I jumped ship.
It’s 8:17am on a Monday and I’m drinking coffee in bed.
Without a job they say: “what will you do?” or “you’ll have no purpose.”
When I tell people that I’m retired they look quite surprised. It seems like a fantasy or even a joke. People seem a little impressed too but believe me I have no financial plan. I haven’t made good investments or consistently filled up a savings account. I have no 401k or IRA. I haven’t worked my butt off or made lofty salaries — No, quite the opposite, I am lazy and the worst financial planner ever.
What is my secret? I’m good at quitting.
I honed my quitting skills at my first job out of college. After 3 years I gave up. I had no job lined up; I just quit. The first time is the toughest. I was just beginning my “career” but this job was going nowhere and I thought for sure there is more for me out there. This was just the first job after all.
I had no plan and without a job that’s when I started freelancing or consulting or self-employment or whatever you want to call it. It felt good to have more control over my time and to be in an office because someone needed me there not because they wanted an employee. I worked everywhere. I worked as an independent designer for about 30 years. I had a 5 year stint at a museum but was on my own other than that.
I worked with a lot of great people and some of them became friends for life. I love working with other people. There’s bonding, especially when the job sucks. Many jobs suck.
The best part of working is the damn great people.
I know it’s kind of trendy now but I have always put my sanity first. Even as a kid I loved mowing lawns and painting houses but when I did it for other people, for a little cash, I got sick of it real quick. Mind you, I work hard and people want me back but I guess I’m just selfish and don’t work when I don’t need the money. I’d work very hard for short periods of time because I’d be called in when they were under the gun. I worked fast and I worked smart because I wanted to be done.
There were also times when I had no work and no money. I lived on credit cards and credit card checks to pay my rent. There are times when you just need a damn job. Then you get a job and, once the bills are paid, you start wondering why you are there.
I’ve found work to be a lovely combination of high stress, politics and some very nice people. It has often sucked the joy of life right out of me. I’ve done the all-nighters and worked many weekends. I’ve collaborated, conspired, colluded, misconstrued and experienced great camaraderie, especially as we commiserated and we drank.
I accidentally stayed pretty busy as an independent designer. Mind you I applied for full time jobs but it’s like they knew I didn’t really want it. (and at this point I think I’m too old to be given actual consideration.)
It’s not for everyone. You have to be comfortable not knowing when you’re getting paid next. You have to enjoy working by yourself sometimes.
When I wasn’t working I could work on my house and work in the garden or go for a hike in the middle of the week. Rather than work for a vacation home, a housekeeper and a gardener I wanted a life I didn’t need to escape from and a home that I invested my whole heart in.
But this is about quitting. Why would I quit when I was able to be so free?
Because the freedom to leave was what made it bearable. When the job was done I left. When the meeting was over I went back to my tiny office.
I thought I chose a career that would have good people with good intentions and, yes, there were great people but those bad apples really made the job stink.
I’ve visited and worked within too many toxic workplaces, some very toxic and some just a little. I’ve been stressed and surrounded by stress. I’ve seen politics and competition and power struggles and fear and rejection and pain and confusion and advantage. Sure I got the job done but was it worth all that? Each little visit into that whirlwind reminded me why I didn’t want to be there.
Maybe I’m being overly sensitive or un-American but why do we accept this as normal? I chose work that I thought was fulfilling but learned that I actually had to disassociate from it in order to maintain my sanity and my feeling of self worth.
After my last long term job I think I had PTSD but, looking back on it now, it’s hard to connect with that stress. Right now I’m having a hard time justifying and reliving the stress and drama that was so common. I think that’s a good sign. I’m gaining distance.
I think as an outsider it was easier for me to scrutinize the drama and the comedy unfolding in front of me. As a person without a stake it was easier to see the folly.
Yes, I’m an old white guy. Yes, I’m lucky. Yes, I managed to pay off my house even though sometimes it was with a credit card. Yes, I’m bitching about a system while also taking advantage of a system — but I am not and did not do anything in a traditional american capitalist way. I did not buy into the hype.
We are supposed to have a career we love. We are supposed to work hard and be productive members of society. We are supposed to feed that IRA and join the company’s mutual fund and play the stock market. We need that health insurance and that retirement plan. We are supposed to get married buy a house and have 3 kids. We want that raise and that title and that nice car and that vacation home and that great trip to Rome to forget about life for a while.
All I’m saying is don’t believe the hype. If you don’t live to work then don’t wait until it’s over to have a life.
Wish me luck. I’ll let you know if it’s possible to live on social security without any nest egg. I’ll let you know (when I’m eligible) if medicare can sustain life. I’ll let you know if I have to work at McDonald’s in order to survive. I’ll let you know all of my regrets and swallow all my words when this all comes falling down on me.
Until then I highly recommend doing work you love and work that is important and if you can’t find that… quit.