Monday, August 5, 2013

Why I quit my job today


According to The New York Times, the theme of this year's graduation speeches was "be bold and take risks." For the Millennial generation this is the ultimate pep talk – it's what Uncle Sam's call to war was for the 1940s or what Woodstock's call to peace and free love was for the 1960s. Young people across the globe have been heeding this advice, dropping their paychecks and healthcare benefits and picking up their Ramen noodles and curbside couches to pursue the start-up dream.

Today, I became one of these 20-something risk-seekers. I went to my office for the last time, signed some papers, and officially handed over my lucrative job as a management consultant to [hopefully] find my passion and design my own job. However, unlike Mark Zuckerberg, who is my age by the way and can say in hindsight that risk brought him success, I have no clue whether this will be a good decision or a complete disaster. I know my dad, for one, is biting his fingernails.

So why am I doing this? What motivates our generation to throw caution and salaries to the wind and follow our idealism in chase of a better pot of gold, a better app, a better world? And what makes many of us so successful?

Here are 7 thoughts.

1. Work = purpose. It's become a cliché, but it used to be that you worked to live but now we live to work. Longer work hours have created a higher premium on getting the most out of your job. The attitude is "if I'm going to spend 90% of my waking hours at work then I better be doing something I love." Moreover, as the importance of local community, religion, and cultural traditions has tragically waned, work has filled the void, becoming one of the primary sources of meaning and purpose.
2. Education is overpriced. It's no secret that the price tag of a college or graduate education has been on the rise, a steep rise. So far, most students still seem willing to pay, but as more stories circulate about monstrous debt or about MBAs that give you little but a two-year party, many people are deciding to opt out. Not all become Bill Gates, but many do go on to learn arguably more than they would have sitting in a classroom. (You can read about The Leap Year Project for a great example). 

3. Capital is easy. Many believe we are in a venture capital bubble. There are more wannabe venture capitalists than good entrepreneurs and nearly any idea that sounds sexy, seems remotely feasible, and is backed by a 25 year-old will have a school of sharks ready to take a bite. Many young people are taking advantage - the good ones use the money to build great companies, the bad ones spend it on business conferences in Hawaii.  
4. Power is diffusing. A growing set of accessible, flexible platforms like Twitter, YouTube, Wordpress, Ebay, and, of course, smart phones is making this possible. A high school-aged Tweeter can beat The New York Times with a story that reaches millions. I can look-up on Skillshare how to build an app for a smartphone. Commercial barriers are also falling. With a few clicks and emails I can buy a thousand t-shirts wholesale from China through Alibaba and create my own online store on Ebay.  And soon 3-D printers will become real-life genie lamps, allowing anyone to manufacture products at home.  

Through all this, nobodies become somebodies, and Justin Biebers get noticed on YouTube. This ability for anyone to make a name for themselves fuels the egos of entrepreneurs, and perhaps even more so than the financial incentive, gives them the extra motivation to risk something new.
5. Businesses are becoming more modular. As networks expand and communication technologies improve, teams can be quickly assembled like modular blocks. In my network, for example, I can find an entrepreneur in India to partner with (a business school friend), or talk to a colleague who can recommend a good software developer (a work friend), or get advice from a Human Resources manager in Canada (a Linked-In connection). Moreover, many skills such as web development are becoming increasingly commoditized and sites like ODesk and Elance allow you to hire talent on an hourly basis.  

This, combined with the fact that Millennials enjoy jumping from project to project, means it's likely that businesses will start having an even more fluid staffing model.  They may begin imitating consulting firms, which quickly assemble and disassemble teams to match a client's need. The model will also help keep career-minded, high talent mothers and fathers in the workforce, enabling them to do stimulating work on a part-time basis. The key will be how to select for good talent and build team structures that work.
6. Failure isn't so bad. It's become common advice in the start-up community to "fail as fast as you can." Fortunately, failure isn't nearly as painful as it might have been for our parents' generation. Because Millennials are marrying later, having kids later, and getting mortgages later, we have less to risk by leaving our jobs or worse, going bankrupt. The one exception may be our higher student debt, but even this doesn't deter many people. And as I said before, it may turn out that a failed start-up is a better and cheaper investment than going back to school.

7. Doing good is cool. What is "cool" matters and shapes a generation. Fortunately for us, "doing good" has become the thing to do. Even just 30 years ago, when my dad was in his 30s, there was only one class on nonprofit management available to him in the country. Today there are hundreds of these classes. Social impact has increasingly become part of employers' pitches to recruits. At my firm, working with the Gates Foundation is more popular than working with some of the biggest banks. It's this drive to make a difference that sets us apart from entrepreneurs of the past. At our worst Millennials may have a naive savior complex, but at our best we develop platforms and disruptive solutions that flatten society and empower others to make the world a better place.



  1. Great blog post, Lisa! Super excited for you as you consider next moves. If you want to chat about anything impact/startup-related, I'd love to exchange notes :)

    Be in touch, and best wishes,


    1. Thanks Brian! yes, let's chat soon! Would love to get your thoughts and wisdom!

  2. Right on and admire your decision Lisa! Someone once told me (or I read it somewhere) that most people regret things they didn't do than the once they did, when they look back on their life.

    Journey is the reward. So good luck and enjoy the journey. Let me know if I can help.


    1. Thanks Kash! I agree! Hope to see you all again soon!

  3. Lisa,

    Great post! Thanks for sharing. I'm trying to learn much of this myself, Be bold! Be will to fail! Move forward!

    1. Thanks Jenny! Good luck being bold yourself!

  4. I'm excited for you, Lisa. I think it's going to be a great adventure. You have all my best wishes and if there is anything I can do to help, let me know! GO FOR IT!! (from your uncle Johnny)

    1. Thanks Uncle Johnny, appreciate the support!

  5. Lisa... good to hear that there are lots more people who think like that:-)Just loved it:-) It was a good encouragement, all I needed to hear at this stage:-)
    Great staff

    1. Thanks Luis! You should start a chess school :)