EFFECT OF THIRD-OF-LIFE CRISIS?
“Are you turning 40 by any chance?”, one or two people dared asking me bluntly, as they were hearing of my life-changing plans. “Yes, I am…!”. But I didn’t think that being at this sensitive stage of my (hopefully very long) lifespan, had anything to do with the big leap of faith I was about to take. Or had it?
Whether I was affected by a subconscious “third of life” crisis, the growing trend of 9-to-5 quitters or by the results of an ongoing personal development and spiritual-growth journey, the matter of fact remains that: I did it. I too left my relatively secure and comfortable, high-paid job to embark into the unknown.
After 22 years of office environments, mostly in the UK, in November 2017 I resigned from my “job for life” and packed up 16 years’ worth of valuable experience within the same multinational organisation, and bags of accumulated belongings, to explore in more depth the wilderness of freedom.
I quit with no new job to go to and no clear plans ahead, but with the certainty of meeting my growing need for a time-out. Yes, the main driver was a longing for more free time to explore life and for my dear Self.
LIKE A BREAK-UP: DOUBTS TILL THE END
Leaving my job felt like a break-up, where I was the one who ended it, after months of planning, while my employer was taken by complete surprise. They tried hard to keep us together and presented me with various tempting proposals, including sabbatical leave (against their standards) and an enhanced role on my return. It wasn’t easy, I confess, because they weren’t the only ones struggling to get their head around what I was doing.
A whole month passed, from presenting my letter in an emotional meeting with my line Manager, to eventually asking for a straight forward acceptance of my resignation.
I appreciated all efforts to find a happy-medium solution, but as appealing as it sounded to create a safety-net, with a “return to work” date and a promotion at the other end, I stuck to my original calling. My heart was elsewhere and I needed to brave the big change and face new challenges outside of my comfort zone, without the sound of a sabbatical countdown ticking away in the background and with a completely open horizon!
ESCAPE to EXPLORE
Some refer to leaving corporate employment for a more independent lifestyle as corporate escapism. I am not sure if this terminology suits my case.
I didn’t feel so trapped at work that I needed to escape it as such.
The Cambridge dictionary defines escapism as: “a way of avoiding an unpleasant or boring life, especially by thinking, reading, etc. about more exciting but impossible activities.”. A bit like day-dreaming to distract yourself from a reality you no longer want. My circumstances were not so unpleasant nor boring, and I certainly didn’t think that what was awaiting outside the office was impossible. Our beloved, late Wayne Dyer used to speak of “Nothing is Impossible!”.
The definition of escape, however, reads as follows: “to become free or get free from…”. I knew I had the privilege of freedom, even as someone else’s employee, and I was aware that everything was a result of my own choices. But choosing how to exercise your freedom is the key to change, and I did feel a need to get free from the structured settings of the office, the routine and that restrictive comfort; to become free to explore, create, grow. For this, I needed to free-up more of that most valuable gift we can give ourselves (quoting Oprah Winfrey): TIME.
This quote on freedom, by the writer Hanne Orstavik, kind of set the scene for me: “Freedom means to be able to use the full richness of your life”. I had the freedom, but I needed more time to explore the richness of my life.
Many moons ago, I read an article about a young lady (probably my age now, ha!), who left her well-paid, 6-figure salary job in the city of London, to do something she felt more passionate about: dogs. She quit to volunteer at the Battersea Cats and Dogs Home! I thought she was a hero for being so brave at giving up her financial security for something she felt more passionate about. I was no way near that salary, yet I still couldn’t imagine giving up my regular income for anything. At the time, I didn’t know how to value all the other factors that have recently become more important than finances and complete security.
Her story only re-emerged as I found myself in a similar situation last year. Maybe it lingered in my subconscious all along, playing a subtle role in manifesting it in my life. Possibly. I am a supporter of the law of attraction, and the power of manifestation.
