Lessons from my first month flying solo
My last day at my most recent job was April 27th, 2018. For more on that decision, check out Quitting My Job For Free Agency to see why I made my choice and how I’m devoting more time to my writing and other endeavors. Spoiler alert that I’m not sitting around watching Netflix.
Zooming out from the daily grind has an incredible impact in opening up your way of thinking and truly understanding all the options available for you to improve your life. It doesn’t take long to stumble upon some life changing lessons in the process. I’m a husband and father, so some of these learnings are definitely more relatable to those with similar household archetypes, but the psychological effects can certainly be useful lessons for anyone who is thinking of taking a break for personal obligations and/or redirecting your energy to an independent venture.
Autonomy still takes some work and planning
The lines between weekday and weekend become blurred, which is fine if you’re single, but can create an unfamiliar dynamic when your spouse is still working a full-time job.
You become the de facto owner of operations at home simply because, you guessed it, you’re at home. This in and of itself isn’t a bad thing, but when you plan to leverage your newfound time on a new venture, this element cuts into that time more than you may expect. To that end…
You won’t have as much “free time” as you think
There’s always stuff to do. Taking a career break does not equal 6 hours a day of Xbox (at least it shouldn’t). What it does equal is being able to do the things that you always said “if only there were more hours in the day” to. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but if having all the time in the world is your expectation going into your hiatus you may be in for a surprise.
A lot of drive but fuzzy direction
You have this new burst of energy and motivation, but unless you’ve really planned ahead you might not know what to do with it. Do you take the somewhat safer route of consulting and freelancing through your existing network? Do you follow a riskier and more patient marathon approach of producing content, growing an audience, and building a personal brand brick by brick? If the latter, do you focus exclusively on cranking out content for a while or working on the operations of creating and designing a site, optimizing its SEO, and developing a mailing list? Or is it some hybrid of all of the above? Not having a roadmap of what to do is common, simply because many folks who do take a career break aren’t aware of all their options until they’ve taken the career break to think about it.
You may have trouble fully removing yourself from your old life. You spent years cultivating it, and want to make sure it’s still there if you need it. The longer you go, the more you worry that by the time you do need it again, the world will have moved on without you. This is the scariest and darkest factor in the negative column, by a mile. You just have to power through it because the positives make it all worth taking the leap…
You have energy to be productive at night
After a 9-5 day, continuing work in the evening at home has become more or less expected in the tech industry. That’s not the worst thing in the world, but it does take it’s toll disproportionately on those with children and/or long commutes. It’s not a complaint – both my child and my commute were conscious life decisions with the resulting challenges priced in. It’s simply an observation that removing yourself from a salaried corporate position opens up a daily window of time (following the commute, dinner, kids going to bed, etc. etc.) that you previously used either to wind down or to continue working through exhaustion, affecting the quality of your work.
With more flexibility in the earlier part of the day, you’re not nearly as compelled to replace productivity during those later hours with the last episode of Westworld. Instead you can write that next blog post, work on that next consulting proposal, code that new program, whatever your passion project may be. For what it’s worth, my hours devoted to television have stayed about the same since leaving my job.
Work-life integration replaces work-life balance
Weekends no longer have to be consumed by errands because they can get done more evenly throughout the week, allowing you to be more present with family and friends when everyone is around. Want to go grocery shopping on a Tuesday instead of hitting the crowds on Saturday or paying the markups from a delivery service? Not a problem. Conversely, you may find yourself working in spurts across all hours of the day when inspiration strikes, when readers engage with you, or when you simply have a few minutes waiting in line for coffee to handle that one operational task you’ve been meaning to get to for weeks.
Being “always on”, a common source of strain and distress on the corporate side, isn’t so bad when it’s not deployed as a layer on top of 60-80 hours of face time and commuting. Cranking out work on a Saturday night no longer feels like much of a sacrifice at all. When you can operate on your own schedule and optimize your output, you may actually put in more hours of real work than you did in a corporate setting without even realizing it.
You create a productive division of labor within the family
Your working spouse doesn’t have to scramble to and from his or her job for childcare duties. Household ops is full-time work for parents, and forking that role apart from the role of corporate employee has made my wife and I collectively better at both. While gender roles in the household have merged over time, an undoubtedly positive trend, both parents attempting to do everything brings about its own brand of chaos. My wife can now put more of her time and attention into her job than either of us could before.
Prior to exiting my job, I felt that if EITHER my wife or I took a break, it would improve BOTH of our lives. So far that’s panned out as I hoped, as we can each fulfill our obligations and aspirations without feeling like our hair is on fire.
You can go to the gym everyday, and it doesn’t have to be at 5 in the morning
I tried. I tried being the guy who could juggle the demanding job, the kid, and the daily exercise, fueling a virtuous cycle of energy and production. Didn’t happen. Going to the gym at 5am was something I thought would get easier the more I did it, but it sucked every time. The effectiveness of my workouts were also far from optimal at that hour so it was probably a waste of time. As a result, my exercise eventually got relegated only to weekends and I felt my overall health decline over time. Body impacts mind impacts body, and this first month of prioritizing my general wellness has made me feel a solid 5 years younger.
You get better at whatever it is you want to get better at
If you’ve directed your time off to writing (or similarly to any creative outlet), your perspective changes each day after being stripped of the laser focus from your day job – and you will grow as a writer or creator because of it. This is only my sixth post over a span of three weeks, and the style and tone are already drastically different from my first. As with anything, being consistent about improving a small percentage each day has massive compounding effects. Growth and development in what you care about takes less time than you expect when you actually invest time into it.
If you have children, you will develop a better relationship with them
I was very deliberate about the timing in which I left my job. It was the week my daughter started preschool and I expected it to be a difficult transition for her – one requiring extra parental support at home. I was right. While all conventional wisdom and common sense would tell me that preschool struggles aren’t going to stay with her when she’s 35, parents are parents and it’s difficult for us to watch and speculate what’s going on in our child’s little head. Dismissing a kid’s challenge as small or insignificant is easy to do when you have a big presentation or meeting around the corner. I want to be VERY careful not to make that mistake with my daughter through her challenges of getting older.
We all remember the “big problems” from our adolescence that would cause us crippling stress, only to realize later in life that they were ridiculous things to care so much about. But the problems at the time still FELT big, and using my experience as a source of empathy instead of arrogance is something even my toddler can notice as a result of me being more present.
Dear God, the commute!
Expending an hour each way to go 10 miles? If I end up missing corporate life that won’t be why.
**This article was published by The Ascent on Medium: https://theascent.pub/the-real-effects-of-a-career-break-567740950e4a