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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