I Am Still Learning: On Leaving Your Job.
I’ve been writing this post in my head for months.
Envisioning the aftermath. Formulating the response. Figuring out how much I say.
I’ve romanticized it in my head, the words cathartically flowing from my mind and whispered breath out of my fingertips and onto the page.
Turns out, this moment is nothing like that.
Last month, I quit my job.
I quit for WANT.
When you leave your full-time workload, no one tells you how confusing the dichotomy of opposing emotions is. On one hand, your time is now yours – or at least your time is what you want it to be. Your stress is slashed by some, your commute slashed by most. You’ve got creative freedom for days.
On the other hand – it’s a delicate balance you’re now faced with; being able to be structureless when you’ve lived in extreme structure for so long.
Everyone tells you how scary it is to go off on your own. But nobody tells you what it’s like when you’re actually in the thick of it.
Last month, I quit my job.
And not a job I didn’t like or didn’t have my heart in – my job that had very much to do with what I enjoy and what I stood for.
(Also, my job that was paying the majority of the bills.)
Okay, so I didn’t quit, I simply transitioned into my own unique next-step. My job in editorial was almost four years of my life, a job I practically created for myself. A job I knew just enough about to have the confidence to move into, but not enough to realize how much I’d be challenged and learn along the way. I am so blessed to have been trusted with such a job, and have worked with such visionaries who just *got* the fact that I’m the kind of person who is always striving for something more.
One aspect of my job that I loved was how much I was learning every single minute. I love to learn. I get high off of acquiring knowledge.
When I’d have a hard day or a stressful week, as we all do at times, the question I’d ask myself over and over is “Is there more? Am I done learning?” And over and over, the answer was a resounding NO – I’m not.
I was still learning.
The internet is a wild-wild-west type of place. None of us went to school for any of this, because “this” never existed when we were in school! With a business – and, therefore, job – that’s mostly based on the web, virtually everything is trial-and-error. It’s hard to take one person’s advice as the definite truth, because ask someone else and they’ll give you a completely contradictory answer. SEO keywords? Utmost importance. SEO keywords in your title but not your copy? Maybe you’ll get seen. Wait, no, it’s not about the SEO keyword in the title, but it needs to be in the copy all over the place. Hold on, the title should be simple and straightforward. Scratch that, the title needs to have the crap editorialized out of it or good luck getting anyone to click over from the Googlesphere.
And that’s just SEO… (what is SEO, you ask? here.)
At my job, I was part of a very lean, very collaborative team – which meant that we needed to figure out how to do the things we didn’t know how to do or else they wouldn’t happen.
I thrive in that sort of environment; that “find-a-way” attitude.
Sometimes, things would get stressful. And sometimes, I’d long for less desk time. More movement. I know, so millennial of me. But this is coming from someone who got rejected from an elementary school at 4 years old because she “could not sit in a chair.” I’d squirm, fidget, contort myself into all different kinds of positions, anything but the normal right angles of desk-meets-chair. (my mother, rebuffing with the argument “she is a PRESCHOOLER,” was fortunately unfazed by my very first rejection in life.) Even as I type this, I’m sitting with one leg propped up under my chin and fairly certain I’ll need to get up and do something else within the hour. I am like a golden retriever – I need to get up, interact, and MOVE. Change work locales often. Take long work blocks and long work breaks.
Things would get stressful, and then they would not. Things would get status-quo, and then they would firework up. I became a pro at not just handling the inevitable ups and downs of the world, but handling them with grace and enthusiasm and finding a way.
I was still learning.
It’s been an interesting month for me. I was a major hustler before this job, hopping from one thing to the next and making things work on my own terms. I remember when I found out we’d be moving from working remotely into an office space – I had an actual breakdown, panic attacks that I was losing a part of who I was simply by sitting in one place all day. I am an artist, I cried to my family. This is not what’s supposed to be for me.
Three years of successes, missteps, structure, and yes, sitting, later – and I now found myself scared to do the opposite. Scared I wouldn’t remember how to hustle. I’d been in a structured environment for the entire latter half of my twenties; would I still be able to create structureless structure of my own?
Turns out, no one tells you what actually happens in that transition from full-time to your-time. The stories go something like this: “I hated my job, I left my job, I had no money, I started something new, and now here I am happy and thriving.” (or some variation on that).
