- Stand at the edge, look down and tentatively step off
- Take a running leap into the abyss
Last October I feel like I chose #2 as I left my long-term career for a life filled with unknowns. I wrote quite a bit about my feelings on leaving my career – the fear, the worry, the uncertainty. Now that we have been on the road for over a year I thought it was time to stop and reflect a bit on what is on the other side of the “abyss” that I worried so much about for 2+ years.
Fear of losing identity
Before leaving I had many people tell me that ” You need your career to make you whole, it is part of who you are.” One of my biggest fears was the loss of my identity without a career. I had spent so long identifying myself by my job that I had no idea who I would be or how I would relate to others without it. My gut instinct was to talk about my job when others asked and the process gave me comfort as it was a safe subject I knew so well. Plus, I believed that my career defined a lot how people perceived me and thus by talking about it I could more easily relate to others.
Now, a year after leaving I realize that I had absolutely nothing to fear. I was never defined by my career and people did not see me solely in terms of what I did to earn money. Through our travels we have met people from all walks of life, and I did not view any of them by what they did for a living. Even more interesting, I don’t even know what most of them do. We talk about life, we debate issues, and we share stories and meals. But our careers are rarely a subject of discussion.
After spending 20 years letting it dominate my life and decisions I found out that I let myself be defined by my career and it was not others forcing this label on me.
What will happen to my career
Before leaving I worried that leaving my career would negatively impact any future prospects I had for getting a job, in any industry. I worried that my colleagues would be further along in their careers, leaving me well behind upon my return. The list of fears continued like this for months as we got closer to departure.
Now, the answer is simple – who cares? OK, that may be a bit direct but at this point this is how I am feeling about a question that scared the shit out of me just a couple years ago. I have no idea what the future holds, and that is precisely why we chose to go on this trip in the first place. Each day we wake up living a life we never expected just a few years ago so why should I worry about a life a few years into the future.
Looking back on my career
I had a great career and one that I look back on with fondness, similar to how I recall my years in high school. I can remember some great times, but I have absolutely no desire to go back and do it again (who would want to relive the 80’s in high school…yikes). Most of the bad (oh yes, I had a host of bad experiences) have been softened with time. While I have fond memories of the fun I had during those 20 years, I do not have a longing to go back.
Now I only think about my career when people ask about how I feel or when I sat down to write this article. Of course I think about the people and friends back at my job, but there is certainly no hole in me wanting to be filled with a hard-driving career. I’ve exchanged that job for a life I love exploring the world, meeting wonderful new friends, and never knowing what is next.
My life today
Today my life is far from structured. I do not have a view into what my life will be next year, let alone in 5 or 10 years down the road. I no longer have a “career plan” to guide my next steps or to make decisions against. Does this scare me? At times, absolutely. However, I have found that I love not knowing what the future holds more than the life I had before that was following a path expected of me.
Instead, I wake up each day with possibilities.
I cannot believe how little I have worried since leaving. Maybe a person can change. I realized in the last year that I do not need to be that type-A personality constantly tying my self-worth to where I stand on the career ladder. I also know now that I don’t need to plan each step on a chosen path, consumed with thoughts of the future while all but ignoring the present.
Instead, now I think about being the guy that:
- speaks another language
- is comfortable living in the moment
- meets new people and learns about their lives and culture, not asking what they do for a living
- looks at each day as an opportunity to try something new
- focuses on being the best husband I can be
Take the leap
- Take a few steps back
- Take a deep breath
- Run off the edge of the cliff with your arms waving, a big smile on your face, and let out a scream of joy.
It can be the best leap you have ever made. Go out and Live the Good Life.
If you have outstanding questions about my thoughts on my career and overcoming my fears, please let me know in the comments. I’d love to address them.