In May this year, I decided to quit my very well-paying, secure job while not knowing when and from where my next pay would come.
Telling my then colleagues about my decision, I was met with a rather homogenous array of reactions:
“You CAN’T leave a job like this.”
“There isn’t anything better out there.”
“You won’t find anything that’s perfect, you’re being naive!”
Interestingly, though, these comments were often accompanied by additions like:
“I wish I could do that.”
“I feel ya!”
“I envy you for your freedom!”
So, there were mixed messages flying at me.
Rationally, I knew for a fact that I was blessed with a job market that fought for new talent to hire and that I had nothing to fear. As soon as I wanted to, if I wanted to, I would be back in employment and, thus, financial security.
Irrationally, my firm knowing these facts wavered under the pressure of the reactions around me.
Was I doing the responsible thing?
Did I even have a right to seek self-realization when others would dream of having a job as I did?
And did I deserve to take time off between my fading job and the next one, whatever it would turn out to be?
Well, whatever the answers to these questions, quitting and taking some time off is exactly what I did.
In my old job, I had friendly colleagues, an okay workload, interesting tasks, stability and benefits. Really not bad at all.
But it didn’t feel right. My curiosity, my creativity, my aliveness, and my love for instilling these qualities in others, it all came crashing into the walls of the persisting company culture, week after week. I longed for a work culture that was more colourful, quirky, and human-centred.
I also longed for more space in life for my passion project: podcasting, writing, and creating for WHYLD.
I needed to wrap my head around how to re-arrange my professional life in order to make space for what was important to me.
Taking a “mini-sabbatical” was a promising way of getting on the right path.
I knew I wouldn’t want – or dare to – be without a job for months on end. Eventually, I turned out to be out of employment for merely 6 weeks.
However, when I handed back my employee ID card on my last day in the old job, I had no clue yet just how long I would be “free”. That was a sweet, exciting thought.
Happy quitter – coming to terms with choosing ME and taking some time off.
Now that I am back in the employed sphere, at least part-time, people ask me – and I ask myself – what have I gained from taking my mini-sabbatical? What have I used the free time for? Or, in other words, what did I decide to invest the money in that drained from my bank account day after day?
Have I travelled?
Surprisingly, not so much.
Have I sucked Netflix dry?
A bit, yes.
Have I started a new hobby or done something I would not have the time to do in my working life?
Having the freedom to spend every day exactly as I pleased, was like an observational study. The study subject being myself, the research question was: What choices will I make with no one to tell me what to do and, initially, no real deadline to this state? Here is what I discovered:
Apparently, I really like making sure my days are carved out for lots of undisturbed, quiet hours so that I can be creative and work on things. No appointments, most days not even social ones, that’s when I love my life best. Even given the opportunity to go on trips each day, meet people, and do fun activities, what I tend to choose instead is:
Getting up relatively early.
Opening a computer, first thing in the morning.
Setting up a to-do list for the day. A to-do list containing items like: “study a few chapters of this course”, “improve a certain feature on the website”, “write a post on some epiphany a recent experience has given me”, “write an email to this awesome person and invite them to be guest on WHYLD Podcast”.
Besides creative work, definitely taking time to cuddle with my dog and going on a nice walk outdoors.
In the evening, drinking a glass of something nice while watching a documentary.
That’s it. That’s what makes me happy.
Well, of course, I also like adventure, social experiences, and variety from time to time. But what I described above is pretty much my IDEAL AVERAGE DAY: A day I could repeat many, many times without getting sick of it.
It is amazing what can happen when you strip your soul off layers of appointments, demands, schedules, and stress. Before my mini-sabbatical started, I had worked 40 hours a week in my day job, spend many more hours on WHYLD, travelled between my home bases, held up a social life, filled my mind with the daily flood of news, social media, and interesting documentaries I love to watch, and generally juggled my daily life as we all do.
I was fully filled up… with distractions.
As I was too busy to be mindful, I did not realize how much self-awareness slipped through my fingers during “normal” life. It was only when my days got “quieter”, that more awareness broke through the surface.
I noticed I was capable of observing myself more than before. When negative feelings came up, I understood why that happened. When I was stressed because of something, I was able to determine the cause and how I could dissolve it.
What astonished me was how often I was suddenly capable of seeing when I was about to talk or act against my real needs, enabling me to then revert back to my truth. With “authenticity” being my prime topic as a podcaster and writer, this was one gem of a discovery!
Being aware of the various drivers inside me – drivers of my thoughts, feelings and actions – put me in a better position to make decisions. Generally, I tend to be an ambitious doer who can get caught in frantic actionism. But not everything I CAN do is something that I SHOULD. Unfortunately, once I am in the fangs of momentum, fuelled by curiosity and creativity, it can get hard for me to stop and reflect.
