Welcome back! If you missed it, in Part One I wrote about how I felt during my first six months of a Career Break. As promised, I’m back to discuss what I have been up to since I left work!
These are the the actions I’ve taken and what I’ve learnt as I am building towards a more sustainable, and more free, life.
Who Am I Now?
This question definitely hit me once I got a lot of my time back to think and do what I want with. Before quitting work, I started to build up routines and hobbies to escape to, to make sure I wasn’t just fleeing from the stress of my old workplace. But despite that, I still had lots of questions to answer. Sometimes they were exhausting, sometimes they were scary, but with the right approach they could also be exciting and liberating. Some were questions I asked myself like “What do I want to do today/this week/this year?”. Currently, I find the shorter time-frames easier to answer than the long term ones and I’m ok with that. It feels nice to be spontaneous.
Then there are questions other people ask you like “So what do you do?”. This is a tough one for me. I don’t want to tell everyone I am not currently working. Even saying I am on sabbatical starts to feel weird after 6 months when you aren’t travelling everyday. I definitely have felt a little like an outsider, living outside of the social norm like this.
I don’t want to define myself, or others, by what we do for work anymore, even though I will work again in the future. It seems strange that we characterise ourselves this way for most of our lives. I’d much rather we share what we are passionate about, or what purpose we have found that drives us through life. I completely understand that I am making these statements from a place of privilege. But it also troubles me that many usually either describe themselves by how they make money, or how they spend it.
In Fitness and in Health
Fitness has become one of the main pillars of my post-work life. A morning CrossFit session is the best, most energising, way for me to start every day. It’s rewarding to see and feel the progress I am making with my health, strength, co-ordination and stamina.
Since leaving work I have achieved my first Bar Muscle Up, completed a Tough Viking (which felt super easy compared to any CrossFit workout!) and have been training each week for an upcoming Half Marathon Row.
Instinctively I feel that this is an avenue I want to pursue more and more. I even aim to start competing in Masters divisions in the next year or so! But I am being careful to protect this new passion and not let myself burn out on it too.
This has all been a real driver for me in making sure I nail my nutrition, my hydration and my sleep, so that I can recover better, not only for training the next day, but also from my burnout. It feels great to get away from the desktop and computer I have spent so much of my life at and just get moving!
Be Your Own Coach, not a Critic
Through fitness I have learnt to listen closely to my body, rest when it needs rest, feed it the right things and shape my inner voice to be more like a coach, not a critic. Even with these changes, I can at times feel “untethered”, or outside the norm. Separated from the social convention of having regular job. So it can be tempting to revert back to old ways.
Every couple of months, in between learning to relax, I would receive a very flattering job offer. After years of being conditioned to always aim higher, it felt against the grain to turn them down. I had to learn to be honest with myself: If I don’t need to and don’t want to do it, don’t do it! Unless I truly feel that it will benefit my health and well-being in some way, it’s a no go.
I am in a very privileged situation, but can also wholeheartedly say that burnout sucks. I have had to acknowledge it may take years, not months, for my brain to work the way it used to. It may in fact never be the same. But I am starting to discover now that different may be better.
There are glimpses of new life already. You may have noticed that my blog has reanimated after some downtime! Hurray!
Maintenance and Repair
Having lots more free time has given me the space to learn how to repair and maintain things at home. Society compels us to outsource more and more of the “adult things” to other people if we want to get ahead. You get take-out instead of cooking, a cleaner because you have too much house to clean yourself, a treat to relieve stress or a new item to replace one that got broken. We are continually pushed to buy buy buy.
Now, I can truly appreciate the joys of frugally darning holes in my clothes to get more wear out of them. I can make our space more livable using things we already have. I’ve even started doing my own haircuts… the first one went pretty bad, but I’ve gotten better and better since!
There are more and more bits around the house I am keen to learn how to repair. Every time I do, it feels like I am finally becoming the sort of well rounded, self-sufficient, person I aspire to be. Someone who will be able to give their children help and advice with these things one day.
Adventure is out there
Roughly once every couple of months, I went on an amazing adventure with friends or family.
After years of lock-downs and restrictions, it felt incredible to travel and collect some unforgettable memories. However, there was some guilt knowing that the flights I took this year were not sustainable. To remedy this, in future, I will go on more bike, rail, sea or electric car adventures.
Slow Down and Surf
First up was a Surf Camp in Portugal, where I made many new, like-minded, friends from around the world. I topped up on the energy we received from them, the awesome coaches and the wonderful sunshine. To wake up everyday and do something active felt incredible, I felt alive every minute. And knew that this stuff needed to become a more frequent part of my life.
I’ve got to say…it also felt incredible to get to the end of a holiday and not be anxious about having to return to work on Monday morning. 100% recommended!
A Road Trip Around Namibia
A few months later, I traveled around Namibia with friends. We saw wild animals, deserts, friendly locals, ghost towns and amazingly surreal cities with interesting histories. We climbed sand dunes, drove through deep sand and old river beds, almost broke down in the desert, got our clutch replaced, fixed a flat tire, tied up various bits of the truck that started to fall off and then got our fridge stolen on the last night. But the whole thing felt like an epic adventure, and every problem was a test of our ability to be creative with what we had. There is really too much to write about here, it was a trip of a lifetime!
Now I am back in a more routine homely life for a while and I oscillate between enjoying incredible life moments and navigating my way around through the feelings and bad habits I outlined in part one.
It feels like every year is getting more and more intensely uncertain since 2016. I knew after April that this year was going to be similar. I left my job just as runaway inflation was starting to make lives difficult around the world and there was widespread talk of a recession.
Obviously, this felt a little scary at times, but I continued to trust that I had made the right choice to focus on building a life that was meaningful for me and healthy. I had built a long enough financial runway to carry me through into my new life, so I just kept moving forward and tried to keep my eyes off of the things I couldn’t change, as much as possible.
Whatever happens, I don’t regret taking that leap of faith, even if I do return to conventional work in the future. I am reconnecting with myself and have started shaping a much more sustainable lifestyle already.
That’s it for now! I’ll update y’all when I have something new to share! Until then, it’s back to working out, exploring the world and learning new things!
If you came here first and would like to check out part one, you can do so by clicking below!
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