A Story About Paying Off Debt and the Obstacles Along the Way

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I Quit. I'm Taking A Career Break.


A little over a month ago, I wrote about my overwhelming situation at work and the crippling anxiety I was experiencing as a result. I was just six weeks into my new editing job, and it was already a disaster. I was a disaster. At night, I was plagued with insomnia; during the day, I was battling panic attacks and fighting to focus on the words on the page - problematic, since the job required rapid, quality editing of multiple manuscripts on a daily basis. I was cranky and irritable. My family tiptoed around me like I was a human minefield.

Although I’ve grappled with anxiety for most of my life (and particularly with work anxiety over the past five years - you can read alllll about that here, here, and here), this time it felt different. It felt damaging and dangerous and wrong. A lot of you got that impression, too, and in your comments on my post, you suggested I walk away.

But I forced myself to hang in there a little while longer, first because I wanted to save as much FU money as possible (update: you can read about the financial side of my career break here), and second because I needed to make sure that the problem wasn't simply my lack of confidence. 

So for a few weeks, I gave it my all. I talked to my manager and received an extended training schedule. I flipped open my laptop early every morning and resolutely made my way through each manuscript. I worked as long as it took to get the job done. I met my quotas. Outside of my job, I started seeing a therapist. Talking about my anxiety helped me get my sleep schedule back on track.

But every week, the quota increased, and every week, I raced to work fast enough to keep up. One week the training team told me my edits shouldn't take more than 26 hours; it took me at least 45, and I accomplished that feat only by tearing through my assignments with the precision and delicacy of a tank. Working on the weekends became a necessity (I wasn't alone - many of my colleagues did the same).

I felt like I was hanging on by my fingernails.

I cried daily.

Last Monday, I opened up a manuscript in Word, read the first line, and found that I was staring into a jumble of letters. I read it again. I read it three more times. It still made no sense, so I moved on - only to find that the following words, sentences, and paragraphs were also gibberish. The next few papers produced similar results.

It dawned on me that my brain was done.

I Did Everything I Could To Make It Work


The truth is, I liked several aspects of the job. I liked working from home, I liked reading papers about research in my field of study, and I liked editing. I liked seeing how a light application of minor tweaks could make a paper sparkle with clarity. I liked honing my editing skills. I thought I had potential - and so did my manager.

"You've got the best edits on the team right now," she said at one point. "You're a natural."

I was slow, but since it appeared that I was doing well, I thought the job might be worth fighting for. I looked for solutions.

Borrowing inspiration from The Fioneers and Tread Lightly, Retire Early, I mustered up my courage and asked if I could transition to a part-time schedule so that I wouldn't feel so rushed and stressed. It was something that the employee handbook listed as an option. I'd crunched the numbers; the budget would be tight, but we could make it work.

I figured it was a win-win: I'd be able to proceed at a slower pace, continue to bring in a paycheck, and improve my editing skills, and they'd get a return on their training investment. Plus, they wouldn't have to cover my health insurance.

Instead of entertaining the possibility of a compromise, my boss came back with an unexpected ultimatum: get with the program and meet the quota requirements for a full-time editor, or leave. "Maybe this isn’t the right fit for you," she said (days after telling me how well I was doing). "Not everyone can edit at the pace we require. If you want to leave, we will support that. But part-time work isn't an option because your efficiency isn't there."

And with that, I was done. I'm not a word-crunching robot, and I never will be. I want a reasonable job that utilizes my skills and experience and generally makes me feel good about what I'm contributing to my organization. I want a job that energizes me rather than depletes me. I want a job with an employer who is willing to work with me and help me be the best I can be. I want a job that doesn't make me feel like I'm as disposable as a piece of trash.*

I sent in my letter of resignation the next day. I let them know I was quitting immediately.


Have I done my best? Yes. Have I given it time? Yes. Is it super disappointing? Yes. Am I scared? God, yes. Even though quitting was the best option of the options available, it's accurate to say that I was terrified to make this call and make this leap.

But I'm also concerned about my own health. Even though most people in my everyday life can't tell, I know that I've reached a breaking point. You can't hear the sirens going off in my brain, but I can. So it's time to press pause.

I Have Nothing Lined Up. At All.


Several people have asked if I have something else lined up. I do not.

Contract work?

Nope.

Freelancing?

Not yet.

...Anything?

No. Nothing.

Instead, I'm taking a career break for the next several months.

