Written on 08/19/21
I thought alot about what it would feel like after I quit my job. I fantasized about the first morning I could wake up and not have work looming over my head, to finally be able to do whatever I wanted and not worry about when my next conference call was or what client requests I needed to deal with. I couldn’t wait for the day I would finally be free of a job that I was not passionate about and yet somehow let dominate my life. Unfortunately after I turned in my work laptop, there was no instantaneous feeling of elation like I had fantasized about, no overwhelming rush of relief. Instead what followed were several weeks of stress, anxiety, sadness, sometimes panic and lots of tears. My first day without work felt just like the day before.
To be fair, I made alot of changes in a short amount of time... I also decided to:
- sell my condo, my car and as much of my furniture as I could
- buy a cargo van and have it built into an RV
- figure out (read:agonize over) how I'm going to live and travel in said van with my BF and two pets who have never met
- explain to all friends, family and co-workers why I would choose to do all of this at once (when I myself wasn't sure why...)
For weeks after quitting my job, packing up my condo and driving away, I felt constant waves of panic. I would then stress about the fact that I was still feeling stressed. Over and over again, I kept questioning myself and my choices. "Why was I feeling stressed when I had just removed the primary source of stress from my life i.e. work?"
Change is hard
I realize now that this turmoil was probably unavoidable and necessary. First off, change is hard, and I had decided to make alot of changes in a short amount of time, for better or worse. Although I voluntarily chose to uproot my life, that doesn't necessarily make the changes easy. No amount of planning, mental preparation or visualization could completely ready me for the amount of change I inflicted upon myself. I knew that making the drastic change of living in a 800+ square foot condo with all the luxuries I needed and wanted to living on the road would be tough, from a theoretical standpoint. And it inevitably was. What I didn't realize is that a) we're really bad at predicting how we'll deal with change and all of its side effects, but also b) just how long it would take for me to start feeling the positive effects of quitting my job.
Side note: If I were to give advice to anyone who is planning on making a major life change, I would tell them to book an all expense paid vacation for 2 weeks after said changes have been made... Seriously though, change is tiring, and I was exhausted/still am exhausted from this period in my life. Give yourself time to recuperate and rebalance. You will be so thankful you did!
Learning to Not Work
I've worked a corporate job with 24/7 access to work email via laptop and/or phone non-stop for the last 11 years. (I still remember being issued my new iphone as an Engineer 1 and feeling so important.) Constant access to phone and email meant my co-workers/clients had unlimited access to me. And as most are familiar, vacationing while working in corporate America can hardly qualify as an actual break. On every vacation, my work laptop and work phone were always by my side. From presenting at a virtual conference from a campground in Utah to deciding I needed to cut a vacation in Mexico short due to a client meeting, I always put work first.
I’ve since realized it takes a fair amount of time for that "work is everything" attitude to wear off; to unlearn and un-program myself from the daily grind I had become so accustomed to... 4 weeks in fact! 4 weeks since I turned in my work laptop for me to finally feel the ever-present anxiety and stress dissipate from my body in a significant way; for my whole self to understand that I didn't have to wake up and "go to work" or suddenly feel a wave of guilt rush over me after I realized I hadn't checked my work email in the last hour. For the first time in a very long time, I felt like I could breath, unencumbered.
Who is She?
This ability to finally relax after several weeks of not working confirms my suspicion that my work had been a major source of stress in my life. Knowing that it took 4 weeks for the stress and anxiety to significantly leave my body also confirms that that I’ve never been able to fully take a break from work in the last 11 years. On one hand, this makes me really sad. I haven't been showing up as my best self due and that was becoming more and more apparent to me as time went on. And I’ve pondered long and hard (read:stewing) on how this has negatively impacted my quality of work, my relationships, my mental health, and so on, for years.
On the other hand, it makes me really curious about the future. Who am I in the absence of all this stress and anxiety I've lived with for so long? Who am I once I no longer have to worry about being successful in an industry I have such mixed feelings about? What's underneath this shell I've surrounded myself in for so long because I never felt like I could be my true self at work? Who is she? What does she like to do for fun? What brings her real joy?
Turns out, it's really nice to be able to explore the answers to these questions. Understandably, progress towards this non-work self hasn't been linear; I've definitely had my up's and downs. But overall, I'm extremely grateful for this time to stop and reflect. Now that earning money and being "successful" is no longer the primary objective* for myself, I feel like I finally get to explore who I am and who I want to become. Am I connecting with the person I was before I started working** or growing into the person I was always supposed to be? Annie Mac said it best in an article she wrote recently:
"Knowing what you want involves casting aside all of your inhabited identities and laying yourself bare. What really excites you? What drives you? What makes you feel alive? Finding truthful answers to these questions is the most difficult part. After that, all you have to do is put the steps in place to get that thing that you want."
I can't imagine anything being more difficult than what I just went through, but even still, I'm ready to find the answers to these questions. I'm excited to do the work and see where the answers to these questions take me.
*One thing I've recently discovered about myself is that I've lived in a way that's very focused on making money and being successful... not great for a number of reasons. I've started to unpack why, but spoiler alert, it has alot to do with my upbringing.
** This is not to say that work has a negative impact on everyone's life. It make me happy to know that many of my friends truly enjoy their work. Unfortunately that hasn't been my experience, at least not for the last 5 or so years. I also understand that allowing my work to affect me in such a negative manner is largely my own doing. Something I obviously need to figure out how to counteract if/when I choose to work in the future.