My story is a
little bit lotta bit different. I did not in ANY way h-word my job, nor did I leave because of anything directly job-related. I knew what I wanted to do. And now, here I am, somewhere in a melting pot of feelings and questions and convictions.
I made a promise to myself, no matter what, that if ever I’d leave my job it would not be to run away from something, but towards something else. I owe such a gargantuan amount of what I know and what I can give to my job, and I’m forever grateful for above all the trust they put in me. To watch something you care about grow and flourish, and help it grow and flourish, is one of the most satisfying feelings in the world.
Once I started WANT, things started to change. I finally felt completely aligned with my through line and purpose, and the feeling sent electricity through every capillary in my body. The fire to create kept growing stronger, and even more importantly, the calling (via emails, traffic, crazy random connections and events that kept happening) to create was growing louder. I heeded it.
When I launched WANT in January, I knew that if it took off (subjective to my views of “taking off”), I would need to make a hard decision. What I didn’t know is how fast that would happen, and what the hardest part of that decision would be.
As WANT grew – the site, the podcast, offline events – I started to realize how much time it would take for it to be able to live as anything more than an afterthought. I was working nights and weekends, fitting it in before and after work and many times, it would steal away from my time with Jeremy – who was working long hours at his own job – and my time with myself.
I started to realize that in my life, there were certain non-negotiables. Exercise. Sleep. Healthy food. My relationships. I was increasingly depressed, stressed, and feeling anything but blessed. Why should you feel this way, one part of my inner voice rhetorically asked me. You’ve got a job in a new and exciting field where you get to be creative. You live with the most perfect-for-you man in the world who uplifts you and challenges you in all the right ways. You’ve got your health. And you’ve got a family who not only loves you, but lives somewhat nearby.
But everything in my life was getting the short end of the stick – especially the non-negotiables. Exercise became something I rushed to fit in between my commute and work. I’d be diligent about getting 7-9 hours of sleep but go to sleep stressed about deadlines or the piles of emails I still needed to respond to from multiple email accounts. Because of this, the calls and texts and emails from the people that matter most were getting pushed to the side. Eating healthy wasn’t ever hard, but actually eating with anything other than a metaphorical big long exhale was non existent. And because all of this was happening, the quality time and good, non-exhausted energy I was able to spend with Jeremy – where I could actually have the energy and focus to be present with him – was waning. On top of it all, I was sitting in my car for an hour (which I’d use as my “quiet time”), at an office for eight hours (where I would never allow myself to focus on anything but work as to avoid overwhelm), and then gearing myself up for the 1.5 hour drive home in the afternoon (the reason I started listening to podcasts – to give myself something to look forward to). The combo of it all wasn’t overwhelming per se – but it was wearing on my spark in a huge way.
I was losing my enthusiasm.
I wasn’t losing my enthusiasm, a CORE part of who I am, because of what was actually happening with my job or anything else. It was because of the stifling of my through line. It was because I had something huge I felt compelled to fight for – and I was all but charging into battle.
Because of this, everything suffered, the most of which being my personal sense of well-being. I don’t like giving half of myself to anything I care about, and I found myself giving half of myself to everything I cared about.
And then I asked myself if I was still learning. If I had enough knowledge in my bank to move forward.
And for the first time, I realized that the next phase of learning I had to do…was on my own.
Going “off on your own” is billed as way more scary than it actually is, or rather a different kind of scary than it actually is. Don’t get me wrong, there are parts that are still expected-level scary. Mainly, how much money is coming in, and where that money is coming from (I teach indoor cycling classes, which provides me with not only tons of open time but also a loose structure and predictable income – not nearly as much as I was making with the addition of the full-time job, but enough to not overdraft should all I’ve saved go down the drain). I can’t tell you how many times the first question out of people’s mouths, when I tell them I’ve left to pursue WANT full-time, is “So how are you monetizing it?” Not a bad question, and a post for a different day, as the world of making money online (especially when you’re not a one-on-one coach or in the business of selling a product line) is viewed as such a secret. But the money part is rarely what hits me when I’m in my more fragile moments.
It’s the fear of displaced energy. It’s the fear of regret. It’s the fear that you left too soon, or started too late, or that what you’re doing will simply lead you in circles.