Going into this job, I was already burnt out. Ever so diligently, I'd been following that well-worn advice to never leave one gig without something new in the hopper. When I quit my part-time retail job, I had an advising job lined up. When I quit advising, I had a teaching job lined up. And when I quit teaching, I had the editing job lined up.

Perhaps I was being responsible, but the problem was, this approach didn’t give me any time to reflect on my experiences or recover my energy. So when the workload piled on at this latest endeavor, I didn’t have the wherewithal to cope. I buckled, and quickly.

Jumping Off The Hamster Wheel


I have to remind myself that this isn’t the first time that I’ve jumped off the 9-to-5 hamster wheel. I've done it before, and it's worked out.

When I was 25, just after I'd finished my Master's degree with a sociopathic advisor, I decided to walk away from it all - quite literally. I went to Europe and spent two months hiking in the Alps and crewing on a sailboat. When I came home, I got a job at Starbucks and devoted the next six months to slamming out peppermint mochas and caramel macchiatos (while listening to clueless customers tell me to go back to school, get a degree, and find a real job). In my free time, I wrote. I smelled like sour milk, but I was pretty happy.

Hiking in Italy
A few years ago, I gave notice at my dysfunctional academic job, and we bought an RV. We sold most of our stuff and slowly made our way out west. At the time, Fortysomething was a contractor, and I was picking up some online classes every now and then. Mostly, I ran, parented, cooked food in our tiny RV kitchen, and explored. We didn’t have much money, but I wasn’t particularly worried. I felt free and optimistic, and daily life was simple. When we finally landed in our small town, I got a job at REI. Once again, I was completely and totally fine with the situation.

Living the big-sky RV life
We're in a much better financial position than we were back then. I'm really glad we've gotten our spending and budget under control, and I don't want to slide back into debt. We've worked too hard to let that happen.

But money isn't everything. I also want to get back to feeling more like myself. 

The fact is, I'm not sure that full-time employment is for me. I'm not sure it was ever for me. Between my mental health constraints, my desire to do what I want to do, my hatred for unnecessary meetings, my disdain for pointless tasks, and my resentment of micromanagement, perhaps I'm not a good fit for corporate culture. I did it because I thought it was something I had to do. I did it because I was told that I was above making coffee and selling Goretex... and I believed that, because our culture has brainwashed us into thinking that some jobs are more dignified than others.

But I don't have to do it that way. I won't do it that way. There has to be room for those of us whose brains aren't built to deal with the seemingly ubiquitous dysfunction, who can't think properly in a cubicle, and who won't drink the corporate Koolaid.

Now comes the task of decompressing and figuring out what's next.

For the next couple of months, I won't be looking for work. Instead, I'll tinker with the blog, get back into running shape, visit family, spend time with Fortysomething and the Kiddo, read, hang out with friends, and maybe volunteer. I'd like to set up a regular writing schedule for myself. I'd like to re-learn calculus.

In mid-summer, I'll start job hunting. I can tell you this right now, though: I won't be seeking full-time employment unless an absolutely perfect position hits me in the face. I'll be seeking freelance, contract, and part-time positions so that I can have more balance in my life. And I'm going to be very, very picky.

Just Stop


On that trip to Europe when I was 25, my hiking guide offered the following advice:

If you don't know where you are, stop walking. You will want to move because when you move, you feel like you're taking action. You feel like you're making progress. In reality, you're probably getting more lost. Fight the urge to keep going, and sit down. Wait. Look at your map, orient yourself, rest, and trust. You will either figure out where you are, or someone will find you. 

I never got lost in the wilderness, but feel like I've gotten lost in my everyday life. Each career move has been an effort to find my way back to the right path. Instead, I've become increasingly disoriented - not just with my career, but with who I am. So now I'm going to stop right here. It’s impossible to know if I will figure it out myself or if the right situation will find me, but regardless, I have to trust that it will work out.

As for how this will work financially, stay tuned. I'll be sharing our budget along the way. One thing's for sure: from a financial standpoint, this decision is a bit risky. But is it worth it? Absolutely, because mental health is priceless.

*If I sound bitter and angry, it's because... I am. I'll get past it, but a little anger is a perfectly healthy thing.
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57 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  2. Sometimes we just need to leave for our own sanity. I have walked out on two jobs like this and as stressful as it first was, it was the best decision for my wellbeing. Rest up, get a bit stronger and you'll find better work, freelancing by setting up your own business online might be a good way to go, that way you get manage the workload.

