Monday, November 7, 2011

13 Things I Learned After Leaving My Job

When I left my job in 2010, the first thing I did was take a full rest and break from sixteen years of intense, high-stress work. I indulged in three months of doing nothing that had to do with any form of work. Instead I revisited all the hobbies and leisure activities I had neglected while I was neck-deep in deadlines. I caught up on sleep, I read stacks of books, I enjoyed my mom's cooking as often as I could. I also looked into some trips I wanted to take since I no longer have to worry about getting permissions to take a vacation leave.

After three months, I started to pull myself together and suddenly the future before me seemed like a vast expanse of possibilities and I didn't have a complete map. I knew I was going to set up my own home-based business eventually but the options to getting to that point seemed endless.

Now it is one and half year since I left the employed life and I have gone through a whole slew of trials and errors. I have had my successes and my failures. I got discouraged at many points but revived myself afterwards.

Here are some of the key things I learned and now try to live by as I continue to walk along that path to living a fulfilled life outside the conventional setup of being employed. I hope you pick something to inspire you along the way. :)

You need a structured schedule just like what you had when you were employed. Otherwise it will be quite difficult to get a lot of things done. Make lists! Invest in a happy planning notebook at the beginning of each new year.

Develop a schedule and a routine that work for you which also allow for the flexibility that you've always wished you had when you were in an office.

Set your own deadlines. Procrastination is your hidden enemy. There are as many distractions at home as there are in an office - the sight of unwashed dishes, the silent call of the soft bed, the bookmarked page in the book you could not put down last night. Keep updated with your chores and include it in your calendar so you don't get to use it as an excuse.

Wake up early, start early. I thought I could get away with sleeping in and waking up late but I found myself scrambling towards the early evening to finish tasks. How come it's no different from being in an office? It's because the usual commute time was spent on sleeping instead of being re-assigned to more productive tasks so I was experiencing the same "time shortage".   

Waking up early means even if you have a routine to follow and a to-do list to complete, you will still have enough time left for fun and relaxation. One of my favorite feelings is completing the last task for the day while the sun is still out. 

You can still burn out. Do make time to stop and smell the roses. No paycheck and a solo business mean that the income is not predictable. Sometimes it's easy to get absorbed in the need to stabilize your financial status or think too far ahead into the future and worry about it.

Reward yourself, not necessarily with money or things that cost money. Instead reward yourself with time.  When I was employed I complained that I didn't have time even though I had a lot of money. Now since money has become something I budget very strictly, time has become the currency which I have a lot of. But like money I am learning how to spend it wisely.

I give myself a few hours, a half day or sometimes even a whole day free from the routines and the to-dos. Within that time I engage in activities that fuel my creativity or expose me to inspiring images and ideas. It could be window-shopping, or browsing in a bookstore, or even simpler things like reading or writing in my journal. It's time for me to process my thoughts and feelings. It's a time to recover and recharge.

You are living a different life now. Don't compare yourself or your life or your current achievements with what your employed friends have. There was a time when I refused to visit my Facebook because I felt bad that I could not keep up with the stuff that my employed friends are enjoying such as trips and new gadgets and eating in new restaurants. But then I reminded myself why I made this choice and that I knew what I was giving up and that I gave them up willingly.

Don't try to keep up the same level of lifestyle you are used to. For one thing, I found all the inexpensive versions of what I used to indulge in when I was in a high-paying ad agency job and was a walk away from all the glamorous high-end malls. I took a tour of our neighborhood and discovered spas, coffee shops, restaurants, supply shops, surplus shops. Everything was at least half or a third of the prices in the high-end malls but delivering good quality. It's not about giving up. It's about finding better and wiser options.

Dress up. Even when you will spend the day at home. 

I know that it is a common image that people who work from home enjoy the comfort of working in their pajamas in front of the computer. I learned early on that this is one factor that could lead to a slow progress or procrastination. You have to signal to yourself that it's time for serious stuff. It also affects mood and confidence when working on a challenging project.

It's also easier to follow up on errands and any emergency task that will require you to step out of the house. Sometimes getting yourself fixed up to be fit to be seen in public can be such a chore. Don't let it.

It doesn't have to be full outfit. For myself I put on a nice comfortable skirt or pants, a plain clean t-shirt in a matching color and I fix my hair (a headband or a clip that complements the clothes) and I put on some light powder and lip gloss. Believe me, the act of preparing yourself and the feeling that you look good and presentable can do wonders in energizing you for the day.

But do feel free to have non-dress-up days once or twice a week. I have them too. :)

Keep your social skills sharp.  The trap when working from home is getting used to the comfort of it. The change and the fresh air will do you lots of good. One thing that can undermine your confidence when working by yourself at home is the realization of being left out of the loop or out of touch. Your social skills also tend to get a bit rusty after a while and sometimes you can become more sensitive or reactive to other people. Worse, you become defensive of what you have done with your life.

Catch up and also share what's been happening with you. Always remember to present yourself and your current life as equally worthy as anyone else's who are employed (and believe it!). Some people will tend to assume that you don't work as hard as they do, or that you are not as serious about a "career". Don't be shy to assert and to show that more than a career, you are pursuing a passion.