It’s the fear of the expectation; the fear that since you’ve left you won’t live up to the “overnight success” everyone imagines happens within weeks of going solo. It’s the fear that when you don’t, you’ll be seen as a failure, a flash in the pan, and something that once was. It’s the fear or undue resentment, because you’re doing something that others are not.I am still learning. Click To Tweet
Since it’s been exactly five weeks – here are the top five lessons I’ve learned in this eye-opening experience:
It’s not what you think it will be. What I’ve learned is that going solo is neither exclusively scary or exciting, and that I don’t even know if those are the correct words to use in this case. I feel grounded and I feel determined, and when you feel those in tandem there’s very little room to pause and dwell in fear. I’ve learned that my biggest fears have to do with dropping the ball and not being able to handle whatever I work towards, which stems from a fear that maybe my ideas aren’t really worth all the hype.
And when I remind myself of that fear, I instantly remember that it’s in my nature to Make It Work. Maybe it’s the theatre kid in me or the almost-decade of teaching classes where you never know what could go wrong, but I know how to move forward and make shit happen, and I have a whole almost-third-of-a-lifetime behind me as evidence. If one initiative doesn’t take off, I’ll change courses. If something isn’t happening that I know needs to happen, I’ll find a way. Heck, if my bank account is running on empty, you can bet your buns I’ll be finding a part-time gig that works for the moment.
I’m rarely exclusively scared or exclusively excited in my day to day. Every single moment brings a new adventure, and all that matters is that I’m down for the ride. If I’m feeling super afraid, I give myself permission to think about how afraid I was…later. If I’m super excited, I give myself permission to fangirl out about it…later. This season in my life is teaching me to live in the moment while keeping my gaze forward, and what I’ve learned is that there is no clear way of predicting what that will feel like in any given hour.Every single moment brings a new adventure, and all that matters is that I’m down for the ride. Click To Tweet
You shouldn’t run away. What I’ve learned is that leaving your job shouldn’t be about leaving your job. It should be about something MORE. Sure, if you’re in an abusive situation or a soul-crushing existence, you need to protect yourself and get the hell out of there. But unless you have something else to run towards – whether that’s a purpose project, side passion, or simply a life you’re passionate about making live – you don’t want to be running away. To me, at least, running away is one of the least empowering feelings. Just like playing not-to-lose instead of playing to win, it nurtures a scarcity mindset and a feeling that you’re out of control. You’re not. Every job has its frustrations, and I’m not saying mine was all butterflies and roses. But even in those moments I was questioning my artistry and my impact, I stood firm in my resolve to not run away just because of a rough patch. And I am so glad I did. Regret, to me, is the most useless emotion – and running towards something instead of away from something solidifies the no-regrets feeling of being on the right track.
You’ll be met with all kinds of reactions. What I’ve learned is that when you go solo, everyone will project their feelings about how they’d handle it onto you. There will be cynics, but they’ll be cynical because they could never see themselves doing the same thing. There will be advice mongers, but they’ll be giving the advice they would be using in the same scenario (or, another instance, they might want to live vicariously through you since they wouldn’t make the move in their own life). There will be people who project how “great it must be” or how “much you love working by yourself” because that’s what they think it must be like. There will be people who question every move you make because they think you’re a fool to give up something that’s there for something that’s mostly an idea.
And then there will be the people who will meet you where you’re at and ask you how you’re feeling instead of assuming how you’re feeling. There will be the people who will bring you back to the exciting cool stuff without discounting how you’re maybe feeling frightened or frustrated or lost in the Now. There will be people who only give advice when you ask, and there will be people who anticipate you’ll need a helping hand before you even realize it. Those people will teach you how to respond to the others, and how to steer the people who have the best of intentions (but miss the mark and end up making you feel worse) in the right direction so they can enjoy the ride right alongside you.
You will never be fully ready. What I’ve learned is that you will never, ever be fully ready for a shift. There will never be a “perfect time.” But there’s pretty damn close to perfect, and to me, that includes respect. I have the utmost respect for my former coworkers and bosses and will support every move they make as their biggest cheerleader (captain of the cheer squad, in fact), just as I always have. And they’ve shown that kind of above-and-beyond support of me and my ideas that I will never forget or take for granted for my entire life.
But I knew something would have to give, despite how much I wanted to be able to do it all. I did not want to get to a place where I was wearing myself down so much that that feeling at work of – well, family – would turn sour and I’d start to resent the situation (the situation *I* would be creating for myself, btw). I wanted to leave when I not only had to confidence to go off on my own, but when it felt like a gradual next-step in the evolution of Katie.
