Yesterday (March 1) was the six-month anniversary of my last day of work. It’s crazy to think it’s been six months. Sometimes, I still need to pinch myself to remember that all of this is real.
A few weeks ago, I shared some of the things I’ve learned about life since quitting my job. Today I’m going to dig deeper into this major life change, and what it’s been like on the other side of it.
- Why I left my job
- Highlights and accomplishments since quitting
- Challenges and struggles since quitting
- An update on my financial situation
- A look ahead to the future
I am sharing this to provide a glimpse into what this transition has been like in reality. I’ve talked to many people who are dissatisfied with their job or career path, much the way I was. But it’s equally important to look at life on the other side of the fence. This can inspire others on a similar path; or, alternatively, remind them they are right where they need to be.
I’m often asked why I left my job, and what I’ve been up to since leaving. People wonder how I manage my time and priorities. I’m usually overwhelmed in trying to provide good answers on the fly, because there’s so many directions to go.
Taking the time to write this is a way for me to lay everything out more thoughtfully. So dig in, kids. This turned out to be a pretty massive post.
I decided to leave my job for simple reasons with many underlying complexities. For the most part, these factors weren’t the direct fault of my employer. It was ultimately my choice to remain employed there; it just wasn’t a good fit for me.
The simple reasons:
- My work was not engaging or impactful on a level that fulfilled me.
- My creative strengths and abilities were not being utilized in an efficient manner (if at all).
- I often questioned the motives and foresight of those with decision-making authority.
- I was going through a difficult time personally, which I’ve written about before. This made it all the more difficult to stomach negative feelings towards my job.
There were many underlying factors that reinforced these feelings, and a few that contradicted them. That made the decision to leave quite difficult, and was the source of any second-guessing on my part.
Examples of contradictory factors include:
- I enjoyed the vast majority of my co-workers
- There were certainly aspects of the job I enjoyed
- My office was close by and accessible via bike, train, or foot – all in well under an hour.
- It always felt great to finish a major task, even if the task itself sucked
- I knew I was projecting stress from my personal life onto work, which sometimes made it difficult to judge true feelings towards my job
But what sealed the deal? What made it possible for me to act on my desire to move on?
I fully acknowledge my position of privilege. Being white, male, and in a high-paying job, I used my position as a lever to buy freedom. I’m extremely grateful for my position, and for having the foresight to capitalize on it. Not a day goes by where I don’t think about this.
At this point, leaving my job is water under the bridge. So let’s dig in to what life has been like since then.
Major highlights & accomplishments
I’ve had no difficulty filling my time these last six months. I’ll use this section to share my highlights and accomplishments from the big categories.
Blogging and brand building
Since at least 2013, I had wanted to launch my own website, build a personal brand, and write. What better way to do these things than to start a blog?
I’ve always been really interested in all aspects of online brand building. It’s such an interesting world with so many elements and intricacies, and I was curious to learn about all of them.
In August of 2015, I launched this website. But I didn’t have the energy or clarity to take it where I wanted until I quit working. Since quitting, I’ve focused lots of time on the site and overall brand, and I like to think it shows. The path here hasn’t been straight or smooth.
At a high level, my progression with work on the site has included multiple steps. This includes two iterations of theme development and customization, as well as two iterations of logo design and overall branding. These efforts entailed a lot; together, they spanned Q4 of 2017 as well as the first two months of this year.
I’ve certainly made mistakes along the way (more on that below). But making mistakes is the best way to learn, so I don’t regret it. The result is that I’ve become knowledgeable in all things related to blogging, from the basics to the advanced.
- Setting up hosting and registering a domain name
- Standing up WordPress, customizing themes and plug-ins
- Implementing a social media strategy
- Building an email list (it’s not large at this point, but it’s something)
- Integrating with third-party providers to build email templates and implement subscription forms on the site
- Building an integrated brand across multiple platforms
- Piloting Facebook ad campaigns to gain traction
Education and personal development
Throughout the process of website and brand-building, I’ve spent lots of time with online courses and educational materials.
One service I have taken a liking to is LinkedIn Learning. I signed up for a free 30-day trial and completed multiple courses covering topics such as:
- Social media marketing
- Facebook OpenGraph and social sharing optimization
- SEO principles and best practices
- WordPress theme frameworks/development
I also purchased a package of multiple courses and educational materials, which I am currently starting to work through. I plan to be engaged with this to varying degrees throughout the next year.
