MAY 21, 2016
Today I’m sharing a personal experience about a time when I followed my intuition and took a very purposeful pause in my path to check in with myself. And how I achieved clarity around what I truly wanted in my life, how I wanted to spend my time and what I wanted to be when I grew up.
In my twenties, I found a lot of my sense of value in being busy. I pretty much viewed life as a race. A race to where, I’m still not quite sure. But I knew I wanted to be an avid participant while I figured out where we were all going. When I wasn’t working, or working overtime, I was booking up my calendar with social events, trips, workouts, language classes, and joining local organizations. Life was exciting, enriching and free from significant commitments.
In my thirties, my career amped up significantly and I moved around a lot, living in Atlanta, San Francisco, London, and then back to San Francisco. I managed corporate hospitality events at the Olympics and the World Cup. So I also spent a lot of time traveling to host cities in the years leading up to each event and then typically spent as long as 6 weeks to 2 months “onsite” when the events were happening. With the
exception of a few months every 2 years, the pace was fast. And I spent most of my waking hours working. For nearly an entire year leading up to London 2012, I would get up early each day and go to Starbucks to work from 7am to 9am, then go to the office until 6pm or 7pm, sometimes later. I would then go home, heat up some dinner, maybe pour a glass of wine and log back into my laptop and go through work emails that had piled up throughout the work day, often not switching off until 10 or 11pm. I also worked most weekends in the final months leading up to the Olympics. It was intense. But the thing is, it was also a rush. It was challenging and I was on a mission to pull off each of my projects and try to make each one better than the last.
At 36, I left my agency in London to move back to San Francisco for a great role on the corporate side of the business. At this point, however, I was starting to see signs of burnout and glimmers of a yearning for something different. It was like there was a quiet voice inside clearing it's throat and growing louder. The first thing I decided was that it was time to try to actually have a long term relationship. My years of moving around, traveling and just not crossing paths with the right guy had left me wondering if meeting someone was even in the cards for me. But back in San Francisco, I was in a good place with myself. I was enjoying life
and working really hard to find some balance. And it happened. I met the guy. His name is Max. That’s a longer story for another time, but, trust me, it was good. And still is.
So, at 38, after completing another big event and travel year at the Olympics in Sochi and World Cup in Rio, and now with The Guy by my side, I found myself at a crossroads. With lots of questions involuntarily firing off in my head. What did I want to do next? Do I stay the course? I mean I had a pretty great gig. And life was pretty dreamy. But I found myself seeking so many things that were the opposite of my current lifestyle. (And I found myself in a city where I was paying nearly $4K per month in rent for a small one-bedroom apartment.) But mostly, I wanted some quiet time. To figure it out. So, after much soul searching, 2 months with a life coach, a strategic location matrix exercise and many heart to heart chats with Max (who was having similar epiphanies)…I decided to quit my job. Without a job. And Max and I bought a house and moved to Jacksonville, Florida. Closer to family and in a much more affordable city.
My life coach warned me I was going to fall right into an identity crisis when I arrived in Florida. No longer able to self-identify as the world-traveling-Olympic-girl with cool job perks, I had to figure out who I was outside of that. Was I now just a girl who lived in Florida and was rapidly approaching 40 without certainty as to what her direction was? Hmmm. What had I done?
Luckily I had plenty of space for figuring it out. It started with a 9-day road trip across the country as we moved from San Francisco to Jacksonville. And it was the first time I’d had even a moment to catch my breath and realize the significance of the changes ahead. This road trip was a wonderful gap between the old and the new and one of the best weeks of my life. Stopping in places from Vegas to the Grand Canyon to Sedona to New Orleans and driving down the old Route 66 was the perfect way to bring the concept of mindfulness on board. I enjoyed and took in every moment. [And highly recommend a cross country road trip to anyone who has not yet experienced it.]
More road trip action available here.
Then we pulled up to our new house to begin the new life.
At first there was lots to do with moving in and getting situated into our space. A real, grown-up house. With a yard. After spending the past 17 years renting small spaces, this in itself was a huge mound of unfamiliar territory.
But soon there was time. Time without disclaimers. No long commute. No calendar filled with meetings. No emails from colleagues. No project timelines. No deadlines. Just space.
And in that space, I stumbled around at first. Trying to get reacquainted with myself, now that I was left alone with my own thoughts and not perpetually running through a to-do list in my mind. Suddenly nobody needed me to show up anywhere. I had no title. Nobody in my new city even knew I existed yet.
But I was ready for this. I knew I was going to feel in between. And I had built in some space for it. I had promised myself I would not spend any energy on trying to find a job or figure out my next career move for at least 3 months. I released myself from that responsibility. Granted, I was extremely lucky that Max could support us for the time being and I had saved enough to provide a cushion for mini-retirement. But there’s nothing like the feeling of that final paycheck to get your mind racing towards finding your next gig.
So I spent time just being. I did what I felt like doing each day. I caught my breath. I thought. I had deep conversations. I noticed my surroundings. I reconsidered what was truly important to me. What makes me happy. What makes me feel like myself. How I wanted to spend my time. And I also relaxed and just had some fun.
Do you have a list of things you would do if you weren’t working? I used to daydream about what it would be like to have a random day off as I drove into the office mid-week. How would I spend it? Every hour would feel like such luxury. I would hang on my retired mother’s every word while she chatted to me about her fun plans for the day as I sat in traffic on my way into the office. I can’t wait to be retired, I thought.
When this transition came about, I decided I wanted to feel what retirement was like, just for a while. Staying true to my rule about not figuring out my next career step just yet, I dabbled. I dug up that list that lived in my former daydreams. And brought it to life.
