Today, August 24, is a special day. It's an anniversary of sorts. It was on this day in 2002 that I walked away a free man. Yep, two years ago I left the prison that was...my career. I was a retail manager for a drug chain in Chicago, and I spent 11 years at it, 20 if you count the time I spent working for this company part-time while I was in high school and college. I was good at it, but it drove me nuts. I worked in a lot of wacky neighborhoods, chock full of wacky people. It's a shame that I didn't have this journal then, because I surely would have entertained the masses with the things I saw and heard there.
Before I continue, I'd like to introduce you to my partner for the rest of this entry, the "disembodied voice of reason." Say hi to the folks, DVoR.
Hey, how's everyone today? How does this red look on me?
OK, so it has been two years since I've had a job...
Wait a tic, two YEARS? You haven't worked in two years? You're 37! That means you were 35 when you quit, and you haven't worked since? Obviously, you're not married...or is the job market that bad?
No, I'm not married, not yet, that's next April, and I have no idea how the job market is, aside from what others tell me. I was lucky enough to own a nice piece of real estate that was very much in demand, so when I decided to quit my job, I sold it. I've been living off that since then. But I always knew than this was a sabatical, not a retirement, and that I would have to go back to work someday.
OK, so if I have this right, you left a secure job in this economy, sold your house and moved into an apartment (would we call that "trading down"?). What have you done since then?
Ah, but the question should be "what haven't you done?" But let me answer your first question, the one about trading down. I lived in a great house, but it was small, and old, and it was going to cost me a lot of money to continue to live there. I would have had to replace the plumbing for starters, and did I mention having to put in a new furnace for the last three months that I lived there? I'm still a little sensitive about that one. As much as I loved that house, it wasn't worth as much as the property was. It hurt to see it torn down, but it was the right thing for me to do.
But let me ask you something, DVoR, have you ever been tired of being the voice of reason? Felt like you've accomplished everything you can in your field? Dreaded the prospect of another day reasoning with people?
Those are all emotions that I am incapable of feeling.
Lucky you. I felt all those things, along with knowing that I had gone as far as I would with my company. The writing was on the wall. I was burned out.
Is that all?
Mostly, except that my father had recently died, and I was incredibly sad. I used to think that his death had nothing to do with my decision to leave my job, that instead I was "seizing the day," but as I look back, I realize that losing my father was probably the number one thing that caused me to quit. My life just wasn't the same anymore, and I wanted it to change.
OK, I asked a while ago what you have been doing since then, what this "sabatical" has been about.
Yeah, sorry, I got a little long winded there. First, I just wanted to recharge my batteries, get away from the daily grind and decide what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. And the best way for me to do that was to travel, so I got into my car and drove. And drove. And drove. In the last two years I've put over 35,000 miles on my car.
What do you drive? A Sherman tank?
A 1998 Ford Escort. I love that car. It's given me no trouble at all. Anyway, I've been all over the US. My first jaunt was to New England in the fall of 2002, my last was a baseball road trip to Pittsburgh and Cincinnati this past July. I've been north, south, east and west. I've been to 42 states in 24 months. I've been to most of the major cities in this country. And did most of it by myself. All I need is the open road, some music and a map, and I'm set.
Any speeding tickets?
Yeah, a few, but I expected that. I'm happier to report no major breakdowns or accidents.
What was the best drive?
Hard to say. Nothing beats driving through the Rocky Mountains, and I love the diversity in this country, from mountains to plains to sea, but I have to say my favorite drive was my first, to New England. I'll never forget the sight of western New York state, with the leaves changing colors on the trees along the hills, looking like a kid ate a whole jar of gum drops and then threw up. I can't say I've been anywhere that I didn't like.
You haven't spent every moment of the last two years on the road, so what have you done while you were in Chicago?
Read mostly, and worked on my writing. And spending time with Kristen, my fiance. We met in April 2003.
Aha! So you met the woman that you are going to marry AFTER you quit your job with no other job lined up! Surely you regret doing that. And doesn't she think it's a little strange that you haven't worked a single day in your relationship?
Of course she does, but she knows what the future is going to be like, and it ain't going to be like this. And there is no way I would have met her if I was still working in retail. I would not have taken the chance that resulted in our meeting. I'd still be by myself if I hadn't quit that job.
Look, I've got other people to counsel here, and frankly I don't see where all this is going. Can we wrap this thing up?
Sure. I guess all of this is leading up to this proclamation:
'Tis time I got a job!
I want to be a writer, but I have found that it is an incredibly hard field to break through in. So that means that I will have to do something else for a while until I get in. Retail is out, unless I decide to work in a bookstore, but there is no way I am going to be a retail manager ever again. That part of my life is over. I have also come to realize that I am not a businessman. I don't have a knack for financials, stocks or numbers. I will not be sitting in an executive suite anytime soon. That leaves me limited to things like teaching or writing. Who knows? I have given only a token effort to a career search up until now. But I want to go back to work and find what it is I will be doing for the rest of my life.
I think that while you might be happy with your life now, in ten years or so you are going to wish that you kept working and saved your money from selling your house. Families are expensive.
You don't understand. Without this break, there is no way that I would be undertaking the step of getting married and eventually starting a family. I wasn't that type of person before all of this. I had to change my life to be able to do this. I am incredibly lucky to have had this opportunity, because if I hadn't, I would have kicked myself a few years later knowing that I had the chance to do it and didn't.
I still don't get.
And you never will, my DVoR friend, because you aren't me. I knew that I had to do this, and so I did. I had no idea what things would be like in two years, and I feel incredibly blessed and lucky to be in the situation that I am in today, with a fiance excited to start a brand new life with me, and the support of my family and friends. But if at this point I found myself alone and with no idea what I wanted to do, it still would have been better than what I was doing before, because I was settling, settling for a life that was not me, that was not supposed to be.
In my mind, money and the things it brings are overrated. Being happy with who you are and what you have achieved are not.
And I have absolutely no regrets!