I am no stranger to radical changes. When I left the music biz to move to the San Diego ‘burbs and “take over” an existing family, in the form of a husband, two children and two dogs, I didn’t really miss the days spent on the phone, the intercontinental travelling, the constant concerts I had to attend or even the Grammies. I was too busy figuring out what a soccer mom was and what PTA stood for (two scary concepts to this day). The only perk I missed was the expense account which had afforded me nice extravagances I wouldn’t have been able to pay for myself.
In time, a second career blossomed, one which was food related. It lasted eight years and gifted me with wonderful memories, new friends and a different kind of stress. Because I tend to be driven and competitive, it was easy for me to both succeed but also to identify with what I did a tad too much. Eventually, it became apparent that what I did was not in synch with what I wanted anymore. Not that I necessarily knew what I wanted but what I did know was that it was time to stop, get off the treadmill and quiet the constant mind chatter that was not helping me unlock the next phase of my life.
As I got older, I also realized how important it was to do something that suited my temperament more, a concept we don’t give much thought to when we join the workforce with stars in our eyes and big hopes for the future.
It took many months to come to this momentous decision, countless phone conversations with girlfriends kind enough to listen to my whining, and pushing me to just do it (in the vague hope I might shut up) and a dose of that courage I thought I had lost. Still wrapped in my ego and in the mechanics of my job, I could think of a million reasons why passing up on a reliable paycheck, an excellent career and wonderful coworkers for some thin ideas that involved writing was the wrong thing to do.
My parents taught me to be pragmatical and to always make sure I could provide for myself – tenets I always lived by but that, approaching my fifth decade, I also realized were skewing my approach towards a conservatism that didn’t befit me. In these times of economic downturn, especially in Europe, where people my age consider themselves lucky to have a job at all, never mind a satisfying one, my decision to quit my job was greeted with trepidation by both my parents, even if I am extremely fortunate to be in a financial position to be able to do this at all. Expenses had to be curtailed, there will be no exotic trips anytime soon and whipping out the credit card on a whim, every time I see something that “would look so nice on me”, is not an option anymore. But these are silly adjustments compared to the hardships so many people are experiencing.
Over three months after taking the ambivalent step of leaving my job, after tears were spilled, coworkers were missed and getting up in the morning without having to rush out the door didn’t seem so strange anymore; after the initial elation that invariably follows hard decisions evaporated, I noticed that happiness, for lack of a better word, trailed me most of the time.
Me being me, of course I still worry, get annoyed/frustrated or impatient but in incremental smaller proportions. Anger does not figure into the equation of my feelings any longer. Because I have mild ocd, I still keep my house in a state of superhuman tidiness and cleanliness but I don’t feel the need to be in a constant state of multi-tasking.
And that is the good news that made jumping off the cliff worthwhile. But what about the drawbacks, dwindling bank account aside? Judging from what I hear from friends or read in the words of complete strangers, there are very many of us considering radical changes. We hit a time in our lives when it’s natural to take stock; it’s as if a biological clock is forcing us to look at what we have done so far, at the path we have embarked on and wonder if we want to stay the course. It’s a bit like hitting 39, thinking about having children and whether something needs to be done.
But there are a few things to consider – life is not necessarily easy once you kiss your mean boss goodbye or shred the subway card.
In the morning, I have established a new routine, new parameters so I don’t get lost reading a book for 8 straight hours. What used to be a day structured by events dictated by the workplace had to be reinvented.
I tend to be a pretty self-disciplined person and, what has worked for me, is to visualize on paper or screen chunks of time and what I will be doing with them. By 9 am I am always at my desk, whether showered and dressed or in my pj’s (most often the case). Lunch will be around 1:30 for about 45 minutes. When I am in a rut with ideas or frustrated with anything at hand, that’s the time the dogs will be rewarded with a walk. But, as organized as I am, I do fall into what I call “the bottomless pit” from time to time. Case in point, the day the Duchess of Cambridge’s pregnancy was announced. I saw the news appearing on my screen and I went on a feeding frenzy of non-existent information. Why would I even care about the former Kate Middleton’s vomiting patterns is not a question I asked myself until 20 minutes into my fishing expedition. I was clearly avoiding something I needed to do and the Royal Palace gave me ammo to feed my procrastination.
At first, I was afraid my social life would take a hit. Many social events throughout my life were work-related and it’s probably the case formost career women. Would my phone stop ringing? Would efforts to get things organized be placed squarely on me? Would I spend endless days in sweats, hair in a messy ponytail ? Would I miss the interaction with dozens of people, 10 hours a day? Mostly, the answer is no. Now that people know I am home, they tend to phone at all times of the day and invitations pour forth. So much so that I have to limit my social life or I would spend way too many hours away from my desk. Also, if I am writing, I will make a point of letting the phone go unanswered. But the water cooler chitchat is now limited to the dogs whose gossip repertoire is somehow limited. I don’t mind the solitude but, if pets are not an option and talking to the walls would make you feel like a total loony, solitude is an aspect you might want to consider.
Financially, I know I will have to start making money again. When I stopped drawing a paycheck, there were some items that were non-negotiable: I had to have health insurance and I was not allowed to touch the little nest egg I had put away. Which means I cannot live without an income for longer than 12 to 18 months.
Whatever business or venture you are thinking of starting, under the best of circumstances, it will take around three years to turn a profit. You need to keep that in mind because finding yourself in the latter part of your life with serious money worries, it’s a stressor nobody should submit themselves to willingly. Yes, I do fret on whether I will still be employable again, or would much younger people be given precedence, but when I put worries and the fear of regrets on the scale, the need to fly solo tilted the balance. Calculated risks can pay off. I hope I am betting on the right horse but if you are seriously averted to risk, such pressure might not be for you.
Sometimes I struggle with writing, sometimes I wish our site yielded immediate results and that is when I have learnt to stop myself, to remember I need to be a bit more compassionate of my efforts. I gave myself a time limit, I wouldn’t be me if I hadn’t, and a deadline by when a steady income will be needed again. But, unlike the old me, I don’t feel as if I am living next to a ticking clock. Fifty years in, I started noticing that, most of the time, life takes care of itself. With a little help.