Day One

View from my new office
The view from my new office.

No one knows how they got to the top of the hill.
Since we’re only here for a while, might as well show some style.
Isn’t it a lovely ride? Sliding down. Gliding down.
Try not to try too hard, it’s just a lovely ride.

—James Taylor, Secret ‘O Life

At 55 and at the pinnacle of career success, I realized I needed out not up, less not more. I couldn’t do it one more day. So I did it for six more months, setting myself up financially to exit my job as vice president of marketing at a college.

I used to tell my team members to “trust your gut” but I had been ignoring mine a very long time. The turning point? The morning I sobbed the entire way to work…and could not stop.

It seems to me there are two very different kinds of work challenges. One kind requires you to grow and expand who you are…the other to diminish or reduce yourself. Tackling them may initially feel the same, calling upon the same ingenuity and discipline, intelligence or grit, but they are not the same.

Here’s a clue: Are you invigorated by the energy invested…or depleted? My big job with its big salary and big title had started to require me to become smaller. Over time it caused me to mute my voice. Avoid conflict at whatever cost.

There was a cost. I finally listened to my gut that morning when the floodgates opened. Get out.

I missed my kids too. I missed chunks of their days. Everything was compartmentalized, squeezed into Outlook calendar entries. Each week was a different carpool arrangement, finding moms or dads to pick up and drop off. I came home late, too tired to cook, resentful of the scarcity of time and energy. My daughter was struggling through Middle School social issues and problems I had missed. Teens don’t just tell you what’s going on in their hearts on your timetable. Your antenna needs to be tuned in to the nuanced signals they send. My antenna had collapsed.

Nothing felt like a lovely ride.

So I have bought myself time. The funds may only last for a couple of years. But I hope what I gain will stay with me my whole life. I escaped from something that over time caused me damage. Now I will take the time to figure out why…and what really matters…what makes my soul expand.

I have these two great kids, a very good man as my husband and partner…and wonderful family and friends supporting me…on my great escape.

What would you do if you just had the luxury of more free, truly free time?

7 thoughts on “Day One”

  1. Thank you, Lucy for sharing your struggle and then a decision that took courage, but that is life-giving and life-expanding for you. I think your post raises a couple of crucial questions — a) does my work, career, life expand me as a human being, or does it diminish me and shrink who I really am, and b) what price am I willing to pay for career success? Is it worth shrinking yourself, losing yourself, losing your marriage, losing a relationship with your children? Sometimes people may not have a lot of choice financially and in a tough economy, but I think asking the question can help even those stuck in one of those jobs to find other ways to enliven and expand what really matters to them. I read a book once by a man who had worked in Hospice for many years. He said that no one ever wished they had spent more time at work than they did! Good for you for going with what matters most to you!

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  2. Life brings us to places that are difficult requiring us to stretch ourselves beyond the point we think we can. There are few things that I admire more than men or women who show up. Who do what needs to be done. You did that and did it well. Now life brought you to a point were you needed to show up in a different place so you can see at the right moment wether there is a smile or a frown on your teenagers face. So you can breathe and grow and live for those who matter most. Congratulations for having the courage and wisdom to do it. I am happy you have the ability to make that choice. I am proud that you did.

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  3. Hi Lucy, good move you made and certainly necessary from what you wrote.

    You asked for “advise” or what we as your readers would do with a year off.

    I started my own little downshifting journey two years ago, a bit different setting than you, but anyway, here are my observations / experiences since then:

    – Learning how to slow down takes time and will not happen quickly as you are no more used to live slow. In first months you will be tempted to “max-out” your free-time. Later that will change.
    – Travelling and all can be great, you have a good time plus you have time to think, but ONLY IF you manage to travel slowly and with little planning (no outlook style itinery). If you continue the habit of pressing as much as possible into your travel or into your year off, nothing will be won.
    – For me, the real steps came after the travelling when simply spending time in my home town without working and later in the job again. Feeling good while seeing other countries is easy, but learning to feel happy just at home, in day-to-day routine, staying calm and slow while your surounding tries to push you to pick up speed again – THAT was the difficult part for me.
    – Take the year to (really!) understand that you are not dependent on this job and that material needs are good fun but not important. Build up friendships and relationships and interests (and a backup plan) that will carry you when back in the job.
    – Spend a lot of time with your kids.
    – But also learn to be able to spend time without other people and their recognition, e.g. by spending a lot of time alone. See what comes up in that time and deal with it without running away. Over time this will reconnect you to your true self and open a source of great insight and happiness inside you.
    – Understand the mechanics driving our world of work, money and status. It will enable you to better understand what is happening to you and others when you come back to the workplace. You will then hopefully be able to resist being lured into the treadmill again.
    – Give something to others (like this blog). Expand your thinking beyond the selfish circle.
    – If you feel courageous, give religion or spiritualism a try. You don’t have to become a guru, but interesting experience. 🙂

    Thats it from my side.
    Cheers, Woodpecker
    http://www.gooddaytolive.net

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    1. Thank you mr woodpecker. Great advice. I’m finding what you say to be true. I love the notion of discovering my own town and slowing down, enjoying my own company.

      Thanks for visiting and commenting. I will take your words to heart. Travel well fellow sojourner. Lucy

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