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    1. Thanks, Jan! <3 Yes, I am definitely leaning in the direction of freelancing. I've done it before, and while it comes with its own set of stressors, the freedom to choose what I want to focus on is nice.

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  3. The guide's words are powerful!

    I'm glad you made the decision to leave. I'm absolutely confident that you have the tools to make your life suit you better than a 9-to-5 job does.

    I found a lot of good in having a few months break from work. I pickedpa little and am a lot happier now.

    You'll figure it out. Like your guide said, best to stay still for a while and get your bearings.

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    1. Thanks so much, Eelis. I appreciate that encouragement and validation.

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    2. Meant to say pivoted. Autocorrect.

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  4. Congratulations! From all the way over here it looks like you've made the best choice. There is no reason to work at a soul crushing job that leaves nothing of yourself for yourself or your family. Let the healing commence!

    Calculus that's an interesting subject to get back into.

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    1. Hahahaha! I was a math minor and absolutely loved it. Math is like poetry.

      Thank you for the kind words!

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  5. I had two babies at home, and a wife not working. I walked right into my job and quit, with no backup plan. Like you, I was overstressed and had just had it. Unfortunately for me, due to finances I felt the need to get a regular salary coming back in. So I took the very next similar job, at a lower rate of pay. That was about 12 years ago and 3 jobs ago and I'm still in this type of work, but hoping to jump off again this summer finally. My point is, pursue your passion, but have a plan. If you don't, you will feel compelled to put yourself back in this situation again due to financial anxiety. Good luck. Use this free time wisely to come up with a plan of action, maybe take a week off to rest, but thats it, then get hustling to live your intentional life. Good luck.

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    1. Somehow, I don't think a week is going to cut it. :-) But I agree - the goal here is to avoid getting back into the same situation. The plan is to take two months off to rest, create, and strategize without pressure; at that point, I will hop back in in some form.

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    2. I tend to agree with this post. Not the 'take a week and put your big girl panties on and get back out there' part, but the goal part.
      Take the next few months off, but make sure you still have a goal for those months. Not a working goal, but a how to tackle each day or each week. If you wake up each morning with no goal, you'll end up in a worse place than now. Trust me, I did that. It was bad. But take the first week to do nothing. Relax. Do what you want to do and then plan your days or week. Even if it's only two tasks you need to complete each day. You still need something (non work related) to work towards.

      So glad you finally quit though *does a little happy dance for you*

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  6. "There has to be room for those of us whose brains aren't built to deal with the seemingly ubiquitous dysfunction, who can't think properly in a cubicle, and who won't drink the corporate Koolaid." Word! Corporate koolaid is a great way to put it. There is so much of that! As always, I'm cheering for you and wish you the best! Tonya@Budget and the Beach

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  7. It sounds as if you've been running on empty for a while.
    You've made the right decision to step back and refill your cup.

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    1. Exactly. I think I've been running on empty for YEARS. This was definitely the right choice, though certainly not an easy one. From a financial standpoint alone, walking away is scary.

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  8. So glad you made the right decision for your mental health. Like you already said on Twitter, you're going to be exhausted for a little while, but I hope you rebound quickly. I'm sure it'll be restorative to be around family and have exercise to focus on (once you have the energy for it).

    I think you made an excellent point about this misconception about the hierarchy of jobs. That some jobs have dignity and others somehow don't. Some jobs suck more than others (I'm looking at you, customer service) but any job has dignity, no matter what popular opinion says.

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    1. Honestly, if I could exercise/run/hike all day, every day, I'd do that. I love it.

      I feel better already - much less stressed out and tense.

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  9. Hi, I've been following your blog since I found you by accident some time ago when you first posted about this. Without fully knowing your background, have you thought about seeing what it would take to be a substitute or regular teacher at the elementary or middle school level (or summer school enrichment camps/classes?? You have writing/English talents and you may find a lot of personal satisfaction at an under-served school. There are a lot of schools not getting the resources they need and a talented teacher could really have an impact on the children. You might try to volunteer at a low-income school while you are off of work and see if that is of interest.

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    1. I'm not interested in teaching full time, but substituting is a great idea. I will likely look into that! Great idea. Thank you.

