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People Are Walking Away From Jobs That They Say Aren't Cutting It Anymore

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The pandemic gave all of us a lot of time alone or in our small bubbles with friends and family to reflect on our lives. The virus itself made us more conscious of our health and taking all the precautions necessary to protect it. But the social isolation actually gave us space to look at our priorities. A lot of people came out of this experience and decided it was time for a change. Maybe that meant making a move or reevaluating a relationship. For others, it meant walking away from jobs that weren't cutting it anymore.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

JACKIE BARRON: This email is so hard for me to write.

DESIREE ACEVEDO: Leading up to the phone call, I was very anxious.

EMMA MEEKHOF: I did write an email. And my husband's actually a communications guy, so he helped me kind of word it professionally (laughter).

ACEVEDO: I kind of had, like, a lead-in story (laughter), a mini speech.

BARRON: The pandemic has changed our lives in ways we could never have anticipated.

ACEVEDO: So with that, I'll be putting in my two weeks' notice.

MEEKHOF: I will have to say, I'm not coming back.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: Today we're going to hear from three people who changed their life by quitting.

ACEVEDO: My name is Desiree Acevedo. I am 27 years old. I live in San Antonio, Texas. And I currently work as an accountant right now.

MEEKHOF: My name is Emma Meekhof. I'm a registered nurse currently living on a 1988 Catalina 36 sailboat. I'm 30 years old.

BARRON: I'm Jackie Barron. I am 52. And I live in Chicago, Ill. And I am currently back in school pursuing a master's degree in clinical mental health counseling.

MARTIN: Let's start with Jackie Barron from Chicago. As you heard there, she's getting a degree in mental health, but until late last year, she was a hairstylist.

BARRON: You know, I'll sit on the bus and notice everyone's haircuts. And it was the '80s when I grew up, when - you know, the big bangs and, you know, the curling irons and all that stuff.

MARTIN: She loved doing hair, especially the connections with her clients.

BARRON: And then when the pandemic hit, all the salons in Chicago were closed for 2 1/2 months, and so I was just boom - out of work, kind of sitting around the house, feeling useless, you know, kind of wondering, well, what else could I be doing?

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MEEKHOF: March 2020 came around, and they told everyone in my department, well, you're going to start working from home.

MARTIN: That voice there was Emma Meekhof. She had just gotten a new position at her hospital in Michigan doing long-term case management.

MEEKHOF: And I really didn't have enough training to work from home. So they ended up just pulling me to different parts of the hospital to help out with the pandemic response. By May, the hospital had to have a bunch of budget cuts because they weren't taking in any elective surgeries, weren't gaining any revenue that way, and so the position that I had applied for and gotten was gone.

MARTIN: After that, Emma got shuffled into a different role. Months passed. She and her husband dreamed about pulling up their life and moving full time to their sailboat. By Christmas, it was clear she wasn't happy at work. He could do his remotely. So...

MEEKHOF: We were just kind of sitting there thinking, why are we doing this, especially if my husband was already working from home? There's also kind of this feeling of - we're young now, and there's not always a guarantee that we're going to be able to make this dream happen.

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MARTIN: Desiree Acevedo didn't like her job even before the pandemic.

ACEVEDO: I dreaded going into work, and so I would sleep in a lot and wait till the very, very last minute that I had to get ready and show up 20, 30 minutes late.

MARTIN: She worked as an accountant for an auto body shop in San Antonio. When the pandemic hit and people were staying home to stay safe, she still had to show up, even though she could have done her job from a computer at home.

ACEVEDO: Turns out that automotive repair was an essential business. I don't think the owner bothered to think of other people who could work remotely, and so he really didn't give anybody that option.

MARTIN: Then an employee whose wife tested positive for COVID showed up for work, and their boss didn't send him home.

ACEVEDO: That was kind of the deal-breaker when I was, like, for sure that the owner really didn't care much about his employees.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: All three of these women decided it was time to walk, to find another job, another purpose, another path. Jackie's move felt like a natural evolution to her.

BARRON: Being a hairstylist, it's not exactly being a therapist, but there is that aspect of - some people only tell their hairstylist things they've never told other people just 'cause of the nature of the relationship. And I always enjoyed getting that deeper look into people's lives.

MARTIN: She's still working on her degree in mental health counseling. She's also volunteering for an emergency hotline.

BARRON: It's like teenagers that, you know, are in bad situations - they call in, and I'm doing just the online chat with them, but it's kind of more like crisis work. And I'm finding there's something that's really appealing about kind of dealing with that moment where things are really bad and getting at them through that.

MARTIN: Emma ended up quitting her job at the hospital, and now she and her husband are sailing their 36-foot Catalina around the East Coast.

MEEKHOF: It's amazing to be able to wake up in a completely new spot every morning. It's completely isolated. There's a certain amount of creativity that goes into figuring out where your best anchorage is going to be and how are we going to get the dog ashore, what's the weather like today?

MARTIN: Desiree is now working at a CPA firm. It was a step she'd wanted to take for a while, and the pandemic pushed her to make it happen.

ACEVEDO: It just made me realize sort of what was important to me - you know, doing things that make me happy and having a career that I enjoy going to every day and have people around me who have the same values, who make my life better.

MARTIN: Jackie, the former hairstylist, has reordered her priorities, too.

BARRON: I've been wearing a ponytail for a year. It's fine (laughter). You know, do we really need to put so much effort into our hair when there are people with real problems that need real help? So I'm glad, and I think I'm on the right path.

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MARTIN: Emma isn't following a path on land anymore.

MEEKHOF: We are currently on a dock in Delaware City. We are going to be heading up the New Jersey shore, turning left into the Hudson River and then Lake Erie, till we end up in our marina in Muskegon, Mich.

MARTIN: And from there - who knows? Emma says there's sort of a community out on the water, and the older folks look at them with a bit of envy.

MEEKHOF: They'll say, well, good for you for doing it while you're still young. We just didn't want to wait for that to change. I had seen countless people my age getting COVID and passing away at the hospital, getting sick and not being able to do life the way that they wanted to. And so part of that was - I don't want to wait until I'm 65 with back problems before we go sailing (laughter). We just got to do it now.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

NOEL KING, HOST:

There you heard Emma Meekhof, Jackie Barron and Desiree Acevedo. They're three of the millions of people who are changing their work lives during the pandemic, and they talked to Rachel about quitting their jobs.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.