It’s nearly two years since I took voluntary redundancy to get away from a corporate culture that didn’t suit me. It wasn’t the company that was the problem, it was me. Office environments make me feel like a caged animal and like any animal in a confined space I was suffering symptoms of anxiety.
I didn’t have much of a plan. My redundancy pay was enough to give me some breathing space – a couple of years at most. After that I’d have to find a source of income to supplement my meagre pension.
I got lucky, incredibly lucky. Immediately, I was offered contract work from a friend of a friend. Only a couple of days a week but I could work from home and earn enough to meet my commitments. The work was patchy but, with a few other bits and pieces, it saw me through the first year.
In my spare time, I turned my hand to the stuff I thought I really wanted to do. I played my guitar, started a novel, sketched out a screenplay, went cycling, took up running, read, cooked, painted the house, tidied the garden. In short, I got my life back. The anxiety had gone. Yes, I was concerned about money because I was earning a fraction of my previous salary, but at least life was exciting again.
When the first contract finished, I had a few months off before I found part-time work locally with a small company looking to expand. Eight months on, I’m still there. Most weeks, I work two or three days. The arrangement is flexible and it’s up to me how much or how little I do. I’m enjoying it so much that I’ve started a company so that I can take on similar contracts, if I can find them. Working, I’ve discovered, isn’t that bad after all.
On my days off, I still write and do all the other things that I was doing before, but the pressure is off. Earning a crust gives me licence to relax. I don’t know if it’s a good thing or a bad thing. I don’t know if I’ll ever finish my novel or my screenplay and I don’t think it matters because the act of writing helps me to relax and that’s sufficient reward in itself.
Nearly two years on and I’m still working out what I want. Still trying to mould my life into a shape that suits me. I don’t regret taking redundancy for one second. It was the start of a new adventure. I don’t know if I’ll ever fully retire. I have friends who have and they’re having a great time but I’m not sure it’s the life for me. I need a purpose, a reason to get out of bed in the morning. Even when I wasn’t working I had several projects on the go.
The whole experience has taught me that things take time. You can’t simply stop working and start a new life because it takes a while to get the old life out of your system. What you think you want on day one isn’t necessarily going to be valid several months later and there’s no way of knowing that at the start.
There’s also the question of practicalities. In the beginning I had this vague idea that I’d start a new career. I won’t go into all the options I considered, there are too many, but they all had one thing in common: low pay. The fact is, I can earn as much in a day doing my old job as I could in a week doing one of the new more ‘fulfilling’ roles I considered. One day of mild over-familiarity or a week of potential hard graft – which would you choose?
Facing reality is a large part of any life change. The truth is, having all the time in the world to do anything you want to do can be a little bit boring. Just my opinion, of course, because it depends on your personality . Personally, the more time I have, the more time I waste.
Yes, it’s great in the Summer because you can get out of the house – when the weather is good – but the long, cold, dark, miserable days of Winter are another matter entirely. Perfect for reading books or writing novels but in the longer-term not necessarily conducive to maintaining a balanced state of mind.
And I think that’s what it comes down to: balance. Everything needs to be balanced and it takes time to achieve the right balance. Even then, just like a tightrope walker, little corrections need to be made from time-to-time. I’m still going through that process.
My ultimate aim is to work one or two, rather than two or three days a week but I might balance that by taking more time off in the Summer. But then I’ve just started a company and that might mean, in the short term, working more than three days a week. Who knows? In an ever changing work, flexibility is the key.