How does it feel? Exciting? Scary? You must be excited, right? How do you feel?
Since I quit my high-flying law job 8 weeks ago my colleagues have been very interested in how it feels to have handed in my notice. I’ve had several jobs in my short-but-varied legal career so this isn’t a completely new experience for me, but I can understand their inquisitiveness. Everyone appreciates that the “job for life” is dead but they don’t fully realise that this applies to them — until it does. As a result many of my colleagues were born and bred in the same firm and haven’t interviewed for a job since they were 20 years old. They have never said “no” to their bosses, never mind “screw you, I’m done”. The world outside seems to be a scary place, full of uncertainty, so they are curious about my journey to the “other side”.
In my experience there are several stages to the leaving process. The nervousness and prevarication as you pace around your office, psyching yourself up to hand in your resignation. The blur of emotions as its actually happening, the elation that you’ve actually done it. The relief that months and weeks of agonising are over, swiftly followed by a vague sense of hurt that your bosses didn’t try to talk you out of it and didn’t seem that sad to see you go. The smugness as you tell your colleagues that you will be escaping.
You go home that day emotionally drained and at peace. You have the best night’s sleep ever.
And the next day, you go into work and — anti-climax — everything is the same. You still have to meet deadlines, you still have to talk to clients, you still have to be a good worker. This part is the worst. When the phone rings it causes you physical pain. When you have to stay late you have never felt more resentlful. When you get given new work, you are incredulous, you can’t believe this is happening. You are in Professional Purgatory. And you can’t wait to get out.
The weeks pass and your notice period ticks away. As your leave date hurtles towards you, the feelings change. You start to see the good things about working for your employer. You’ll miss the people, the atmosphere, the local lunch spots. You feel a warm fondness, edged with a vague sense of remorse. Perhaps you rushed into things? Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to stay? But then you think of your new shiny job and the cool and lovely people you’ll be working with. I bet they don’t have to put up with x, y and z. I bet they are well managed and appreciated. I bet they are really, really happy. Yes, it was the right decision. Purgatory passes and you are delivered to your new life with a calm sense of belonging.
But this is where my current story differs from its previous incarnations. You see I’ve gone and done the unthinkable. I have left my job with nothing to go to.
One of the downsides of this, apart from the delicate dance I’m doing with my overdraft, is that, as my last day drew inexorably closer, I had no protective foil against my doubts and second-thoughts. On the day itself I felt a rising sense of panic. That jolt when you miss the last step on the stairs. That feeling of weightlessness when your plane is gaining altitude and it seems like the engines won’t have enough thrust to bring the aircraft level. I was floating in limbo.
What have I done? For all the perfectly rational reasons I have been articulating to myself in the last few months I knew it was absolutely the right decision to leave. But I still didn’t want to actually go through with it. Maybe I could call it off? I’m sure they’d let me stay, wouldn’t they? We’ll cancel the leaving party. We’ll sort something out. Or I could leave next week maybe, just push it back a little.
I suddenly understood why people find it so hard to leave their jobs, to even consider dusting off their CV and talking to recruiters. It is so much easier to do nothing. Inertia is a powerful force. You can sit back and let the current take you wherever it wants you to go, and you are not responsible for the choice of destination. So much more uncomfortable to take hold of the controls.
How did I overcome this paralysis? I had to remind myself why I was leaving and what I’m hoping to achieve: freedom, happiness and a more fulfilling life. A fragment of Coldplay’s The Scientist, which always reminds me of uni, came to mind: nobody said it was easy, no one ever said it would be so hard. Well I can tell you it is hard, or it was for me at least. But, I am proud to report, certainly not impossible.
So I did it, I left. I packed up my stuff, I gave my leaving speech, I partied with my friends and colleagues.
And Monday, 18th November 2013, is Day 1. The first day of the rest of my life.