The pandemic was perhaps the perfect storm. Suddenly trapped at home, doomsurfing the woes of quarantine, forever logged into work emails—it’s enough to make you want to quit your job, quit social media, quit everything.
But as much as we lamented the toxicity of virtual-everything, we still clung to it like a lifeline or a last breath, desperately inhaling content from the outside world through our screens. Because it was through this medium that, as if traversing the stages of grief, our pandemic-muddled frustrations and manias gradually crystallized into a sort of therapeutic catharsis. Call it, the rise of the “Why I Quit” story: told in online essays, vlogs, Twitter threads, or just about any other digital-friendly platform.
The trend is not exactly new: It’s a storytelling format that has been around since the dawn of the digital age, used by social media influencers, multi-level marketing executives, and self-care coaches to peddle the dream of a major lifestyle change bringing wealth, power, and happiness. Then as the internet evolved, it also became a way for activists to spotlight their causes and call for reform.
Now, in the midst of one of the worst economic and social crises in recent history, it’s serving both purposes, putting names and faces to the legions of American workers leading a 21st-century labor crusade.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, roughly 4 million employees have quit their jobs each month this summer in what’s been dubbed the Great Resignation. In August, 4.3 million workers resigned, leaving a record-breaking 10.4 million job openings. Chloe Shih, a former product manager at TikTok, was one of them; her YouTube video revealing why she parted ways with the company has gone viral this week.
There’s also John Marty, who left his Amazon innovation manager role earlier this year. And Christine Chun, who left her Facebook UX design gig late last year. And Lisa Nguyen, who quit her paralegal job to become a food vlogger.
That so many of these newly liberated job seekers are posting their stories online is hardly surprising. A study from Adobe suggests that Gen Z is leading the worker revolt; for the so-called zoomer population, social media updates are a native instinct. That might explain why there’s a burgeoning TikTok hashtag, #quitmyjob, which cues up a stream of users sharing the moments they turned in their two-week notices, with millions of views awarded to the ones who got most creative with it (a Walmart employee broadcasting over the store intercom, a Joystick Gaming and Collectibles staffer outing a colleague as a snack thief). For those workers, “Why I Quit” stories are an outlet that can transform bottled-up resentment against the system into a simple punchline that makes people laugh.
Striving for change
But the trend is much more than just jokes. Fast Company’s Elizabeth Segran shared why she quit shopping at Amazon in protest of its planetary harm, mistreatment of workers, and crushing of small businesses. In her video, Chloe Shih detailed what she saw as an unhealthy workaholic culture and an unacceptable lack of diversity at TikTok, which eventually pushed her to the brink. And in a recent personal essay, a freelance writer described why she stopped working after a mental health epiphany during a Black Lives Matter march last summer. Because—here’s a radical thought—sometimes quitting could actually make your life, or even the rest of the world, better.
In fact, “quitting” has been a weapon in the fight to illuminate global issues big and small: from psychologists recommending patients with poor self-image delete Facebook, to Grand Slam tennis champion Naomi Osaka forgoing news conferences, to a high-profile sponsored gamer retiring from Fortnite because World Cup tours began to bring more stress than joy.
So perhaps we should celebrate the “quit” not as a flag of defeat, but as a vision of hope for a brighter future and a better tomorrow—even through the darkest nights of the COVID-19 pandemic. Because after all, it’s about time we quit wishing and make it happen.