But what are the key differences between the me of then (probably 2004) and the me of “action year” 2017? The leap was certainly much higher 10+ years later, leaving a more responsible role, parting from stronger, more established business bonds and giving up richer rewards such as salary, benefits, pension schemes etc. The roots I’d grown within the company were also much deeper and harder to eradicate. My needs changed.
BIRTHING THE IDEA OF CHANGE
In early 2016, my path crossed the one of a special person who played a key role in triggering my desire for a big life overhaul I parked at the back of my mind for possibly too long.
They say people come into your life for a purpose, and this guy certainly re-ignited my need for more creativity and adventure.
I believe a particular person or circumstance happens to help us shift things into the right direction. Or patterns repeat until we get the message! This may not be clear at the time and things tend to make more sense later, when we look back at the series of events that got us to where we are now: a particular job, where you live, a relationship. It would help to train how to raise our awareness in the moment, rather than later.
In the time shared with him, he was planning to leave his job and London, to venture into travels and a more nomadic lifestyle. For this and other reasons, I knew from the word “Hi” that our relationship was on a timer, but I decided to throw myself in anyway, give it all the love and support I had and enjoy our experience together. Witnessing his big plans come true was very inspiring. With him, I learnt to love unconditionally, people and life, and to be more playful with life.
2017: WALKING THE TALK
Over the years, I heard of many people who got very itchy feet and made big changes point blank, with little or no transition. They knew they would be okay or exactly where they were heading. In my case, it took some more preparation; psychological, technical and financial.
2017 started with an amazing trip to Bali, to join a dear friend’s 40th birthday, celebrated in truly magical style with top human beings, in a stunning villa, with great food and music, sound healing, prayers and blessings with a local Shaman. I returned more inspired than ever to take real actions towards real life changes, a wish that started much earlier, during 2016. Knowing this, one of my besties surprised me with a perfect gift: an online course called “Design a Life you Love”, run by the wonderful Selina and Vicky of Project Love.
Project Love’s programme focussed on areas like building confidence and self-love, the power of visualisation, the power of “me time”, encouraging to create more of it for stillness, reflection, recharge, silence and meditations. I warned friends to expect a few unexpected Nos from me, which was not easy at first, as a known big socialite, yes-girl and FOMO sufferer. The course helped me rediscover forgotten passions and bring key values back to life. Love, freedom, gratitude, positivity, contribution, laughter and adventure, are just some of my tops. Uncovering these was key to uncovering my life purpose.
A tip from Selina and Vicky that I loved in particular, to help in figuring out your dream career, is to initially not worry so much about the specific job, but instead to imagine what your perfect day would look like. Put yourself right there in the present time and imagine the place where you work from, the environment you are in, how you are feeling, who you love working with, and how your ideal day pans out etc. This visual exercise made me realise that the reality I was in was a little too far off the reality I imagined.
This and other workshops led me to not only reconsider my life, but to take real actions towards change.
You don’t necessarily need clear answers to take steps forward; taking steps forward where your heart takes you, can give you the answers”.
What steps did my heart lead me to: Try out new courses, meet new people, go to new places and experiment with new things. The biggest lessons are found outside of your current comfort zone, known as the Learning zone. You had not heard of that one before, had you!
I read through many articles, I attended talks and events on finding happiness, I listened to others’ experiences of changing careers, etc. These were all very helpful and inspiring for sure, and I would highly recommend that if you have even a slight feeling of needing a change in your life, that you too go and investigate completely new possibilities. Go wild. Let your imagination travel far. If there were no barriers, no money concerns, no judgements, nothing to lose, what would you ideally be doing right now?
Once I realised that a change was inevitable and that leaving my long-term job was only a question of when, my outlook changed and I started to think out of the box, for ideas on how to prepare for a potential life outside of corporate.
I couldn’t figure out what job I wanted to go into next and define my next career path so I settled with the idea of simply going into an adventurous exploration phase. One that would tap into all of my core values. It is crazy how things pan out as soon as you set a new intention.
