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The Scientific and Personal Benefits of Quitting Your Job

You'll be totally stress-free until you look at your bank account.

by Arielle Pardes
15 February 2017, 9:15pm

Illustration by Brandon Bird

Buck Flogging wants you to quit your job.

For a small fee, Flogging will even walk you through the process, showing you how to squirrel away a few months' worth of savings and line up a secondary source of income, until you can finally march into your boss's office, announce your intentions to move on, flip the desk, and get the hell out of there for good.

OK, so maybe it doesn't usually happen like that, but Flogging isn't joking when he says most people would benefit from quitting their jobs. The 39-year-old has spent much of his own career writing books like Quit Your Job in Six Months, coaching other people to ditch the nine-to-five life for less conventional, more entrepreneurial lines of work. When we spoke on the phone, he told me his mission in life is "to serve the unhappily employed, to help them find another way to live their life."

Flogging may be a one-man unemployment evangelist, but his target audience is surprisingly big. A 2016 global survey by accounting firm Deloitte found that almost 44 percent of millennials would leave their job in the next two years, if given the choice. And to be sure, two million Americans actually do leave their jobs every year. Could they actually be healthier, happier, and living better lives than those of us who still show up to work every day?

Watch: How To Quit Your Job

It should be stated that there are a lot of good reasons to have a job: It makes us feel useful, it puts food on the table, it gives people a way to define themselves. Aristotle even had a concept that the root of human happiness was not dicking around and relaxing all day, but working toward a clearly defined goal—basically, some iteration of having a job. That's why even super rich people like Bill Gates show up to work on a regular basis instead of spending every day drinking martinis by a swimming pool.

Still, the Aristotelian view is an awfully romanticized version of what it means to actually have a job. Most people do not wake up every morning thinking, How can I achieve my full human potential on this conference call today? Work is often, at best, a source of boredom; at worst, one of misery and dread.

"Most people identify work as their number one source of stress," Heidi Hanna, executive director of the American Institute of Stress, told me. "It's chronic, ongoing stress."

Gallup's State of the American Workplace survey found that a whopping 70 percent of people reported feeling so stressed out that they had actively disengaged from their work. Employees who fell into this category were more likely to report physical pain from their job-related misery, along with higher cortisol levels, higher blood pressure, and double the risk of depression. In other words, work is literally killing people.

"Experiencing stress, we know, is correlated with anywhere between 75 and 90 percent of all [primary care] visits. It triggers a systemwide response: increases inflammation, heart rate, decreases our ability to sleep, changes our metabolism," Hanna said. "It hijacks the way our system operates."

So leaving your job can be an instant (if temporary) reprieve from that stress. As one job-quitter put it to me, there was a twinge of guilt upon giving his two week's notice, but "nothing felt as good as walking out of that office knowing I wouldn't have to come back." And there's good reason to believe that quitting a soul-sucking job can lead to better outcomes in the long run—just look at Rogue One: A Star Wars Story director Gareth Edwards, who spent ten years building up the nerve to quit his day job to self-produce his debut movie.

Related: We Asked People in Their 30s If They Hate Their Jobs

But in leaving behind all of that work-related stress, quitters also leave behind a paycheck, purpose, and the relative ease in knowing what you're supposed to do day in and day out. That can bring on its own kind of stress—like, how the hell am I going to pay the rent this month stress. That's what Tess Vigeland found when she interviewed 80 job-quitters for her book Leap: Leaving a Job With No Plan B to Find the Career and Life You Really Want. "At first, they are relieved not to be where they were. There's a palpable sense of relief; like a boulder was lifted off them," she said in an interview with the Huffington Post. "That euphoria lasts until they look at their bank account and say: 'I don't know when my next paycheck is coming.'"

Unemployment can be embarrassing, nerve-wracking, and is associated with higher rates of depression and anxiety, cardiovascular disease and hypertension, even the risk of suicide. Having a job sucks, but not having a job can suck even more.

To Flogging, those aren't real risks as long as you quit on your own terms and in pursuit of something better. Whether you quit with or without another job lined up, he said, you'll be fine as long as you start spending your time doing something more fulfilling than what you were doing before.

"I think whether you make more money or less money [after you quit], whether you spend more hours working or fewer, it doesn't matter if you're enjoying what you're doing in that time more," Flogging told me. "If you quit your job and you instantly shift from doing something you didn't like to something you do like, you're already solving one of the greatest problems in life."

But not everyone sees it that way. Take it from James Krause, who left his cushy job at the University of California, Davis, to follow his dream of opening an aquarium store. He knew it seemed crazy, but he was 29, tired of making money for someone else, and figured if he was ever going to make the leap to working for himself, it had to be now or never.

"After I quit, I was pretty apprehensive," he told me. "I had just taken steps towards either crushing defeat or completing my dream."

It turned out that owning your own business, however fulfilling, can be way more stressful than any job where you clock in, clock out, and take home a paycheck. "I always knew it would be difficult, but I was not prepared," Krause said. "I used to never get sick, now I get sick three or four times a year. I have extra gray hair from the stress. It's tough. If you quit your job to start your own business and think there is going to be less stress, you are sorely mistaken."

Hanna, too, underscored that quitting your job isn't a panacea. "The worst thing that can happen is that you throw a tantrum, you flip a table, you storm out the room, and you end up in the same exact type of situation because you weren't clear about what wasn't working," she told me. "It can feel like, 'anything would be better than this,' but be careful."

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