Blog Written & Illustrated by Tawn Le

Quitting Amazon & Taking a Year Off - Adult Gap Year

Untitled_Artwork 10.jpg

After working at Amazon for more than 4.5 years, I decided to leave and embark on a new journey.

After initially telling friends and family what I was going to do, many of their first reaction was "what did Amazon do to you?!" Relax. They didn't do anything, and my time there was amazing and challenging.

My final decision to leave Amazon had nothing to do with what you may have read in the papers, nor was it because of the challenging day-to-day work environment.  If anything, being at Amazon gave me the opportunity to gain self confidence and work with many talented and wonderful people all around the world who have really shaped my views within the last 4.5 years that I was there.  


Why I decided to Leave

When I took the job at Amazon back in 2014, I already made a decision that this would be my last advertising job, and technically it was - it was just a very extended 4.5 years of more programmatic advertising! 

Now, I'm not going to say I had an easy 4.5 years there.  Like many people in general, I was about to call it quits because of burnout and the fact that my personal life wasn't gaining any grounds in my eyes (i.e. no hobbies, no sense of play, my relationship with people/friends was just blah, etc.).  This was back in 2015/2016. 

At that time, I was clocking in at about 65 hours per week along with travel to Europe and managing teams in the US, EU, and Japan. This continued into 2017.  I was constantly jet-lagged and I felt like I was just trying to make it through the day every. single. day.  My life was kind of like J.Lo in 'The Wedding Planner' where I'd run around all day to then just get back home to heat up my shitty meal and go to sleep, but then there was no dude that ever really showed up to sweep me off my feet (PS: I wouldn't have wanted that anyway - at least the part about 'rescuing me' - now the romance...I’d take that shit).  I was just scraping by at that time -  just work, sleep, and then occasionally I would see my close friends for dinner and drinks to catch up.  

Woe was my life, and I wanted to just quit and take a year off. That's really how the idea got started in the first place, but I'm glad that it wasn't the final reason as to why I decided to leave. 

Yup. That's really how it initially happened.  I was so upset at my job for giving me more and more responsibilities to take on, and I was angry at them for making my life utterly miserable.  Obviously, in hindsight, this was a telltale sign that I was delusional, tired and playing the blame-game, but at that time I didn't see it like that.   What I did know was that I was consistently unhappy, and one of the first things I did was take myself into therapy.  I knew that there was a lot of good things happening in my life, but I just couldn't get out of my funk.


Therapy, Reframing, & Self Healing 

I'm not new to therapy - in fact, I'm a big proponent of therapy to work things out in my brain instead of solely relying on my friends or family because, come on, people get sick and tired of hearing you bitch about the same things over and over again.  In general, most jobs offer them as part of your benefits package, and that is something that I recommend people use if they are hitting a rough patch.  Additionally, because of the internet, these services are now more accessible than ever before. (Ok, PSA done.)

Anyway, seeing a therapist allowed me to talk through my thoughts and emotions, but it also allowed my therapist to step in to reframe what I said or how I saw things because my mind made everything black and white, me against them, etc., when in many cases it was not.  With the reframing of my thoughts, I also started to look into more exercises and tools that I could do to make sure that I could start feeling better right at this moment (aka, my personal toolbox).  I was journaling more, writing down what I was appreciative of everyday (or at least saying them out loud), and making sure that I was balanced in terms of 'Mind, Body, and Soul'.  This was an exercise where I would personally gauge myself from a scale of 1-10 on how I felt in my mind, my body, and soul - when I felt that something wasn't an 8 in terms of my feelings, that's when I would try to dig more into what I could do to get me there (I did a brief example below if you want to see how it works).  It's a good self-reflection tool that I try to use often.  If I'm not at a good place with myself, I can guarantee you that I'm not very good to those around me and doing this helped me see what I needed to do for myself. (Side note: I didn't come up with this, a friend of mine shared what he did and I thought it was super cool and pretty pragmatic.)


Let's Talk Planning

Like I said, my initial reason of leaving was to just pack my shit up, breathe awhile, and find something else that was similar.  But with the healing process, it got me thinking more about where I was and what direction I wanted to go.  Had I packed up and left to a similar company, then there wouldn't be much difference in my satisfaction - I'd be trading in for the same thing. 

Going through therapy, being able to reframe my thoughts, and frankly being around people who were living and breathing examples of following their instincts gave me some really good pieces of information I needed to see what was next for me.  There were tons of amazing elements that I loved about my job that I wanted to carry over in my next job, but in total, I wasn't thrilled about the output from my work.   I wanted to reach this holy grail of work which I found represented really well in this Japanese concept of 'Ikigai' (referenced below of what it is) and I knew I couldn't get there without taking a step back and doing some exploration.  So as I got myself happier at work and in general at life, I worked to save money so that I could take a year off to not only travel, but dive into my curiosity. 

Oh, and one more littttle thing - I had to get enough courage to tell myself that after the year ended, I could still not know what I wanted, and I had to learn to be totally ok with it.  Sounds easy, but it took about two years for me to get my brain to not let fear get the best of me because I truly believed that the opportunities of quitting to go on an adult gap year for explorative purposes far outweighed not doing anything at all.  The cost of inaction was too great. 

Below is a very brief run-down on what I did:

  1. I did a Fear Exercise on myself. Using an Excel Sheet (I know - so typical of me), I wrote down everything that scared me about leaving my kush job and found ways that I could calm those nerves by thinking of tools or strategy to prevent my fear from happening, repair my fear if it did happen, benefits of doing what I wanted if I overcame my fear, and the cost of inaction because of it.

    • Click to watch Tim Ferriss' TED Talk to find this exercise (I've also embedded the video below)

    • I still have my Fear Excel Sheet that I did in 2017. Some of my fears were around not having healthcare without a job, not having money to cover my rent and bills, etc.

    • Not to mention, I also did a Fear Workshop with Eva Kornet.

  2. I got a Financial Planner and Coach. I wanted to better my money game so I can pursue my exploration without fearing that I'd go broke.

    • What I loved about Pam was that her services were based on a sliding scale so that no matter what your income was, you can afford to get financial help.

  3. I worked on Me (FYI, this should always be an ongoing thing).

    • I know, this sounds so damn cheesy, but similar to my program management job, if you can't find the root cause, you're not going to be able to solve things. For example, in the 'Mind, Body, and Soul' gauge that I do, if I know that my body's been weird and out of wack, I ask myself 'why'? And that's where I start identifying ways I can make improvements. "My body is out of wack because I'm not sleeping. Why? I'm not sleeping because I'm stressed out. Why? I'm stressed out because I took on a project that I thought I could do, but now realize I can't. How do I solve? Let my manager(s) know where I'm at and if I can either get more help or an extension." Boom, problem solved. It's not always this straightforward or easy, but that's my approach to a lot of things.


What's Next?

I hope that y'all found this helpful. Please let me know if you have any questions! Again, this was just my approach of how I got to leaving my job for a year.  It wasn't an overnight decision for me, but was a few years in the making.  Most of my 'adventures' will be on my Instagram, but I'm hoping to leverage this blog to answer any questions or just let y'all know how it's going!