In addition to online courses, I’ve put a lot of effort into attending meet-ups and events. As a result, I’ve started building a network of friends and peers right here in my city. I’ve also made an effort to expand my comfort zone, and attended events I wouldn’t have normally shown up for.
I’ve also connected with established authors and bloggers. My biggest takeaway from this: Never be afraid to put yourself out there. Ask questions, and tell people what you are up to. The worst that can happen is you don’t hear anything back.
In terms of fitness, I set a goal this year to run 625 miles. About five or six years ago, I was running 900+ miles per year. I’ve lost that consistency and dropped down to around 200 miles/year over the last half decade. So far in 2018, I have logged 140 miles. That puts me on track for well above the 625 mile goal.
What would a mini-retirement be if not for travel and exploration? I’ve certainly done my share of both over the last six months. I love being in airports and flying, and always feel reinvigorated just by getting on a plane.
The trips I’ve taken include:
- Montana/Glacier National Park
- San Francisco/Berkeley
Upcoming trips include a jaunt to the Pacific Northwest for a wedding, and local getaways here on the east coast.
I’ve hiked, biked, sailed, beached, ate, and drank in many places I don’t call home. Here’s to more adventures in the future!
So all of this is the Instagram version of what I’ve been up to, if you will. A snapshot of all the awesomeness. But nothing is ever quite as great it seems on the surface. So what have been my challenges and struggles?
Challenges and struggles
For all the things I have accomplished over these last six months, there are things I could do better. And there are some important areas that deserve attention, which I’ve not prioritized effectively.
Structuring my time
As I alluded to in my post about lessons I’ve learned since quitting, it’s quite a culture shock to stop working. There’s lots of time suddenly available, and there’s no one telling you how to use it. No deadlines or external accountability. No threat of being fired, or paraded around as a failure in front of all your co-workers.
It’s an ongoing battle to stay on task because of this. I’ve tried many methods of tackling this problem, including time-blocking using an old-school day planner. I’ve tried various habit-forming strategies.
Some things have stuck, but many have faded. I’ve found that he crux of the time-management issue is getting clear on priorities – and committing to doing the hard work.
Prioritizing the easy stuff
I suddenly found myself with a ton of free time, and a seemingly infinite list of ways to use it. This creates an overwhelming state of mind. Unsure of what to prioritize, it becomes easy to prioritize everything.
When I quit working, I knew I wanted to write. I also knew I wanted to build a website and brand with a unique flare. There’s a ton of things wrapped up in these categories. So many things I could potentially do at any given minute.
Should I spend time working on email marketing? Logo design? Taking online courses? Theme development? What about actually writing? You know, that thing that’s the central reason for everything else I need to do?
Or how about…all of it! Why not do a bit of each for an hour here or an hour there? Better yet, why not procrastinate to avoid having to make a decision at all?!?
And that’s what I did for too much time, and continue to do more than I should. I’ll distract myself with tasks that help me avoid making decisions.
Such tasks include:
- Taking out the trash
- Charging my toothbrush
- Arranging clothes in my closet
- Taking the car for a spin around the block because the engine hasn’t been turned over for awhile
- Straightening barely-crooked pictures hanging on the wall
- Dust busting
- Changing light bulbs
- Chasing a fly around for 15 minutes
- Fantasizing the resolution to interpersonal conflicts with a full-fledged internal dialogue
- Checking my finances and updating spreadsheets
- Checking Facebook/Twitter/Reddit
- Catching up on the horrible state of the world
You get the idea. When it comes time to decide what to do, it can be easy to decide to not decide.
My wife tells me I like to count and clean when I’m stressed out. She’s not wrong.
Self-doubt and lack of confidence
The struggles with prioritization and time management are tied to self-doubt and lack of confidence. If I doubt what I’m doing or why I’m doing it, it becomes easy to just not do it.
I’ll spend time in my head, pondering how much talent I lack, or thinking that I’m not doing enough. Or that I’m doing the wrong thing. Or that, if I happen to be doing the right thing, I’m doing a shitty job of it.
You call yourself a writer? Good luck with that, asshole! You’ve written 30 articles in 2.5 years.
You want to freelance and get paid to write? See above! Oh, and I almost forgot. Your website looks terrible!
