Today was my first day of voluntary unemployment, and after a weekend in which I celebrated another 30-something birthday and had another mini-meltdown about this Big Life Decision of mine, I have to say overall it feels pretty good.
Don’t get me wrong — it definitely felt strange to wake up on a Monday morning and have no career obligations. Sure, I’ve been on vacation before and had days off, but it was a very different feeling to wake up knowing that not only was the whole day or the whole week mine, but so is every day as far as I can see into the future.
I felt a significant amount of anxiety about this leading up to today. Friday, my last day at work, felt really weird, especially when I had to open a new retirement account as I sorted out transferring my 401K funds and the customer service agent asked me what I do for a living. At that point, late in the day of my last day at work, the most accurate answer would have been “nothing,” but I told him I was a self-employed writer.
It wasn’t entirely a lie, but as I have yet to find any paid freelance work, it is a bit of a stretch to say that. Then again, I like to think that if you tell people what you are before you actually are that thing, you have a better chance of becoming what you want to be.
Saturday was spent preparing for and hosting my birthday party, so the full emotional brunt of my situation didn’t hit me until yesterday, when I admit I started regretting the whole thing and wondering what the hell I’d done. The idea of not having a label occupation-wise — of being “nothing” — really hit home, and I started to panic.
I knew it was probably post-birthday blues getting me down, combined with a bit of a Mojito hangover, but it didn’t make the anxiety I felt about the situation any less acute.
This morning, something shifted. I woke up a little anxious at the thought of not having to show up for work as I usually do. But then I rolled out of bed to greet the first sunshine New York City had seen in nearly a week, planned my day and started to feel significantly better — even optimistic.
What cheered me was this: I realized that I get to do something most people wish they could do — indulge only my intellectual, creative, experiential and physical pursuits for the next two months.
I get to travel to places I love and places I’ve never been. I get to surf. I get to read books I’ve wanted to read but never had the time for. I get to think about things I want to write about and actually write about them. I get to dream up articles I want to sell and then try to sell them. I get to figure out what I want to accomplish next professionally and worry not about what I do for a living, but who I am as a person in the world and who I want to be.
In short, I get to not only dream of all the things I could do if I had all the time in the world to do exactly what I wanted, but actually get to realize that dream.
Nice work if you can get it, right?
I also got a piece of good news just in time for my birthday on Saturday — I received my certificate of Italian citizenship. This means I’m now eligible for an Italian passport and can work legally in Europe, which opens up a whole other realm of possibilities for employment not just in the U.S., but overseas as well.
So rather than think about this endless stretch of days and nights without employment ahead of me with anxiety, I now think of it as an incredible opportunity.
Of course, I don’t want to idle too long before I start making money again. Right now, I have no source of income except savings. If it wasn’t for money, I would be 100 percent happy about the next couple of months and the opportunity to do whatever I feel like doing. (Then again, if it wasn’t for money, many of us would probably do whatever we feel like doing all the time rather than whatever we do for a living!)
But for now I’m giving myself a break. Two months is not a very long time in the grand scheme of one’s life, and I know that someday I will again be a productive member of society. I am trying to tap into my Buddhist beliefs and stay as present and in the moment as possible. I am trying to keep in mind that nothing is permanent, which means I should not worry about what I will do to make money before or at the end of these two months.
The only thing that matters right now is that I am OK, all is right in my world and I have more than I will ever need. And the only thing I need to be right now needs no label other than “human being.”
What a blessed and beautiful thing that is.