MS. REBECCA SHEIR
Welcome back to "Metro Connection." I'm Rebecca Sheir. Our theme today is Choices. And thus far we've mostly been focusing on the choices being made at the polls, come Tuesday. In this next part of the show though, we're gonna bring you some stories of a more personal nature. We'll begin with the tale of Washingtonians who, in the midst of a weak economy, are choosing to walk away from a really good job. The Department of Labor says the number of people voluntarily quitting their jobs is on the rise this year. It's about two million a month, one-third higher than we saw back in 2009, when the recession was at its worst.
MS. REBECCA SHEIR
Jacob Fenston went in search of people who are redefining the daily grind and found that sometimes, regardless of the stagnant GDP or high unemployment rate, there comes a time when you just have to quit your high-profile policy job and start a band.
MR. JACOB FENSTON
It's a Wednesday night and Elena Lacayo and three friends are practicing in her basement in Mount Pleasant. Until a few months ago, Lacayo worked on Latino and immigrant issues at a big non-profit in D.C. It was a great job she says, tackling really important problems, she had a lot of responsibility, she was on TV all the time.
MS. ELENA LACAYO
But that also was, like, really high pressure. That meant, like, any day I could show up to work and I'd think it'd be a chill day and then suddenly it'd be like, oh, my God, CNN called and I've gotta do everything and get my talking points ready and put on my pearl earrings and, you know.
This was a career path she'd been on since college, moving from one job to the next one up the ladder.
You know, D.C. is the kinda place where the next step is the next step kind of up. And I just couldn't think of what that would be for me.
She thought about going back to school, but instead decided to take a different route, live cheaply and focus on playing music.
Even though she had some money saved up, it was a sort of scary decision to make in this economy.
For me the biggest fear actually was, like, never getting a job that was as fulfilling as my old job. Like, feeling like I was walking away from, like, the best job I could have ever had.
MS. FRAN D'OOGE
Well, in the past few years, not very many people are quitting their job at all.
Fran D'Ooge runs the D.C.-based recruiting firm, Tangent. On the eve of the great recession about 2.7 million Americans quit their private sector gigs each month. That number plummeted as jobs dried up. D'Ooge says many workers are still afraid to walk away from steady employment, even if they hate what they're doing.
You can say we're in a recovery, but that's sort of the economic numbers, that's not -- it hasn't really filtered through. So whether we're really recovered or not, people are just going out there and quitting jobs.
But, she says, the recession has created a sort of pent-up desire to quit.
People have been working many, many, many extra hours and I think there's some people that have gotten to the point where they just couldn't do it anymore. 'Cause you can sustain that for a while, but when you're looking at doing it for years...
For Barbara Michelman, the choice was between career and family. A little over a year ago, she decided to quit her job in an education non-profit and now works part time from home in Cheverly, Md.
She gets to spend a lot more time with her seven-year-old daughter, Ava, walking her to school most days.
MS. BARBARA MICHELMAN
It is the conundrum of when you have a child or children, at least it's my conundrum, is if I felt I was doing a good job at work, then I felt I was neglecting my family or vice versa. I think there's a lot to do with being an overachiever. There's a lot of Type A personalities in Washington, D.C.
She'd always been driven by her career, but as she was spending more and more hours at work and away from her daughter, Michelman thought more and more about her childhood and how her mother raised her.
Our life paths couldn't have been any more different. My mom was a stay-at-home mom, but I really started to think, my mom was always there. And home-cooked meals were always on the table.
She says this stay-at-home thing is probably not permanent and she'll reevaluate as her daughter gets older.
I don't think I'll ever get to a place where I feel completely comfortable with any one decision, but for now this works well. It was a good decision.
Meanwhile, Elena Lacayo, in addition to working on her music, has a part-time gig at a bike shop.
Oh, I'm in sales. I work at City Bikes in Adams Morgan. And I'm learning a ton about bikes.
It's the kind of job you don't take home at night or on the weekend. She says that's part of what she was looking for, the chance to define herself beyond a job title.
Who am I gonna be? I've been this person for four years and working in this job and, like, being known for that. And actually really, like, I felt like I had also accepted that as my identity. Like it wasn't just what other people saw in me, it was also what I was seeing in myself. And I think that at the end of the day part of the reason that I decided to leave is because I wanted to rediscover who I was without that.
At this point she's not sure what's next, but says it's kind of liberating to not be focused on that next rung of the ladder. I'm Jacob Fenston.
If you want to hear more of Lacayo's music, the band is called Elena and Los Fulanos. And they have a show coming up at the Black Cat in Northwest, D.C. You can find more information on our website, metroconnection.org. And this story comes to us from WAMU's Public Insight Network or PIN. It's a way for people to share their experiences with us and a way for us to reach out for input on stories we're working on. To learn more about the Public Insight Network, head to metroconnection.org/pin.
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