Quitting corporate life for the unknown

by Jobbatical November 10, 2016

by Laura W.

My transition into the unknown started a few years ago. I was working for a gaming company in London when I was suddenly laid off along with the rest of the division. I was devastated for all of 48 hours, but within 5 days I booked a trip to South America.

I’d always wanted to go traveling for an extended period of time but thought, you can’t just quit your job to do that, can you? Thankfully, I was given the extra push, which I’m eternally grateful for. I returned 9 months later, inspired and more fulfilled then ever, so I swiftly took myself off to Australia on the 417 working holiday visa, ticking off two major bucket list items on the way — cage diving with great white sharks and exploring the remote outback.

I then made the biggest mistake of my life by turning down sponsorship down under to come back to the UK. I was very happy out there but something was bringing me back. Looking back, it was rose-tinted glasses and keeping others happy.

2015 back in London was the hardest year of my life.

I found myself in a city I’d grown out of. Everything was the same but I had changed. I’d experienced a very different way of life whilst living abroad and London just didn’t cut it for me anymore. I missed playing beach volleyball every Sunday and doing amazing coastal walks. A stroll in Hyde Park just wasn’t the same. It should have been my cue to head off again but societal pressures got the better of me so I dutifully got myself another office-based job in the entertainment industry.

The restlessness kicked in pretty quickly and I couldn’t understand why, because on paper I had a good job in one of the leading cities in the world. What was wrong with me? I spent hours reading up on happiness and success. All the articles came to the same conclusion. Nothing revolutionary but something we don’t hear about often enough — success is truly different for each individual but more so than ever, success is different for each generation.

Success for our parents was exactly what I had — the good stable job that paid well, near my hometown. For millennials, or at least millennials like myself, success and happiness comes from freedom, exploration and taking risks. Studies further compound this by comparing the levels of happiness we feel from things vs travel. Material wealth is actually very short-lived. Within a few weeks it’s as if we’d never lived without that brand new iPhone 7 whereas travel, living abroad and once-in-a-lifetime activities like skydiving will stay with you forever.

My resignation naturally came as a surprise for some.

Why on earth would I leave the fun entertainment industry and a nice salary for the unknown? My mum summed up many people’s concerns over dinner––“but what happens when you’re 65?” (referring to my pension). I laughed and responded––“OK, but what happens NOW? I’m still relatively young, I have no ties, what is there to lose?” She said no more. Others were incredibly supportive, getting all gooey eyes at the thought of gallivanting across Africa but then they’d all suddenly snap out of it and continue with: “It all sounds great mate, but I couldn’t do it.”

So many people would love to follow their dreams but simply feel they can’t because we’ve been indoctrinated with this idea of knuckling down, buying the house and car and saving those experiences for when we retire. The most reassuring reaction came from none other than the company’s pension guy. As I told him my plan to trade corporate office life for a shot at photography and remote work, I braced myself for an ear bashing on saving for the future, but he simply said, “good on you.” He continued with stories of clients who’ve finally hit the ripe age to access their pensions but have suddenly been diagnosed with cancer or just aren’t physically/mentally up for experiencing travel.

Just 2 months after resigning, I am here in Africa.

I did a camping trip through Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Namibia and South Africa and am currently working on a great white shark research project on the Western Cape. I’ve not once looked back at my life in London. Not only is seeing white sharks everyday going to live with me forever but I’ve had insight into the real local life because I’ve been living here. I’m based in a remote Afrikaans fisherman town that most tourists would simply drive past. I’ve had my eyes opened to the sad realities of abalone poaching and have been out on fishing trips where we tag sharks for research purposes. You simply can’t experience this unless you work here.

Biting the bullet and coming to Africa to explore opportunities has also opened up doors on the photography front which was my main goal for coming here. Nikon loaned me one of their brand new underwater cameras to test out on the sharks. I’ve been approached by several companies via Instagram to use my photos on their socials, and I landed a paid job shooting an event for a drinks brand who ‘gives you wings.’ Chances are none of these opportunities would have come my way if I hadn’t taken this leap. For me, traveling and living abroad is an investment into my future career, whatever that career may be.

Part two of my grand plan is to head off to Thailand and get stuck into remote work.

I’m sure you’ve all heard about this phenomenon. Technological advances have given us the freedom to work from anywhere in the world and many are. Forbes says that 34% of the US workforce is now considered freelance and this figure will only grow in the coming years. Remote work was once just for IT scrum masters and developers, but I even met two remote working doctors in East Africa who do Skype diagnosis. Who would have thought!

After baring all in this blog post, my plan could fail but I’m fully prepared for that. God knows I might end up back in a traditional office but at least I would have tried and bagged endless memories on the way.

This post may not be for all. I firmly believe some people are genuinely happy in stable 9–5 routines in their hometown, but chances are if you’re browsing Jobbatical, you’re looking for something different. So my advice is to just go for it. You’ve got nothing to lose but everything to gain!

You can keep up with Laura’s adventures on Instagram or on her website!


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