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Why I Quit
After six years at Amazon as a software engineer
Yesterday marked my sixth anniversary at Amazon. It was also my last day. Stories of quitting a high-paying job tend to touch people’s nerves, but I think the motivations are usually more personal and nuanced than what is said publicly.
I’m not writing this to persuade anyone to quit their jobs. I just want to clarify my thoughts and remind my future self why I made this decision. If it’s of any help to you, I’d be happy to connect and have a chat.
If you keep asking yourself “What’s the meaning of it”, it’s probably not meaningful to you.
I used to enjoy coding and getting up to work, but at some point I lost the motivation. I tried for a long time to rediscover its purpose, but I couldn’t find any, except that the job earns me money.
Later I realized the fact that I’m questioning its purpose implies a lack of it. If we’re happy, we won’t ask what’s the meaning of life.
Then the question becomes: is it worth working solely for the money?
Yes I can save more for the future when I need it, but what if the imagined future never comes? In On the Shortness of Life, Seneca reminds us, “Whatever can happen at any time can happen today.“
You can always make more money, but you can’t make more time.
We all know time is more important than money, but we often don’t act this way. One reason may be our perception is distorted by a monthly salary — money feels scarce because each month only a fixed amount hits the bank, while time feels limitless because, hey I’ve got the free time after work why not kill them?
What makes a better life? Bigger house, nicer car, fancier restaurants?
They’re nice things, but when we upgrade our lifestyles too fast, we feel we have to earn more. When we don’t have an answer for what is enough, we mistake having more for true happiness.
We have only one life, and work is part of it. Any separation is delusional to our detriment.
A PhD friend once told me how great he felt after working for a company instead of a research lab, because “I can forget about it once I leave the office.”
We like to separate work and life. As if we have two buckets, we’re always trying to pour more water from the work bucket to the life bucket.
But what if we only have one?
During school I asked a professor whether I should pursue a PhD. His advice was much more practical than I thought: “If you wake up in the morning and there’s nothing else you want to do except a PhD, then go do it. Otherwise don’t.”
Now I realize the advice applies not just to PhD. No one questions you when you have a full-time job, but that’s just a default path most people take. Does it mean it’s best for you? The decision should be taken as seriously as any other endeavor.
The world is abundant with opportunities. We need time and space to adjust our eyes to see them.
Here is another lie we’re told: without a job, we’ll go broke.
This is like people in the eighteenth century arguing humans will soon see a permanent end to progress, because exponentially growing population will “inevitably” outstrip its linearly growing food supply.
But we do not yet know what we have not yet discovered. We fail to see other options when our visions are so narrow.
Recent layoff reminds us a job is safe until it isn’t. What looks like gaining ten years of experience at the same job is just repeating one-year of experience ten times — this makes people vulnerable.
I believe as long as we keep learning and trying, we’re developing our special knowledge instead of those that are easily replaceable. It reduces competition and opens up opportunities we couldn’t imagine.
This takes time and space. The progress won’t be linear or predictable.
Do you want to live a life that you can see through your eighties? I know I don’t.
Play positive-sum games with long-term people.
I have no clue what I’ll do next, but here is what I do know: I want to live creatively.
I didn’t know such things exist until I started writing online, that I can do things I enjoy while at the same time helping others. I’ve been able to connect with smart people I could never meet in real life.
When you open up yourself to this world by creating and sharing, you’re driven by love instead of fear. When you avoid the environment where people play short-term status games, you see the world as a positive field.
I think we are all creative — whether it’s writing, creating art, starting a great business, or developing a scientific theory — and we’d all be better off making and sharing things we love.
The real value of money isn’t buying more stuff. It’s giving us the freedom to do whatever we want, with whoever we want, and for as long as we want.
For me it’s about learning, creating, exploring, and connecting.
I’ll be heading out to China next week with short stops at Tokyo and Singapore. I’m rethinking about my writing schedule but will definitely share more about my journey.
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