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  10. Yay!!! I am glad you quit! �� Definitely take the time (if you can afford it). I didn't after leaving my toxic job and I regret it constantly.
    It's okay to be bitter and angry. You have a right to feel that way. I am still a little bitter and angry about my toxic job and that was two years ago.
    You will make it and it will be om your terms. Good luck and let me know if you need anything!

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    1. Thank you so much, Ms. FOGO. I have had a series of bad jobs, but this was the one that really got under my skin. I'm sure I'm taking it too personally. I just can't believe how terribly these companies treat people. It boggles my mind.

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  11. Sometimes you have to do what is necessary for your own mental-and physical-health. I've been trying to make my own way for the last year and I still don't know how it will turn out (https://thefivejourneys.com/freedom-in-your-50s/). It is scary, but then again, I think it's scarier to continue to risk your own health/life by staying in a work environment that causes more stress and burnout. You'll figure it out (again); you've already proved your resiliency. Best of luck!

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    1. I agree. I started to really worry about my health. My career history has been spotty, but I have been blessed with good health, and I don't want to ruin that by wrecking my mental state.

      Thank you so much for your encouragement! You're an inspiration. All the best to you.

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  12. I love the plan, it sounds absolutely awesome and I fully agree you don't need to rush into the next thing. The only thing that made no sense to me was calculus!

    And on the running side - what are you going to be doing? Trails/roads? Racing / running for fun?

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    1. LOL. At one time, I was REALLY into math! It was just such a fun challenge for me. I'd love to get back into it.

      As for running, I'm building back up after taking the winter off. I'll likely stick to trails. I do have a race in mind later in the year, but I've been terrible about following through; if I run it, I'll be signing up at the last minute.

      You're wonderful. Thank you for being such a good friend.

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  13. There are no do overs in life so far as making time stop. It just keeps rolling along. I am in my late sixties and wonder what happened to that fearless little girl who used to give her sister fits by hanging upside down with one leg from the top of a big industrial grade swing set. Please take the time to feed your soul so you can always look in the mirror and be at peace. I have never had your emotional depth but I do know that we have to make our own happiness. May you be at peace no matter what you decide to do.

    Best wishes from Best Bun.

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    1. Thank you so much, Best Bun! Your comment means so much.

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  14. You have to do YOU and what is best for YOU. If you aren't running at optimal levels, you can't help your son or partner. I stepped down from a management position two years ago because it wasn't the right fit for me. This year we re-tried it and I am doing a lot better but still not quite there.

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    1. Umm, whatever blog spot. It's Athena :)

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    2. Sorry. Blogspot misbehaves a lot. LOL. Thank you for the kind words, Athena! <3 <3 <3

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  15. Such a beautiful post, friend. Stopping is hardly ever viewed as the right move, but when you're lost it's the best move you can make.

    And you know what's really nice when you're stopping for a while? A boardgame and a couple beers with friends. ;)

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  16. In my opinion your workplace failed you. Mental health is as much an illness as breaking a leg. A workplace would give someone time to recover from a broken leg. Your manager should have given you time to get medical help for mental illness in the same way. I am so sorry your workplace was not there for you. I think counselling is important to keep up as it will help you to decompress from the stress/anxiety you experienced. Perhaps finding work where you can dictate your own schedule would be best for your personality. Based on some of your words, I get the impression that structured/organized/performance driven environments are not your thing and you perform best in an environment where you are not regularly measured. I'd recommend a service like VipKid (teaching kids in other countries online), based on some of the background that you have shared.

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    1. LOL. You've hit the nail on the head: I do hate constant assessment/feedback. I need room to be creative and do my thing, and I think a good employer who trusts their employees will provide that kind of space.

      Thank you for your comment, your encouragement, and your ideas!

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  19. I spent 21 years at a job that crushed my spirit and soul. I know things look very scary now, but believe me, you did the right thing. Bravo, my friend.

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    1. Thank you! Things do feel a little scary right now. However, I can't imagine staying at that job, and after only a week, I already feel so much better. It was clearly the right decision. I just have to trust that it will work out.

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  20. I always say that these companies only are about what you can do for them. When they believe that you cannot meet their impossible demands, you're no longer valuable.

    CONGRATS on making that wonderful decision for YOU. I think it's going to be a wonderful time where you can just live.

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    1. Thank you so much, Dannielle. I have to admit that I'm taking this whole thing pretty personally. There's a part of me that just doesn't understand why they weren't willing to work with me. It hasn't totally sunk in that they care about the profits, not about their people.

