I Quit my Job to Provide for my Family

I miss my grandparents. They were really spectacular people; from a different era, to be sure, but they were loving and honest and trustworthy and fun. When Kai was six months old, we moved back to CT to be closer to my family for a few months, and I remember my grandfather telling me all he knew about raising a family. While he said many things to me that day, one stood out for the force and conviction with which it was conveyed: As a father, your primary responsibility is to provide for the needs of your family. I do not, in any way, disagree with that statement. But viewed through the lens of my grandfather, who was a child of the depression and likely never made more than $15 an hour, "providing for your family" meant having a good-paying job so you could provide for your family's need for shelter, food, and clothing. There is nothing at all wrong with that; Abraham Maslow told us many years ago that these basic survival needs must be met before anything else.

In the translation of that concept to individual fathers and families, though, many assumptions and misunderstandings are made. There is an assumption that you must work in a traditional 9-5 job - or more - to earn enough income to provide for your family. There is a perception that work should be a sacrifice, something that must be endured. And there is a perception that you will need to constantly strive to improve yourself at work, so you can perform better and earn more money. We hold these perceptions to be true because we inherently understand that we must provide for our families, and they are reinforced by media and experience.

But providing for our family financially and materially is only one piece of the puzzle. Ask your spouse, friends, and children what they really want from you and I bet their answer would be much more simple; they want you, your time, your energy, your laughter, your playfulness, your love. Of course they want and need material security - shelter, food, clothing - but they also want you to provide them with your time and energy and connection. To be able to provide enough money to survive and enough time to make your family thrive is a balancing act that becomes more and more challenging with each additional step you take down the corporate path. Making it even more difficult is the fact that in order to stay true to the you that your family wants, you have to find a way to pursue your passions.

Some people are fortunate enough - or courageous enough - to have found a way to provide for their family's material needs while not having to rationalize the trade-offs of a full-time job. They have found a way to make money from their passions or in concert with their passions, whatever those may be, even if it does mean working a fairly traditional job. For proof, check out this excellent post by TJ Phillips. I admire that, and I greatly respect it.

But that has not been my experience, and I bet it is not the experience of most other Dads or Moms who work outside the home. Most of us have, for a variety of reasons, fallen into jobs that we tolerate at best. We talk about these jobs in terms of trade-offs: "Sure it sucks, but I make good money", "At least I don't have to travel too much" or "I'm home by 6:00pm every night." Even if we are able to be completely engaged and present when we are at home, and connected when we are away, there is still a giant albatross around our necks - we spend the vast majority of our waking hours away from our families, away from our passions, and away from the things that make us us. And every year that we spend doing this makes it more and more difficult for us to be introspective, look at the rationalizations we have layered ourselves with, and break free.

For me, this rationalization was simply too much to bear any longer, so three months ago I resigned. My company was supportive and allowed me to stay for three months, which was fantastic. But deep down inside, few people really understood it; they kept thinking that someone who was good at their job would want to continue to work and advance, and that my decision to leave must have been a result of some deep secret or hidden dissatisfaction. A few days ago, I had a run-in with a colleague that I wrote about on Facebook:

After being asked for the tenth time today why I'm REALLY leaving (as if I've been lying about it for the past three months), I let loose with "Because working sucks, and I would rather be home with my family doing things I enjoy than spending all day with you solving problems that I don't care about. And I bet you feel exactly the same way. So I think the better question is 'Why are YOU really STAYING?'". So there.

Yep, it's really just that simple. Specifically, here's why I am leaving:

1.) I do things at work every day which are good from a work perspective, but wrong from a "what feeds Jeff's soul" perspective. I have been involved in so many terminations - where you tell someone that they are not good enough and that they have to leave the company - that I started counting several years ago. I am embarrassed at the number; let's just say it starts with a two and is in four figures. I told myself that it was the right thing for the company, that some of them violated policy or treated others poorly, or that they just could not perform the tasks we asked them to accomplish. But the bottom line is that every time I fired someone, I ruined their day. That's more than two thousand ruined days. I don't care if they deserved it. I ruined 2,000 days. I will never - EVER - do another one.

2.) Most days, I end up talking to people about what they did or are doing wrong, so they can learn how to do it right. On some days this is teaching, on others it is training, and on others it is punishing. But it is ALWAYS telling someone that they need to change to survive. I just can't do it anymore because I believe that that is fundamentally disrespectful to who they are as a person. Some people just aren't good at certain things, and spending time and energy gnawing at someone's soul in an attempt to fit them into a hole they don't want to go into is just a shitty thing to do.

