In 2004, I attended a talk by Margaret Heffernan at a business women’s club in Milan. She was launching her then new book, The Naked Truth, and one of the key lessons she shared was that we all should be striving to earn “walk-away money” – the amount of money you’d need to safely walk away from any job or situation, while still being able to support yourself for as long as needed.
“Walk-away money” is the polite phrase; it’s also called “fuck-you money.”
Another term for it is freedom.
At the time, having walk-away money seemed an impossible dream for me. In 2008 I returned to the US and better employment opportunities, but there the need to maintain steady health insurance was a limiting factor: each time I was ready to leave a job, I had to make damn sure I had a new one lined up before I quit. Finding that next job has never been easy. My career has not been readily understood by employers looking to fill standard roles, so I was rarely actively head-hunted.
That began to change when I joined Amazon. I had heard that having any of the FAANGS on my resumé would be a huge career boost. This turned out to be true: as soon as my LinkedIn profile contained “AWS,” I started to hear from recruiters. They came knocking more often after I became a Senior Product Marketing Manager at AWS: product marketing is a job function that people can get their heads around. I’ve had a steady drumbeat of interest from hirers since we moved to Australia, for both local and remote roles.
But, having finally become someone whom employers pro-actively seek out, I no longer care. Because I recently realized something else: I now live (again) in a country with a good public health system, so I don’t need to stay employed just to have health insurance. And I now have fuck-you money (for which, in part, I must thank Amazon). It’s not all that much, but it’s enough to meet my expenses and obligations for probably the rest of my life. I don’t aspire to great wealth, and right now time is more valuable to me than money.
So I have given notice at AWS. I’m using up vacation days this week and next, then will be available to finish handing off tasks and answering questions until my last day, September 2nd.
I don’t have another job lined up, and I’m not looking for one. For the time being, I’m going to rest, recover, and take time to reflect on the nearly 40 years of my life that I’ve worked in tech – and why I wanted to. I have many stories to tell, and I’m gathering the energy to tell them.
ps After 4+ months off, in January 2022 I became Director of Open Source Community and Evangelism at Intel, a company I have long admired.
Congratulations. As you relax, realize that you yourself are now the customer for all of the creativity and imagination that until now has been focussed on tasks that someone else defined. Be a good – and patient – customer.
Janis Joplin‘s (for me) most famous line is:
Freedom is just another word for nothing left to loose.
I‘m a bit envious, but still: Enjoy the next chapter! All the best!
You are so right that the broken health care system in the US controls our job options.
I’ve heard that people go to a new job carrying two buckets- one for money and one for BS. – when either one gets full enough, one leaves. Certainly was my experience in Doha…money was good, BS drove me away after two years.
Enjoy your time now – I
Hope soon you can travel again.
Joplin famously sang it, but Kris Kristofferson wrote it!
Good for you! We all aspire to be there at some point. Of course, what is required means something different to everyone, which is really difficult for one to determine, so I am happy you found what you needed to focus on yourself. Stay in touch, it was great working with you!
Congrats! Very happy that you are feeling free!!
The health care system is the main challenge in the USA. I deeply appreciate that I can keep reinventing myself and that is not so in other societies but the health care system is an issue.
I can’t wait to hear the stories you have to tell us, Deidre!
Interesting to learn about your journey, Deidre.
It has been many years since we shared lunch in New York city at the “video bloggers” event that ended with a snow storm that shut down the city.
Having gone through a similar transition event I was fortunate that a friend gave me a one sheet listing of the emotions such transitions can generate. The list helped me move through the feelings knowing they were part of the process until I emerged on the the other side with a new identity, habits, rountines and connections.
Best wishes for this next part of your journey.
If you find yourself in a job where ****-you is the best you can come up with to say about the organisation that employed you, then you should probably say nothing at all and realise that your motives for working there were shallow. ‘Walk-away’ money on the other hand, I completely get, and have done so myself. It’s a common pastime for us to bitch about our employer, to complain about all the internal politics and other BS, but, if you step back for one moment and consider your part in all that and the fact that, like it or not, that company has helped put food on your table, kept your family safe, and yes, contributed to your healthcare, then maybe, just maybe there is another POV. There are times in our lives when we don’t have the luxury of choosing between our view of the moral high ground and the practicalities of life, but failing to recognise that in most large corporates you are just an line on some accountants spreadsheet in the tab called ‘overheads’, and that at any time that person’s job is to reduce or eliminate that line, is frankly naive. One thing we do agree on, time is infinitely more valuable than cash, but for most of us, you have to earn that time. That’s part of the social contract !
There is good and bad in any organization, and it is indeed a privilege to be able to complain about one’s employer. My point is exactly that I have rarely during my career had the ability to walk away when the bad began to outweigh the good. Now I do, thanks in part to that very employer. As expressed in the post, I am grateful for that. There’s a lot more to say about working at AWS, both good and bad, and I’ll eventually get around to saying it – I’ll probably say more about the good than the bad, because my experience was much more good than bad. Especially in such a large company, any individual’s experience is mostly highly local to the team/org you’re part of, and your own stage in life and your career. My choice to leave now was right for me, others’ choices to stay are equally valid for them. I am not suggesting that others resign, and even today I’m helping good people trying to join AWS, because that may be a good fit for them right now. As for saying “fuck you,” I’m saying it to the whole system, including the American healthcare mess – I’ll have a lot more to say about all of that as well.