Reflections on Leaving Work

It’s been three weeks since my last day of work, and I’m finally feeling ready to reflect on the process of walking away from my career and my first glimpse of life without a full-time job. On one hand, it’s hard to believe that three weeks – the equivalent of the longest vacation I’ve ever taken – have flown by so quickly. On the other hand, the job I left behind feels like a distant memory. I’m still getting a feel for this new lifestyle, but I already know one thing for sure: quitting was one of the best things I’ve ever done.

I gave nearly a month’s notice when I resigned in early January. It was a unique month. When coworkers found out I was leaving, the dynamic changed, mostly for the better. Several of my colleagues called immediately to find out what I was up to and to which company I was heading next, then seemed relieved when I shared that I had no job lined up, just a long period of travel and adventure. Knowing that I had one foot out the door, many of them opened up to me in ways they never had before – sharing frustrations with work, a bit of envy for our travel plans, and (in a few cases) their own desires to move on with their careers.

Saying goodbye was emotional. Over drinks and dinner, some of my closer work friends shared stories of good times and bad, and we laughed about everything from great successes to difficult clients and bad hiring decisions. Nostalgia levels were high.

On the way out, it’s easy to remember only the good things. Shortly before my departure, the company published a press release about a major new partnership I had spent the past two years negotiating. On my last Monday, I led the operational kickoff meeting with our new partner, and I was genuinely sad to be leaving them behind, unable to see the project through.

Of course, the unenjoyable parts hadn’t gone away. Over the course of my final month, I had the pleasure of handing them over to colleagues one by one: the challenging clients, the deals still in negotiation, the endless slide decks, the grunt work… all removed from my to-do list until I had almost nothing on my calendar for my last few days with the company.

I had no idea what to expect of these first few weeks of voluntary unemployment. Some people report depression, boredom, and feelings of isolation; others wake up on Day 1 with a whole new positive outlook on life. Thankfully, my experience has been largely the latter.

Rather than hit the road immediately, we’ve intentionally kept our travel plans to a minimum in February and March – but job-free life has been far from boring. In fact, we’ve been more socially active than ever: visiting with friends and family, cooking, brewery-hopping, skiing in the middle of the week, and preparing for our upcoming North American road trip.

I've had worse Tuesdays

I’ve had worse Tuesdays

Here are five observations from our first three weeks without full-time work:

1. I have felt truly stress-free for the first time in years. After just a couple days, I realized that I have been living with a baseline level of work-related stress – and that I haven’t even been conscious of it. The endless checking of e-mails, the constant threat of late night and weekend phone calls, and the pressure of an intense work environment have weighed on me constantly, and removing them from my life has been freeing. We’ve been plenty busy, but there has been zero external pressure about exactly what we should be doing with our time. With weekdays open, I’ve felt no urgency about trying to cram social activities into Saturday and Sunday. I’ve felt calm in a way I haven’t in a long time.

One of my good friends once told me that he never planned on taking time off between jobs during his career because having a current employer provided a stronger position for negotiating. Better, he said, to take advantage of vacation time while working rather than enjoy periods of unemployment between jobs. While I was skeptical of that philosophy at the time, I’m now convinced that it’s absolutely not the right approach for me. Being voluntarily job-free is a unique feeling – completely different from even a long vacation. Even if I were planning to go back to full-time work in the next few months, this would have been the right decision.

2. I’ve been sleeping much more than usual. We’re talking 8 to 12 hours a night for weeks now, and it is AWESOME. This may be the single greatest part of the job-free life. I’ve woken to an alarm clock only a few times (including once for weekday skiing, for which I’ll happily rise). I’ve also felt no pressure to conform to a regular schedule. If I’m tired at 8 PM, I go to bed. If I want to sleep until 10 AM, I do. What a dream!

3. I feel deep gratitude. I don’t know exactly how to describe this besides to say that I’ve been feeling profound gratitude and thankfulness for everything in my life these past few weeks. The heightened awareness of small joys that began when I handed in my resignation has not yet subsided. Perhaps plentiful sleep, the lack of time pressure, and the absence of work stress have combined to allow me to better appreciate everything around me. I ended up mostly ignoring the internet for a few weeks, too, which has helped me focus more on people and experiences rather than the daily fluctuations of the market or the latest presidential candidate gaffe.

4. I haven’t missed work. Not once. I realize I’m still in the honeymoon phase of job-free life, but it’s still come as a bit of a surprise that I’ve hardly even thought about all the projects and clients I left behind. They were a major part of my life for years – so much that I would often dream about them and wake up in the middle of the night with new ideas and questions. Just like that, they’re gone. I’m sad that I already feel myself falling out of touch with some of my closer work friends, but overall, I don’t miss it at all.

