Quitting in the Recession

QuittingABC News Photo Illustration

Back away from the keyboard, pack up your desk and go tell the boss you won't be in again -- ever. Sounds crazy but, even in today's economy, some people are willing to say goodbye to their bosses and quit their jobs, whether it's to help a colleague or satisfy an urge.

Take Tara Dairman and Andy Cahill of Weehawken, N.J., both 29, for instance. They want to travel the world for the next 18 months. "It just made sense to travel and see how things will end up," Dairman said.

So they left their jobs and, with a bit of savings, hope to stay on the road one way or another. Dairman was the Web editor for a small publisher while Cahill worked in finance, where layoffs were imminent.

Cahill isn't the only one who is heading off an expected layoff.

Newfound stress in the office is causing many people to consider alternatives to their old way of life, experts say. "A lot of people are saying, 'I don't want to sit here waiting for the shoe to drop,'" said career expert Liz Ryan, who has her own Web site.

Dairman and Cahill married June 6, and plan to begin their journey at the end of the month from Trinidad and Tobago in the Caribbean. They'll spend the next six months traveling South America by bus and foot, before returning home for the holidays and resuming the journey.

"We're trying to talk to people who are from or have been to South America," Dairman said. "People tend to exaggerate how dangerous it is -- you don't have to fly everywhere."

They hope to do a little freelance work on the road, specifically writing, for extra cash.

While dramatically lower airfare is certainly helping the couple save money, they'll have little left after their excursion has ended. The future is unclear for the newlyweds, but Cahill hopes that by the time their trip is over, finance is back on its feet.

"If someone offered us a job in New Zealand, we'd be there in a heartbeat," Dairman said. "Otherwise, we'll probably end up back here."

Travel isn't the only motivation to quit. Sometimes, depending on an employee's confidence, he or she might give something up so someone else doesn't have to, experts say.

Amid a crisis in the newsroom at the Boston Globe, resulting in a 12 percent cut in the staff, Nicole Wong volunteered to walk away. Not because she had something already lined up or wanted to see France, but to save the job of a fellow Globe employee.

"It's tough being out of work," Wong wrote in a Facebook post. "And even tougher when you have a family or mortgage to take care of. I happen to have neither."

Sacrificing for a Colleague

"I wrote (the Facebook note) because some Globe staffers whom I've gotten to know a bit over the past 1.5 years couldn't fathom why anyone would sacrifice his or her job, especially without something concrete lined up in this dismal job market," Wong said in an e-mail to ABCNews.com. "But people who've known me longer and better were surprised, given the economy, but not shocked, given what they know of my personal character and professional skills."

She's now traveling across the United States before going back to school at Columbia University as part of the Knight-Bagehot Fellowship in Economics and Business Journalism.

There might even be some benefit in walking away like Wong has, especially in an environment that's as unsettling as the Globe's right now, Ryan said.

"If you were that person -- the one who quit her job to make room for a colleague -- you'd be able to say to prospective employers, 'At that point in my life, I had to make a choice -- staying in the job, wondering whether or not I'd made the right decision -- or take the plunge and see what the universe had in store for me.' Of course, that's a very confident message that will impress employers," Ryan said.

While some, like Wong, will stay with what they know best, others are taking advantage of the time as an opportunity to pursue entirely different careers.

"It can be a great time to make a break like that," Ryan said. "Just, whenever you're making a change, you have to ask yourself why. It shouldn't be just to escape. Thirty percent of the people I talk to are looking to get out of what they're doing, and want to do something new."

Steven DeMaio, 38, a former associate editor at HarvardBusiness.org, quit his job in October 2008, and submitted the post "I Just Quit My Job ... Am I Crazy?" to Harvard Business Publishing, which has grown into a running account of how he's doing as the blog "I Quit -- Now What?"

DeMaio put aside his career in publishing to pursue other interests, such as studying a foreign language, teaching and writing. He seems to have accomplished his goals, and now teaches a GED program for non-English speakers in Cambridge, specializing in English and math.

Like Wong, DeMaio's jobless adventure was facilitated by his circumstances. He's a renter, he bikes everywhere (although he does own a car) and he's admittedly frugal to begin with.

His biggest challenge, he said, is paying for his own health insurance, which is especially important because Massachusetts now requires its residents to have coverage.

"I've cut fun on the outside," DeMaio said. "I'm doing what I love and I enjoy writing so it's not that hard."