I Was Wrong: Quitting Your Job Won’t Make You Happy

This is the story of an epic #FAIL.

It will get worse before it gets better.

But there is a happy ending, if you’re willing to stick around for it.

Are you ready to read about why everything I’ve said on this blog over the past 3.5 years has been hypocritical and misguided?

Awesome. Then let’s begin…

How I’ve Messed Shit Up

Ever since I quit the day job to freelance full-time, things have felt off.

It wasn’t what I thought it would be.

It didn’t feel amazing.

Anytime a friend or family member gave me the “it must be nice” line, my first instinct was to tell them how horribly exhausted and strung out I was—not because I wanted to annihilate the anti-freedom sludge that keeps people from their dreams (as old Cordelia would have) but because I was really, truly exhausted and strung out, and the thought that I might be “living the dream” actually made me feel sad and disgruntled.

New Cordelia, contrary to every vision I ever had of her, was a mess. (And not even a hot one.)

She did not leisurely catch up on her reading and writing while getting paid to whip up awesome content—she worked from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. during the week and most of the time on the weekends, getting ever more resentful of the demands on her time that she herself was inviting and kowtowing to.

She did not explore the world at large and go out for afternoon strolls in the sunlight—she packed on 10 extra pounds, beat the hell out of herself for only being able to cram 12 hours of work into each day instead of 20, and unceremoniously lost ties with pretty much all of her friends.

She got angrier and stressier and uglier.

She forgot to breathe sometimes.

She existed in a constant state of headache.

She toyed (more than once) with the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad thought that at least when she was a 9-5 drone, she had “off” time.

She forgot how to blog for her own site, a) because she was so worn thin and b) because she no longer felt that fire that used to fuel her. She no longer felt impassioned or inspired or driven to tell the world there was more out there and they should be grabbing it by the metaphorical gonads.

She no longer felt anything but worn thin, woefully inadequate, and horribly suspicious that everything she’d ever been telling people about the awesomeness of a life of freedom was a fraud. Or that she was a fraud. Most likely the latter.

In the year since I quit my day job to pursue my dream full-time, I have devolved into a hunched over, burnt out, guilt-wracked shell of a Cordelia—and it is entirely my own fault.

That’s the bad news.

The good news is, I’ve learned some things from it, and I think I’m finally man enough to start putting them into action.

The Missing (and Biggest) Part of the Equation

Don’t get me wrong; quitting my day job was one of the biggest victories and smartest life moves I have ever accomplished.

I am insanely, ridiculously, over-the-moon grateful every single day that I no longer spend entire Sundays dreading the week ahead or lose whole days to not being able to get out of bed because I’m so soul-murderingly depressed.

I am, because of this lack of soul-killing depression, much, much happier. This is the only kind of career I could ever have with any modicum of satisfaction, and I am thrilled that I have it.

But I’m still not happy. Because while I have this career now, I’ve been doing entirely all the wrong things with it.

I’ve got the big picture all sorted out, but I’ve been fucking up royally when it comes to the details.

This is nothing new. I’ve written before about how I need to stop being addicted to hustle, how dying on the treadmill is no way to live, and how there’s no point to a “lifestyle biz” if you don’t have a life. I knew I wasn’t doing things right, but I hadn’t yet hit that wall all Quitters eventually come to, where things finally become real.

The wall where a smoker, who’s heard “it’s bad for your health” for years, finally internalizes that and realizes Holy crap, I am killing myself slowly. The wall where the career-obsessed parent misses their kid’s recital for the umpteenth time, and for some reason, this time they realize it can’t keep happening like this. The wall where something clicks at last, and you realize you’ve been a stupid sonofabeetch about everything and you will end in ruin if you keep going down this path.

That wall.

This year, I hit that wall. It took me the whole year to finally hit it hard enough to leave a dent, but consider me bitch-slapped, because holy hell, I finally get it:

I am exactly where I always wanted to be. But I am not who I always wanted to be, and because of that, even the awesomest of circumstances will devolve into crappiness.