This reminds me of a time a few years ago, when I got some criticism that I was not driving my work teams to win and that I needed to change. This is what I told my boss:

I am at a point in my life where I have to decide if I am going to remake myself to fit a corporate culture, or change my company to fit my personality and passions. For now, I think you are right, with one small change: it's not that I am the wrong man for this job, it's that this is the wrong job for me. I do not care about winning, Dale - I care about playing. I care about learning, and growing, and trying, and living without fear, and doing what feels right, and listening to my heart, and coaching, and facilitating - but I could care less if I win, or if my team wins. I simply want them to value the experience of being. I have a different definition of what is important than you do. It's important to me that you are happy, and if you're not happy with me, I hope you do something about that.

I believe that most people are generally good. Sometimes they do stupid shit, just like I do. If they do stupid shit at work, that may make them bad workers - but still amazingly good people. I hate telling people that they need to change, as if they have to give up a part of who they are in order to do what the company wants them to do. This is stifling, restrictive, disrespectful, and not in keeping with my personal desire to accept people as who they are, warts and all - because the warts are usually beautiful and rich. All of my friends have warts, and they are all beautiful. Different, to be sure - but inspiring.

3.) The whole way I talk has completely changed over the past several years. So many words and phrases that have crept into my vocabulary, and they are all about how people perform: goal, achievement, development opportunity, synergy, problem statement, cost-benefit ratio, sunk cost, implementation, Performance Improvement Plan, integration, termination, alignment. These words are right out of the Dictionary of Corporate Bullshit. The lexicon of the working world is not authentic, it is not positive, it is not inspirational; it is escapist. It insulates its speakers from the reality of most situations, allowing them to experience strong emotions through their brains instead of through their hearts. As such, it enables people to be emotionally disconnected from the work they do and the decisions they make - which in turn enables corporate robots that make life miserable for the good people just trying to get along.

4.) Simply put, my passions lie elsewhere. In September 2009, my friend Flo allowed me to present some of my thoughts about passions at the Good Vibrations Unschooling Conference. Suffice it to say that I believe that identifying and pursuing passions, and helping others do the same, is one of the most important things we do in life. I have attempted to align my passions with my work, and have periodically succeeded; but in general I have to check my real passions at the door each day when I go to work. I enjoy many things - reading, hockey, history, and music to name a few - and I can usually find enough time to stay in touch with them even when I am gone 50+ hours each week. But my primary passion, the thing I enjoy doing above any other, is spending time with my family and friends in joy and relaxation and connectedness. I cannot do that at work, I cannot do that when I am stressed about work, and I cannot do that when I am rationalizing why I work. So work just had to go. 'Nuff said.

So where does that leave me? On my way to Oregon, I guess :-)

Seriously, it leaves me with an affirmation that I do need to provide for our shelter and food, which means I'll do some writing, and some consulting, and some whatevering in order to meet our most basic needs. And I trust that if I can make the space to write, the money will come. But my more critical role - as a parent, partner and friend who both provides and receives emotional and spiritual joy - requires me to stay true to myself and my passions, to view the world for its wonders and beauties, to support people I like even when they have bad days, to live life authentically through good and bad, and to never again have to provide one rationalization to get through a day. If I can do that with my heart wide open, I'll be a far better provider than my grandfather could have hoped for.


  1. Excellent! Welcome to our version of the real world, Jeff. It's been about 6 years since Steve had his last day - it's been wonderful!

  2. I love you, Jeff Sabo. Wishing you all safe travels and happy landings in Oregon.

  3. This was a wonderful read. As someone who quit her professional career to stay home, unschool, and start a homestead I can relate to every word you are saying. Husband has made many changes too, giving up a six-figure paycheck b/c the job was sucking the life out of him.

    Laying on our deathbeds, I doubt one person has ever said "I wish I'd spent more time at work".

  4. Brilliant writing, Jeff, both technically and philosophically. <3

  5. Loved this thread!Me and hubby became un-jobbers almost 1 year ago now after he had 2 heart attacks at only 38 years old. We are loving this life of all working and playing together as a family, between my writing articles and our scrap metaling, and growing our own food we do just fine, better than the 9-5 because we are laughing, loving, playing and LIVING. Our next journey? Perhaps full time traveling to open ourselves to the gifts around us we do not see from the confinements of our walls of homesteading!

    I truly wish you an amazing journey!

  6. Awesome...sharing this with my husband because it is so very timely.

  7. absolutely well writen, i will share this with hubby as well, because we are in the same predicament. but we have a plan, by latest end of 2010 we will be adventuring out of usa into central america. there it is much easier to meet the needs with lesser money, let alone the fresh food is so much cheaper and chemical free.
    keep on tracking and have a wonderful adventure.

