By Kathryn Vasel, CNN Business
Major life events — like a global pandemic — often lead people to take stock of their lives. And many workers are now taking a closer look at their jobs and realizing it’s not what they want to be doing anymore.
In July, four million people quit their jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
People can quit for many reasons: Some want a better work-life balance or higher pay, while others realize their job is just not the right fit anymore, or they want to do something completely different with their time. But not everyone can afford to quit their job, and it often requires planning.
Here’s why these four people quit their jobs in the last year:
Retirement came a little early
Scott Banks had a plan. The 57-year-old intended to retire at 60 and travel the country in an RV with his wife. The couple had been diligently saving and spent many vacations RV’ing with their two kids over the years, so they were accustomed to life on the road.
But when the pandemic hit and Banks saw the impact it was having on people’s lives, it caused him to rethink just how long he wanted to wait to retire. While he loved his job as a finance manager at a mortgage banking company in Florida, he realized he wanted more.
“When you see people dying of this disease and you can imagine yourself or someone in your family being in that same situation, it makes you introspective and reflective,” Banks said.
At the end of 2020, he reviewed his retirement plans and realized that if he and his wife were careful with their spending, he could retire this year. So he came up with a plan: sell their house, buy a condo to act as a home base, resign from his job and hit the road.
“I’d rather be doing that then spending 10 hours a day behind a desk,” he said.
The couple bought a condo in Jacksonville, Florida, in March and then sold their home in St. Augustine in May. They received multiple offers on the home and sold it in less than a week for $27,000 above the asking price. In April, Banks told his boss he planned to retire, and his last day was in September.
The couple just hit the road in their 30-foot travel trailer, heading first to Washington, DC, and Virginia.
At first, they will live primarily off 401(k) savings until they become eligible for Social Security. They also plan to reduce their expenses, but health care costs are a big wild card.
“What can you spend money on when you are living in an RV? You spend money on food, gasoline and places where you stay,” he said. “The thing that makes me nervous is health care costs — it’s extremely expensive.”
Finding work-life balance
In March 2020, Nicole Sinder was excited to work from home.
She thought she would get to spend more time with her husband and cats and hone her watercoloring skills. The 33-year-old was working as a criminal defense attorney, and said the transition from office to remote work went smoothly.
She had been worried that her life was going to seep into work time. But it turned out to be the other way around.
“What happened was work started seeping into my life time,” said Sinder, who moved to Florida from Brazil with her parents when she was six months old. “It was a lot of working late and being stressed out. Just by looking at the desk I would think: ‘I have so many things to do tomorrow morning. I am already home. I might as well do them now…’ Work really just became a full 24-hour thing.”
By fall of 2020, she was feeling burnt out and knew something had to change.
Sinder and her husband started evaluating their options, and after visiting a friend in Orlando in March, they decided that was where they wanted to be. A few weeks after returning from the trip, they had signed a lease. Sinder quit her job the next month and they moved in May.
But she had a lot of guilt about leaving. “I loved my job and what I was doing. I really cared about my clients,” Sinder said.
The couple had been saving for a down payment on a home, and having that cushion helped Sinder feel better about the transition.
“When I first put in notice, I was extremely terrified. I really mulled over the decision.” She even thought about backing out of the move. “I was very afraid of not having something lined up.”
Soon after they moved to Orlando, she got an unexpected call. A few months earlier, she saw a job posting for a river guide from a kayaking tour company on Instagram and applied on a whim, highlighting her fluency in three languages. Now, they wanted to hire her.
Sinder shadowed an employee and decided to take the job. She wasn’t exactly sure what she wanted to do with her career moving forward, and took this time to do some research.
“Being out there and realizing: This is great, people are on vacation. Instead of dealing with people when they are having the worst time of their lives, I am dealing with people when they are having a great time. It was a very different experience — I had to change in my head how I interacted with customers.”
She spent several weeks giving tours on the river. One day she came across a job posting for a law firm handling homeowner property damage cases and decided to apply. “It checked all the boxes for me at that time.”
She started in July.
“It’s in a much less emotionally-invested area of law,” she said, adding that she has a much better work-life balance.
“I am going to the office and no longer working from home and that is a big deal for me,” she said. “Now that I work in the office, it’s easier for me to get home and end that part of my day and start my own personal life.”
Searching for a better fit
Flannery Pendergast, 32, has been in the advertising industry in Milwaukee for about seven years and said she enjoyed the fast pace and creativity the job entailed.
The transition to remote work in the spring of 2020 went well at first, but in the fall she was laid off.
She landed a job as a freelancer at a different advertising firm in January and was eventually hired full-time.
But then in May, her godmother, who she was incredibly close with, passed away. Pendergast said it became hard for her to focus on work.
“When she passed away it got to be too much,” she said. “I was at this point when I was at work, it just didn’t seem important to me anymore. We are arguing whether this period should be a size 11 font or size 13 font. And I am just like: ‘This is not where I want my energy to go.'”
In June, she decided to quit her job.
Her plan is to drive around the country and figure out her next steps. She went to Kansas City, Missouri, for her first trip and stopped in St. Louis on her way back. But an injury has forced her to put her travels on hold for now.
She hopes to hit the road again soon in an effort to find some clarity about what she wants to do next.
“I don’t think agency life is for me anymore.”
Forging better personal connections
Water has always been a big part of Neha Contractor’s life. Her father taught her how to swim when she was three years old, and it’s where she still goes when she needs a sense of calm.
“I love water. I’ve always been a water baby,” said Contractor, 39. “I’ve always felt a huge level of comfort in water.”
Contractor, who lives in Bengaluru, India, has worked in marketing and advertising for major companies. She loved the challenge of creating campaigns and working with people, but the hours were long. And for the past few years she felt that something was missing.
“I realized I am not getting any younger, and I wanted to spend more time of my youth trying to make a difference to something that matters so much to me like the ocean. I could always come back to a corporate job.”
When traveling for work, she would squeeze in scuba diving trips. “I would just dive to get into the ocean,” she said.
Prior to the pandemic, Contractor earned certifications as a divemaster and as a diving instructor.
She joined health and wellness platform Ultrahuman as its global marketing director in April 2020, but after months of Zoom meetings, increased screen time and feeling like she wasn’t connecting with people, she decided to quit after less than a year.
“I decided I didn’t want to do anything in the corporate world at that point in time,” she said. “The pandemic…changed the way I saw life generally.”
She’s now a full-time scuba diving instructor.
“It’s scary, you are letting go of a huge safety blanket of a corporate job, especially during a pandemic,” she said. “I still believe money will come and things will fall into place. Doing what really matters to you is what I jumped into.”
She’s been traveling and said her life has improved dramatically.
“I really love the quality of life that I lead today. The difference is I am not so constantly worried about looking at a screen or waiting for an email or jumping on a call,” she said. “I am more worried about who I am connecting with. What I am going to teach. What is happening with the ocean.”
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