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‘The Great Resignation’ is creating more entrepreneurs, side hustlers, and freelancers

·4 min read

Susana Boey has always been a hard-working high-achiever so when she took a job in corporate marketing at an international media company in New York City in 2015, she rolled up her sleeves and enthusiastically got to work.

Every day, the now 31-year old Boey would make the hour-and-a-half commute from her apartment in Washington Heights to midtown Manhattan, work through lunch, and stay well past 6 p.m. “If I could fit in anything after work, that was a bonus. Work was my life and I was very fulfilled living this way,” she said, until one day she wasn’t.

“The pandemic hit, budgets got cut, workloads got bigger, workdays got longer, and I got tired,” said Boey. “I wanted a different life.”

Boey quit last spring, becoming part of a movement that’s been dubbed the “Great Resignation.”

happy businessman with cardboard box with office supplies in hands standing outside office building, quitting job concept
(Photo: Getty Creative)

In August alone, 4.3 million Americans quit their jobs. That’s the highest number on record since the government began collecting data 20 years ago.

This exodus from the traditional labor market — whether for pragmatic reasons or because attitudes and priorities have changed — is likely to continue, said Gus Faucher, chief economist at The PNC Financial Services Group. 

“Businesses are going to have to adjust to the fact that the labor market is a lot different now than it was before the pandemic,” he said.

Where’s everyone going?

While some workers are sitting on the sidelines biding their time, and others are taking early retirement, almost a third are quitting to become their own boss, according to a recent survey from digital.com, a Seattle-based review site focused on small businesses.

Boey, who started taking business courses online in preparation for her departure from the corporate world, is now working for herself as a small business strategist.

She’s part of an unexpected entrepreneurial boom that started last year (after a decades-long slump) and is giving rise to a new class of self-starters: solopreneurs, side hustlers, and freelancers.

Most, like Boey, are motivated by the desire to become their own boss, said Dennis Consorte, a start-up consultant at digital.com. “Over the course of the pandemic, more people developed an ‘ownership’ mentality,” he said.

Others, like 51-year old Cheryl Ritzel of Hoschton, Georgia, are simply following their passions. It was her love of photography that prompted her to quit her job of 15 years as a middle school teacher and launch FocusEd Camera, which provides photography-based educational services. 

“I had my first camera at age seven and had been thinking about starting a business for the past five years,” she said. 

A health issue affecting her ability to adhere to the school’s mask mandate accelerated those plans. This newly-established sole proprietorship has yet to turn a profit, but Ritzel, who mortgaged her house and streamlined her budget in preparation for taking the leap of faith, is not deterred.

Neither is 42-year old Greg Wilson, of St. Louis, who just quit his job in financial services to start clothdiaperbasics.com and help his stay-at-home wife run chachingqueen.com

“Once you reach a certain income, does every additional dollar matter that much or would you rather have time?" he said. "I’d rather have time with my family.”

Besides, he added, he knows he can always pick up part time work on the side if necessary.

Mature man in his 40s holding open sign on door of business, looking through window, optimism, aspiration, resilience
(Photo: Getty Creative)

Twenty-eight-year-old Kelsey Riley of Lexington, S.C., echos that sentiment. She quit her job as a registered nurse last June to focus full time on her plant-based food blog, Planted in the Kitchen, which she started as a hobby in 2019. 

“I’m keeping my nurses’ license and certifications active, but I don’t plan on going back," she said. "My goal is to optimize my website, do more collaborations, write a cookbook, and ultimately make this my long-term career and have a successful business.”

In the end, “some entrepreneurs will make it and some won’t,” said Consorte, who nevertheless is expecting this boom to continue well into 2022, particularly since companies are now starting to put policies in place to try to get people back to the office. 

“Some are even giving employees ultimatums if they don’t come back, they’re going to get fired," Consorte said. “I think this will result in more people reaching their tipping point and throwing their hat into the entrepreneurial ring.”

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Personal Finance Journalist Vera Gibbons is a former staff writer for SmartMoney magazine and a former correspondent for Kiplinger's Personal Finance. Vera, who spent over a decade as an on air Financial Analyst for MSNBC, currently serves as co-host of the weekly nonpolitical news podcast she founded, NoPo. She lives in Palm Beach, Florida.