I f the word 'daredevil' had a spokesperson, it might just be Irene Turner. She left her Investment Banking job to travel, to see what's out there, and to look for the real meaning of life.
Irene is the New York Times bestselling author of “500 Day Project”, a book about finding one’s purpose, real change, and the ever daunting road in the pursuit of happiness.
When people ask me why I left, I always tell them that I left not because I had more than enough, but because I felt like I wasn’t working on something that had meaning anymore
PO: When people talk about your journey, I'm sure the most usual question is - How did you do it?! You left a high-paying job to experience the world. We can just imagine how exciting and difficult that was.
IT: On a course of 10 months, I juggled client meetings, reviewing pitch books, board presentations, and planning my most ambitious venture yet - I listed my apartment on AirBnb so I’ll still have income coming in while I’m on the road, hired cleaning ladies who can keep the apartment tidy for the next AirBnb guest, shipped furniture back to my childhood home in Upstate New York, planned my itinerary: what do I want to see, what do I want to do, where to stay, budgeting. On top of that, I also had to explain to my parents what my plan was, and why it’s not as absurd as they might think, and convince my then-boyfriend that I’ll only be gone for a short amount of time (I lied). It really wasn’t easy - It was mentally, emotionally, and physically draining at the same time. But it was the first time in years that I was genuinely ecstatic about something, so I knew that I had to do it.
PO: Every story has a turning point. What’s the turning point of Irene Turner’s story?
IT: I was working on my laptop at a random coffee shop on a Sunday because I had a deadline that night, when I noticed that I needed a refill. So naturally, I got up, and fell in line to get another cup. While waiting for my turn, I ended up looking around by accident and I noticed that the coffee shop was filled to the brim with people who were just like me - negotiating deals on their phones while some are typing away on a Sunday. And that’s when it hit me - What am I doing? It was exactly the 10th consecutive Sunday that I had to work because of a weekend deadline and I was completely fine with it. Why am I not questioning this irregularity? But it wasn’t until a few days after that I realized that I didn’t want to be part of any of that anymore. When people ask me why I left, I always tell them that I left not because I had more than enough, but because I felt like I wasn’t working on something that had meaning anymore.
... I didn't just walk away from a $450,000 job for me not to do something that is capable of igniting real change in other people's lives
PO: Tell us more about “500 Day Project”.
IT: Before I left New York, I knew deep down that I can’t be on the road forever; somewhere along the way, I knew that I needed to stop. 500 Days is actually a deadline that I made for myself to figure out what I really want to do after I find myself (as cliché as it may sound). So I thought to myself - It’s either I go back to my 9-5, or if I’m lucky, I stumbleupon something I really like and I make something out of it.
A week into the first stop on my itinerary, I was in my hotel room, in a bathrobe, watching “To All The Boys I Loved Before”, and I had a mini epiphany - I realized that I didn’t just walk away from a $450,000 job for me not to do something that is capable of igniting real change in other people’s lives - and that’s when I decided that I’ll write a book. Not a book about me, my trip, or my misadventures, but a book about real change.
PO: Can you give me an insight on what “real change” really means?
IT: I remember talking about this topic with a man that I met when I was on a train from Colombo to Galle in Sri Lanka. It was a 3 hour train ride and he was telling me a story of how he had to go through a bypass surgery before he realized that he had to reevaluate his lifestyle, habits, and priorities. And that his biggest regret is something had to happen before he realized that he had to take a step back.
Oftentimes we start going on a specific trail of habits once we feel comfortable - some find it comforting to have a set of things laid out for them to do, some find it extremely tiring but they still continue on, while some doesn’t even notice that they are already following a certain set of habits that they formed for themselves - I like to think of “real change” as taking a detour: you assess these habits that you’ve formed in the past, and you find solutions on how you can continue on for the better.
Have a little faith, and see where life takes you. It usually takes you somewhere so much better than what you could ever imagine.
PO: Any advice for individuals who are seeking real change in their lives?
IT: You’re never going to be 100% sure or 100% ready about everything. Have a little faith, and see where life takes you. This might sound a little too dreamy, but it usually takes you somewhere so much better than what you could ever imagine.