Quit Your Job!

updated 12/18/2006 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/18/2006 AT 01:00 AM EST

FROM TV NEWS TO FLAMENCO DANCING

JULIE BAGGENSTOSS
AGE 32
DECATUR, GA.

Julie Baggenstoss first realized a career in TV wasn't all it was cracked up to be back in '98, when she was a news producer at a New Orleans station. "A few days before Thanksgiving, my manager told me, 'You're working,'" says Baggenstoss, whose relatives dined early so she could be included. "My whole family ate at 11:30 a.m.," she recalls. "I thought, 'I'm not doing this again.'" She moved to the Weather Channel in Atlanta, but yearned for control over her schedule. "You could tell she wouldn't be happy looking back," says her husband, Rick, 36 (the couple have a son Jack, 7 months). What made her happy? The Spanish art of flamenco. After years of classes, the lifelong dancer vowed to go to Spain to study her passion. "Flamenco there is like black coffee—pure," says Baggenstoss. "But you can't ask your boss for three months off."

So she quit her job to spend two months in southern Spain taking classes. "It was humbling—I almost hung up my dancing shoes," she says. "But I learned to achieve things I thought were impossible." Like leaving TV for good to perform locally and teach the dance at Emory University. Despite a pay cut, she's not looking back. "Dancing is my life," she says. "There isn't one moment where I regret the job I have now."

FROM DOTCOM MOGUL TO ORGANIC FARMER

SANDY LERNER
AGE 51
UPPERVILLE, VA.

As cofounder of the Internet company Cisco Systems, Sandy Lerner had it all: a swank Los Altos, Calif., home, a horse ranch and millions from being a Silicon Valley success. But those luxuries came with constant stress from corporate infighting. "It was a battle to get up every day," says Lerner. "I said finally, 'There's got to be something else.'"

In 1990 Lerner and her then-husband and business partner, Leonard Bosack, walked away from Cisco with $170 million. "I could have gone off and sat on a beach," she says. But more pampering wasn't what she wanted. Instead, Lerner, who spent time on a farm growing up, went back to the land, buying an 800-acre Virginia farm where she raises organically fed pork, beef and poultry. "Farming is not like any other occupation," says Lerner, who rises before dawn and dozes off by 8 p.m. "There is a tremendous amount of heartache, but there is nothing I've ever done that has come close to the rewards." Although the property has a bigger home, Lerner lives in a two-bedroom cabin and doesn't own a TV. Now she rides herd on 450 cows, 300 pigs and thousands of turkeys and chickens instead of high-tech geeks. "This," says Lerner, "is a good life."

FROM THE LAW FIRM TO THE DAY SPA

NICOLE COBER
AGE 35
WASHINGTON, D.C.

As a corporate lawyer at a prominent Washington, D.C., firm, Nicole Cober enjoyed the perks and six-figure salary of a prestigious job. But she also endured 14-hour days and painful separation from her son Jordan, then a toddler, whom she only saw when she drove him to day care and tucked him in at night. "When I was with my son, I felt like I should be working, and when I was at work, I felt like I wasn't a good mother. You look up and you're miserable all the time." In an '01 custody hearing after her divorce, "there was a statement that my schedule might not be in my son's best interest," says Cober. "It sent me into a panic." And it finally prompted Cober to quit her job, cash in her savings and look for a business where "my time was my own." In '03 she opened Soul Day Spa, a D.C. salon and spa that allows her to "be home when my son [now 9] gets back from school." Soul has also become a community refuge, offering free makeovers each year to women who have survived abusive relationships. "I was so unhappy because I didn't see my son, have any free time or feel like I was doing anything important," says Cober, who is expecting a boy with her fiancé, Paul Blake, a financial analyst, in the spring. "Now I have all those things—it's priceless."

FROM TIRE INSTALLER TO BULL RIDER

VINCE STANTON
AGE 34
WEISER, IDAHO

Vince Stanton had always dreamed of grabbing the bull by the horns. "I wouldn't call myself a thrill-seeker, but there's something indescribable about riding a bull—it's like cheating death," says Stanton, who grew up in Oregon watching his dad rope and ride before competing in rodeos himself as a teen. But after marrying wife Dawne, now 33, in '93 and starting a family of five, "I knew I had to get a job that offered benefits." That meant barely making ends meet for six years at a local tire shop, changing tires on tractors and pickup trucks. "I felt pretty discouraged," he recalls.

But he didn't give up on weekend bull riding competitions. In '98 Stanton won $5,500 at a Pendleton, Ore., rodeo and quit his $17,000-a-year job to try going pro on the circuit. Says Dawne: "I told him, 'Better try it now, or you'll always wish you had.'" Within a year he was making more than $100,000 in prizes. "Best decision I ever made," says Stanton, who has been ranked in the top 50 by Professional Bull Riders Inc.

Downside? Stanton's medical chart now lists three broken ankles and three shoulder surgeries from days at the office. But he's already working on a third act. Earlier this year he and a fellow cowboy started a home-building business. The name, says Stanton with a grin, is "Broken Bullrider Construction."

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