Researching opting out has been incredibly inspirational for me in many ways. It’s been a very personal project – I opted out of my own business career in 2009. But it is also because of all the interesting and exciting discussions I’ve had on opting out over the past five or so years. I don’t think I’ve met a single person who didn’t have at least some thoughts or opinions on opting out. When people find out what I do, they often want to talk about it. They either know someone who has opted out, they might have done it themselves, or they just wish they could do it too.
However, even though they may want to or dream about it, most people don’t opt out. If so many people want to opt out, why aren’t more doing it? I don’t think the main answer here is money. Yes, money plays in, and quitting your job is a risk. But we have to remember, according to my definition of opting out, opting out means opting in to doing something else, to another way of working or living. One opting out myth is that it is only women with rich husbands who opt out. The truth is, most people who opt out need to be able to support themselves and continue to do so after having opted in to a new lifestyle. Many of the women I interviewed were married to husbands who could support them if needed, but I have also interviewed single moms, women who are single and don’t have children, and women who were the main breadwinners in their family before opting out.
No, there is another reason, and that is that opting out is a huge change, it is stepping out into the unknown and that is scary. It is hard to imagine anything other than the way of life you know. In my research I have found that people don’t opt out until they have some sort of defining moment – a crisis of some sort – that pushes them to take the step. It can be health problems, a conflict of interests at work, an identity crisis, a death, anything really, but it is a moment when they realize they can’t go on this way. There is a sense of urgency and they opt out without having any grand plan, and figure it out as they go.
People ever so often ask me for advice on how to opt out. Opting out is romanticized in the media, you often see stories of happy people who have changed their lives and started doing something completely different. There is no shortage of self-help books on how to change your life, how to find your authentic you, how to be happy, and there is a huge market for life coaching. But still, people don’t know how to opt out, and I can’t very well tell them to go and have a crisis and the rest will figure itself out…
A friend of mine posted a quotation on Facebook a while ago: “Never be afraid to fall apart because it is an opportunity to rebuild yourself in the way you wish you had been all along.” – Rae Smith.
I find this worrisome, how can you glorify falling apart? A lot of people who fall apart don’t manage to put themselves back together. How can it be that you need to have a crisis in order to create a life that you can live with?
What if we lived in a culture that didn’t make us want to opt out in the first place? What if working cultures allowed us to be ourselves and embrace who we are, and to combine work and other areas of life in a way that felt meaningful? What would that look like?