The first post I wrote on this blog was a reflection on the Freakonomics Radio podcast titled “The Upside of Quitting.” The podcast resonated with me, and if you’ve never heard it, you should (click here).
I’ve always been keenly aware of opportunity costs – every minute spent doing one thing is a minute that simply can’t be spent doing something else. So, the decision to stay in a relationship, a job, a friendship, etc. needs to be based on the future opportunities – not the past investment (sunk costs which are done and can’t be recouped).
So, here we are a little less than 10 months after that blog post and I’ve quit my full-time job!
Three weeks ago, I walked away. There are many things I love about the theater company I left. But the things I love (like the quality of work on the stage) I can still love without being employed full-time there. The decision to leave full-time employment and step into the world of part-time freelance work came down to opportunity costs – not only for my career, but also for my health and happiness.
Here is a list of opportunities I look forward to exploring in the next 6-12 months:
1. Refocusing on the things I’m good at and love about my career. Compromises are a reality in jobs and in life, but we must all be clear with ourselves about what we’re willing to compromise and what we aren’t. For me, creativity is a must and something I’m not willing to let go of. A year ago, it became clear that the job I was in not only was not the one I was hired for, but was getting less creative and more administrator-y than I’d signed on for. Sadly that meant the things I’m really good at and enjoy doing (like program development and teaching) were taking a backseat to data entry and spreadsheets. So, I’ve spent the last year networking, meeting people and saying “yes” to every extra thing that came my way, whether I’d be paid for it or not. I’m finally, with the support of my husband, able to take the leap and fully explore the freelance opportunities presenting themselves (like directing an awesome, creepy little show for a local high school). I’m looking forward to having more professional freedom and space for creativity in the coming months and for the chance to refocus on the things I’m good at and am inspired by.
2. Learning how to grout a tub, tile a back-splash and build an outdoor fire pit. Brett and I bought a 55 year old home earlier this year. While a lot of big renovation stuff was done by the investors we purchased it from, there is a lot that needs to be done (both big and small) and a lot we want to do. Since I was a young girl, I had the romantic notion of buying and renovating an older house. Now’s the time to actually do it!
3. Spending time getting healthy. There’s “good” stress and there’s “bad” stress. In fact, there are a lot of studies going on about the benefits of acute stress (short-term excitation with a longer period of rest) versus chronic stress (long-term stress where the biological response is on high alert for months or years at a time with insufficient time for the body to recover).
I’ve been in a state of chronic stress for a while now – going on two years. The reasons are numerous and varied and cover all spheres of my life, but the result has been medium to very high blood pressure. At one point, my doctor put me on a series of medications one after the other hoping to manage it. When the numbers wouldn’t come down despite all pharmaceutical logic, he had me monitor it throughout the day every day and keep a record to see what external factors elevated it. One morning as I got ready for work, it was slightly high (108/82). By the time I was sitting at my desk an hour and a half later it was 130/105. Another time I had a doctor’s appointment first thing in the morning for something else entirely. I knew what awaited me at the office: an off-the-charts stressful morning filled with conflict. My blood pressure was high (150/110), my pulse was fast (over 100 beats per minute) AND I was having heart palpitations. The doctor wouldn’t let me leave his office.
Now that the stress of planning a wedding, merging lives, buying a house and moving are passed (all in the last six months – a stressful feat in and of itself), I’m looking forward to experiencing less stress in my professional life for the next 6-12 months. I’m also looking forward to getting back to the yoga studio, eating healthier, and seeing how my body adjusts to it all.
4. Taking time to smell the roses and be content. I know it sounds hippie-dippy, but 2014 has been a big year! Hell, the last two and a half years have been non-stop: Moved to Dallas in May 2012; met Brett in June 2012; was head-over-heels in love and planning life together by August 2012; had my apartment burglarized in November 2012; moved in with Brett in February 2013; was in near-fatal car accident in September 2013; started three-month yoga teacher training in February 2014; got engaged in February 2014; spent weekend in Savannah planning destination wedding in April 2014; finished yoga teacher training in June 2014; sold Brett’s house in June 2014; bought house together in July 2014; moved in July 2014; started working as adjunct professor while also continuing to work full-time in August 2014; got married in October 2014.
Whew! A lot of the above stuff is really awesome. But, I’ve had no time to actually take it in and enjoy it. I didn’t marry until 39. I’m excited to take some time and enjoy this beautiful life I have been blessed with.
5. Figuring out the whole kids vs. no kids thing. Yes, we just got married. And, yes, we’re talking about having kids. On the flip-side, we’re also talking about running away together to join the circus, so really the options are limitless. Except that he just turned 42 and I’ll be 40 in January. So… we have some decisions to make. And, as my gynecologist likes to remind me, not a lot of time in which to make them.
This makes numbers 3 and 4 above all the more important. It feels a little weird to include this under the “opportunities I’m looking forward to exploring”, but taking time to figure out what we want our life together to look like is important.
While the above list of opportunities are unique to me and where I’m at in my life, I think it’s relevant for anyone thinking of quitting her full-time job and taking a leap like this to have a few things in place. Here are the things I did to prepare and what I’d suggest:
1. Have conversations and prepare the people closest to you. Have lots of conversations. My walking away from a steady income has implications for my husband and our life together. We started talking about it six months ago. We had a timeline in which I’d quit (which has since changed). We’ve had candid conversations, looked at budgets and been open and honest along the way, revising the timeline as we went. I’ve also prepared my extended family so they know this isn’t a willy-nilly decision.
2. Spend 6-12 months putting feelers out, networking, asking questions, doing informational interviews, confiding in a mentor, etc. Each new meeting gives you new information about the timing for making the leap. It also puts you in front of people who may eventually have work to send your way.
3. If possible, be transparent with the employer you’re leaving. I was – for several months. My leaving wasn’t a shock. I also gave a month’s notice and have offered to assist in the transition in any way I can. I love the organization I left – the job was just no longer the right fit for my life. Even if you can’t be transparent along the way, do right by the employer you’re leaving. Karma’s a bitch and there’s no sense in burning bridges needlessly.
4. Budget. Re-budget. And re-budget again. Have a plan for the first 6-8 months of freelancing – be it enough work lined up or enough money saved. The last thing anyone wants is to suddenly worry about being able to pay bills.
5. Build a support system. I’m fortunate to have found a group of strong, independent women to bounce ideas off of and confide in. We did yoga teacher training together earlier this year – we spent three months getting to know the good, the bad and the ugly of each other. We come from different walks of life and different career paths. We are supportive of one another but are also able to say when one of us is making a potentially bad choice. I trust them and have frequently sought advice and feedback as I created a plan for the future. I found my support system in a yoga teacher training, but one can find it elsewhere.
6. Be honest with yourself. Be willing to ask yourself hard questions. Are you running away from something or toward something? Are you willing to put in the time and effort necessary to create a successful freelance career? Are you willing to network and meet with people knowing that no contract may come of it in the short-term? Are you even thinking short-term versus long-term? What is your backup plan?
7. Trust your intuition. I’m a very intuitive person. I always have been. I’ve made really bold choices along the way that some of my more conservative friends would never have made because there were too many unknown factors. I believe we are all born with the gift of intuition. Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Blink, calls it “thin-slicing.” In his research, it isn’t the people who have the most information or spend the most time deliberating a decision who are the most successful. Instead, it’s those who have perfected the art of filtering the very few important factors among an overwhelming number of variables. Whether one acknowledges it or not, we often have all of the the information we need to make a decision. Trust the inner voice inside.