This week I discovered the hard way that happiness and frivolity does not automatically fill the vacuum left by quitting your job. I thought about whether I should write this post but then I remembered my promise of being honest and giving a real picture of what it’s like to leave the working world. It’s not all skipping across Hampstead Heath with the wind in your hair (although I have done that too), and I feel a duty to give it to you straight, so here it goes…
January 20th: Not-so-Blue Monday
Monday 20th January was what is known to some as “Blue Monday”. It’s meant to be the worst working day of the year (although actually the name was part of a marketing ploy by Sky Travel and has no scientific basis). For my part there was nothing blue about it, I was truly enjoying not working. I was holed up in Scotland, drinking my mother-in-law’s amazing hot chocolate, and researching dog breeds (read: spending hours on youtube watching videos of cute puppies).
I had also hit my writing stride — I was writing an average of 4,000 words per day, which is huge. I wrote more that week than I had in the previous two weeks combined. In fact I was on such a roll that by Saturday I was typing the words “THE END” (yes, I actually typed it out at the end of the manuscript). It isn’t completely done, I still have a ton of work to do, but I have written the story from beginning to end, and I had met my challenge of writing it in a month.
In terms of my resolutions, I was riding high. I had my first “pink week”, where the boxes for mental and physical well-being were all pink every single day. I also had one very pink day, with the highest level of resolution achievement of any day so far.
I barely ever give status updates on social media but I was so pleased with my progress that I even tweeted “another great day as a free worker bee”. Cringe. Why do I do these things? What’s that saying? Pride comes before a fall?
January 28th: Blue Tuesday
After breezing through last week I really felt that I had gotten somewhere. For the first time after leaving my job I felt comfortable, relaxed and effortlessly happy. I wasn’t questioning myself or analysing, I was just at ease.
Yesterday, though, I was reminded of how far I still have to go. I woke up in a bad mood and was already in blue box territory (having failed to “get 8 hours sleep”). And the blues kept coming. “Be positive”. “Make light and take it as it comes”. “Laugh at myself”. “Laugh & be silly”. Blue, blue, blue, blue. I hadn’t realised before how fitting my choice of colour code is – pink for good and blue for bad. I was feeling blue and my chart agreed. But what I didn’t realise was that a perfect storm was brewing and a mini-meltdown was just around the corner.
Bad to worse
The first proper wobble came early in the day. Dan and I are currently living with my parents. This was meant to be a temporary thing but buying a house got depressingly expensive and then I went and quit my job. The current plan is for us to move into the house my parent’s are renovating next door once it’s ready … which was meant to be last August. Every week the move date has been just around the corner so we’ve been managing to hold on, just about. But yesterday it got to be too much.
The problem is I have nowhere to work. All rooms and tables were occupied and I have no space of my own to shut the door and write. I even considered going to work on a park bench, despite the cold, but lack of power points for my laptop was a deciding factor against that option. I freaked out. What had my life come to? I am almost 30, married but still living with my parents, I don’t have a job, I am writing a novel but I’m not a writer so what the hell is that about anyway? I keep talking about starting a business but I don’t even have a desk. Whenever I try to have networking calls with entrepreneurs they inevitably get interrupted by my mum bursting in the room and asking if I’m planning on being around for dinner. The true ridiculousness of my situation hit me.
Somehow I managed to pull it together enough to get through the morning without major incident, with the aid of some deep breaths and mantric chanting. But the feeling and doubts lingered. This wasn’t fun – wasn’t I meant to be having fun? No commute, no clients – wasn’t I meant to be living the dream?
The big blow-up happened later, when I was asking my sister for feedback on a potential project I’m thinking of starting. OK — that is a generous re-writing of history — I didn’t ask for feedback (another blue box under “ask for advice”), I was just telling her the idea and expecting her to exclaim in excitement that it was brilliant. Which she didn’t do.
I often find it hard to get feedback from family and, after the blow-up, once I’d calmed down and regained some semblance of rationality, I thought about why this might be. I came to the conclusion that it’s because they are truly honest. Always. They care enough about me to tell me the truth, and they don’t sugarcoat it. They don’t just go along with what I say, they really think about whether it aligns with my goals as I have articulated them. Sometimes this can feel negative (I have even come up with a little mime of loading a gun, tossing up a target and shooting it down to represent my family’s typical reaction to the ideas that I “throw out there”), but I have to accept that they are looking out for me.
I wish I could say that my reaction to my sister’s comments was mature, that I thanked her for her thoughtful input and asked her for suggestions of how to move forward. I was after all surveying a potential customer so I should have been grateful for the feedback and taken it on board, just like I’ve been reading about on all the business blogs I’ve been following. But I didn’t do that. I got defensive, and things got ugly. All the parts of my personality that I like the least came out to play: my competitive side, my stubborn side, my judgmental side, my self-righteousness. They were all there, prancing about in the middle of the room, doing a jig and banging drums, and generally making me look like a twat. Double cringe.
Being free and feeling free
By the end of the conversation I had seen sense, retracted my position, and accepted my sister’s advice. But I was shaken. I had been feeling like I had made so much progress, that I had found my groove, my way of being. But ultimately I’ve only been working on this stuff of a few weeks and, as Smiley Poswolsky told me when I asked how he was finding the transition from working world to freedom, this shit takes time.
Now, to my credit, I was much quicker at realising the error of my reaction. The “old me” wouldn’t have backed down. I wouldn’t have been able to admit I was wrong. So there are tangible improvements, but they are incremental not earth-shattering.
My identity had been so caught up in being a “successful lawyer” that when I left that badge behind I felt lost. I think have a long way to go before being a free workerbee really feels like freedom, but with Blue Tuesday behind me I’m grateful that at least I feel like I’m moving in the right direction.