Despite planning for early retirement for years and knowing the simple math behind it, when I first quit my job on January 6th of 2021, my emotions were all over the place. I was torn between excitement for the possibilities early retirement would hold and anxiety about what could go wrong. At the time (and for years leading up to that decision), I wasn’t sure it was possible and at times felt like it would be impossible to ever leave work for good. Or if I did, it would be, unfortunately, very temporary. The market would turn just after I quit. I’d have left a good thing behind, unable to get a new job if I needed to. I would look back with regret having left a company that treated me well (even if it was unfulfilling and boring). If only I had worked a few more years to make sure I had a bigger safety net.
It’s been almost 6 months since I left my job back in January, and it’s almost surreal that I haven’t worked in that much time (for pay). We were (and still are) fighting through the pandemic, so it wasn’t like I booked a round trip flight somewhere and have been traveling the world. I also have a 2 year old daughter at home that I am now the primary caregiver for. She’s the biggest reason for pulling the trigger on quitting when I did.
A few things surprised me early on. First was how much of my social life came from time in the office or just having a company or team you worked on. Yes, I was lucky enough to be working from home through the pandemic, but you still have that connection to a group and purpose everyday, even if you’re not seeing them in person. This isn’t true at every company, but I genuinely liked the people I worked with and it was a bit of an adjustment to lose that. I have been making the effort to stay in touch with those few people I considered good friends and lucky enough to have now seen them in person a few times since we all have been vaccinated.
The other thing that surprised me was this sense of needing to stay busy. We’ve been programmed our whole lives to be good students and good employees. Show up early, keep your head down and get your work done, stay late. These things make sense if you want to succeed in the traditional sense of getting good grades and getting and keeping a good job. However, for someone without full-time employment, it’s dysfunctional. I was feeling some stress and anxiety at the end of the day because I hadn’t done anything traditionally “productive”. I picked up a few side projects (this blog included) because I felt I needed to be more busy. But eventually it settled in that frankly, it doesn’t matter. I don’t NEED to write a blog post every two weeks. I should write because I enjoy it, and that’s it.
Now, this doesn’t mean sitting around on the couch every day and playing videogames. I’ve been almost as busy as I was when working full-time. I’ve been reading and writing more, exercising more, doing home projects that had gone unfinished for a while, and when I want to…playing videogames on the couch. The point is, I don’t feel obligated to stay busy or do something traditionally “productive”, but rather do things I enjoy because that’s all that matters.
The biggest thing I noticed though, and really what prompted me to want to write a “6 month check-in” is how quickly all of the fears of uncertainty dissipated after leaving my job. The world didn’t end because I left a comfortable job to be a stay-at-home Dad. Even if the market turns and I’m forced to get back into the job market tomorrow, the last 6 months have been absolutely priceless. Getting to wake my daughter up every day, eat breakfast with her, walk her to the park, and watch her grow up, learn new words, see her personality blossom, play “T-Rex”, ride bikes, find ant holes, I am so grateful that I’ve had this opportunity and I’m proud of myself for not letting fear or uncertainty hold me back from what has been and likely will be one of the greatest decisions I ever made in my life.
My takeaway is this (as cliché as it is): just go for it. You’ll very quickly realize on the other side that your worst case scenario was ridiculous and highly unlikely, and even if it did happen, you’ll survive. And I’m pretty sure you’ll be glad you at least tried. So today, I’m expressing gratitude for the last 6 months and looking forward to the future.