90 DAYS: MY REHAB FROM CORPORATE LIFE
No pants, no regrets.
Three months ago, I published an essay on Medium called “I Quit My Job Today (And so can you!”), then walked out of my high-rise office building and never looked back. Within 24 hours, the post hit #1 (what?!?) and thousands of people had responded with a combination of wistful envy, encouragement, and solidarity.
I have to say, it was nice (and a little weird) to have a virtual cheering section at a time in my life when I was worried I may have made a Gob Bluth-level misstep.
But as it turns out, life on the other side of “corporate sobriety” is pretty fucking great. For anyone contemplating the move toward #freelancelife, I humbly submit:
Some Ways in Which My Life is Better Now That I Work For Myself
- Pants very rarely make it onto my body. I spend most of the day at home writing and editing in a sarong that my mother bought for 200 pesos on a Mexican beach. No bra, either. BOOM.
- I see a lot more of my husband. Maybe that’s not something other people desire (or that they could have; he’s a freelancer, too, so now I’m home as much as he is), but it’s a major benefit for us. We really like each other. Also: afternoon delight.
- I get all the sleep I want and need. I do my best work and clearest thinking between about noon and 5:00pm. As a student, I struggled for sixteen years with mandatory morning classes, plus summer jobs that required even earlier start times, and then spent another fifteen years in corporate life setting my alarm for an hour with a dreaded “6” in front of it. (No, I don’t have kids, and I am deeply, deeply sympathetic to those who have no choice but to rise at dawn. Parents, please don’t throw your alarm clocks at me.) Now, I wake up when I wake up and if I need a nap, I take one.
- My time is my own. To paraphrase Pretty Woman, “I say who, I say when, I say how much.” I set my own deadlines and expectations (for myself and for my clients), and the only meetings I go to are ones I convene for my own benefit. And they usually involve wine.
It’s true: my business is thriving, I’m meeting my financial and work-life balance goals, and I’m in the process of fulfilling a lifelong dream. (More on that in a minute.)
So I keep asking myself, Why was it so hard to quit?
Getting there wasn’t unlike the process of convincing an addict she needs rehab. I had a hard time listening to all the happy, healthy, successful freelancers who were telling me that everything would be okay. That in fact, everything would in all likelihood be much, much better on the other side.
The status quo wasn’t great, but it had become all I knew. My “fix” has always been stability and security, and there I was, facing the prospect of no longer being a slave to those things in order to gain other things. Like happiness. And freedom. And naps.
I wasn’t just quitting my job. I was quitting a whole way of life.
At one point a month or so before I pulled the trigger, I was sitting at home with my husband and just sort of burst into tears. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me,” I said to him. “I feel like I’m dying. Like, literally I feel like I am about to die.”
“Of course you do,” he said. “You’re basically about to murder the person you’ve always been, in order to become the person you want to be.”
He was maddeningly, scarily on target.
Why is that? Why is it so hard to go after something you know is better for you, when the alternative means staying put in a situation that’s actively harmful to your health and well-being?
Self-help guru and giant human, Tony Robbins, talks about how one of the principles of human behavior is that we will go to greater lengths to avoid pain than to gain pleasure. In his view, you have to start considering your current situation (for me: stable, if soul-crushing corporate life) more painful than the alternative (the freedom, but “where’s the next paycheck coming from” instability of freelance life). I suppose I finally achieved the Peak Pain of Corporate Life — aka “hit rock bottom” — and quitting became less harmful than staying put.
But with the benefit of hindsight, and my 90 days, I’m here to tell you it doesn’t have to get that far.
I also want to take a minute to recognize — and thank — all those freelancers who told me everything would be okay. That I’d have no regrets. They were all 100%, totally, completely, right. It’s sort of like looking back on my own intervention with a newly clear head. My life is so much better. My time is my own. I’m more energetic and creative.
My name is Sarah, I quit corporate life cold turkey and I feel great!
And not unlike the recovering addicts I know who say that getting sober opened up new avenues of success to them, the same is true for me.
I always wanted to write a book. You know, “some day.” I’ve posted articles here and there online, published a few features and reviews for a now-defunct magazine, and started the same novel that every aspiring writer starts. But perhaps unsurprisingly, during all those years of day-jobbing it I’d found it really hard to commit to anything long-form.
I had plenty of excuses: too tired; too busy; and as a senior editor at a major publishing house, I spent most waking moments, nights, and weekends editing other people’s writing, which left very little creative energy for my own work. (The latter is not even a particularly good excuse; I know most artists have day jobs and I know other editors who’ve managed to work in publishing and simultaneously write their own books.) I’m just saying, that’s how it was for me. I felt creatively sapped by the end of every day and beginning of the next.
Then, lo and behold, not five weeks after leaving my job, I had an idea. A good idea. A funny idea. I told a few people about it and they laughed (with me, not at me). And then I told the woman who became my agent, and she liked it, and said I should write a proposal. So I finished the freelance edit I was working on, then set aside a couple days for my own proposal. (See: “I say who, I say when…”) Less than a month after that, I had a book deal, and one more month later I’m almost finished writing the damn thing.
It was an insane deadline to beat insane deadlines, but I worked it out — in part because I’m not wasting time in meetings, and I’m getting enough sleep, and those pants aren’t cutting off circulation to my brain anymore.
You might think I’m tooting my horn, and that’s okay, because I am. I’m proud of myself!
But I’m also putting this out there for the thousands of people who read my essay about quitting and took the time to thoughtfully respond with their well-wishes, and their own stories, and their hopes that some day they, too, could quit a job that wasn’t making them happy, in pursuit of a better life — freelance or otherwise.
If I could do it, so can you.
My book is coming out in December from Little, Brown & Company. It’s a parody of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo, a bestselling Japanese book about decluttering and organizing — perhaps you’ve heard of it?
It’s pretty much exactly what it sounds like.
For me, getting this book published is a manifestation of the entire philosophy it espouses (a profane and deliberately irreverent manifestation, but still). I took myself out of the rat race, turned my back on meetings and commuting and corporate bullshit, and figured out how to succeed on my own terms.
And like I said, you can, too!
I know a book that might help…