This is not a “quiet exit”. How leaving – and retirement – can set you free.

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This is not a “quiet exit”. How leaving – and retirement – can set you free.

By Richard Eisenberg

Why quitting your job to start your non-retirement can be an act of narcissism

You’ve no doubt heard of the “quiet exit,” the supposedly pandemic workplace trend of “doing the least amount of work, just the other side of being fired,” as journalist and author Julia Keller puts it in her new book, Leaving.

You probably haven’t heard of something Keller calls “quasi-optimization.”

This is the kind of precise exit where you leave a full-time job with the intention of going in a different direction. It’s about letting go of some things, but not letting go of everything.

As Keller told me when I interviewed her by Zoom at her home in Ohio, non-retirement — when you quit work in your mid-60s to work part-time and use the newfound free time to do other things — is wonderful example of – opt out.

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“Almost everyone I know now who is of age has done just that. There’s not this line of demarcation where you hand over your keys to your IBM desk and go home and sit around the house and play pickleball,” said Keller, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, author and former Chicago Tribune book critic. “It does a lot of different things instead of just one thing. The people I know who are ‘retired’ and I use terrible air quotes are making more now than they ever did in their so-called working lives.’

Here are highlights from our conversation about leaving and retirement:

Richard Eisenberg: What made you write a book about giving up?

Julia Keller: My interest came from some personal moments where I just gave up on things – and not always for my own betterment.

You’ve quit a few times, haven’t you?

The first job I had was at a small newspaper in Ashland, Kentucky, and they paid me less than a quarter of what they paid the guy who had done the same job before me. And I was like “What?”…

So, in a great fit of bravado, I quit that job — I gave no notice, which I think is a terrible thing. I would never do that today. The opt-out was good, the opt-out method was bad.

Other jobs, I left maybe a little too early or maybe I stayed a little too long. So my own story of leaving is like all of ours.

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You interviewed 150 people about their experiences with quitting. Give me an example.

One of my favorite interviews in the book was a woman who was the head of the cardiology department at the Cleveland Clinic. It was a job of great prestige. Big salary. And she was doing life-saving work. But she just wasn’t there.

And she volunteered at an animal shelter. In short, she is now the director of one of the major animal shelters in the Cleveland area. She quit her job at the Cleveland Clinic and said her family was just horrified. It was like, “What are you doing? You’ve been training for this! You have it all!’

But she is very happy indeed and credits one dog she adopted, a stray dog ​​she found who was close to death and who she nursed back to health.

So our life is often small things. This is the moment of giving up when we move from one thing to another.

One of the people in the book was my college classmate, Michelle Weldon; we went to Northwestern together. Tell me her exit story.

Her first book was a memoir about leaving a marriage. The marriage was falling apart; became very toxic. He knew he had to leave. But she had three children and said: “I know the statistics about single mothers raising children, what happens to them economically, socially, culturally.”

Things worked out for her, but it was a big struggle.

What were the themes you heard from the people you interviewed?

Most people I’ve interviewed regret the things they should have left but didn’t rather than the things they left.

What else did you hear?

Everyone has a quit story, but people hate the word quit. They hate it. I interviewed people who said, “Well, I wouldn’t call it quitting. I changed my mind. I spun around. But I didn’t give up.

Why do we hate the word “give up”?

It gets under our skin. It definitely has that connotation: you’re a loser.

I really think it started back in the 19th century when material success was associated with hard work. We were specifically told that if you work hard, you will succeed. If you didn’t, you’d be rolling in the gutter with a bottle of gin.

That was the message. It was sold to people like cars, cornflakes and smartphones.

But you also talked to people who said how happy they were as a result of quitting and how it changed their lives.

Oh yeah. Interviews seemed to happen much more frequently. People were happy to make a change.

You write that the new science of giving up can set you free. What is the new science?

I have found in my research that an emerging focus of neuroscience is the science of giving up. What happens in our brains when we decide to abandon a path?… What are the chemical and electrical triggers that initiate the cessation of one type of behavior and the performance of another?

While there may be a great cloud of history that passes before we leave something, there must be a moment of decision. You may consider quitting your job for years, but there has to be that moment when you do. So what neurons are activated to push you to that moment of giving up?

I call giving up aerobics for your brain.

You also call giving up an “act of love.” What do you mean?

Giving up is an act of self-love. It’s a way of saying, “I deserve better. This job may not be a Dickens workshop, but I deserve better. I deserve to have a deeply satisfying job. I deserve to have deeply satisfying relationships.

That’s one thing giving up can give you. Because giving up says, “If it doesn’t work, try something else.” Change is a way to love, appreciate, and value yourself.

What’s the right way to quit work at 50 or 60 to start your next chapter?

I think it depends so much on the type of relationship you have with your boss. If you have a good relationship, you can have talks about leaving.

What would you say to people who have full-time jobs and are considering quitting to begin whatever version of retirement they have, but are nervous about giving up the security of the job, the salary, the colleagues and the things they used to do for many years? They want to explore the next thing, yet they’re kind of frozen in time.

The phrase “frozen in time” really resonates. Stuck was a word I would hear a lot from people I interviewed. They would say, “I can’t move on even though I want to, but I don’t want to stay here.” I think that creates a terrible cognitive dissonance.

Giving up is the hardest thing we ever do. And I think sometimes it helps to admit: This is hard.

Before I leave things, I always get really sick. I thought I had the flu before I left the Tribune, where I had been for about a dozen years. My stomach was sick. I had a bad headache.

I too have had a hard time at times ending friendships.

So how can people get unstuck?

It is somewhat important to know what you want to do.

One person I interviewed, at Northwestern University Hospital, said that during the pandemic, he would have a line out the door of doctors and other people in the medical field wanting to talk to him because they wanted to leave. They were burned. His question to them was always simple. He would say, “Give up what?”

Meaning, what’s on the other side of giving up? He would say, “If you can answer that question, then maybe you’re ready. But if you can’t…”

I’ve heard financial advisors say that many people think about what they will retire from, but not what they will retire for.

That’s a lovely way to put it. It’s not what you reject, it’s what you accept.

Some people get rid of toxic relationships after they retire and get older. Any thoughts on this?

Oh, absolutely. People can drain batteries. They can undermine your confidence… Sometimes even family members can be very destructive. I spoke to a woman who realized that it was no good for her to have a really close relationship with her family.

It’s so important to remove the people you have in your inner circle because they can have such an influence.

You tell readers to give others in their lives permission to let go. What do you mean?

I think sometimes we really get in people’s way. I know I did.

I was a bit of a mentor in [Chicago] Tribune with some of my other fellow writers, and when people wanted to quit, I was pretty judgmental about it.

That quit attitude of mine has really developed.

After reading your book, I started thinking about the times I’ve quit work. First time there in ages and I was bored. The second time I left after six months because I felt the job wasn’t a good fit. The next time I left after just over a year because I thought the job was bad for my mental health. The last time was when I quit my job as managing editor of the Next Avenue site in 2022. It was because I was excited to try new things.

I love the fact that you can identify that each one is a different thing. They are quite characteristic, but they all give up.

That’s why I think quit stories are so great. Love them.

– Richard Eisenberg

This content was created by MarketWatch, which is operated by Dow Jones & Co. MarketWatch is published independently of Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal.

 

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06-10-23 1556ET

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