Whether you teach kids, tend bar, make sales calls, develop apps, or do whatever else for a living, you may have spent some period of the last two years considering doing something new. The COVID-19 pandemic rewired the way many of us think about the relationship between our careers and the rest of our lives—sparking the “Great Resignation.”

That term, coined by Texas A&M academic Anthony Klotz, describes a historic level of quitting and job changing throughout the country since April 2020, a month when four million people quit—the most since the Bureau of Labor Statistics started tracking resignations in 2000. Several record-breaking months followed, with the latest record set in November 2021 when 4.5 million, or 3 percent of the American workforce, left their jobs.

You might be tempted to believe things played out differently in Texas. After all, doesn’t this state pride itself on stick-to-itiveness, on doing the job right all the way to the end, even if it ain’t all sunshine and Shiners? Well, according to the data, no. Texans are no less likely to depart a gig than residents of anywhere else, with quit rates that are middle of the road among the fifty states. November’s numbers showed a continued alignment with the national trend: 3 percent of the national workforce quit their jobs, compared to 3.2 percent of Texans. At the same time, not all quitters have headed straight for another role—there were 10.9 million job openings nationwide in December, up from 6.6 million in December 2020.

Companies in Texas and elsewhere are paying more these days to attract workers, as well as offering the kind of flexible schedules that once would have been unthinkable. Indeed, Klotz, a professor of business administration and management, says the Great Resignation has spawned a “golden age of business experimentation.” Over the next two to four years, he believes companies will fight it out for workers by offering higher salaries and other incentives to try and capture some who have left the workforce and others who have begun wondering if the turf covering another corporate courtyard just might be greener. “The whole resignation process is often thought of as taboo,” he says. “I think the last eight months has made it more okay.”

As job switching and career reevaluation becomes the norm, I set out to find some of the quitters in Texas to better understand who they are, why they’ve made moves, and what they’re doing next. Here are their stories.

The Restaurant Worker Who Quit to Dethatch

Houstonite James Ward, 34, started as a busboy in the restaurant business when he was just nineteen. He moved around a lot, working jobs on the Kemah Boardwalk and in downtown Houston. But he was always slightly disillusioned by the nonsense that came along with the business—being called in to work on his supposed days off, cranky customers, bosses who didn’t respect the life he had outside their eateries.

Still, the pay had been surprisingly steady, and Ward kept at it. In 2020, he’d been helping a friend try to boost bar business at a sluggish Buffalo Wild Wings in Houston when he was laid off from that job amid industry-wide cutbacks. Ward says that after he received emergency unemployment and his first of two stimulus checks, he began to ponder a different future, one in which he could reinvent himself outside of restaurants. The thought of leaving the industry had been merely a “passing fancy” for years. But with that money in hand—because of the pandemic, unemployment coverage was extended from 26 weeks to up to one year—Ward says his passing fancy became a viable option. “I had more time to think about it and really set out what I was going to do,” he says, “and then I had the money to get it started.”

Ward, who has a toddler boy and four-month-old girl at home, used the stimulus check and money he and his wife had saved to buy a truck at a salvage auction and repair it. He also bought a trailer and financed some equipment, then jumped into his new business—landscaping. Ward had gotten an introduction to landscaping through his aunt, who ran her own small business when he was younger, and a friend had introduced him to a few apps that could provide leads on clients. In January 2021, the same month the second round of federal stimulus checks went out, Ward formally established his company. He now offers lawn care and landscaping, working from his new home base in small-town Magnolia, an hour northwest of Houston.

Things have been going well. Ward says he’s found success working with leasing companies and Zillow, providing landscaping to boost curb appeal and spur sales. “They don’t exactly always treat you well in restaurants,” he says. “Now I still make money, and I don’t have all the stresses of dealing with the general public for eight to fourteen hours a day.”

The Wall Streeter Who Quit to Sing

Austin Rosenthal had a life many would envy. The 42-year-old grew up in affluent Dallas suburb Highland Park, graduated with a 4.0 GPA from the University of Texas at Austin in 2000, and immediately landed a six-figure Wall Street job with JPMorgan. That job led to other lucrative gigs, one of which brought him home to Texas in 2010.

As vice president for the $679 billion, Austin-based Dimensional Fund Advisors, Rosenthal was able to purchase a 4,300-square-foot house in affluent Austin suburb West Lake Hills. “I mean, what a dream come true,” he recalls.

The dream didn’t last. In the summer of 2020, as the pandemic was raging, stress and bad habits landed Rosenthal in the hospital just days, he says, before his body would’ve shut down. When he averted death, he decided on a reinvention. It took him months to plow a new path forward for himself, but by August 2021, he’d quit his job, sold his house for $1.5 million, rented a two-bedroom apartment less than a mile away, and retired from the world of finance.

Since then, he’s begun Social Musings by Austin, a site that houses his original writing, music, and podcast episodes. His musings range in topic from “current events and social media trends to the metaphysical meaning of life,” according to the site, with culture, economics, and philosophy sprinkled in. His posts have included a look back on the investment deal that finally broke him and a short story called “Tragedy in Paradise.”

Sporting closely cropped, graying hair, Rosenthal often appears on his site in music clips and photos from around Austin or on the Caribbean island of Aruba—perhaps perched on a shore, leaning against a mural, or standing before a gleaming white Porsche Cayman, guitar in hand. Loose-fitting polos, Ray-Bans, and an easy smile scream “early retirement.” He looks happy, and he says he is. “I may never make any money at it,” says Rosenthal, whose content is free but who is writing a book he plans to try to sell, and who does hope to reap royalties from his music. “But money is not why I’m doing it,” he continues. “My life is fun for me again.”

Rosenthal is also considering mentoring a new and more diverse generation interested in figuring out how to navigate Wall Street without suffocating under its pressures. “Money in and of itself,” he says, “and social status in and of itself, are very vapid things that are going to leave you empty inside. It took me almost dying to realize that.”

The Teacher Who Quit for Respect

Amber Bowen always felt her job was about more than just teaching her students with intellectual disabilities. It was also about building relationships with these oft-forgotten students in Castleberry ISD, just west of Fort Worth. And it was about helping those students learn to succeed, even against a stacked deck. “I can’t say academics were the most rewarding part,” says the 38-year-old Bowen. “It was the students—seeing them be able to go to a job and keep it.”

But during the pandemic, Bowen started seeing things differently. She had long felt like a pawn in a state that too often politicizes education, a burden that felt even heavier as Texas politicos duked it out over COVID-19 regulations, leaning largely on information that Bowen says “is not scientifically based or accurate at all.” Plus, even after fifteen years in a job rife with issues of turnover and attrition, and even after she’d gone back to get her master’s degree to boost her qualifications, she still didn’t feel like she was getting the professional respect she deserved.

Hardest of all was what she saw in her students, who seemed to be getting angrier and less hopeful as the pandemic wore on. In April 2021, she submitted her resignation, effective at the end of that school year. “Everything just got to be too much,” she says.

After she quit, she snagged a gig as a clinical care coordinator. Now she works from home for a major insurance carrier, coordinating health care for workers’ compensation claimants. She had to take a slight pay cut for the position, but once she factored in the difference in health insurance premiums, as well as the expenses she’d put toward her classroom, Bowen says she comes out about even.

Plus, she says she’s getting treated as a working professional in a way she wasn’t before. Her time off is hers, and she leaves her work behind each night. She can’t imagine herself ever going back to teaching. “I say that without hesitation,” she says, “because for the first time in my professional life, I’m respected by the people that I work with and for.”