Sounds harsh, right? Amidst all the self doubt, there’s one thing I don’t doubt: I’m really good at being mean to myself. This didn’t just start happening once I stopped working. The voice simply got louder when I no longer had a job to distract myself from it.
I know better than to give this voice too much strength. I know better than to believe what it tells me is true. But it still takes a toll. And it’s the main reason I’ve spent so much time focusing on anything but the writing.
Doing things backwards
I’d tell myself I need a nice website first, I need a nice logo first. Sure, these things are necessary at some point. But at what point should they trump the writing itself? They’ve been used as distractions from doing the hard work. Which, for me, is creating and releasing my writing into the world.
So I focused on these things first, and more than the writing.
Look, I’ve actually been quite productive day in and day out for these last six months. You wouldn’t believe, I’ve charged the hell out of my toothbrush.
No, but seriously. I’ve certainly not been spending days watching Netflix. However, I could be doing a better job prioritizing the things that will get me where I want to go the fastest.
I wanted to throw in a quick update on my finances, as that’s surely a topic of interest. If I were reading, I’d be curious to know how someone on a mini-retirement is holding up financially. I’ll make this pretty high-level and quick.
The cash situation
I saved up $45k in cash before leaving work (don’t worry, internet police: my portfolio is plenty stock-heavy). This was definitely on the conservative side, but I tend to be risk-averse. Thus far, I’ve drawn down roughly one third of my cash savings. Not bad for six months in, if you ask me.
In an ideal world, I’d start earning an income before exhausting my cash cushion. I’d prefer not to have to re-establish an emergency fund when I get back to the income-generating side of the equation. Even in that case, I have well into 2018 to make that happen.
Is this a good thing? In a way, yes. But I wonder if I’m taking it too easy on myself due to this. And if it will make things harder when I need to kick things into gear.
Overall net worth
So that’s cash. How about overall net worth? It turns out, the stock market has been my friend. Despite not working for six months, my net worth has actually increased by $20k thanks to the upwards trajectory of the markets. That’s as of this writing (March 2nd), following a rough few days in the markets to end the week.
I’m fully aware that the market could cave and my net worth would take a big hit. It’s nothing but wealth on paper, so it’s largely inconsequential at this point. And I still have a long time horizon. But let’s be honest, it’s fun to track regardless.
Wrapping up: Where am I headed, and what’s the end game?
I’ve always had a creative drive. While I was working, I felt as if this drive was in perpetual danger of complete evaporation. I didn’t have the time or energy to give it the nourishment it needed to survive.
Thus, I was on a path towards becoming a jaded and pessimistic shell of myself in middle age. Quite depressing! That fear is what drove me to get to the point I’m at now.
But where am I going from here?
I’ve definitely learned more about what kind of work I want to be doing. I want to solve problems that are interesting and meaningful. Problems that, when solved, will help others on a personal level and in a tangible way.
I don’t care so much about solving problems that help make someone’s boss happy. And that’s the only kind of problem I was solving while working.
Working as a cog in the corporate machine simply wasn’t cutting it. So this isn’t about not working, or retiring early. I love working. I mean, I just spent an entire day writing this post. And I loved every second of it.
Solving purpose-driven problems
That’s pretty fluffy, so let’s get more specific. I have a passion for all things personal finance, and I want to pass that knowledge on to others. This could take shape in a variety of ways, but I see it happening through writing and financial coaching.
I also want to write about anything related to living a better life. That’s what I do here, but I dream of doing it on a larger scale.
There’s a precedented path to success in these areas, it just takes lots of hustle and hard work. At this point, it’s on me to do the work. And there’s other ways to fill the gaps between here and there, so I’m not overly concerned at this point.
The flexibility of my financial situation is pretty powerful: I could get by without saving another dime towards retirement and still retire before 65.
And despite leaving a job in the IT field, I do enjoy tech work – designing and implementing systems, and taking an idea from my head to reality via a computer. That’s why I’ve enjoyed the technical process of getting this blog and website to where it is now.
There’s definitely money to be made with tech skills. I’m just not sure it’s a road I want to commit to at this point. After all, I just left an IT job to pursue other interests. And the skills needed to get the type of tech job I would want aren’t quite the same skills I used in my previous job.
So that’s where I’ve been, where I’m at, and where I’m headed. I look forward to writing future updates on here to track my progress.