A Lesson From Russia: Teach Your Kids to Quit

10/06/2012 12:52 pm ET | Updated Dec 06, 2012

This week is the 20th anniversary of The Moscow Times, an independent, English-language newspaper published in Russia. As the founding features editor of this still-thriving newspaper, there are many things I could say about the significance of this occasion. But mostly, it makes me think about my sons, and how I want them to approach life. I want them to know that when adventure comes knocking, the most sensible thing to do may be to quit a perfectly good job.

In late 1990, I was working as a newspaper reporter in Florida, living a spunky Brenda Starr kind of life, tooling around in my light-blue Chevy Nova (with tape deck!), living in an apartment nearly as small as my car, and learning the ropes of journalism while covering everything from night cops, to city politics to suburban alligator trappers.

But then the Soviet Union started to collapse and the appeal of being a reporter in Florida began to pale in comparison to the thought of working as a journalist in Russia. It wasn't as crazy as it sounds; I had a degree in Russian Studies and had spent a summer in Moscow during college. I heard about a new English-language magazine being published by a Dutch journalist and with the kind of 20-something persistence that is but a faint memory today, I talked myself into an internship and a temporary place to stay.

And then I quit a perfectly good job in Florida and moved to Moscow.

I'm sure my parents were nervous about my moving alone to what was then still the Soviet Union, but they didn't burden me with their fears. And they didn't discourage me from quitting my job.

This may be because quitting perfectly good jobs is something of a family tradition.

My father, after years of working as a corporate lawyer, decided he wanted to start his own business. So despite being the sole financial supporter of a wife and three daughters, he quit his job and set up shop in my sister's bedroom. He gave up the Manhattan law firm with all its trappings (like, say, a good salary) for the thrill of building something from the bottom up. This was no rich boy's fancy. Born during the Depression into a poor family that never got beyond lower middle-class, my father had worked his way through college and law school. Many would have said that by working in a law firm, he had finally arrived. But he wasn't where he wanted to be, and so he quit.

My mother's father was also a risk-taker, but admittedly at a time when he had less to lose. Fresh out of law school and days into his first job at a law firm, my then single grandfather got a call from a buddy who said he'd finagled two cheap tickets on a liner to Europe. My grandfather had never been to Europe, and couldn't resist. He marched into his boss's office and asked for some time off. "How much?" his boss asked. "The whole summer," my grandfather said. I believe the conversation ended when my grandfather quit his perfectly good job and went home to pack for his adventure in Europe. And I'm quite sure that not once during his nearly six decades as an attorney did he regret spending that time abroad.

I worked at the magazine in Moscow for about six months, and then returned to Florida to work as a magazine writer and get married. A few months later, when my former boss in Russia decided to start an English-language daily newspaper, he asked me to be the features editor and my husband to be the business editor. My husband loved his job covering the booming real estate industry in Florida, but with that 20-something persuasiveness, I convinced him to quit his perfectly good job and move to Russia with me.

"What have you got to lose?" I said. "We have no mortgage, no kids, hardly any furniture. Let's just do it."

We moved to Moscow in the summer of 1992, joining an incredibly talented group of journalists from the United States, Russia, the Netherlands, Britain, and Australia, many of whom had also left good jobs behind to help establish The Moscow Times, which became a world-class daily newspaper. It was a challenging and fascinating time, which led to great friendships and unimaginable career opportunities.

We stayed in Moscow for six years, years that we wouldn't have had if we each hadn't been bold enough to give up something good for the promise of something we thought would be better.

So on this 20th anniversary of The Moscow Times, my wish is not only that my children will follow their passions and find jobs that they love, but that they will be ready, if the right opportunity arises, to take a leap away from security to try something thrilling.

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