I also knew the direction my job could go in, and I knew that I could potentially work on more cool projects, meet more cool people, make more cool money, etc etc etc if I stuck around a bit longer. But that’s exactly it – I did not want to be making the compromise of “Just stick around a bit longer.” Because without concrete details, that “a bit longer” could very easily turn into “a lot longer,” and then suddenly it’s years later and you forget what you’re waiting for. And moreover, functioning in that “sticking around and waiting” mindset is disrespectful to both your bosses, your coworkers, and yourself. Life spent “sticking around and waiting” is not a life I want to lead.Life spent sticking around and waiting is not a life I want to lead. Click To Tweet
Enthusiasm and drive will carry you in your dark moments. What I’ve learned is that when you feel like no one really understands you, or everyone else is doing something like you, or how could you ever offer up something special to the world, your tenacity and your thirst for What Could Be will swoop in and rescue you.
I had a feeling in my gut late this past summer – a gnawing at my heart that this transition needed to happen soon, “or else.” But I was so nervous. Nervous how my manager would respond, nervous that it would be misconstrued as leaving on a sour note. Most of all, nervous that once I said it out loud, there would be zero turning back. I was enthusiastic and driven to the max, but in that moment of choice, I was paralyzed.
That day, I ran into one of my favorite yoga teachers – a super savvy woman who left the glitzy corporate fashion world years ago to pursue yoga full time. We sat on the roof of the studio she was teaching at, looking out over the vast cityscape in the distance. It seemed to go on forever.
I told her about WANT, and about the gnawing in my heart, and about how I didn’t know how it would be received. And she said something that has resonated with me ever since:
“You know – there’s something in the air right now, at this very second in time. And it’s the time to act. If you don’t take advantage of this window right now, if you wait any longer – it’ll just sink into mediocreville.”
I told my manager the very next day.
She, being a woman who champions other women, celebrated with me.
As did the entire team.
I think my favorite part of WANT’s journey so far is the community that’s formed. The most popular pieces on the site and engaged topics during events aren’t the short bits or fluff – it’s the deep stuff. You’re willing to go there, and it makes me tear up (with joy! and I’m not even a happy crier!) when I think about what anomalies you are. The world needs more people like you, who dive in and dig deep in hopes of being your very fullest self – therefore inspiring others to do the same.
To me, this means being completely transparent. And so it felt almost like keeping a secret not to fill you in on this huge shift. Like holding something back that needed to be shared. Hopefully it can provide someone strength as someone else is navigating their own unique experience. Because I know how lonely it can feel in this boat, and also how fulfilling, and how confusing those two can be all mushed together.
If you have a purpose project brewing, or a passion you’ve been itching to explore, or just a gut feeling, please know that those instincts are not just for kicks and giggles. Maybe it’s not time to go solo now, or yet, or ever, but you need to trust that you are onto something, however big or small. That trust will carry you through whatever life has in store. And if that means leaving a secure or stable or familiar situation for a whole bunch of stuff that hasn’t manifested yet – give it a second. Ask yourself if you’re running away something or running towards something. Ask if you are still gathering knowledge, or if the only way you’ll do so is to find your own way.Ask yourself if you’re running away from something - or running towards something. Click To Tweet
This is a completely new experience for me, but in ways it feels like I’ve been preparing for it my entire life. I laugh to myself as I type that, because I don’t even know what that means yet! All I know is that the last nine months of WANT have been some of the most eye-opening and enriching of my life, and the last month of going solo has already shown me glimpses of what is yet to come.
I now have enough technical and professional knowledge to buoy me, enough confidence to see it through, and enough trust to let it morph into what it needs to be. It’s exactly why I always refer to WANT not as my passion project, but my purpose project. It’s almost like I don’t have a say. Like it’s meant to happen, however it’s meant to happen. All the nuances of the personal and professional journey included. Even though I don’t know exactly what will happen.
But I do know I am ready. I do know I’ve got that enthusiastic spark.
I do know I am still learning.
Have you ever left something stable, secure, and familiar for a passion project, purpose project, or just the semi-unknown? What’s the biggest lesson you learned from the experience?
Tell us in the comments below – your story could help someone who needs to hear your words.
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