As a former CORPaholic, my life has changed significantly in the past several months in ways I had never considered. Maybe it is an experience akin to what people go through when they retire, except that I am in my early thirties.
I knew that quitting my job would have impacts to my free time, my quest for artistic endeavors and to our household’s finances, but it’s was the psychological and personal changes that were about to happen that I never considered. Here are some of the things I learned since making the decision to quit my career and that hopefully will help someone out there that is considering quitting theirs.
1) At, first, your friends and family will not understand.
You can have the most loving inner circle, but if most of them live conventional lives, chances are your decision will not be met with a party or congratulatory card. Instead, there will be lots of questions, skepticism, concern, lots of advice and some judgment.
This is completely normal. We are programmed by society to follow a certain script and not used to people who deviate from the norm. Had somebody told me they were quitting a great career in their early thirties 5 years ago, I would have thought that person was on crack!
Regardless of who your friends and family are, the first reaction is usually shock followed by several questions about your new lifestyle. Here are the ones I got:
“What? What do you mean?”
“Why? But, it’s temporary, right? Will you do something else? Have kids, maybe?”
“That is great, but you can’t! You are too young!”
“I know you. You will get bored. You should open a business!”
“You will find something else, I am not worried.”
Moral of the story: Others will not understand your decision right away, but it’s okay. You are doing this for yourself and no one else. Unconventional decisions are only understood by those who live unconventional lives. Do you want to know who didn’t blink an eye at my announcement to quit my career? My 85-year-old grandfather who retired at 45.
2) Who am I without a title?
It’s amazing how we become so attached to an occupation. Our sense of self is always attached to what we do. We are a student, a professional, a parent, a spouse/partner. We attach a sense of worth to everything we do, and EVERYONE wants to know how we make a living. You can’t have a 5 min conversation with a stranger, go to a doctor’s office or fill out registration forms without being asked that question. This was probably the hardest part for me to get used to. I was what I did for many years and I felt like a part of me had been stripped away. I grieved for my title, in a sense.
So what answer do I give? I leave “occupation” blank on forms and usually ignore the question of what I do for a living.
Ah, here is an idea, I will just write/say Life Xplorer next time. What reactions do you think I will get? I wonder, will the US government accept that in the census survey?
Moral of the story: If your whole sense of self has been attached to your job for years, expect to feel some emptyness for a little while.
3) It’s ok not to have plans.
Efficiency and productivity are absolute necessities in the professional realm. As an employee, you are a large expense to the company and only as valuable as your contributions to the bottom line (no sugar-coating here!), so you learn to do more in less time. Every hour is accounted for and your performance is evaluated based on your accomplishments throughout the year (or at least that is how it should be…). You learn to live a scripted life, ticking off things from your list every day to feel like you are worth your paycheck.
Well, it’s a whole different world when you don’t have to wake up, drive, work, eat, sleep at the same time everyday.
At first, I felt like I was on vacation. I slept in, spent the day goofing around and went to sleep very late- YEAH, no more 10pm curfew! Woo-Hoo! (built-in sarcasm)
Eventually, I developed guilt. I looked for things to do just so I could tick things off the new list.
Then, the light bulb happened. The guilt was brought on by no one but myself. I have no deliverables, no year-end reviews. I am not trying to prove myself or go for the next promotion. I am my own boss and I decide how to spend my time. If I spend the day “bingeing” on my latest favorite YouTube channel or working on a project like a woman on a mission, it is okay.
Moral of the story: My time is mine and I should feel no guilt on how I spend it.
4) Is your definition of success really yours?
Mine was not. I was following the script that most of us are taught to follow. Go to college, get a job, get promoted, make money, buy things… the American dream.
Once I achieved a level society would call successful, I felt a sense of disappointment.
The questions that kept popping into my mind were: Is this it? Is this what my life will look like for the next 20 to 30 years?
It is not easy to let go and create your own definition of success. Pre-quitting, I struggled with the fear that I was undoing everything I fought for and earned in my life. Post-quitting I had a couple panic attacks, however short-lived, that was caused by a fear of failure.
I asked myself was I happier now then in the last decade? The answer was a resounding YES, so how could I ever consider that a failure? Isn’t being happy one of the greatest achievements in life?
Moral of the story: My new definition of sucess is “I am living the New American dream.”
5) It didn’t really matter.
My work was extremely stressful at times, I was managing a big innovative project that was expected to generate a multi-million dollar return. Everything was new, met with skepticism and an emergency. As such, I lived in a bubble of “corporate psychological terrorism” where the threat level was always on red. At that moment, work had more importance than my personal life, my passions and my health. I lived always on the go, fueled by Coke Zero, Snickers bars and pretzels. Sound familiar?
Now, I look back and think how silly I was to let my job affect me like that. No one was going to die, I was not running an ER, yet I believed I was. No career, job or passion should carry such stress.
Moral of the story: Things that seem important and urgent to you now, will become distant memories after you quit and you wonder why you cared so much.
6) Money is not everything, but don’t be an idiot!
It may sound like it was a spur of the moment decision to quit my job or a function of my husband’s relocation, but the decision had been made long before. For many years, we have been discussing early retirement and planning financially for it. That meant living under our means, paying down debt, saving, investing and being able to live on a set budget.
So if you are considering quitting your job, make sure you are willing to sacrifice a source of income and can afford to do it.
Also, consider if this is short-term (sabbatical) or long-term (retirement) venture and the impact it will have on your future. There are a lot of people that quit their jobs to travel and plan to get back to work once they are done, or plan on earning income while they are travelling. Those are great short-term options.
In our case, we wanted a long-term venture. We wanted to quit and not have to worry about going back and having to compete in markets where updated experience mattered. Working longer, accruing benefits and building savings to live on was a lot more appealing to us than quitting earlier and then having to go back to work and risk starting at a much lower level and pay. Mr. GoodLife still works, which lets us transition to this new life with a safety net. He will be ready to quit in a couple years, however he may not, he may just go part-time or consult – he likes what he does far more than he cares to admit.
Moral of the story: Money may not make you happy, but the lack of it can be even more stressful and frustrating that your current job. Whatever option you choose (sabbatical or retirement), plan ahead and get your finances in order!
7) I have the best cheerleader in the world!
We all need someone to lean on. A person that will share in your happiness, lend you a shoulder to cry on and also tell you when you are full of crap.
I am married to an incredible man who used to tell me at least once a day to quit my job because he saw how unhappy I was, following someone else’s definition of success. He told me over and over again what I needed to hear, even if I disagreed at times.
Post-quitting, I realized how important having that support in my life was. Whenever I doubted myself, he was there to set me straight.
Moral of the story: Find that cheerleader in your life that will support your dreams and decisions and be your rock when you doubt the decisions you made.
There it is, I hope this gives you insight into what to expect if you plan on quitting your job.
If you made the jump already, I would love to hear about your experiences and the lessons you learned.