5. I haven’t worried about the money. For years, I’ve been guilty of watching my portfolio balance just about daily. I’ve never made rash decisions or transactions, but big market dips in the past have certainly created some stress. With no regular paycheck starting this month, I thought I might become even more aware and sensitive to the daily fluctuations of the market. My actual experience has been the exact opposite. Even with January and February’s major volatility, I’ve hardly paid attention. The market drops 3% one day, then 3% again the next… and it doesn’t matter. Now that we’re living it, my confidence level that we’ll make this work financially is through the roof.

***

We’re still very early in our work-free life, but so far, it couldn’t be better. Next up on the blog, I’ll share our initial travel plans for this spring. Warm weather, here we come!

26 Comments

  1. If this is what fire does to a person, then I know for sure I want it also. And rather soon than late.
    Enjoy!

  2. Sounds amazing! I can’t wait to reach that point some time in the future. I hope you continue to share the quirks and joys of a job-free life.

    • I’ll do my best to be as transparent as I can about the whole thing, positive and negative! Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  3. Congrats on you first few successful weeks of retirement! I am excited to read your updates. This is a part of the FIRE process that I think isn’t given enough attention.

    • Thanks, Toozesty. I agree; there isn’t as much content about this part of the journey. Many of my favorite bloggers have disappeared at this stage. I’ll do my best to not be one of them.

  4. Okay – now I think I need to “unfriend” the blog. Just kidding. Good gravy ER sounds amazing! We’ll get there, someday… right? I’m super excited for you! I would love to do all those things. And I think you really hit the nail on the head with the feeling of choosing to be unemployed can’t be beat. I can only imagine how it feels to rise above the crowd and know that you put yourself there. Congrats, man! Can’t wait to hear all about the upcoming adventures!

    • Don’t leave us, Maggie! 😉 Thanks for the comment. I imagine there will be plenty of challenges, but these first few weeks have been a great relief.

  5. Thank you for the inspiration! When I ask my friends their opinion of early retirement, most of their response is “I can’t retire! I will be so bored!”. Besides the money part, afraid of being bored is one of the concerns I have towards early retirement. Please continue sharing your thoughts on this journey. I hope my worries are imaginary and your experience is the proof. Enjoy your upcoming adventures!

    • That’s just crazy to me. Sure, I might get bored sitting around the house all day, but there’s a whole world out there to explore! Thanks for your comment!

  6. This is incredible! I think my favorite parts at the heightened awareness of gratitude and the sleep factor. It’s amazing when you get to that baseline of stress – that you are unsure of what is even above that level (because there’s just no way to escape it, even with vacations). I am so happy to hear you’re enjoying early retirement!

    • Thanks, Alyssa. It’s a really great feeling to be rid of that stress — and probably a sign that I should have left that job regardless of our future plans.

  7. :::tamping down major pangs of envy::: 🙂 I’m so glad to hear that ER is everything you’d hoped, so far. I know that leaving our careers will have that bittersweet piece, too, but it sure seems like you’re getting past it no problem! And that weekday skiing… so jealous. 🙂 We live 20 minutes from the slopes, but right now we still have to ski the weekends with the tourists… can’t wait til that’s different! Keep enjoying those looooooong nights of sleep, and send some of your excess sleep our way — we need it!

    • Yeah, living “off peak” has been one of the nicest perks. In addition to the empty ski slopes, we just spent a week visiting one of my friends in South Carolina, and it was just us and a few retirees at each of the attractions we visited. Pretty great!

  8. Wow. This post is giving me some serious motivation to keep going on quickly eliminating my debt and moving towards financial independence. Congratulations on creating a beautiful life for yourself!

  9. I love your photo caption–too funny. Congratulations! We’re so excited for you and look forward to hearing more about how awesome it is to be free. I’m especially looking forward to many weeks of catching up on sleep. 🙂

    • Haha, it’s a nice feeling! I think I’ve asked “what day is it?” more in the past six weeks than I had in my entire life previously.

  10. Congrats on your first three weeks. This does indeed sound amazing.

  11. I was unemployed in June of 2015, not by my own choice. I experienced a lot of the same things and it keeps me motivated to save towards financial independence. In getting my new job I stayed in the same field but a different area / department and it could be the company or the great group and managers, but it feels like this job is the right fit for now, while I am saving. 🙂
    Keep letting us know how great it is!

    • That’s great to hear, Jacq, and you make an interesting point about being able to enjoy some of these feelings even with just a sabbatical.

  12. Congrats! Sounds awesome! Interested to see how you change because of it over time.

  13. Great to hear that things are going so well, Matt. I still have three weeks to go at MegaCorp, but that includes a one week spring break in Florida in the middle of it all. I’ve been going into the office late, skipping meetings, and otherwise taking it easy. I’m starting to feel some of the emotions you are into, but much more of the adjustment is yet to come. Thanks for sharing your journey –

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