How I Quit the Big 4

Photo by Simone Hutsch on Unsplash

February 2020 marks three years since my last day at the largest professional services firm in Los Angeles. In spring 2017, I told myself that I will no longer be working for consulting companies. I quit the Big 4 and packed everything I had and moved to a small town in Arkansas.

I thought I would miss being in the Big 4. After all, there were some great, brilliant, and damn inspiring people working there. When I was searching for jobs outside of the Big 4, I was also reading online articles about people quitting consulting for a smidgen of validation. I was scared to see what my life would be like in the industry. Scared that I may make the wrong choice, that I have to go(crawl) back to the big 4 because I miss the money, the status, the flight & hotel points, the vast amount of exciting projects, and awesome opportunities to run into Hollywood stars once in a year (PwC audited Oscar). How can I leave all of that behind and still be happy? Surely I would be missing the bougie office and the prestige of working at THE biggest professional service firm in the world. What if I don’t like industry? What if all my coworkers are dumb, inefficient, incoherent, backward, bible-thumping conservatives living in the deep south?

I took the leap. Honestly, to this day, I don’t know what made me finally change my mind and accept this job offer but I did. As it turns out, after I quit, I never looked back (for at least 3 years until I started writing this article!)

It’s understandable that people want to go into the Big 4. There is a lot of fantastic career experience to be had and to put on your resume. If someone coming straight out of college asks me whether they should go into the Big 4 or industry, I’d still recommend going into the Big 4 first. It is almost another schooling system except you also get paid (low-paying slavery). You learn some hard stuff, like how to work with the manager who micro-manages everything, how to work under pressure (because the client must have it NOW and it’s always an emergency), how to learn an industry quickly and be able to bullshit some stories back to your client. You learn some other stuff that you probably won’t need, like a snobby taste for coffee (because EVERYONE talks about it), wine, and food, constant competition with your coworkers on who has the most hotel/flight points and highest status of the privilege of living in a fancier tiny box-sized room for days on end, and all the fancy watch brand you’ve never heard of. You love the font Georgia and you spell out numbers under 10.

In the midst of all that, passing the CPA exam, and wondering whether you’ve completely lost your soul along with the will to live, your client calls (yet again) for ‘follow up questions’ on the report you sent over, life has sped up and passed you by. Oh sure, the firms tell you that there is “work-life integration” (they don’t call it work-life balance anymore because there IS NO balance.). They showcase single moms rocking a partner position while feeding their 2-year-old baby, with a subtitle “the firm is so flexible with me through all my life stages.” You drink the cool-aid and dream about one day becoming a partner at the firm. How fabulous and glorious would that moment be?

Quitting PwC gave me another opportunity to see the world from a different perspective, one that is not completely driven by fame and status. I started to discover my own meaning of life, something that’s other than how much money I make, my staff level, whether I’ve been put on an international project, and where have I gone on exotic vacation resorts.

Life started for me after the Big 4. Since quitting, I’ve bought a small house, planted five fruit trees, ran three marathons, learned how to rock climb, and hiked & camped outside multiple days in a row. I have renovated my fixer-upper, learned how to paint, how to use chisels and planers, and even a circular saw! I had no idea that any of these were waiting for me at the end of the tunnel outside of the Big 4.

If you are still in the Big 4 and wanting to quit, you are burned out and felt there is nowhere to turn, it is time to take action. The worst that could happen is you spend a year in the industry and hate it. You can always go back (proven by my friend who went back to PwC Ireland that had a better work-life balance). But trust me, you probably will never look back.

Make the Choice to be Happy

It seems that the world thrives on tragedy, catastrophe, and fiasco these days. We complain about the weather, jobs, spouses, bosses, in-laws, the president, and that one coworker who got the promotion and totally didn’t deserve it.

​When have we become so oblivious of the things that we already have? Our freedom, liberty, abundant source of food, air quality, the occasional polite strangers that help us out. 

Happiness is a choice, and we can choose to be happy.

The famous 1978 research of Lottery Winners and Accident Victims shows that happiness is relative.

If we know that happiness is relative, then the next logical choice is to make happiness a conscious choice.

Here’s my story of making one small decision to be happy.

This summer, I bought my very own first lawn mower to mow the lawn myself; and it was an electrical one. The first time I used this lawn mower, I realized that I have to use an extension cord. I didn’t realize how hard it was to not accidentally sever the cord by running the mower over it.

Of course, I cut the extension cord with the mower half way through mowing the lawn. I was distraught and slightly embarrassed at the same time. Mowing seems to be such a mundane everyday life and I can’t seem to manage that!

It took me a while to let my emotions subside. It felt hard to cheer myself back up afterwards. As I was driving to the hardware store to pick up another extension cord, I was playing the scene in my head over and over. This trivial mistake is fixable, almost funny!

I needed a mindset shift. I can acknowledge what happened and how I felt, and still remain happy. Even though I still felt bad, my emotions were not as acute. I instantly felt relief after giving myself permission to be happy.

A lot of times we are hard on ourselves. We struggle to achieve the whirlpool of expectations from the society and we are frustrated that we fall short of that.

But we are in control of our own happiness. Happiness does not come from being able to afford that designer bag, or having 1,000+ likes on a photo, or the newest smartphone. No matter where we are, we can make the decision to be happy, now.

And also, I bought a gas mower. The End.

I don’t know why we take our worst moods so much more seriously than our best, crediting depression with more clarity than euphoria. . . It’s easy now to dismiss that year as nothing more than the same sort of shaky, hysterical high you’d feel after getting clipped by a taxi.

But you could also try to think of it as a glimpse of reality, being jolted out of a lifelong stupor. It’s like the revelation I had the first time I ever flew in an airplane as a kid: when you break through the cloud cover you realize that above the passing squalls and doldrums there is a realm of eternal sunlight, so keen and brilliant you have to squint against it, a vision to hold on to when you descend once again beneath the clouds, under the oppressive, petty jurisdiction of the local weather.

We Learn Nothing, Tim Kreider