In April 2021, the New York Times published an article dubbing the wave of employees leaving their longtime career paths as the “YOLO economy.” YOLO (an acronym for “you only live once”) became popular in the early 2010s with a Drake song and has since cropped up in pop culture –– even Zac Efron has a tattoo on his arm reminding him of the sentiment to appreciate every precious moment for what it is.
In the wake of the pandemic, employers and employees shifted to remote work and flex-time. Many employees had the time and space to evaluate their working conditions and didn’t like what they found. A recent Personal Capital survey found that 66% of Americans surveyed are interested in switching jobs, even more so among young generations (91% of Gen Zers and 78% of Millennials).
Being out of the office, some for the first time, employees realized that often they were more productive when they worked from home. Add on more time for friends and family when long commutes were reduced from the time it takes to walk from your bedroom to your desk, and you’ve got a workforce reconsidering what they want out of life.
I am incredibly thankful that I already had a remote team and workplace structure in place with Her First $100K –– but many of my friends and colleagues did not have the same luxury. Over this series, I’ll be interviewing people who decided to take full advantage of the YOLO economy. I’m starting with a longtime friend and my travel partner in crime, Kristine Ota.
Kristine decided to leave her job of eight years this year to work on her screenplay and take a work sabbatical after the pandemic both exacerbated and highlighted parts of her work life that no longer served her. In our interview, she details how she’s embracing the YOLO economy and her hope for this new chapter.
Tell me a little about yourself, and what were you doing pre-pandemic/pre-YOLOing?
I’m 34 years old and worked with the same company for over eight years before I decided to leave. Typically, I worked 40+ hour work weeks in the office and commuted to work every day.
I am also a sketch and improv comedy performer, which I mostly did after work. Most days, I wouldn’t get home until midnight.
What was the “turning point” for you when you realized you wanted something different?
What happened over the course of this year and a half was really eye-opening. Before the pandemic, I had poor boundaries with work –– I would take on more than I could chew, and instead of receiving help, I would just work nights and weekends. My phone was always on, and I could receive a phone call at 3 a.m. or on a beach in Mexico (both true stories).
Then the pandemic hit, and suddenly it was also about safety. Not just for myself but the safety of my roommates and my partner. I finally found a boundary I was not willing to cross. I had to really advocate working from home, and eventually, the company relented–– but it was not easy.
The time at home, especially with the comedy scene pretty much shut down, allowed me to reflect on my experiences at the company. When I was asked to return to the office, I had not been vaccinated yet. So I requested to return to the office once I was fully vaccinated and it was declined. Now, with my clearly defined boundaries, I realized that the company was not the best place for me.
Did you have any doubt or anxiety about leaving your job/starting a new path?
Initially, I did. I know I have a lot of work experience, I know that I’m capable and scrappy, but this was the only company I have ever known for almost ten years. I had been underemployed for a year before starting –– it was after the 2008 crash, and companies weren’t hiring recent grads. It felt like this company took me in when I was at my most insecure.
Now, as I start preparing for job interviews, I made a list of all the work I am proud of, and wow, did that do wonders to my confidence. Memories popped up that I had forgotten –– compliments I received, projects I took on. I re-read it when I feel anxious, and I remind myself, this isn’t like last time. I feel so much more confident in myself.
Read More: How to Negotiate Your Career Advancement
What did you do to prepare for this next phase of your life financially?
First off, I’m debt-free –– which is a huge leg up. I have emergency savings, which I would never have if I had student loan/credit card debt.
Secondly, I received money in a lawsuit, which was enough to sustain me for a few months. This is not normal for most people, and I am continually grateful.
Is there any advice you’d give to others feeling stuck or unsatisfied?
No matter if a company has crossed a boundary or it’s a slow degradation of morale –– you are not your job. Your job doesn’t define you. It’s not a living, breathing person, but you are.
You cannot hurt an inanimate thing’s feelings, but you can hurt yourself by staying in a toxic situation. Instead of worrying about letting a company down, don’t let yourself down.
What have been the best aspects of “YOLO-ing”?
This is the first time in my life where I’m answering to myself and my needs. I finally have the time to dream again.
It’s the most optimistic I’ve felt in a long time.
What’s been the most challenging part?
So glad you asked this question! More time does not mean I’m drinking and chilling at the beach every day.
Now that I have time to sit with myself, a lot of personal experiences and trauma came flooding back that I’m processing. I used a lot of my job and personal life to suppress those feelings, and now I’m facing those demons head-on, more like a controlled burn. Does it suck? Yes. I’m spending a lot of time listening and relating to Bo Burnham’s “Inside” album.
But do I regret it? Nope. In the long run, it will help me in my next job and my relationships. My regret is that I should have done this years ago.
What do you hope the next season of your life looks like?
Exploration, within myself and to new places. And feeling powerful, I finally feel like I have some control in my life, and I can’t wait to see what I do with that.
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