  8. I lov how you say authentic multiple times in each article, I will kindly accept that as bribe.
    Yet again, I love this article. It is funny and sad at the same time. It is so thought provoking. So many of us are stuck in this corporate philosophy, unable to disconnect.

  9. I'll be watching to see how it goes. I'm trapped right now in the corporate world, wishing I could find a way out to a less stressful and more connected way of living. I'm watching, and taking notes, and planning to make a break for it someday before my kids get too much older or before I have a heart attack. From this perspective it just doesn't seem possible, but that's because I'm too attached to money. I know that, and yet don't know how to change it.

  10. Love this, Jeff! I'm in a more fortunate position with my own work - I just told a friend in fact "I have everything except money" and its pretty well true. I managed to find a job that lets me be and do things that feed my love of movement and creativity and ideals, working for a small business, setting hours that let me spend enough time with my family to feel good about that aspect. The pay sucks, but its worth it in soooooo many ways.

    I recently read an article about why there are still less women in high-profile big-bucks jobs and it suggested that too many women value things other than career advancement. I say More women and more men could stand to value things over and above career advancement. Welcome to the Daddy Track ;)

  11. A year and a half ago, my husband was laid off from his high tech job. Since we had been planning for the past 10 years to retire onto our boat and travel, this was not the crisis for us that it would have been for many. We were lucky, and invested his severance at the market low. Even without this luck (which we say is just making money for the kids) we would have been just fine, living on a 50-yr-old boat that we have been renovating.

    On June 1 we left our marina, and are more free than we have been since childhood! We are loving life, and hope for all goodness for you and yours.

  12. wow, love this, jeff! thanks

  13. Great post once again, Jeff! I love the insights you shared about how the corporate lingo detaches people from the reality of their actions, just like the terms "discipline" and "spanking" remove people from the reality how they treat children.

    Best wishes with the move and for a future full of family fun and passionate pursuits!

  14. Thank you again Jeff for sharing your thoughts on this...as always, I find your words and self examination inspiring. I linked to your post on my own post on why my family is my career. http://apprenticemom.com/?p=244

  15. Jeff,

    I literally cried as I read the opening paragraph. Your thought here validate a deep part of my soul. My grandparents raised me from age 9 until I was 16 and I will never forget what I learned from my Grandfather. In fact, I was missing him just this morning. He went to Heaven over 15 years ago, but I still miss him terribly.

    I left the traditional 9-5 management hierarchy 3 years ago (ok, I was laid off ... but you will be glad to know, not by you - I was not part of the 2,000+) :) ..and have found a way to pursue my passions while earning enough income for our family. It can be a challenge at times, and I work a lot of all-nighters as a software developer, but I would not trade the benefits of having the flexibility for my family for any amount of money.

    It's funny. I am sitting in a Panera Bread in my preferred work uniform (long sleeve t-shirt, shorts and flip flops) having coffee and using the internet to work with colleagues on the East Coast and in the UK. My wife emailed me a link to your blog and I took a look. And while I was reading, I heard people in the next booth speaking that old familiar language. It sounded like this... "We need to make sure that we take advantage of the opportunity and strike while the iron is hot. I know that if we can increase utilization of the resources and boost our effectiveness we will have the results we need at the end of the day...." They could be a team in just about any company... I bet that same conversation is being had in every city right now. It is strangely comforting to know that if I ever miss that sort of lingo I can always head to the local bakery or coffee shop and offer commentary. :) Hey, on my way out of here maybe I should stop by and impress them with some corporate prose. Now THAT would feed my soul. HA!

    Thanks for the great post and for being real. You have encouraged me on an important day, Now I 'm gonna go hug my wife and kids and do some laughing today.

  16. Congrats on the new lifestyle. There is nothing better than spending everyday with the ones you love. I have been deworking since the beginning of the year, and just spending time with my son. I have never seen my family happier. Theirs only fun times to come. Enjoy every minute of it.

  17. Great read. I am with you in spirit but confined by reality at the moment. I will "work" toward an opportunity to "unwork" and live life fully involved.


  18. THanks for this post Jeff. My situation is a bit more grey than Black n white. I love my corporate job. Love my coworkers, love the work that we do (Enable scientists for cancer research). I also have great passion for music and want to shift into doing that as my livelyhood. As I contemplate this shift, I do not get a negative feeling about my work at all. I get energized each morning from doing geeky things to enable Scientists do that they are best at. So the shift to the unknown, having my passion be the center stage is scary. I am planning baby steps.. first working from home.. then shifting to Producing music. THank you for your inspirational post.