"What the hell are you doing?"
That was the tweet I got from a friend when the press release went out announcing I'd resigned. It was a typical and understandable reaction. I'd spent 20-plus years in public radio, eleven of them as a host for public radio's business and economics program Marketplace. It was a great job, my dream job, for a very long time. But I knew I had to go, and I left in November 2012 (after giving three months' notice.)
How do you know when it's time to go? It was an extraordinarily hard decision for me. Partly, I was tired of the subject matter. There are only so many times you can tell people to save for retirement and college and not to rack up credit card debt or buy things they can't afford -- before you feel like a broken record week in and week out.
I also left for internal workplace reasons that I'm keeping private. I will say, though, that you know it's time to go, when you have too much self-respect to stay. And when you're so stressed out that you start losing your hair. Yes, that actually happened to me.
Who was I now, without my job?
Leaving led to a year of me trying to find out who I was. What dream was I chasing? What the hell had I done, quitting without a safety net, or a plan? I was no longer "Marketplace's Tess Vigeland." She was awesome! She had this fantastic job that made her kinda famous (at least in the public radio universe), she had a national microphone, she had fans, she had twenty years' worth of incredible opportunities. She was remarkable.
Less than two weeks after I left, Guy Raz announced he was leaving as the host of NPR's Weekend All Things Considered. Seven months followed of interviews, auditions -- and then rejection. They told me I was runner-up.
Then I gave a speech
In July, only one week after learning I hadn't gotten the NPR position, I gave a speech at the World Domination Summit, an annual gathering of creative types, entrepreneurs, and bloggers. And I told them why I quit and my confusion about what to do next. Some 3,000 people were in the audience. One of them was an editor at a book publisher, who contacted me as my speech went viral.
Eleven days later I had a contract to write a book that I'm calling Act Four. Soon after, I got a call from AOL Jobs' editor asking me to blog. So here I am, blogging about my journey -- and people like me.
Clearly, I'm not the only one questioning modern notions of success, experiencing both fear and excitement while being "adrift," wondering how to pursue genuine happiness in the face of constant pressure to top our own accomplishments -- and others'.
Are you dreaming of bailing too? Share your stories below and email me at email@example.com. And come back here every Wednesday morning for my next post.