Now, thanks to the elevated awareness my time off granted, I did not have to fight to see what I really needed and where I was about to derail from my tracks. I understood where I needed to put my time and energy in the future in order to spend it on my core, rather than my periphery.
I am sure this heightened awareness will dissolve as quickly as it has appeared once I am back in working life. Mindfulness is a muscle that can be trained but that does not grow for free.
What will remain with me for a while, I believe, is the memory of how aware I CAN be and how it is a booster for living in alignment with my inner truth. This is a tremendously valuable lesson to have learned.
Taking time to just BE in nature – here during a 7-day fasting retreat.
As a natural consequence of gain no. 2, I became shockingly aware of how my own state seemed to change the world around me.
It is not like I ran a scientifically accurate study but, nevertheless, I dare say: The number of times I grew angry, annoyed, or impatient with certain people seemed to decrease significantly the longer my mini-sabbatical lasted.
As much as I want to be righteous about my own perspective and the shortcomings of other people sometimes, eventually, I grudgingly admitted that this observation told a lot about my own failings…
What part did I play in arguments, misunderstandings, and lack of connection? Were they not inherent characteristics of my relationship with someone after all but rather a function of my own inner state? Could I really like other people better, simply by being more chilled?
And here I thought it was THE OTHERS when truly it was me. I know, shocking…
I almost did not quit without having the next job already lined up because all sorts of fears and a need for “security” had come flooding in at the time. Despite knowing that I really had nothing to worry about: I had savings. Head hunters contacting me every day proved the job market was on my side. Heck, in the unlikely event I could not find a new job as soon as I wanted to, there would even be unemployment benefits. So, there was no way I was going to end up lost and broke.
Quitting a “good” job and not working for a while is just not something “you do”. That’s what some inner voices meant to tell me anyway. So, the day I did hand in my resignation, my knees were a bit shaky. When asked whether it felt good, my honest answer was: No, not really.
It took a few days to sink in. But eventually… it did feel sooooo good! Once it was all set and there was no turning back, a lightness spread in me. All worries disappeared and I was able to return to my rational thinking:
I was taking some time off and I was going to search for a job and work environment that suited me better. I was not a horrible person. And it was going to be alright.
“You cannot quit your job”? “You cannot take time off”? Whoever it is that wants to convince you of this – yourself or another person – well, they are not correct. As long as you are capable of writing a resignation paper, or calling your clients and saying you won’t be available for a while, you literally CAN.
That doesn’t mean it will be simple, or easily affordable, or that it won’t even be risky in your case. I do want to acknowledge that my being able to do this so light-heartedly has a lot to do with the privileges I am given. Things might look very different for you.
I won’t generalize that a job change or a sabbatical is available to anyone at any time. But I will generalize this: There will always be something that you or someone else says is inappropriate or impossible for you.
That does not mean it is.
Sometimes the best way of dealing with something that you fear is to do it anyway. Invite the fears along for the ride.
Blurry picture, blurry focus – Ally, Dennis & me letting our minds wander in the summer heat.
A simple way to determine whether something is worth “it” is by weighing the input (“it”) against the output side of things.
So now, what do you think? Was it worth it?
I tell you what: If I did not value myself enough to consider myself well worth the investments listed above, I’d be in big trouble.
Life is short and I do not believe in sacrificing decades for the hope of a splendid retirement waiting eventually.
Learning, growth, creation, giving, love, health, vitality… those are the qualities that make life rich. And they need space to be in our lives RIGHT NOW. What good is a well-paying job, what good is a seamless reputation of being a hard worker if these qualities do not have enough space in all phases of our lives?
That does not necessarily mean that we need to carve out years, or months, or weeks at a time to make that space. Maybe even a few hours a week, or 15 minutes a day – consistently – could go a long way?
Get clearer on what qualities you want your average day to comprise. For that, invest in yourself and make space for the exercise in the final section of this post.
One thing I gained during this mini-sabbatical of mine was more understanding of how I love to design my days.
In one of my training courses to become a coach, at “The Coaching Institute” in Australia – I was introduced to an exercise called “Ideal Average Day”.
The purpose of the exercise is to get clear on what you want in life.
So many people are clear on what they don’t want, and what makes them unhappy. But since we tend to move in the direction of our focus, it is a far better idea to know what we DO WANT, what qualities in life we want to experience, and who we want to experience it with.
When asked to design our ideal life, we are quick to respond in terms of sunny holiday visions, lying in a hammock between palm trees, cocktail in hand. Or some other version of blissful times.
But the truth is, we might not be happy at all if that was our life, day after day after day. We would probably get bored, lack meaning and fulfilment.
The question is: What kind of day would you really be able to repeat maaany times and be happy, in balance, fulfilled?
Now I invite you to download this worksheet and reflect on your very own version of an Ideal Average Day.
May you be able to invite more of what you need into your life!
Photos used in this post by Henri Mathieu-Saint-Laurent and Tina Hewelt