I attending cooking classes every Tuesday. I read tons of books. Even fiction books. And sometimes while sitting on the beach. I rediscovered yoga. I took a drawing class. I wrote letters to friends I hadn’t been in touch with for ages. I set up my home. I joined a golf league. I spent time in the public library. Went on breakfast dates and middle-of-the-day dates with Max. Sat in coffee shops. Watched the Today Show. Took walks. Enrolled in the coaching certification course I’ve always had lingering in the back of my mind. Traveled near and far to visit friends and family. Saw my parents once a month. Went sailing. Started running again. Went on road trips. Went camping. Had dinner parties. Did volunteer work. Went to happy hour at our local pub at 4:30pm every Friday. Celebrated important family events and holidays. In person. And got a puppy.
It may sound really busy. But it felt different. It was like a breath of fresh air had wafted through each day. Sunday night blues completely vanished. I owned my time. And it turns out dabbling is just as great as it sounds.
Sadly, if it weren’t for Facebook, I hate to think how completely out of touch and uninformed I would be about many good friends and family who simply hadn’t been in my office building or daily footprint the past decade. With the exception of the sporadic phone date with close friends from past cities and past lives, it felt like so many people I cared about were becoming disappearing figures in my rearview mirror. And I was craving re-connection.
So mini-retirement included spending time - quality time- with my people. I made phone calls, wrote letters, sent photos, set up Skype dates, and spent time catching up. I made in-person visits too. Max and I spent time meeting each other’s people. We visited nearly every city we’ve ever lived in and made house calls and set up drinks and dinner dates. It was like therapy and medicine for the soul. My heart felt so happy each time I spent time with a beloved friend or family member. And nothing felt better than the ability to drive to see my parents or sister, just for the weekend.
The re-connection that had the biggest impact on me was with Mary Ann, my college roommate and dear friend. I had missed our annual college girlfriend Christmas party in Georgia (where I grew up) the past year for the first time in many years because we were in Jacksonville buying our house. But I had caveated my regrets with the excitement of telling the girls I would be back in the South soon and could see them much more than once a year now, so it was all good. Three weeks after I arrived in Jacksonville, Mary Ann was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. Even as I type this, I still can’t really believe it. I lived in bunk beds with her for 3 years and spent every moment with her during college. And now I was back and ready to re-connect, how could she be sick? For me, the blessing was that I did move when I did - and no later. It allowed me the precious time with her that I had over the next 8 months, which included some gatherings and fun times with the girls and several visits alone with her, where we were truly able to re-connect after so many years of just the brief annual holiday party. I was able to really see what a beautiful grown-up she had become after mostly knowing her as kids in high school and college. And to see firsthand what a phenomenal mother she was. And on December 1, I was able to race to Georgia just in time to hold her hand and tell her I loved her before she left us.
I could carry on about the honor of that friendship and experience for much longer, but will summarize it for now by simply saying that mini-retirement would have been worth it and much more with this one gift of my time with Mary Ann. And nothing has validated any of my choices more.
On a lighter note, I shouldn’t let it go unsaid that mini-retirement gave me the opportunity to connect even more with Max. We spent the first 8 months of our relationship thousands of miles apart while he was on a military deployment in Africa, so I have a special gratitude for seeing him in person. And to get to spend so much time together, building a life together, was pretty fantastic. And somehow, as we connected more on a daily basis in our new home, our connection grew even stronger than it already was.
My year of mini-retirement is still so fresh in my mind that I’m sure the insights and benefits will continue to present themselves as time passes. But what I do know so far is that it gave me the clarity I needed. It helped me to know myself as I am now. Beneath the surface of the career and lifestyle that had been my dream 20 years ago. And to help me begin to know what my now nearly-40-year-old self dreams of. It turns out that, for now, I didn’t want to go back to the event world and all of the travel. For right now, it turns out I want to continue to build my own business, to continue to be a coach and help other people find their clarity. And it turns out I’m not ready to fully retire just yet, but I do want the flexibility to continue to own my time and my place. I want to maintain a pace that keeps me in the present, available, and peaceful. It turns out that I want more mindfulness, dabbling and connection. And I intend to make that happen.
Should You Mini-Retire?
I have two friends from my last company who also quit their jobs. Without jobs. One is enjoying months of enviable adventure travel around the world while occasionally completing yoga certifications. The other bravely moved to Barcelona by herself, without speaking any Spanish, to travel and explore while she figures out what is next for her. And many have read the article about the Yale grad who gave up her big job in NYC to scoop ice cream on the island of St. John. Or read about Tim Ferris's concept of mini-retirement in his popular 4-Hour Work Week. So there does seem to be a growing trend towards taking a career halftime.
But mini-retirement doesn’t have to last a year or include such drastic life changes. It’s more a state of mind and how you spend the pockets of time you have available to you, whether it’s a 3-month sabbatical, a long weekend or simply your Sunday afternoon. It’s how you honor your time and space and the energy of the thoughts that accompany it. Are you spending all weekend worrying about your return to work on Monday? Or are you able to let go of any anxieties that will still be right there to greet you Monday morning in order to be present with your people, dabble in activities that light you up and have meaningful connections and experiences? And this post is very career-focused, but what if you're also a parent? How are you spending those rare moments you have to yourself? How are you prioritizing? Are you finding ways to fill yourself back up?
So many of us stay on autopilot our entire careers without taking a pause to check back in with ourselves and with our intuition to make sure that our dreams and values still match the path that we may have chosen years ago. If you allowed yourself to pause and catch your breath, would you make any adjustments? Maybe not. But I believe it’s worth asking the questions.
“We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” – E.M. Forster
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