There’s nothing like a blank page, on paper or MacBook, to encourage the butterflies of anxiety ordinarily confined to your youth to send you a familiar flutter. The sheer gift of time to write is a wonderful thing, and leaving my job almost three months ago has allowed me to experience all of my time, or nearly all of my time, ‘mindfully’. With this huge life change in mind I wanted to begin my writing on the very thing that brought me here – my exit from the first professional job I’ve ever had.
I had been working in an entry level sales position, and I think most people acknowledge that sales is not for everyone. My particular experience with the role was one of routine and monotony, and a constant mixed feeling of boredom and anxiety. I don’t doubt that there are many people who love the job and are very good at it (in fact I’m married to such a person and he is brilliant and has far more job satisfaction than many people I know!) but for me it was 8 hours a day, 45 hours a week devoid of all enthusiasm. I have wanted to travel for many years, and in that time I’ve read countless blogs on people who have left the corporate world behind and hopped off to see the world. Oh how my heart would soar reading these blogs! The sheer elation I felt scrolling from photographs of grey office spaces to bright blue skies and the very nearly white beaches! Unfortunately as I turned away from the screen and faced my everyday life I found myself unable to be brave in the same way, unable to leave the familiar – however unhappy it made me.
Thankfully just under three months ago things started to shift. I began to examine the old adage ‘better the devil you know’, which had left me spending days I will never get back doing something I got nothing out of, and realised that nothing could be worse than the situation I was in. My job was dulling my character and leading to tears on a Monday morning and, towards the end, right through to a Friday evening. During an appraisal I voiced my concerns, and thankfully the company understood. They knew I was unhappy and that my performance was being negatively affected by my unhappiness. They remembered who I was when I joined the organisation, and noted the gradual change that been taking part since I had joined 3 years earlier. At this point we discussed a Settlement Agreement. Everything changed. They offered to cover my salary for almost 5 months, which of course helped immeasurably with any out-of-work-anxiety I may have felt, but regardless of the money I was elated. My shoulders relaxed before I even left the meeting room, and though I was upset to leave my co-workers I walked out of the office with my head high and cried tears of relief as I left the business park.
That Monday morning feeling is tough, and I suspect there are only a small number of people in the world who don’t experience that feeling at some stage, but when that reluctance and unhappiness stretches to every working day, every working week, it’s time for a change. I like to think of myself as an exciting, proactive person but I now know myself to be a creature of routine. I stayed in a role I detested for 3 years, purely because I was afraid of change. I was afraid that my unhappiness was normal, and that any role could and would make me equally unhappy. I was afraid that no other employer would hire me and I would inflict my unemployment on my partner, leaving him to provide for us both. Fundamentally I was afraid of the unknown, and I know I’m not the only one. I can’t get those 3 years back. Though my life outside of work was remarkably wonderful, mainly thanks to a rather wonderful partner, I wasted time I cannot get back. What I realised I could do was WAKE UP. Shortly after I left I read a blog post online which opened my eyes. Among the many inspirational tips it had was the line ‘Be intentional. The sleepwalking has gone on long enough.’ With this incredible line in mind I have spent the last 3 months doing the following:
– Learning Spanish – My mother is Spanish and this language is part of my heritage – though it does not come naturally to me! I have studied it at some length almost every day, and though I’m not fluent I would definitely say I’ve advanced from beginner!
– Being Creative – I have written poetry, drawn with oil pastels and read books that have been on my ‘to read’ list for years. I’ve also spent time baking, gardening and listening to radio programmes. I even spent some time doing some freelance subtitling work utilising my English degree – finally earning money for doing something I enjoyed!
– Yoga – I had always wanted to practice yoga but I never got round to it. I’m now a little addicted to the feeling of testing your body’s strength and its ability to encourage your mind to switch off.
– Travel – After years of lusting after far-flung destinations I have planned and booked a 6 week trip to South America, travelling through Peru and Chile. It’ll be the perfect place to practice my Spanish and a chance for me to take some of those bright, beautiful photographs I’ve spent so long admiring online.
The key change for me has been that the things I once squeezed into the weekend or put off altogether have been the week day’s main event, and I have experienced and enjoyed them without clock-watching. For anybody out there in the same position, scared to move from a position of unhappiness because of a fear of the unknown, I want to tell you to do it now! Of course it is scary, but most of the best decisions you make in your life will be! The financial side of my departure made things much easier, and if you can agree similar terms with your employer I would definitely advise it. There’s a handy piece here on Settlement Agreements which you might find useful, and of course if you have any questions feel free to drop me a note. The change in me since I left has been immeasurable, and though the reality of the working world still awaits me I plan to move through it with purpose and awareness – the same way I’ve spent the last 12 weeks.