WORK WORK WORK WORK

The VICE Guide to Destroying Your Career

Dream of quitting your job to chase your passion? Here's how.
September 20, 2017, 9:30am
Ayu (kanan) bersama dua mama pemintal mitranya di Du’Anyam. Photo courtesy Ayu

You've read it before. Millennials have different priorities than their parents. Need proof? Look at the number of people willing to leave good, high-paying jobs to chase their passions. Three decades ago, when our parents were getting out of college or contemplating their career choice, the goal was simple: get a decent paycheck, save money, and buy a house for your family.

It's different today. A lot millennials dream of leaving their secure nine-to-five to strike out and start their own company. Sometimes it's an app for animal lovers. Other times it's inventing a beard-growing product. The risks are real, but is a lifetime of feeling unfulfilled worth playing it safe?

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Our expert: Azalea Ayuningtyas is the co-founder of Du'Anyam, a company that sells beautiful handmade wicker crafts while providing well-paying jobs for women in poverty-stricken eastern Indonesia. It's something Ayu quit her job as a consultant in the United States to start, leaving behind a comfortable life in Boston to return home to Indonesia and do her own thing. Here's how (and why) she did it.

Step One: Get totally depressed about your impressive qualifications and high-flying career. Ayu studied cellular and molecular biology at the University of Michigan and epidemiology at Harvard University. She had the kind of CV most parents dream about.

When she graduated from Harvard, Ayu got a job working in the sciences at a Boston consulting firm where she earned some $5,000 USD (around Rp 60 million) a month. But none of that made her happy.

"My job was to come up with pricing strategies for our clients, mostly big pharmacies," she told VICE. "It was uninspiring to constantly think of ways to maximize profit for shareholders. I felt like I was using my education and my intellect for no other purpose than making money, and I wasn't helping anyone who desperately needs help."

Step Two: Find a niche where you can make an actual impact. Do you know that Flores has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in Indonesia? It's because women often have to work in the fields even when they are eight or nine months pregnant. This is the kind of thing where a smart plan can make an actual impact.

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Ayu's high school friend, Hanna Keraf, was from Flores. Hanna saw these problems firsthand. She also saw the potential of turning something far less physically taxing—wicker weaving—into a real career for the women of Flores. The pair submitted the idea to the MIT IDEAS Global Challenge. They won. Suddenly, they had enough money to lay the foundations of what would become Du'Anyam.

Step Three: Ignore what everyone else says and quit your job. Once you have done enough research to figure out that your BIG PLAN is actually something that could work, just make the leap and quit your damn job. Your parents will immediately lose their shit. Your friends will tell you it's a terrible idea. Ignore all of them.

For Ayu, it was her dad who was most concerned about the plan. He was asking her questions like, "Why are you doing something so risky?" "Why would you go to a remote, potentially unsafe place for women?" He then tried to guilt her into changing her mind. "What will you get out of this?" "Do you not care about my feelings?"

He eventually changed his mind, she said.

"He now sometimes humble brags about how I have a prestigious American education but chose to do 'social work,' even though what I'm doing is actually social entrepreneurship," Ayu told me. "I'm not sure whether this is meant as a compliment or some subtle insinuation that I'm not fulfilling my potential."

Others were less convinced. One friend, a man, accused her of using her "female privilege," of not needing to support a family, which allows her to be "experimental" with her career choices. Another wanted to know why she would work so hard for something that benefitted someone else.

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"It's hurtful sometimes to hear these things," she said. "I come from a well-off family and my fiancé has a high-paying job. I feel guilty and burdened by my privilege. But this is untrue for my co-founders, who both have to finance themselves. Also, isn't it better to use your privilege to give back, instead of adding on to your own wealth?"

Step Four: Dare to go be broke. Ayu grew up in a pretty comfortable environment. She was used to eating good food, shopping, and enjoying the perks of a well-paying corporate job. Then she moved to Flores.

"The living situation in Flores is a lot humbler than in the big cities," she said. "The first year of Du'Anyam in 2014 I got paid only Rp 1 million ($75 USD) a month, which is not enough by any urban standard. Of course, my salary has increased since, but it probably won't ever total what I made in Boston."

Step Five: Live your work. When you destroy your career, you work more—not less. Ayu works every day of the week. Every waking moment of her day is spent thinking about Du'Anyam, about the welfare of women in Flores.

"Surprisingly it motivates me even more than money," she told me. "It is a relief that the world does not revolve around me anymore, and I have other people to care about."

Step Six: Be proud of what you're doing. Ayu told me that she feels all warm and gooey inside when she thinks about the good she's doing in Flores. Success at her old consulting job was more abstract—it was a line on a spreadsheet that meant some pharma company was making more money. Now she sees the impact first-hand.

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"The women are very grateful and supportive of Du'Anyam," she told me. "During community gatherings, women express their heartfelt gratitude with the gusto of die-hard political party supporters. 'Thanks to Du'Anyam now my family eats better,' they say. 'Long-live Du'Anyam! Long-live Du'Anyam!' That's pretty funny."

Step Seven: Bask in the glow of having the guts to really do you. Look, if you're doing something good, then, eventually, people will start talking. You will end up somewhat famous. Ayu has been featured in a lot of articles. She's been a guest on popular television shows.

"Honestly I still feel awkward about it," she said. "I am more humbled than anything else, because I know that Du'Anyam has a long way to go before we can be fully sustainable, and also Du'Anyam is a team effort, not my own doing.

The media likes to focus only on a single persona and the media exposure makes it seem like I'm taking all the credit myself. On the other hand, all this positive PR is very useful when we have to pitch to investors."

Step Eight: Dare to dream even bigger. No matter how broke you are, no matter how difficult the road is ahead, never stop dreaming. Du'Anyam launched a lot of initiatives to improve the welfare of women in Flores, channeling some of their revenue to build a community chicken cage, to educate the women, and to use their weaving income to buy more nutritious meals.

In the future, Ayu wants Du'Anyam to branch out to other cultural products and replicate their model to other remote parts in Indonesia.

"We have started to set up in Papua," she said. "We have other initiatives in Lombok and we plan to reach to other parts in Flores too. Our projection is for Du'Anyam to be profitable by 2018. We have also launched eco-sustainable tourism packages to Flores to raise awareness and to help with the development."

A final piece of advice: "If you don't do it, you'll never know, never learn," Ayu told me. "Personally, founding and managing Du'Anyam is a learning experience more valuable than any MBA degree. If things go south, you can always re-start your mainstream career. You might be set back in comparison to your peers, but the experiences you learned are priceless."