As a big fan of the numbers 11.11, once I decided on the career break, I chose 11 November as a perfect target date to start my phase. The validation signs that came up next were incredible. I checked my employment contract and realised I officially started with the company on 12 November 2001, so leaving then would make it exactly 16 years of service. Shortly after I resigned, my Bali-friend, who happens to also be the founder of an amazing no-profit organisation called The Acts of Kindness Collective, contacted me to ask if I were interested in taking part in a school project in Nepal, that happened to be perfectly timed with my last day at work. It was an instant “Yes” and this affirmed that I was not meant to commit to any new jobs just yet, and I relaxed into the exciting idea of simply taking time out for volunteering, then spend a few months solo travelling in Asia.
Next, in the absence of work, I really needed to plan my finances. I set a target saving budget and thanks to some past, risky decisions, I was blessed to have access also to a little rental income, from my first flat in London. I accepted I had to reduce my spending level and adapt to a new reality, but I was very happy to let go of certain luxuries in my pursuit to find new treasures.
The exploration phase started way before I resigned from my job. By Spring 2017, my action list quickly filled up with projects that gave me opportunities to play with neglected passions. I signed up to a life coaching course that completed just in time before I left work.
I knew coaching would add value to any new career I would go into as well as be a great addition to my own self-development.
After testing a few academies, attending free weekend courses, it was ultimately my Bali-birthday friend who connected me with the academy I qualified with, in October 2017 (The Acorn Principles, now merged into The Mindful Talent Academy). He seems to have played quite a feature role in my journey. In the Summer, I also set out to organise a solo motorbike trip, from London to Italy, which I completed in late September. This challenge was quite a turning point for me. It is up there as one of my top life experiences and taught me so many lessons needed for what (unknowingly) was coming next.
NO EASY RIDE BUT A GREAT NEW JOURNEY
Jumping off the corporate ship is no easy thing to do, but for me the fear of staying in that comfort zone became greater than the fear of stepping into the unknown! Metaphors aside for a moment, I actually had the most comfortable office chair ever. It looked like I was about to take off on a jet and it had more levers and buttons than I could count. It was heart-breaking to leave the cosy, friendly environment, the financial security, the banters and the yum, subsidised coffee in the canteen. I used to cycle to work and often changed my routes to spice up the same old, same old, but that last ride to the office felt so special. I appreciated it more than ever and cherished every stride.
Although it was in my mind for years, one of the reasons I hadn’t acted sooner is probably common to many others sharing the same fear: what else can I do? It is difficult to imagine starting totally afresh when you are so used to being an “expert” in your field; and think of all that hard work and effort you put in to succeed.
But I think we should recognise the wonderful gift of life by giving it the true meaning it deserves. If you feel a little stuck, unhappy in your current situation or simply have a desire for something different, more fulfilling, pause for a moment. Find stillness and reflect. It all starts with awareness.
With reference to Tony Robbins’ theory of the “6 basic human needs”, what happened to me could be summarised as a change of my top needs: from needing certainty (through a stable job, safe home, routine, good income etc.) and significance (feeling empowered by my growing corporate role and status), to longing for more uncertainty, growth and contribution. Wanting to add more adventure to my life, learning new skills and making more significant contributions to the world; connecting with new people, exploring places and making a positive impact on society.
As soon as I stepped out of the 9-5 world, I didn’t feel lost or alone. There is a whole new tribe of people who have already done what I just did. There are plenty of explorers out there, travelling the World. Cafes and funky pop-up working places are full of people with their laptops open. One of the challenges to face in a new World full of possibilities, however, is the unlimited new choices available to you. Having fewer options could perhaps make things easier for everyone, and I am currently looking at ways to improve decision-making in a World of infinite power. In the meantime, I enjoy moving forward, experiencing all that comes up for me that feels right.-