The big picture is in order. Now it’s time to start working on the details. Which actually are the most important part.

The Only Way Quitting Will Really Make You Happy

There’s plenty of time for all the little sub-posts that fall under this general “how I’ve messed up and what I’ve learned from it” umbrella—posts on workaholism and the reality of the freelancer’s lifestyle and my newfound quest for Zen and minimalism.

But those will come, in time.

The important thing for now, the thing I feel the need to scream from the rooftops because it very nearly dragged me under, is perhaps the hardest thing to realize for someone who’s dedicated the last 3.5 years of their life trying to get to exactly where they are today:

Quitting your job won’t make you happy.

Neither will finding “the one,” or moving to Tahiti, or winning a million dollars.

They might make you happier, relative to the state you’re currently in, but they won’t make you really, truly happy unless you learn how to be happy, with whatever is currently in front of you. (Tweet!)

I’ve busted my ass to get the “work” part of my life just where it needs to be; now it’s time to focus on the “life” part.

Which might just wind up being the greatest journey of all.

Stay tuned for further details…


Image: Mike Bailey-Gates on Flickr

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  • I’m so glad you are painting a real picture. Too many people (myself included) think working for yourself is much easier than working for the “man.” While I still would rather work for myself, I have to be realistic that it will take a lot of work.

    • I think the biggest thing for me was falling into that whole “If I get X, I will finally be happy” mentality. Yes, working for myself IS infinitely better than working for The Man — but that doesn’t mean it’s all sunshine and roses. And if I don’t get my own priorities and needs in order first, no working situation, no matter how ideal, will really “fix” anything.

      All things I myself have said many times over, but I guess sometimes it takes a while to register even your own advice. 🙂

      • **Especially** your own advice! (Gee, how do I know that??) 😉

  • Heather van der Hoop

    Great post, Kelly, and thanks for being honest about the challenges of working for yourself. Reading for pleasure and and leisurely brunches are not the reality, though I do enjoy a stroll on sunny afternoons. Best of luck finding the right balance for the “life” details!

    • Thanks, Heather. I’m getting there. Definitely feel closer now than I ever have, which is a step in the right direction for sure. 🙂

    • they *can* be (I hear), but only *after* you’ve got the balance part figured out, too – that’s what’s so easy to completely miss!
      (not there yet myself, either, but pretty sure I’m way closer than I was a year ago, too!

  • Ditto Nikki and Heather for writing this, Kelly. I’m very sorry to read about your troubles, but I’m glad you’ve identified them and are getting a better idea about what to do differently.

    I still have problems with letting other folks get their way over what I want (Holy cats! Your site recommended my disappointment article to read next!), and it’s one of my prime worries about starting a freelance sideline – letting it not be about what I alone can bring to the table.

    • Holy cats! (Love that interjection.) 🙂

      One of the odd dichotomies of freelancing is that you’re working on your own terms, but as long as you’re still working for clients, you also have to take their needs into consideration. I think I’ve been swinging way too far in the direction of making sure other people are happy at the expense of forgetting to make sure I’m happy, too. Now it’s time to right that balance…

  • amandaabella

    Hmmm I experienced this with freelancing and have actually started to move away from it… or at the very least being REALLY picky about what writing projects I keep. I’d love to catch up! I’ve got some ideas on how to make this better 🙂

    • Yes, please! Let’s set a date to chat!

  • Kelly, i applaud you on your awareness. Even the wisest among us can learn. Your journey to freedom has also given you the opportunity to learn. It is an incontrovertible fact that big changes are harder in practice than in idea. All we can do is keep moving forward as you are doing. So your expectations were off. So what. Make whatever this is the best it can be and keep learning and growing. You will pay the bills and this will get easier. Have faith and keep rolling. Your adversity can help teach the rest of us. Make it a great day.

    • Thanks, Christian. Your support always means a lot. 🙂

  • I truly love this post, Kelly. I’m in a rather Zen mode myself – been meditating a lot. Being happy, quite simply happy, is not as easy as it sounds.