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  21. The advice from the hiking guide nearly made me cry because I'm at my own personal cross roads. I really do need to sit, orient myself, rest, and wait. Thank you for sharing.

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    1. Ohhhh I hear you. It's so terrifying and exciting when you find yourself at that crossroads. Sending you tons of well wishes. I'm always here to commiserate and/or listen!

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  22. Really wonderful post. I whole heartedly agree with you about the way society has trained us to think that certain jobs are simply above others. There's this whole thing about the clear career path that all of us are supposed to do, working the jobs that are meant for our station in life. You do what makes you happy. Jobs will always be there. Money will always be there. My last job was basically a legal editor job - and it didn't work out for me either. I just wasn't wired to do that kind of work.

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    1. "Jobs will always be there. Money will always be there." - I need to write this on a dozen Post-It notes and tack them up around the house. :-) Right now, this move feels a little scary. But you're right. When I'm ready to get back to it, there will be opportunities. The challenge will be honing in on what will actually work for me.

      Thank you so much for your comment!

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  23. I have been there and done that. For 9 months, I was an overworked, underpaid caseworker with child protective services. The black cloud over my head the day I decided I would leave was almost literal.

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    1. I can't even imagine how tough that job was - how physically and emotionally draining it must have been. I'm glad you found a way out.

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  24. I haven’t left yet but your post has been my same thoughts for the past 12 months. I’m so happy and proud of you!

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    1. Thank you so much! Sending you tons of good wishes - you deserve a workplace that treats you well. <3

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  25. I read a book a few years ago titled, "How Starbucks Saved My Life" that might help you reframe your image of yourself as a worker. The guy who wrote it was kind of a dick and I almost quit reading early on but it was worth ignoring his ego to get to the kernal of meaning. We don't all need to be defined by our career and we aren't all cut out to work 9-5 as a cubicle dweller. Your way of earning money to live shouldn't cause you misery and pain. Consider working part time at REI again, teach a spin class, lead an outdoor adventure class, whatever makes you happy and brings in enough money to meet your needs. Good luck! June

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    1. REI is definitely on my mind. It sounds silly, but it was one of the most rewarding jobs I've had in the last few years (it helps that the company has a mission I can get on board with).

      I'll look into that book! Thank you so much for your comment and encouragement.

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  26. As you already know, I can relate to so much of this right now, including the anger and bitterness. (Is it bad to hope that the old job just crumbles into oblivion as karma for all their shitty workplace practices?) Anyway, it's good that you're giving yourself permission to stop and feel everything. Most of us are conditioned to just move from one thing to the next without a break, but it's when you pause that you get so much clarity. Happy for you and always here to support if you need to talk/vent!

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    1. Three weeks out, and I already feel like I have SO MUCH MORE CLARITY.

      Thank you for being such a good friend. I'm excited for both of us... I think we're both doing the right thing.

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  27. I think this is one of the best post I've read this year!
    Love your writing style :D

    Thanks for sharing your voice, and good luck with the career break!

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    1. Thank you so much, Route2FI. That means a great deal to me.

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  28. Good post. Just getting caught up with what's going on in your world. One thing is for sure...you're a very good writer! I did something similar 3 years ago now, but still long to find my way back. Don't count on the "ideal situation" to find you. The current work environment just doesn't seem to be working that way. Maybe I'm wrong. Just continue to network. Also, I've found that Summer is not so much a good time to look, as the "decision makers" are usually on vacation. (but we can't) Again, maybe I'm wrong. I'm confident you'll find something, but I'm even more confident you will be much happier. Take care. Don't stress.

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    1. Thank you, Jim! I appreciate the kind sentiments and the excellent advice. Now that it's been a few weeks, I've had more time to think about how I'm going to approach finding my next job or gig. Networking is absolutely part of that; spending time with friends and acquaintances over the summer is a priority for me. I'm also serving in a volunteer capacity for an organization I care about, and I've started a little side hustle. So I'm going to pursue things... but only things I'm excited about.

      I've also thought about writing as a side hustle or career!

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  29. “Is there a better way? And if so what are the activities we can do right now that will start to improve our life in a positive way?”

    For myself this required what others may call a radical shift .

    I expanded my business and relocated from Sydney to Cairns the doorstep of the Great Barrier Reef and Daintree Rain-Forest.

    Doing so has saved me $50,000 less per year in my "job", as a result my income increased and I have more time to exercise, entertain, grow and help others. The very things that are important to me and my happiness.

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