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I left my career in Big Tech and $300,000 a year to work for myself. I no longer have anxiety and am so much happier.

Robin Madell   

I left my career in Big Tech and $300,000 a year to work for myself. I no longer have anxiety and am so much happier.
  • Jean Kang left a successful career in Big Tech to pursue entrepreneurship full-time in February.
  • Kang enjoyed the perks of the industry but felt overwhelmed by the hustle culture and mental strain.

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Jean Kang, a 31-year-old senior program manager who's worked at Meta, Pinterest, Intuit, LinkedIn, and Figma in San Francisco. It's been edited for length and clarity.

I always wanted to work in Big Tech, and when I graduated from college, I made it happen.

From sales to account management, customer success, and program management, I pivoted more than seven times and landed dream roles at Intuit in 2014, Meta at the beginning of 2017, Pinterest at the end of 2017, and LinkedIn in 2020.

For the last two and a half years, I was a strategic program manager at Figma, earning over $300,000 a year in total compensation.

I accomplished my dream, but I decided to give it all up.

Working in Big Tech has lots of perks

I loved learning how each of these big companies operated. It was amazing to see world-class people build teams and always be on the cutting edge of technology like AI and machine learning. I was always fascinated, learning something new, and having fun.

My favorite company I worked for was Figma because I had it all — kind bosses, fun projects, amazing products, and growth opportunities.

I was spoiled with tech benefits in every role — great pay, free food, remote work, gym memberships, massages, and more. At LinkedIn, we had monthly InDay, where employees take the day to focus on themselves, the company, and the world. At Pinterest and Meta, there was free breakfast, lunch, dinner, drinks, and snacks.

I have to admit, the perks started to get to my head. I wanted more and more and never felt truly satisfied. I left companies for the next opportunity if I didn't feel aligned with my bosses or the work culture, or felt underpaid. Other times, I chose to leave to put my family first, like when I became the primary caretaker for my mother.

My mental health was impacted

I felt pressure to do things fast and navigate red tape. I often waited for approval from senior leadership, and it could take a few months to launch a project.

The hustle culture felt overwhelming at times. The pressure to beat the competition and overdeliver was stressful. I would work up to 12-hour days and on weekends. My life became my work, and accepting that I let work define me was difficult.

I realized I was just making big companies more money. It got to a point where I thought to myself, why am I working so late when I'm not curing cancer?

It felt like I was in an elusive Silicon Valley club — almost like "Mean Girls." The people around me would only talk about other tech companies and tech advancements and only hang out with other tech workers. I didn't feel like I belonged.

I knew when it was time to go

After a round of layoffs in January 2023, many of us were humbled. I realized that tech was no longer safe, I was replaceable, and I needed to invest in what truly mattered — my well-being, family, and relationships.

I'd been juggling a few side hustles in the evenings after work for over a year, and they changed my life. After getting a taste of entrepreneurship while working my 9-to-5, I couldn't help but wonder, what if I went all in on myself? If other people can do it, why can't I?

I decided to quit in February. My biggest fear was failing, but I knew I'd regret not betting on myself and could always land another job after I tried this. I did have savings, but what gave me peace was knowing I could lean on my husband for support.

My side hustles led to becoming a content creator and career coach full-time.

Since leaving Big Tech, I feel like a new person

I'm so much happier now. I used to have really bad Sunday scaries, and they disappeared overnight. I no longer have anxiety — I used to think about work all the time, and now, I sleep peacefully knowing I don't have to please anyone but myself.

I love working remotely as my own boss instead of in an office for someone else. It's incredibly liberating to work wherever and whenever I want. The flexibility is now a non-negotiable for me.

Freedom is another huge perk of my new life. After leaving my job, I took two weeks off with my husband to travel to Japan and Korea, and it was the best trip ever. I felt liberated knowing I wouldn't return to work, anxiously thinking about how much work awaited me.

I now choose what projects make me happy and don't give myself too much pressure to succeed. I work 30 to 40 hours and some weekends now, but not because I have to — I want to.

The success I've had so far is encouraging to me

I thought I wanted to give myself one year to test being an entrepreneur. If I had realized this life wasn't meant for me and craved stability beyond the money, I would've considered returning to a 9-to-5 job.

Instead, I'm on track to exceed six figures by the end of 2024, I've grown my LinkedIn into a huge, supportive community, landed multiple five-figure brand deals, gained many clients, and sold out my career cohort.

I miss working with smart and kind people and having steady pay with great benefits, but the benefits of my freedom outweigh all of those perks. I'm building the life of my dreams. This is freedom.