time.
Where is she now? Ms. Sobel has had more success than she expected as a freelancer. She said that by working 30 hours per week for various clients, her gross income was “just about at 100 percent” of what she had earned working full-time. She said she could now afford to fix her ceiling and had signed a contract to do so. Ms. Sobel is also almost ready to start her creative collective and plans to sign up for life insurance, which she previously had through her full-time job.
Was quitting worth it? Ms. Sobel said she had more ownership of her time and was in good financial health. She doesn’t plan on returning to the full-time work force anytime soon.
“When I first did it, I thought it would be a temporary thing,” Ms. Sobel said. “But it’s working out so well, it doesn’t have to be temporary.”
Susan Woodland, 68, left her position as director of collections at a New York City museum in May 2020. She relied on her substantial savings and money from investments to make ends meet, but acknowledged that finances were a little tight.
Where is she now? Ms. Woodland is working one day per week, for a historical society. Because of inflation, she has had to increase the amount of money she takes out of her investments every month. She has managed to live off less than when she was working full time. It helps that she has Medicare and owns her Manhattan apartment, she said.
Was quitting worth it? Ms. Woodland has always been frugal and so is well prepared for the present climate. She has found meaning in spending her time following her interests, mapping out a future writing project about the dark side of the fashion industry and volunteering for a local abortion clinic. “Instead of focusing 100 percent of the time on myself, I want to try and do things that are actually of value to people,” she said.
Early in the pandemic Jennifer Padham, 41, and her partner purchased a sprawling property in the woods of New Hampton, N.Y. Ms. Padham, who had quit her job as an archivist at Netflix shortly before the pandemic, planned to turn the property into a spiritual retreat center. She lived in one of the five cottages on the land.
Where is she now? Ms. Padham’s timeline for the retreat center has been pushed back, in part because of a split with her partner, but she hopes to open it by the end of 2023. In the meantime, she has turned two of the cottages into Airbnb rentals. She uses the profits to support herself and to continue developing the center. The units have been booked less often this winter than the last one, Ms. Padham said.
Was quitting worth it? Ms. Padham has found value in learning to adapt her vision. “I’m just allowing the seasons to show me what this place wants to be, and what’s really best,” Ms. Padham said. “I’m trying not to impose a system on it.”