Why I Quit My 'Dream Job' -- Without A Safety Net

Tess Vigeland explains why she quit as Marketplace host, leading to a year of being 'adrift.'

Chris Guillebeau
"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 jobsedit@teamaol.com. And come back here every Wednesday morning for my next post.

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Karen Martínez P.

People is so scared of "not having a regular job". Good for you! 9-to-5 is so overrated.

I'm also planning to quit my job next year, but first I want to make a living from freelancing.

November 05 2013 at 1:32 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
erica loren

Bravo TESS , I am sure your finding you arent alone. Also, isnt it amazing how you grew in such a different way when you took this risk!.I am truly proud of you and your courage to help you first . That truly is what you did and are showing others to do. We give so much to our jobs and others and self care, respect and love is one place we time and time again fall short. Your a hero. You inspired me today beyond measure. So grateful and appreciate you
Hugs Erica

September 11 2013 at 3:06 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

My story could be titled "Eat, Pray, Work" as I am not trading romantic partners but there seems to be a seven-year itch with jobs as the needs of my home-life change as well as my interests and the fact that I seem to find work with relatively short ladders to climb. About a year ago I entered what I now refer to as my "hungry caterpillar" phase. At the time I had no idea I was entering a stereotypical mid-life crisis (the female variety where we don't recognize who we are any more and start searching for our true purpose). All I knew was I was hungry - didn't know why or for what but had this strong urge to blow up everything I had built (marriage, home, career) to run off and start over. Fortunately I recognized what was happening before I actually did any of that and entered the cocoon phase where I could ask the questions and do the soul searching I needed in order to transform my life. In the middle of this phase, a misunderstanding at work got blown out of proportion and I just suddenly walked away. In hindsight, I see how I unknowingly contributed to the chain of events, and realized maybe it wasn't a total accident. The job fit me well for the previous seven years, but leaving now felt like shedding my old skin. To everyone who wasn't privy to what had been going on inside me, it was a complete shock, and I admit once in a while I get scared and think about slipping back into old patterns that were comfortable, but then I remind myself that I need to keep looking forward and finish the inner work I had started so I can eventually complete the transformation, crack open this cocoon, and fly!

September 10 2013 at 11:25 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I'm with you! Leaving a dream job that connects environmental issues to solving social problems. Big national and global policy change meets demonstration and community-driven implementation. Totally in control of what projects I do next and what strategies to pursue, but totally burnt out and looking to live more simply and more fully. First, my partner and I are leaving SF for Sonoma to be winemakers for three months. After that, we have no idea. I'm keeping track of my strange journey here: www.doingweird.com. So far, so good!

September 05 2013 at 5:23 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I dream daily of leaving my passive aggressive, micro-manager supervisor. I enjoy the work, but not the policies nor the lack of integrity displayed by many co-workers, plus watching the sups turn their heads to these actions. THey only want to book sales and score points for upper management, without a care as to the end result for our customers. I have four chapters written of a book I hope to have published some day, Plus a plot for a second book. When I get soooo frustrated with work, I dive into my book and dream of cashing my check from the as-yet unknown publisher. In the meantime, I buy too many lottery tickets.

September 04 2013 at 11:26 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I had a similar experience.

i quit a well paying job with no safety net. I guess I was a bit burnt out and just wasn't enjoying what I was doing. Going to a job and putting great effort into it but not enjoying it at all is not where I want to be. So I resigned and gave two months notice. I haven't found another job now after 6 months and I am very frustrated but I know I had to quit. I may have to change fields and settle for a much lower salary but that's ok if I can find something that I really enjoy.

The job market is really tough right now. Employers seem to want the perfect person with very specific experience at a below market salary. I may need to reinvent myself which isn't easy at my age but I've always enjoyed a challeng.

September 04 2013 at 7:02 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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