Who doesn’t dream of quitting their office job and finding something that allows them to spend more time at home? Wouldn’t that be nice? To be less exhausted, to be more present, to be happier? But, so many think, quitting a job, no matter how soul-crushing, is a youthful act, something allowed only by those who don’t have bills to pay and a family to care for. It’s a rash decision that might not pan out. So why risk it?
But some dads do it. One of whom is BT Miller, a former fundraising director for Habitat for Humanity. Before and shortly after the birth of his son, he knew he had to make a change. For one thing, he was worried he would be like his own dad, who worked hard and seemed exhausted all of the time. For the other, he was tired of office culture and was ready to try something different. And, you know what? It worked out for BT. Sure, things were sticky for a moment. But now he says he’s happier — and more present — than ever. Here, BT explains why he left his well-paying job and why, despite some setbacks, it’s been the best decision he’s made.
My wife, Tracy, got pregnant in 2012. I was a fundraising director for Habitat for Humanity. I was working a lot of weird hours. I had a nine to five job, and then I had evening meetings, and weekend meetings. That wasn’t much of a problem until we were expecting our first son, Daniel. A couple of things were on my mind: one, I was pretty unhappy. My wife was telling me that she was tired of me coming home at night and complaining. She was tired of my negative attitude, and of me being tired all of the time. And she was right.
And then there was my dad. My dad was a pastor when I was growing up. He, being a pastor, was never home. He was out every night of the week, he was working all day, he was working weekends. I just remember my dad being exhausted all the time when I was a kid. Once I was an adult, he had a talk with me. He said, “I regret the time that I spent away from you and your sisters and your mom. It just wasn’t worth it. I should have put you first. I should have put our family first. But I didn’t.”
That really made a deep impression on me. When Tracy was pregnant with Daniel, I was looking at myself and I was like, I’m going to be just like my dad. Who I am when I come home at night is who my dad used to be. My dad can’t go back and correct the mistakes that he made. But I can. I have a chance to put my family first. And, you know, you think, I’ve got to work, I’ve got to make money, I’ve got to be somebody that my kid is proud of. But having grown up with a dad who was working hard and doing things that I was proud of, but he wasn’t around, I knew that the time that I had with him was worth so much more to me. I knew that the time that my son would have with me would be worth so much more to him than any professional accomplishment.
When Tracy was pregnant with Daniel, I was looking at myself and I was like, I’m going to be just like my dad. Who I am when I come home at night is who my dad used to be.
So we gave it a shot. I kept my job for several months after Daniel was born, but professionally, I reached a point where I felt like I couldn’t do anything else for the organization where I was working. It was time to move on anyway. My wife really wanted to get back to her job. We made the switch. She went back to her 9 to 5 job. I started my own business. And started working mostly from home. That was about five or six years ago.
There was a change in our family finances. We went from two full-time salaries to one full-time salary and whatever I could earn. That created stress, not only for our finances but in our marriage.
I think that was the big one. And that was probably what most people would imagine that would be. The other stress is a little more subtle: that once, I was somebody. And now I’m nobody. I used to have an office, one of the biggest offices in the building, and I had a nameplate, and a business card, and a title, and people reported to me. To go from that to, okay, it’s 10 in the morning, and I’m in my pajamas. I just packed my son’s lunch for preschool. It was a double whammy. I wasn’t earning what I was earning before, and I’m no longer “important.” There have been months where no income came in on my side. During those moments, the stress just builds. I feel it acutely. There has been a real trade-off.
But the decision was 100 percent worth it. My family does come first. That’s pretty clear. My son and my wife know I’m there for them. I spend a lot of time with them. And that’s exactly what I set out to do. When my son has grown, I think he’ll remember me being there with him instead of if I had earned twice as much as I do now and I had all of these professional accomplishments, he wouldn’t even care. That doesn’t mean anything to him, at all, period.
There have been months where no income came in on my side. During those moments, the stress just builds. I feel it acutely. There has been a real trade-off.
I realized that people who work in offices waste a hell of a lot of time. I think back to all of the meetings I had to go to where I was like, why am I in this meeting? I don’t have meetings like that anymore. I just don’t. And I think about all of the hours working in an office that I wasted complaining to other people or listening to other people complain. I feel like I’ve gotten a lot of valuable time back that I used to waste. And when you work in an organization with a lot of people around and drawing a regular salary, you can go on cruise control. But the paycheck came in anyway.
Being self-employed, and working from home, if I don’t do anything, I don’t make any money. If I don’t do the right things, then good things don’t happen. I felt like one of the biggest adjustments for me, leaving the office world and becoming self-employed, is that I didn’t have a lot of self-discipline and focus. And a lot of that stuff was covered up by working in an office, with an organization.
Some days I come home and he watches a show while I do emails. But some days we just hang out for a couple of hours, and my wife comes home, we eat dinner as a family, and we just have family time from there on out.
Once I was on my own, it was all staring me right in the face. And I figured out, I have to fix that. I have to discipline myself here. I need to work harder and get better at these things or I’m not going to eat. So, I feel like I have grown up so much and become such a better human being. But also, a better professional. I’m a smarter, better professional than I ever was when I was still working in the office environment.
I get up every morning, pretty early, usually around five, and I work for a couple of hours and then I cook my son’s breakfast and get him dressed and take him to preschool. Then I work a day, and I pick him up from preschool, around four every afternoon. Some days I come home and he watches a show while I do emails. But some days we just hang out for a couple of hours, and my wife comes home, we eat dinner as a family, and we just have family time from there on out.
My son is going to stay home with me this summer, which is going to be an interesting experiment. I’ve been telling people he’s going to be my summer intern. What other guy gets to do that? How many men are there that get to be with their kids all day every day? Not many. But that’s what I want. That’s what I want for me and it’s what I want for him.