I quit my job

The good thing is, nobody will ever know ... unless, I write about it, and it goes viral, and I go on TV, and then it dies down, and then I write about it again. Also, 7 other things worth your time.

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I quit my job

There was a trending hashtag on Twitter the other day: #quitinpublic.

It’s used by people who build side hustles, get some traction, and then quit their day jobs with fanfare to invite accountability while they pursue their entrepreneurial dreams. It reminds me of the legend of Cortés burning his ships when he came to the New World.

When I saw that hashtag I thought:

“Heh heh. I see your #quitinpublic, and I raise you, like a zillion #quitinpublics.”

I will flatter myself by saying that I have lived an interesting life. But, for a while, the number-1 thing for which I was known to the world is that I quit a brand-new, $100k+ job as an attorney, after only one day.

Back in October 2009, nobody beyond my little circle knew. But in the years that followed, as I became a writer (again; we’ll touch on that briefly), I thought, Perhaps I should share this. Perhaps people would get value out of my experience.

So, I wrote a story: I Quit My New Job After 1 Day. Here's What Happened to My Career.

My friends, the thing went viral. Well, viral by my standards; we’re not talking about Grumpy Cat or that thing where some people thought a dress was blue while others insisted it was gold.

Still, at least a few million people read my article. I got emails from lots of people saying they, too, wanted to quit, and asking for advice.

Things died down. But then, CBS Sunday Morning was doing a story on people who quit their jobs. Tony Dokoupil interviewed me, and I was held up as the poster boy for “people who impulsively quit their jobs” on national television.

(Aside: You know what would have been great? If the CBS Sunday Morning appearance had come after I’d launched Understandably.com, so I could plug it, instead of six months before. Oh well, something else will happen.)

Anyway, I have now come all this way without actually telling you about the job. As I wrote in 2018, this wasn’t an after-school gig at The Gap. Instead, it was “a ‘real job,’ with a six-figure salary and a legitimate career path, and I'd beaten hundreds of other applicants to land it.”

But, it was a terrible fit, and I knew it within minutes of arriving.

To set the stage, I had previously spent a few years working as a lawyer for the federal government. I liked trying cases, but I absolutely could not stand the bureaucracy. So, I left.

I did a few things in the JAG Corps (which is still the government, but different), parlayed that into working for Bob Woodward of The Washington Post, reporting from Iraq, and ultimately launching a career as an author and writer.

My first book came out, but then—oh man, I don’t know: the financial crisis happened, things looked dire, book advances and freelance work dried up. I guess I kind of panicked.

Somehow, I learned they were hiring attorneys at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs headquarters in DC, which was about two miles from where I lived.

I thought: Any port in a storm. Maybe it would be nice to have a steady paycheck.

Key data point: Between the time I first applied, and when I got an offer and a start date, nine full months passed. That’s government efficiency for you, and perhaps it should have been a clue. We could have had a baby faster.

During that time, things had stabilized a little bit for me. But, I thought: What the heck, I already said I’d take the job. Maybe I can write and do these other things I really feel passion for during my off hours.

Oh my God. Big mistake. I barely made it through new-employee orientation:

One speaker made a crack about knowing exactly how much time he had left before retirement. Then some of the other speakers picked up on him, introducing themselves like:

“Hi, I'm Jane Smith. I have 11 years, four months, and 22 days until retirement. I'm here to talk about information security.”

One after the other. It was black humor, sure, but they all seemed so down on their situation and resigned to their fates. I really felt bad for them.

“I felt bad for them.” Ha, that’s rich. Let me be even more honest and less self-flattering than I was when I first wrote that line. I felt really bad for myself!

I took copious notes during this orientation, telling myself (wow, this is meta!), that someday I would write about this experience. When I brought the notes with me to CBS Sunday Morning almost a decade later, Dokoupil read them (thankfully not aired): “It says, ‘Trying so hard not to cry.’”

Later, I settled into my shared office, where the desk was covered with a huge stack of files ... When I stepped out for a cup of coffee that afternoon, somebody commented that I took 10 minutes longer than we were allowed.

Oh, man, I thought. Just one day ... This wasn't going to work.

I steeled myself for the tough conversation I knew I was going to have to have.

The next day, I got there super-early: 6:30, or maybe 7:00 a.m. I told my boss I had made a big mistake and I would not be staying.

Afterward, I was suddenly famished. I walked to a diner that was literally called The Diner, ate an enormous breakfast—and then pretty much restarted my professional life.

Over the next 10 years … well, things worked out. We have lots of fodder for other newsletters. But I also learned that I’d become a little bit legendary in that office. I imagine conversations between Veterans Affairs attorneys and their bosses:

Attorney: “Chief, I apologize. I screwed up this case.”

Boss: “Well, at least you’re not like that guy who quit after just one day!”

All: “Ha ha ha ha ha …”


Anyway, it was a rough experience, but there’s an incredible, glorious lesson that I’ve learned as a result. It’s paradoxical. It’s that nobody cares!

That big dilemma you’re facing? That major mistake that you made?

Chances are, nobody will care. You’ll go on and do other things, and succeed or not, but it’s almost certain that this thing you’re all worried about won’t matter.

Nobody will remember!

Unless, of course, you start writing about it, and doing television shows, and then letting the whole thing die down for more than a year and then — oh what the heck — writing about it again. But seriously, why would anyone ever do that?


(I know you’ve got your own stories. Please share ‘em in the comments.)

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7 other things worth your time

  • Canada still has very strict entry requirements due to Covid, including a rule that you have to quarantine in a government-approved hotel for three days (and about $1,000) if you arrive by air. Solution? People are hiring taxis to drive them across the border for about $250. (Car & Driver)

  • I wanted to share a few more “Understandably greatest hits,” especially since about 96 percent of today’s subscribers hadn’t heard of this newsletter yet, when this one ran 18 months ago. It’s about Stephen Colbert, the tragedy that struck him at age 10, and his reflections on gratitude. (Understandably)

  • One of the jurors in the Derek Chauvin murder trial started giving interviews. He says the evidence was overwhelming, and the jurors didn’t feel any outside pressure to convict. (USA Today)

  • Want to go to space? Apparently, maybe, at least a few people might be able to buy tickets on a Blue Origin spaceship, as soon as May 5. The trip will reach about 100 kilometers above the earth, and passengers will experience zero G for about 10 minutes. (CNBC)

  • The U.S. is running low on chicken, apparently in part because fried chicken sandwiches at fast food places like KFC and Popeyes have become so popular .(Bloomberg)

  • Speaking of memes and things that go viral, the little girl in the famous “Disaster Girl” meme is now a college senior, and she just made $500,000 by auctioning off the original image as an NFT. (NY Times)

  • One more “greatest hit.” This is the story of Julia Sand, an eccentric woman in New York in the 19th century who struck up a completely unexpected friendship (mostly via letters) with the 21st U.S. president, Chester Arthur. (Understandably)

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