When Tony quit his job a few weeks ago, I expected there to be an immediate shift in his mood. After being unhappy and feeling burnt out by his job for several years, I thought that making a concerted effort to remove a source of stress and anguish would have him over the moon with giddiness. Since quitting his job, I know he’s experienced relief, and perhaps even some bursts of elation mixed with incredulity, but for now at least, impromptu dance sessions spurred on by sheer euphoria have been surprisingly absent.
Then again, I recognize that we all express happiness in different ways, and booty-shaking may just not be Tony’s preferred means of doing so. Weirdo.
Actually, I think that there may have been something else I was overlooking, something I didn’t take into consideration until I myself was faced with having to quit my job. Many people assume that quitting your job is liberating. I am sure that for some people, this is indeed the case. Perhaps if you’ve already got a shinier, better job lined up, or you’ve just won the lottery, quitting your job is a singularly positive experience, but it sure as heck wasn’t mine. Quitting our jobs was both necessary and the right thing for Tony and me, but that doesn’t mean it was easy or fun. In fact, I found the whole experience to be mildly traumatic. I know there are a lot of articles out there in which people happily crow about having quit their jobs and espouse the myriad benefits of leaving a position that didn’t fulfill them, but for every person out there who finds quitting invigorating or revitalizing, I’m willing to bet there is someone else who had the exact opposite reaction and I think it’s important to honor that experience as well. Here is something I have learned to be true:
Quitting your job can be really stressful, scary, and surprisingly sad.
After agonizing about where we would start our RTW trip, Tony and I thought buying our tickets to Japan would be heralded by a rainbow gleaming through the sky and this overwhelming sense of a burden having been lifted from us. Buying those tickets was supposed to represent our non-refundable financial commitment to this trip we were making. They were supposed to infuse us with a sense of excitement and exhilaration. There was no turning back! All systems go!
Instead, I felt kind of numb.
In retrospect, I think I was in shock. Unlike Tony, who I know has been looking forward to this trip with every fiber of his being, I have been more ambivalent about this trip. Don’t get me wrong, I want to travel and see the world, but I’m also pretty satisfied with the life we have here in Nashville. I like the little pocket of friends we’ve developed, our apartment is amazing, we have a gorgeous convertible AND I get to ride a pink scooter (I don’t care if this makes me seem superficial and materialistic, I love our car and my scooter! They are fun to drive and bring me great joy!), we have two dogs who make me smile every single day, and the closest person I have to a boss at work is someone I consider a friend first and foremost. Going on our trip means saying goodbye to these things, and honestly, that makes me sad. I thought buying those plane tickets would finally make this trip real so that we could move forward and start the process of accepting that our lives were going to change.
In reality, it wasn’t until I told my advisor a few days later that, rather than staying on for a year after defending my dissertation to work in the lab as a post-doc, Tony and I would instead be leaving Nashville at the end of June did the reality of our decision really sink in. Recalling how unexpectedly positive Tony’s meeting with his supervisor had gone when he resigned, I suppose I was expecting my own experience to follow suit. While my advisor didn’t take the news badly, she was clearly shocked and certainly not overflowing with excitement. I left feeling guilty and like I had let her down. Although telling her had brought us another step close to realizing our dream of traveling, it didn’t make me feel more resolute or excited about our decision.
When Tony got home from work that night, I promptly burst into tears and proceeded to cry for about three hours. I hadn’t expected to have such a huge outpouring of grief over leaving, but as I cried, a torrent of fears and things I was reluctant to leave flooded out of me. Tony was pained by my obvious distress at this choice he felt he had pushed me into and said that we could stay for another year if that’s what I needed. But even in those moments of acute despair, I knew this:
The one constant thing in life is that you can’t ever go backward, but must instead move forward.
Quitting our jobs and buying our tickets hadn’t made me feel better about the decision to uproot our lives, but they had made it so that in moments of weakness, when fear and nostalgia threatened to overtake me, I wouldn’t backpedal.
It’s fair to say that at least for me, quitting my job, was a fairly traumatic experience. However, in the end, several things (other than sheer stubbornness) got me through the meltdown I experienced and transition from simply acknowledging the upcoming changes in our life, to truly accepting them and preparing to meet them head on:
First, I reminded myself over and over again that I cannot feel guilty about following my dreams. The people who care about me would want me to do nothing less than to live a life of meaning.
Second, I took some comfort in knowing that there was actually a silver lining to the pain I felt in leaving behind this life. When Tony and I initially concocted this scheme to travel long-term, we devised it as an escape hatch because I was so dissatisfied with my life at that time. Now, three years later, I realize my sadness in leaving stems from the fact that I actually do like my life here. It doesn’t make it any less sad to go, but it’s so nice to realize that I’m choosing to leave a good life in search of an even better one, rather than simply running away from a bad situation.
Third, I’ve given myself permission to feel whatever I feel during this journey without judgment or censure. If I feel scared or sad, that’s fine! It has become increasingly bizarre to me when I think of people saying things like “It must be so nice to quit your jobs to travel.” Actually, no, it’s not nice to quit your job. It’s terrifying and upsetting. Jobs provide most of us with financial security as well as a sense of purpose that we don’t necessarily get from other parts of our lives. Moroever, both Tony and I have worked very hard to get to where we are career-wise, so to relinquish all those things is actually very hard and not what I would personally define as nice. Again, no one is forcing us to leave our jobs, but that brings me to my last point:
I’ve found that most anything in life worth having requires hard-work and sacrifices of some kind. Deciding to travel long-term is no different.
Before Tony and I committed to taking this trip, I was all about having my cake and eating it too; both ways was exactly the way I wanted it. I wanted to somehow find a way where we could travel the world without giving up all the things I love about our life right now. This great post over at Married with Luggage, helps make the point I’ve taken some time to learn, but I think the way we truly assert ourselves and make our lives our own is not by “having it all”, but in making choices. By choosing one thing, you are necessarily choosing to not have something else. This is hard when you are choosing between two good things. In deciding to travel, we’re giving up our well-paying jobs and the security of a “sure thing” in order to venture into the unknown. We are giving up a year with our dogs—who we love to a ridiculous degree—and a year with our families and friends (who we also love a lot, but perhaps less ridiculously). We know their lives will not simply pause to wait for us while we are off traveling, and we can’t know what space we will fit ourselves back into when we return.
No matter what conventional wisdom may tell you, it is actually hard work following your dreams. People seem to operate under this false impression that all you have to do to pursue a dream is decide to do so. After all it’s easy to say, and it seems so obvious, so it should be easy to do, right? Personally, I have found that there is a world of difference between saying and doing. No one sets out to NOT follow their dreams, yet more often than not, people wind up in a life half-lived. In the end, it comes down to this:
If it were easy to follow your dreams, everyone would do it. But they don’t.
I have realized that committing to this trip and transforming it from dream to reality has taken not only determination but bravery as well. As Tony always reminds me, being brave is not the absence of fear, but rather feeling fear and doing something anyway. For me, quitting my job has been the scariest thing I’ve done in preparation for this trip to date. It wasn’t just another thing to casually cross of a list, and it affected me deeply. In many ways, I’m not just saying goodbye to a job, but to a set of dreams and goals I had for myself, and that is something that will likely take some time to fully come to terms with.
When I’m having a really bad day, and none of the above reminders help me rule my fear and sadness, I turn to this quote by Joseph Campbell:
You must give up the life you planned in order to have the life that is waiting for you.
No one said that act of giving up one life for another would be easy or fun. As it turns out, “life”, just like “quit”, is a four-letter word as well.