On the other hand, there will be people who will wish they had your courage and will ask you for advice on how you do it. Give them realistic advice and don't give in to the temptation to feed that illusion of freelancers or solo business owners getting to do what they want all the time. Don't make it all about the hardships either. Give a good balance of the good and the challenging.

Learn a lot. Study more. You train yourself. You teach yourself. In my case I even gave myself a workshop and bought myself books. I also signed up for free online classes, as well as affordable e-courses that could help me evolve and grow continuously. I cannot afford to go back to school so I make do and make my own curriculum. I also learn by advice and example from people I admire.

You cannot get by forever with the stock knowledge and skills you gained from your previous job. Especially if what you wish to pursue now is different, you will need to work a bit harder because there is no one else backing you up. Your credentials will start looking a lot different.

Make sure you take time to understand things. You will save more time and effort later on. True, experience is the best teacher but it does not mean that you should plunge in blindly. There are enough lessons left behind by those who have gone before you.

Oh, and read a lot. I read books, magazines, websites, blogs, articles --- anything that could lead me somewhere new. I even read my old journals and notebooks for ideas that were shelved for lack of time -- I have time now.

Spend more time with people you really care about, like your family and very close friends. These are the people you don't have to justify yourself to. These are the people who help you regain your balance when everything seems to be lopsided.

One of the things I appreciated when I stopped going to an office is the time I get to spend with my parents. They are now in their sixties and I would like to be with them more than just buy things for them with a big paycheck. My grandmother, who is now 90 years old, is the last of my grandparents still alive and I now visit her regularly. She has been delighted when I asked her if she could teach me and my sister  her knowledge about craft-making.  Cherish those moments. Collect all those happy memories. They will boost you up for the rest of your life and through every difficult time.

Travel. From a simple walk in the neighborhood, to actual trips taken on a well-planned budget. Traveling takes care of a whole chunk of stuff in this list : catching up with events and people, learning, discovering, relaxing, taking time for yourself, meeting new people, dressing up, etc.

At the start of the year I plan trips with my sister and look for special promos, especially in airfares. My trips this year only cost me half or a third of the amount in plane tickets.

Local trips also include visiting stores I've always wanted to visit, especially those discovered online. I have a fondness for dessert cafes and vintage shops as destinations.

Know what you want and where you are heading. At some point all that supposed freedom and control will actually weigh on you. When the initial euphoria of making it on your own settles down, you are again faced with that vast expanse of possibilities.

Take time to pause and take stock of things. Ask yourself the important questions: Are you happy? Are you satisfied? Can you see yourself along this path in five to ten years? Or are you thinking of something else? Be honest.

The whole point of leaving my job was to find myself a happier and more satisfying way of living. So if I am not getting that then what was the point of leaving in the first place? Sometimes it will need a whole re-evaluation of your priorities. That's okay. Better be sure now than sorry later.

If necessary, don't be afraid to change your mind and the course of your life. Don't settle just because you are worried about what other people will say. Or maybe you are losing confidence that you can pull it off at this stage. Or maybe you feel that you will have wasted all your previous effort.

If you are truly certain, and if you truly know yourself by this time, then you do what needs to be done. Your previous efforts will not be wasted because you will have learned from them and most probably it is through them that you are having these realizations now. Everything happens for a reason, my sister always says. Nothing is ever really wasted if we pay attention to the lessons that every experience brings us.

I thought my original business plan is it. I had grand plans and they consumed me at the beginning of my journey. But along the way I discovered that there are other things that I am passionate about. I had to take a full review of everything, my old plans, my financial goals, my skills. I can see a very tough path ahead but I also know that I will sleep better at night even just admitting to myself what I truly love and want to do.

Have a plan (or plans). Map out the options you have, but most especially the options you are willing to undertake. Always have a plan B, or even a plan C stashed somewhere. Not that you lack confidence in plan A happening, but it is like a psychological buffer in your head that can actually help you push forward because you've got everything covered. It works for me anyway. :)

Have a plan but also be flexible. Allow for synchronicity and serendipities to weave their own magic. While you acknowledge your own strength and power, you also have to give the powers-that-be their due, depending on your faith and beliefs. Do not fully rely on yourself. Plan for those times when you will need help. Ask for help.

Always be open to the many ways that your plan can happen. Don't think it can only happen this way or that way. Do not lock yourself in certain ways of thinking that could only lead to disappointment. Don't be impatient. Things unfold accordingly in their right time. Be calm. You have done your part (the plan), now let it happen.

Never regret the decisions you have made, most especially the one that made you lose that paycheck in the first place. It is not a healthy and productive exercise. I came close to regret at one point but I pulled myself back in time. When I did, I found out that an opportunity was already around the corner and I would have missed it if I had wallowed in regret.

Regret is what will waste all the lessons you have learned in every step you took, and will invalidate all the joys you have experienced, and all the good you have gained. Believe that those decisions were timely and were needed for you to grow and move forward even if the way had been difficult, or even painful, in some cases.

Re-align yourself with what is important to you. Point your inner compass to your true North and move forward. :)


Yes, this is quite a long baker's dozen for a start! But I hope you were able to learn something, or maybe even comforted by the knowledge that you are not alone in certain situations. A new baker's dozen comes out next week!

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