    ‘just let go’, ‘don’t think of the bad stuff’, blah, blah, blah – shoot me.

    it takes a lot of time perseverance and practice.

    You got this, Kelly. The fact that you’re writing about it is evidence of that.

    • Your latest post over at CarrerMeh.com
      ( http://www.careermeh.com/2014/04/21/ok-want-work/ ) really fits into this discussion, too, Razwana!

      • Figure out what’s right for you and go for it, right Karen?

    • I need to get on the meditation train. My mind is so scattered and mile-a-minute I know I could desperately use it. Any practices/resources you’d particularly recommend?

      • hhmm … for me, meditation is about a destination (whether i’m trying to be still for a while, think about something I want to achieve, or a feeling I want to feel), so I use guided meditation audios to focus my mind. J

        ust sitting there and ‘trying to clear my mind’ just pisses me off!

        Recently I’ve downloaded the workouts from http://shrinksessionworkout.com which also have a meditation audio with each work out. These have been excellent.

        My friend recommended this from Abraham Hicks: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FIIAe-ouSt0 which is great for focus, but the ending is hilarious. It’s a little ‘out there’ in terms of the words used, but it still gives me focus.

        That’s all I have for now! Intrigued as to how you get on with this, Kelly.

  • {{{cordelia}}} + {{{kelly}}}
    ~ and hugs for both your head and your heart, too – this sure is a tough one to come to terms with!

    • Thanks, Karen! It was definitely one of the hardest — that whole “my wildest dream ever didn’t make me as happy as I thought it would” thing takes a while to digest. But the good news is, there’s still a chance to set it right, and just admitting finally that I’m beat and I need a new approach has been so relieving.

      (As have the awesome supportive comments by faithful readers like yourself.) 🙂

  • It takes some serious lady balls to a) realize that you’re responsible for your (un)happiness, and b) own it publicly. This is such an honest, refreshing perspective on the anti-Man life. Saving it for my next holy-shit-this-sucks-coconuts spell 🙂

    • Thanks, Amy. 🙂 If my own mess-ups can help someone else avoid the same (or feel better about the same if they’ve already done it), I’d be one happy Cordelia.

  • Shanna Mann

    Yay! I wouldn’t worry about this too much Cordelia– any time you bust out of one limit, there’s a nearly unavoidable tendency to veer too far in the other direction— like hitting black ice in a car. You figured it out, and now you’re correcting. I mean, this is totally new to you– did you really expect to nail the whole “I am master of my domain” thing first time out of the gate? This is the learning curve. You’re doing fine. <3

    • Thanks for that reminder / emotional shoring-up, too, Shanna! 🙂

    • Hey, Shanna (and everybody else here) – you don’t have a link to your website ( http://shannamann.com ) in your Disqus profile!

      • Oh, I’ll bet it’s because I logged in with Google. I find Disqus to be a really confusing interface. I can never remember which way I logged in before.

        • Agreed 100%! Disqus is the only reason I even *have* Chrome set up – I can’t get the commenting to work on my Firefox setup.

          I do enjoy their “edit forever” feature, too…

    • Yeah, I think I did expect that. 😛

      But, reach for the moon and you’ll land among the stars right?

  • Ivy Shelden

    This is a good reality check for everyone! We have to learn to give and be grateful for our present situation (and enjoy the ride), or we will never find happiness…it will always be just out of reach. As much as I dislike working for a boss, I am sure after I quit there will be days where I think, “Damn, I wish I had someone telling me what to do right now!”

    • Exactly! Wherever you think “there” is (i.e., “I finally be happy when I get THERE!”), it keeps moving. There’s always something that’s not right, that could be better, that wasn’t what you expected it would be. I’m all about getting acquainted with “here,” now, and learning to be a fan of that while still reaching for more.

  • CreativeMarie

    I recently came upon your blog and LOVE it! This entry really spoke to me. Thank you for sharing your journey. Makes one know they are not alone and take strength in that (at least for me).

