Leaving a job feels bittersweet for most of us. But when I quit investment banking, it was all sweet - not even a hint of bitter. I'll never forget passing through the glass doors of the office building - where I'd spent countless 18-hour days and sleepless nights - and practically skipping in the rain, back to the trendy loft whose lounge and gym I never had time to use and whose pool I'd never even seen, grinning from ear to ear.
It just felt so right - even though I'd soundly broken the Golden Rule of Employment and chose to quit my career without having a new one already in place. Despite giving notice, I had put together no plan whatsoever that charted a course for the next step of my professional life. Incredibly uncharacteristic of a Type-A overachiever, true. But I was so emotionally drained that all I could focus on was crossing the finish line. Because I left without a plan, however, the months and years that followed would turn out to be the most thrilling, most terrifying, most adventurous time of my life. I've never felt so strong or so alive than I do today.
Everyone's journey is different, to be sure, but here's a taste of what you can expect when you quit that prestigious yet draining job of your own:
1. Expect to feel disoriented. That's natural. The morning after will feel surreal. I remember lying in bed that first morning, the habitual dread already creeping in, fighting the urge to check the corporate email inbox that no longer existed on the corporate blackberry I no longer had. But as the days went by, eventually all I felt upon waking was joy. Yes, you might still wake up at 4am for a while, but you'll wake up at 4am to the smell of coffee from your auto-timed Keurig, sleepily wondering what time your favorite breakfast spot opens instead of with your heart in your throat, fumbling for your already-buzzing blackberry while your alarm clock shrieks at you and a hundred to-do items race through your head.
2. Expect that joy to evolve into something else entirely. It's cool - that's natural, too. So now you've discovered Netflix and you've spent the last several days in pajamas more often than not. Working unfulfilling, joyless 18-hour days for years at a time will do that to you. I spent a week with my hair in rollers gleefully watching every episode of Justified and Breaking Bad and felt no shame whatsoever. The truth is, you might need a little time just to shut down and recharge again. And it's going to feel amazing.
But the end of the honeymoon will approach. That elation will inevitably be marred with a nagging sense of uncertainty, anxiety, and fear, sensations inversely correlated with the declining balance in your bank account. You might find that two weeks of Netflix binging and weekday brunches is probably enough and soon you'll need answers to the all-consuming questions: What do I do next? Now that I know what I don't want, what do I want? You'll have to get back into the world to find out. And it's going to take some time. Be patient with yourself.
3. Expect a newfound urge to follow your bliss. Do it. Even if it feels ridiculous. This is the time for experiences. So when you start thinking about chairing a non-profit board, backpacking around the world, jump-starting that novel you've been trying to write, rediscovering your spirituality, picking up that paintbrush, or whatever it is that you used to do when you were younger that always lightened your heart and put that pep in your step, don't ignore it. It sounds odd, but recalling and returning to the essence of the things you loved to do when you were young enough or fearless enough to take risks and pursue what moved you is the first step to figuring out what your vision is and subsequently, what your next move should be. That's when the adventure begins.
First, I recalled blissful childhood experiences volunteering in Girl Scouts and then dove into volunteer fundraising for charities. In the three years after I left investment banking, I became an entrepreneur, an investor, a fundraiser who helps raise millions for non-profits, a writer, and an owner of a successful beach bar on the Gold Coast of a piece of paradise. I amassed a host of new skills, accomplishments, and successes under my belt in marketing, business, and advertising. And it all started with making conscious decisions to follow my bliss every step of the way, like it was my job. That's a job you'll never want to quit.
4. Expect to focus on finances more than you ever did before. Now that those fat checks are no longer rolling in every other week, you need to watch your spending if you're going to make this work. So perhaps you wait until you're seeing income again to buy that chic blazer. Or maybe you'll want to eighty-six those daily $7 lattes from your neighborhood café. Or switch to UberX. Wherever your discretionary spending habits lie, now's a good time to reduce them.
Like I said, this is a time for experiences. Material things will not get you where you want to be. Not surprisingly, they didn't fill the hole that years of a draining career created and they certainly aren't going to fill that hole now that you've left it. Be smart. Budget accordingly and stick to it. You've embarked on this unconventional adventure to liberate yourself, and putting yourself in a financial position that eventually forces your hand into taking the first job that comes along just to pay your bills is far from liberating.
5. Expect blank stares and polite smiles when you talk about your plans - or lack thereof. Whether they're your aunt or uncle, someone you've just met at an event, or a friend, you will undoubtedly be asked to explain 1) why you left a perfectly good, prestigious job in this economy, and 2) what prestigious job you're pursuing to replace it. Fight the urge to sigh. They mean well. But unless you're responsible for putting a roof over their heads, you are under no obligation to justify your choices, no matter how unsure or inadequate their nods-and-smiles might make you feel. Some might quietly view you as a rockstar who's lost your way when in reality, you're finally finding it.
Naturally, your opinion is the only one that matters. This journey is an opportunity to discover an important truth: the purest praise and acceptance comes from within. Be confident in your search for something genuine that will make a lasting impact on your life and the lives around you in the most blissful of ways.
Sometimes you need to take several steps back and take a beat to quiet your mind, recall and return to the things that truly make you happy, and listen to that small inner voice that's known exactly what you want all along. It's an unconventional path to be sure, but if you pave it well, it'll be the bravest, most adventurous, most fulfilling one you'll ever forge.