Harry and Meghan are quitting the royal family, and I couldn’t be happier for them. In a statement released earlier today, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex announced plans to “step back” from royal duties this year, splitting time between the UK and North America while working “to become financially independent.” In other words, they’re peacing out.
It’s hard to blame them given the torrent of abuse – a lot of it racist and misogynistic – the couple has received since marrying in 2018. Everything from their travel arrangements to the way Meghan holds her baby has been criticized by the tabloids and the Twitterati. The pressure of being constantly—and often unfairly—scrutinized was bound to take a toll. The Sussexes had to weigh whether that toll was worth it and, in the end, decided it wasn’t.
Well done, them. In deciding that the unrealistic expectations set by those around them—from the press to “the firm” (as the Crown is known within Buckingham Palace) to trolls on social media—was not worth the hassle, Meghan and Harry have set an example for people around the world who are fed up with their miserable, high-pressure, low-reward jobs.
It’s a timely lesson in priorities and self-care. A 2018 Gallup poll found that more Americans are unhappy at work than at any time on record. Younger people, especially, are dissatisfied with their jobs. More than 70% of Millennials report they are not engaged at their jobs due to factors ranging from unrealistic expectations set by management to a lack of new opportunities and career advancement.
The stresses of being expected to be able to finish multiple complicated projects quickly and proficiently will eventually catch up with you. This is especially true when you’re making less than what their parents made at similar jobs and, thanks to smartphones, are expected to be reachable at all hours of the day. When you an never escape the pressure, the pressure can become unbearable.
It’s a phenomenon which Buzzfeed called “Millennial burnout,” and it’s one I’m all too familiar with. I spent eight years working in the mortgage industry, in a job CNN once included in list of “stressful jobs that pay badly.” The job often involved long hours, intense pressure, and frankly very poor compensation. After the company I was working for decided to up the stakes by enforcing an unreasonable turnaround time, I decided enough was enough and quit.
That was in September of last year. Four months later, I’m happier than I’ve ever been. I’m building a career as a freelance writer while working on my first novel. I’ve lost 20 pounds in two months because I’m not eating crap at my desk and drinking to calm the anxiety of being expected to close a loan in fifteen days. I’m not having anxiety attacks now that I’m done with borrowers who can’t or won’t provide the necessary documents, loan officers with unrealistic expectations, and underwriters and managers who expected me to do my job as well as theirs. I’m happier than I have ever been in my professional life because I dared to step away from a role that was making me miserable.
Which brings me back to Harry and Meghan. A lot of people are already criticizing them for putting their health and happiness above “royal duty.” Piers Morgan is, predictably, already crying that Meghan “broke up” the Royal Family. The rest of the Royals are said to be “hurt” and “disappointed” because they weren’t consulted. But why should they have been? A little heads up on the decision might have been nice, but at the end of the day, Harry’s and Meghan’s personal and professional happiness are no one’s business but their own.
It takes a lot of courage to admit that something everybody thinks should make you happy doesn’t. I left a job with a corner office, gave up my own apartment, and moved 500 miles to live with my grandparents while I write my first novel and freelance. Most people have been supportive—just as most on social media appear to be supporting Harry and Meghan—but a few have side-eyed me, asking why on earth I’d make such a drastic decision. It wasn’t an easy one, I admit, but the panic attack I had in my office helped make it for me.
All the lofty titles and all the money in the world can’t buy you happiness. There is no shame in trying something and deciding that it isn’t a fit for you, whether it takes you one year, two years, or a lifetime to decide. Harry and Meghan looked at their life, with the trappings of wealth and privilege, and saw a gilded cage. Rather than choosing a stoic suffering, they chose freedom and joy.
Making such a drastic change is never easy, and it is never without consequence. It is, however, sometimes the only sensible thing one can do. Life is too short to be miserable, whether you work in a cubicle or a castle. May we all take a lead from the Meghan and Harry and choose happiness in 2020.
Skylar Baker-Jordan is a freelance writer with a decade of experience covering US and UK politics, culture, and media. His work has appeared at The Independent, Huff Post UK, Salon, and elsewhere. He lives in Tennessee.