    • So glad you found me! You are most definitely not alone — if the blogosphere has taught me anything, it’s that you’d be amazed how NOT alone you are. 🙂

  • Reg

    You did the OPPOSITE of mess up. You explored, jumped, crashed, brushed yourself off, climbed, skipped, laughed, cried, and LIVED! You are a different person having lived that portion of your journey. It prepared you for the next one! We are proud of you and lift you UP in celebration for a “job well done!” – or rather, a journey well-hiked! What’s next?

    • Thanks, Reg! That comment brings to mind a quote I’ve forgotten until recently that’s actually well worth remembering:

      “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” ~Thomas Edison

      Next? I’m not quite sure, but I have a feeling it will be lovely. 🙂

  • Kelly,
    LOVE this post. Finally someone has written an account of what life is really like post-employee and I commend you for that. I too thought things would be all gravy once I quit my job a few months ago, but I was wrong. I’m struggling with a lot of shit from finances to deadlines to motivation to procrastination. This shit is hard and I know you’ve busted your ass to get where you are. Looking forward to seeing what you do from here….

    • Thanks, Steve. I know from following your own journey that you definitely do understand what it’s like, and I have to commend you for your own honesty and transparency. We’re all in this together, and having excellent traveling companions is a huge help. 🙂

  • Marrissa

    Look at you + your big balls. I love it. Being raw and honest is the best part of owning your own business. Enjoy it and love it– love this post, Kelly. Powerful.

    • Thanks, Marissa. I’m so glad it’s gotten such an awesome reception. There’s no point in going through this, with an audience, if I’m not going to be brutally honest (even with myself). 😉

  • Whoaaaaa, I totally wasn’t expecting to read this. Thanks for a much-needed dose of reality. I think everyone thinks that going out on their own is the solution to everything, when in reality, it has its own set of struggles and hardships. Looking forward to chatting with you later today! xox

    • Thanks, Jess! Being able to bat ideas/experiences/frustrations and wins around with you is always awesome. 🙂

  • Thank you so much for this article and telling the true side of this story. It gives me [and I’m sure so many others like me] hope and makes me feel not so alone in this new scary journey I’m on. I was recently fired [wish I could have ‘quit’ but honestly I don’t know if I ever would have had the courage] from the ‘soulless’ desk job I had for over 4 years. I have taken this opportunity to start doing what I love, painting murals. The crippling stress and anxiety that has come along for the ride had been quite unexpected. I mean I knew it would be stressful but I guess I just didn’t know the real meaning 🙂 It’s nice to know there are others and I can’t explain how it helps reading articles like yours. It makes it all feel a little less hard, a little more doable, like there’s friends in my corner. Thank you for the truth and not sugar coating it. You are an inspiration!

    • You are totally not alone. I was absolutely amazed by how many people related to this — including people bigger than me who I always thought had “made it.” We’re all learning this as we go. Thankfully, we’re not the only ones. 🙂

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  • John Fawkes

    So true. You need a system, you need purpose, and you need something fulfilling to replace the bad stuff you just cut out. Another blogger I love reading, Tynan, wrote a while back that happiness isn’t the light at the end of the tunnel- it’s one of the foundations of a good life.

    • So true. I stress to other people that it’s not just what you’re quitting — it’s what you’re quitting for. I got rid of the day job but forgot to work on what I was getting rid of it FOR. That’s the next part of the journey…

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  • Joshua Fredette

    Cordelia this is fucking brilliant and it was a revelation I had exactly last night. The most important thing in life is learning to be happy with what you have, and using that to strive farther, rather than to expect that striving will make the happiness come.
    This is the first post I stumbled across of yours. And … and …

    I’m already in love with you. Marry me.

    • I think my husband would have a problem with that, but otherwise it’s a lovely sentiment. ;D

      • Joshua Fredette

        Oh well. In that case it is a metaphorical proposal to state my extreme admiration for this post.

  • Rachel Evelyn Nichols

    My main reason–perhaps my only reason for wanting to be my own boss–is that no one else will hire me. Thank you for your honesty about the difficulty in your profession/lifestyle.