Humans are creatures of habit. We find comfort in routine. Our stable 9am-9pms jobs offer health insurance and reassurance – and we fear what’s on the other, unknown side of that structure. In advertising (my business), and in many other industries, we outwardly embrace bravery while inwardly fearing that our next big strategic risk may endanger our jobs.
So what happens if we take the risk suggested by a million motivational speakers and look into the abyss? What does it feel like when we don’t have a plan exactly, but we do have an instinct?
I can only tell you my version. I’m a type A professional who recently quit my job to move across the country. And I’m nervous as hell.
And that’s… OK?
Sure, change is hard for everyone, but is it harder than staying comfortable with “good enough?” Even with all my earned and unearned privilege, could I explore what’s on the other side of risk? These were questions I found myself asking.
I loved my job, but I wanted to get out of New York City, badly. I don’t need to list the reasons why someone would want to leave. Even those of us who love the city also realize when our time here is done. I considered my NYC lifestyle a problem because even though I adore my friends and my career, the darkness crept in a bit too often. The exhaustion of the pace. The cost of living in a very small apartment. The realization – when I looked around at any given time of day – that I usually couldn’t see the sky. I wasn’t unhappy yet, but knew I could eventually become unhappy.
Discussing the move now, I think: Do I sound ungrateful for not focusing on what I already had? Do I sound weak, admitting that the NYC pace has worn me a bit? As a 40-year-old in a youth-obsessed business, should I worry that this makes me sound old? Less hire-able?
The thing is, I have a lot of fears but I am very grateful for what I have. I know I’ve run sprints and marathons with equal success, and I have thousands more to run. From my work with the AARP, I know: I’m not old. I know I will work again, and soon. So I don’t care what other people think, and that made it easier to develop my solution. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t miss the stability I had just three weeks ago.
Ultimately, the solution for me was moving to Austin and leaving my NYC-based job.
This, of course, led me to stare directly into my fear: the uncontrollable unknown.
Now, I’m unemployed.
To elaborate: F***!
I’m a productive, accomplished A-student, and I don’t have a job.
We always hear about the big new exciting jobs others have landed but we don’t talk about the purgatory – the uneasy time in-between. Because although everyone always talks about layoffs like the ultimate doom, most of us do find jobs. Or people move on to other industries to explore. We try new things, liberated from the comforts that once held us in place. I know all this and yet here I am – purposely unemployed with anxiety through the roof.
I’ve worked 18 years without a break lasting more than two weeks. Because in addition to a paycheck, work gives me purpose and focus. After two weeks of vacation, I actually want to go back to work. I have literally had dreams this week where I am providing smart responses to challenges and I wake up feeling good about the work. It leads me to wonder: am I just looking to dive right back into the comfy waters of what’s known? Is that my true desire or is it a learned impulse?
When anyone asks how I’m feeling, I’m trying to be honest with them and with myself. About how I’m working hard on applications and cover letters and how much waiting for a response is as tense as it was when it was when I was job-searching after graduation. I disclose that even though I know I’ll have work soon, it feels jarring that I don’t have a desk or a place to be at 9am(ish). I admit that every nap I take, on this inadvertent sabbatical, feels like a failure – a missed opportunity to do something.
Naps: a failure?! No one should ever feel bad about taking a damn nap. Or enjoying extended time off for the first time in 18 years. Where did I go wrong?
I purposefully share this story without providing a neat solution because I don’t feel the need to give it a happy ending just yet. I’m anxious. I’m in it, and that is okay. I’m giving myself time to frantically swim and I’m giving myself space to maybe – just maybe – swim less frantically for a while.
Coming from a business of ideas and solutions, I think it’s time I apply that thinking to my own life. Maybe more of us need a leap without a safety net, to land somewhere new.
Maybe I’ll look for ideas and solutions that don’t come from doing but from napping. It’s difficult to be present in this “break.” But I’m going to shut my eyes for a while and maybe I’ll wake up to an entirely new perspective.
And I’ll probably send four to ten intro emails as well. Because, well… type A.