How I Started Living My Own Life (by Quitting My Job)
I Knew It, but I Couldn't Live It
Whenever a "successful" person is giving advice, they seem to say some version of, "don't worry about what other people think." Or, "follow your own path, even if most people think you're crazy or an idiot." I recently read a quote from Steve Jobs along those lines.
Even I, as a lowly employee at a multinational conglomerate, doled out the same advice when I was asked to speak to a group of first years who were straight out of college. At the start of the talk, I asked them to list 3 things they valued and 3 ways they defined success. I concluded the talk by suggesting they align their values with the ways they define success, and not let the people around them influence them negatively.
I remembered how easy it was to get sucked into the mindset that you had to get that next promotion or raise to be happy, and I didn't want them to fall into that trap. At the same time, I was still in that trap myself. I was still letting the people around me and society at large decide what was right for me.
Letting Go of Other People's Expectations
After I got laid off from the multinational conglomerate, which you can read about here, I had another job lined up with a former boss of mine. It was the ideal situation in many ways. I liked my boss and had a good rapport with him, I was qualified for the job, and I was working remotely and getting paid a decent salary.
The problem was, I was completely miserable. My unhappiness did not stem from the job, or the team, or my boss, or the company. The reason that every day at work felt like torture was because I didn't want to be a risk manager anymore. I had done it for well over a decade, and for various reasons, I was done. On top of that, for many years, I had felt that my calling was in the helping space and more specifically, counseling.
I agonized over the decision to leave for months. As I am in many ways, I was extremely blessed that my husband was supportive either way and we could make it work financially. Still, I had a hang up about always wanting to make my own money because to me, money meant freedom. And I knew there were specific people in my life ... coworkers, family, friends ... who would judge me negatively for my decision and disapprove. I knew this because of things they had said to me in the past on the matter.
In the end, I decided to let all of that go and take the plunge. And it has been the best thing I could have done because it has led to so many other positive changes in my life. A big one is that I have been able to spend this year with my kids before they start kindergarten, just soaking it all in. I also started working out every day and stopped drinking, which you can read about here. I thank God for guiding me on this path.
Charting My Own Way
It didn't stop there. It wasn't like I decided to quit my job and all of a sudden I was free of society's constraints. I had more work to do, and I think the next big decision really put the nail in the coffin of me caring what other people think.
First, let me note that the judgers in my life judged, and the disapprovers disapproved. Living through their judgment and disapproval helped strengthen the muscle of not caring what they thought. Because I think it's something I needed to practice and get better at over time. In some areas of the country, staying at home with the kids is the norm. In my area, or at least my town, both parents tend to work outside the home. So let's just leave it at, there was judgment.
A few months after I quit my job, I was talking to a friend who was asking if I ever wanted to have another job outside the home again. And it was an interesting moment, because it crystallized for me that I did want to. I said as much to her and at the same time, I said I didn't know what that thing was, but I was pretty sure it would come to me in time.
Shortly after that conversation, I had a breakthrough and recognized that I wanted to pursue social work as a career. I had thought about social work and counseling previously, but I realized the mental block I had from seriously considering it was society's disapproval. The fact is that I wanted to work in child welfare, but I couldn't even allow myself to think that, because I knew that "society" would say that it was too hard and I would burn out. Like my mind wouldn't even let me go there.
I think that having taken that first step of quitting my job primed me to make the mental leap needed to realize what I wanted to do next. Sure enough, once I started taking a class to try it out, the people in my life started telling me how they knew social workers who burned out and how hard their jobs were. It doesn't even faze me now, because I see so clearly that it is my life and my decision, and they don't know what's best for me. They may disapprove, but at the end of the day, they're going home to their families and presumably not spending their time thinking about my life decisions.
I believe that I can learn something from every person who I meet and I am open to that learning. But that's not what I'm talking about here. The advice to which I say, "thank you" and then I move on, is advice that I've either already heard before and considered seriously, or thoughts that have everything to do with the person thinking them and practically nothing to do with me.
I enjoyed the class, and I believe that social work is my ikigai. It's this Japanese concept of the intersection of what you're good at, what you can make a living doing, what you love, and what the world needs. I'm happy to write that I was recently accepted into the Master of Social Work program at a local university and will be starting there in the fall.