‘Un-working’: leaving the 9-5

After 15 years working the 9-5, I left my cosy, secure communications and marketing job to work for myself. After months of planning my new life and counting down the days of my job, I skipped out of the office on my last day, excited about what was ahead of me.

That first morning after dropping my children off at school I felt alone. Suddenly I was very aware of myself and the fact that I didn’t have a plan – there was nowhere I had to be, nothing I had to do, no-one I had to see. The lack of structure completely threw me and I wasn’t sure of myself. I went to the Botanic Gardens for a run. Every movement I made felt exaggerated somehow, it didn’t feel natural. Usually I relish time on my own, I crave the peace and serenity of being alone. So now, why was my mind racing for something to think about, something to do?

That first week was a bit of a blur. I struggled to come to terms with my new ‘situation’ and couldn’t understand why.

I should have been really excited and I was but I also felt nervous, lost, lonely, guilty, selfish and a bit scared. I talked this over with my coach who asked if I’d given myself time to come to terms with the fact that I have just quit a 15+year career? How had I marked this huge accomplishment? Have I celebrated the bold decision I had made?

The answer is no, I hadn’t considered the impact of this transition or how I would navigate this change in identity. I hadn’t allowed myself to sit and contemplate the enormity of what I’d done. He likened it to suddenly ripping away a plaster, the security and comfort blanket that comes from having a 9-5 (well, actually an 8-5) job.

I realised when speaking to my coach that for many of us, having a job offers a structure that we can hide behind. Our job description tells us and others what is expected of us, usually we report into someone who keeps an eye on our performance and will give us support and encouragement and offer us praise and acknowledgement when we achieve. And then there’s the practicalities of having a traditional job – I knew what time to be at my desk, what time I could leave, what to wear, what was expected of me during the day. I knew my colleagues pretty well. I could be myself or a version of myself  that I had created over the course of my career.

So it is no wonder that when you suddenly stop being part of that structure, when you remove the security blanket, you can feel a little lost and unsure of who you are and what you are doing.

A friend suggested to me that perhaps I needed a period of ‘un-working’. She said that when you take children out of school to be home-schooled, experts suggest a period of ‘un-schooling’. The purpose being to break the patterns that have been engrained and reimagine what schooling could look like. I needed to ‘un-work’.

The suggestion from my coach (and my friend – thanks Vicky!) seemed to be the permission I needed to stop giving myself a hard time. I made a conscious decision on Monday to enjoy the week ahead. I didn’t write a to-do list or have any expectations of what I was going to achieve. Instead I wanted to relax, reimagine what is important to me, dream a little.

You know what happened? I ended up having an amazing week. I spent time with friends, enjoyed deep and meaningful conversations (one of my values) without watching the clock, I enjoyed being with my children, I exercised, ate good food and enjoyed a lot of coffee shops. I wrote. I read. And my husband commented “I’ve noticed you are a lot more relaxed this week.”

Something else happened. Releasing the pressure by taking away the to-do list (an old habit from my previous life in the office) allowed me the freedom and flexibility to achieve things on my own terms. I registered a website domain name, signed-off on my new business logo, secured a new client and took some big steps towards getting my business officially registered. The time I spent with myself I enjoyed and the time with my children was noticeably different – I was more relaxed, more present and enjoyed the moments.

I learnt that giving myself permission to ‘be’ is important, to enjoy each new chapter of life and the change. I’m grateful of this time to reimagine what life can be like and I’m learning to celebrate achievements (however small).