Once upon a time, within the tendrils of a misty forest—where spirits coiled around ancient oaks—there was a yellow-brownish fox traveling along a gravel path. Let’s call her Citrine.

She was a curious fox. Citrine yearned to uncover the mysteries veiled behind the eerie mist, away from the beaten trail. She wanted to know. She wanted to experience. But she was afraid. She had always been taught to stick to the path. “Beware the unknown,” they said, their heartbeats quickening with alarm. “There’s a reason the trail remains well trodden—only the reckless or the foolish dare wander beyond it.”

Citrine hesitated. She had been living around this pathway year after year. The scenery didn’t change much along the path, but life here was peaceful and stable. It was easy to find food and shelter. It was easy to meet other creatures on the same path, supporting each other. “Don’t step into the mist—you won’t find the way back, ever.” Perhaps it was better to stay here. Citrine decided to ignore the tempting whisper from beyond. I can always go explore later.

Yet stability proved fleeting. On a fateful day, tragedy struck. Sky painted red, fire dancing tree to tree, racing flames devoured the misty forest—the forest that had captivated Citrine’s fascination for so long. The forest was screaming. Like a divine command, the inferno carved its way through the woodland, burning down the whole world Citrine had ever known. Then everything went silent.

Somehow, she survived—like a phoenix, she had emerged from the flames, scarred but unbowed. She was still alive. But her world wasn’t. It was too late. “No, you cannot go explore later,” the forest whispered from beyond the mist. “They’re gone.”

Still surrounded by the hazy mist, the greenery was replaced with charred remains. The few survived oaks was now battle-scarred veterans. The forest would definitely heal in time. Citrine wished to bear witness to the swells of rebirth, feeling the tender shoots beneath her paws. But she had to make a decision. She had to tread off the path. She had to face the unknown—knowing full well that she might not find the way back ever again.

And she did. Citrine felt a flicker within—a sense of rebirth stirring inside her soul. Some of her friends died in the blaze. She wasn’t sure how much time she had left. But maybe. Just maybe. Maybe it wasn’t too late. Yet.

I had always believed the “work for 40 years then retire and enjoy life” script1. I started my corporate life in 2014. I didn’t really enjoy it. I wasn’t interested in climbing the corporate ladder, either. Of course there were still promotions and things—but I couldn’t find a role model I wanted to become. “Work’s just like that,” people said. I procrastinated, putting myself into autopilot, attempting to push through these 40 years of employment. Until I can’t anymore.

I had been coasting in autopilot for 6 years when The 2020s2 hit. And the human world just started acting really funny. Seriously? I mean, real-life stories still need some sort of credibility, too, right? right?

The myth burst. Suddenly, the “after I retire” thing became seemingly unreachable, and I started seeing things I didn’t want to see before. The worldwide lockdown. The increasingly polarized people. The Russian invasion of Ukraine, and by extension the possibility of a war across Taiwan Strait. The enshittification of the internet. The collapse of several countries. The economy fluctuating in craze, along with the job market. What now?

Feeling paralyzed, I procrastinated for another three years, staying where I was, weathering the storm. Several friends and acquaintances had lost their life to the pandemic. Then a very close friend started her cancer treatment. This pushed me into another sudden realization. How much time did I have left? Might be 50 years, or less than a day. I had no idea.

Based on some experiences, I believe I can survive out there. And I had enough runway to support myself. How about treading off the beaten trail NOW?

I’m not sure what’s off the established path. I don’t know the feelings of strolling in the tantalizing mist. I don’t know whether I can stay there for long. I don’t know if I will like it. I want to find out. Maybe I will decide to go find another corporate job after a gap year or so, or maybe I won’t. Who knows?

Tomorrow will be my last day at work. I guess I’m about to find out…

  1. I recommend the books “Four Thousand Weeks” by Oliver Burkeman (Here’s a nice review by The Guardian) and “Die with Zero” by Bill Perkins. ↩︎

  2. Not just referring to the pandemic. The years since 2020 feel like the whole world is crashing… ↩︎