This is the last article of the series on what I learned and what I’d recommend from quitting my job to take a six-month sabbatical (without another job in sight). In my previous post, I shared nine areas I decluttered as I focused on my version of a high quality life. Below, I reflect on the following lessons learned the year after my sabbatical.
“Be brave. Take risks. Nothing can substitute experience.”
– Paulo Coelho
In early 2015, my six-month sabbatical drew to an end.
I’d spent the last three months building up the framework of and talking to people about Uncoveries, but as my funds drew low, I was once again faced with the question of how to earn a living.
The following months were frustrating. I went through a bad rut during that period as my limited perspective led me down a path that my intuition knew wasn’t right for me. But all things are transitory and pass in time.
These seven lessons learned the year after my sabbatical were invaluable.
I wouldn’t have learned them without taking the leap and experiencing what I did. My hope is these learnings will help you in making brave leaps or changes in your life.
1) You never figure it out completely
As I shared in my last article on 10 ways to foster creative ideas, I was secretly hoping that a revolutionary idea would shine down one day. That never happened, but a series of small and murky ideas drizzled in. The ideas were enough to lead me to start Uncoveries, but I wasn’t sure what to do next.
Do I try to make a living from Uncoveries? Do I build it up on the side while working part-time? Will Uncoveries ever become anything? Will I still have the time and energy to grow it if I got a full-time job?
I wasn’t sure about anything last year, and that was a scary place for me. While I’m surer about a few more things today, I still don’t have it figured out. The difference is, I no longer expect myself to have everything figured out. It’s important to realize you’ll never know what might be upcoming without having reached where you are now. In order to figure out the next step, you need to have taken the previous one.
Life is a constant state of figuring it out until your last day on this earth.
This only truly resonated with me when I developed a cyclical, lifelong process called REEBO that’s helped me embrace change and make meaningful progress in my life.
2) Transition takes time
I’ve learned that any transition takes time. You can’t skip past the trials and go straight to the good part.
This is eloquently said by Arnold Bennett: “Any change, even a change for the better, is always accompanied by drawbacks and discomforts.” You need to go through the transition in completion and for as long as it takes.
As I mentioned in a past article, 8 considerations prior to taking the leap, I probably should’ve allocated more funds for the time it took to explore and assess my options. Some of you may be asking, “Wasn’t the sabbatical itself supposed to be the exploration period?” It was supposed to be, but didn’t end up working that way.
While the six months I took off included some exploring, I needed to address a few transitional phases first. I needed to take the time to reassess, focus on my health and declutter my life before I could concentrate on fully exploring. As it turned out, I needed a bit more exploration time.
With unforeseen expenses during my travels using up a good chunk of the buffer I’d budgeted, I found myself wishing I had another three to six months of funds. This was what I personally experienced and may not apply to anybody else—but if you’re able to budget out a longer transition, you won’t regret it.
Good change takes time.
3) Your identity will shift and become more fluid
This actually started when I quit my job. I was no longer a financial analyst as I had been for the past six years; instead I was someone who was on sabbatical.
My identity used to be much more fixed. I wasn’t used to my identity shifting so much, and that was part of the reason the early 2015 days were so tough for me.
I’ve since learned to allow my identity to be more fluid and less focused on what I do.
4) Follow your intuition and find a path of your own
There’s a time for putting your head down and working hard, and then there’s the opposite. While hard work is necessary in living a full, productive and happy life, the work doesn’t need to (and shouldn’t) be soul-sucking.
Knowing when to persist and when to quit is the key to your long-term personal happiness and success.
Your intuition knows best, even when you don’t. Many times, we look to what’s worked for others or the conventional advice around challenges we’re faced with. These are great as ideas and options, but not if you accept them blindly as what you need to do.
2015 drove home this point for me. I thought for a while I needed to put myself out there in order for Uncoveries to be successful. Sitting in those giant networking groups of thirty to fifty people; giving a one-minute, speed-dating-like introduction followed by a mass distribution of business cards; mingling at random events—within a month, I was spent. I realized feeling pressure to make a living from Uncoveries defeated the original reason of why I wanted to do this in the first place.
So I resolved to find a part-time gig. I reached out to my network, looked through listings, and connected with agencies. Not finding anything appealing, I broadened to full-time jobs. My energy plummeted during this period. It became hard to do the simplest of tasks: filling out a job application, writing an email, tweaking a resume. Every ounce of my being resisted against the path I was taking. But still I persisted… and while I’d get the first interview, the second, and maybe the third, I never got the final offer.
These are the times when you have to take a hard look at why there’s so much resistance. This isn’t fear we’re talking about. This is when you get that icky, unsettling pit in your stomach, when the inner core of your being knows something’s not right.
Follow your intuition.
Whenever I’ve felt icky about a situation, it’s never worked out, and it’s been for the best. Trust that other, better-fitting opportunities will come up.
5) Don’t worry about what other people (and companies) think about you
As I considered my options early last year, I struggled with how I thought other people perceived me. There were friends and colleagues who seemed uncomfortable with my new direction and many others who commented on how it’s easier to find a job when you have one.
I also encountered recruiters who were skeptical about my employment gap. Maybe they saw it as a red flag of some type. Since previous employers are legally only allowed to disclose the dates of your employment, maybe they thought I’d really gotten laid off or fired rather than leaving by choice. Whatever the case was, it was enough of a question mark to choose other candidates in a couple instances. After a particularly dehumanizing automated phone interview (seriously, don’t even bother with companies that do these), I started thinking there had to be a better way.
My take is, forget the companies who view sabbaticals or employment gaps as red flags. Unless you prefer uptight environments, you probably don’t want to work there anyway. Remote work, flexible work arrangements and a more experiential life are the future. As more people demand their life back from the antiquated, industrial nine-to-five workday, and as more Millennials and Post-Millennials make up the workforce, companies who don’t adapt will lose talent over time to more progressive companies.
And don’t worry about the people who think you’re making a mistake, or raise their eyebrows in scorn or skepticism at what you’re doing. Sure, it may take you a while before you find a path that’s fitting for you—but let’s put it this way:
Anyone who has gone off the beaten path to build his or her own knows that you’ll flounder around and try different things before you find your groove.
For the people who have never strayed from the beaten path—they simply have no clue what it’s like. Whenever they finally realize the limits of the beaten path, you’ll be way ahead of them.
6) Remaining open allows for serendipity
Around the time I started thinking there had to be another way, I bumped into an acquaintance at a conference. She had her own little marketing agency that she started just a year ago. As testament to her expertise and all-around smarts, she was overwhelmed with work. A small, but insistent voice urged me to say something to her at the conference. So I did.
We decided to work together in May while I was still in the middle of interviews. While I was excited, I wasn’t entirely sure about the decision at first. Part of me wondered where I was going with this, the impact if I ever wanted to go back into corporate, and what would happen if the arrangement didn’t work out.
Remaining open and taking on this new experience was invaluable.
The part-time arrangement benefited both of us, but it was instrumental for me. It showed me there was another way; what’s more, it was a foray into other possibilities.
I gained new perspective on dealing with clients and partners, marketing strategies, and how to generally run a business. I built extremely useful skills that I never would’ve developed if I’d continued on in a corporate environment.
When you remain open to new experiences, it opens the door to different opportunities—ones that you’d never come across otherwise. In the past year, I’ve come to realize that the possibilities are truly infinite when you embrace the new. I’m not sure what 2016 holds for me as we wrap up this part-time arrangement early this year, but I’m remaining open to allow for the next act of serendipity.
7) Trust is key
The importance of trust came up again and again throughout the past year.
Whenever you take a leap in your life—from a job, relationship, or situation—there will be many uncertainties. You’ll wonder what to do and whether or not things will work out. You’ll feel overwhelmed and inadequate as you’re faced with many new things to learn and manage. You’ll make mistakes, you’ll suck at certain things as you start out, and maybe you’ll decide they’re not for you as you go along.
In spite of the struggle, you need to trust and continue doing what moves you forward. Continue trying other things when something fails. You need to trust that even if you change your mind or direction, things will work out in the long run. It will be all for the better because you’re taking action with the best information you have instead of doing nothing at all.
In times of change, you need to trust.
There are periods of time when it’s easier said than done. I struggled to trust during some parts of last year. As I look forward, I see trust as one of the most important lessons for me to keep in mind.
This year, I’m going to trust and play bigger. I’m going to be braver and take more risks because—in the words of one of my absolute favorite authors, Paulo Coelho—“nothing can substitute experience.”
This article concludes the series on what I’ve learned since quitting my job to take a sabbatical.
These seven lessons learned in the past year were truly invaluable. There is no substitute for experience though, so I hope this article (and the others in the series) will help those of you considering or making brave leaps or changes of your own.