Editor’s Note: See Jane Write now publishes articles and personal essays by writers who identify as women, non-binary folks, and our allies. Learn more here.
By Carmen Shea Brown
I remember the drive down the long, winding road to my place of employment, passing all the same restaurants, shopping centers and offices I had gone by almost every day for the past 10 years. After months of thinking, praying and analyzing the situation from all angles, I knew I was doing the right thing. Still, as I got closer to the parking lot, my heart felt like it was going to explode.
I was about to break the news to my manager, supervisors and co-workers that after a decade of being a faithful employee at a major retail chain, I was leaving to pursue my passion for writing full-time.
I’ll never forget the look of shock and disappointment on my supervisor’s face. Another longtime co-worker had recently retired, and unbeknownst to me, a few other co-workers were also turning in their two-week notices as well. I wasn’t too surprised, however, with this being right smack in the middle of the Great Resignation. The timing may not have been good for management, but it was for me.
You see, for me, this wasn’t some pipe dream. I had already earned my master’s degree in journalism and had already been doing freelance writing for local and regional magazines since the early 2000s. I had only planned to work in retail temporarily to support myself financially while I searched for a more permanent position, but—well, you know what they say about plans. “If you want to make God laugh…” But after 10 years, circumstances had changed. I had far outgrown the retail job, and I knew upper management wasn’t for me. I was fortunate enough financially to take time to do what I needed—to start my website, market myself, and network—things I didn’t have a lot of free time for before.
After years of working many holidays and missing some family events, I was looking forward to more freedom and autonomy. I was also looking forward to more peace and quiet at home versus the daily hubbub that often accompanies the retail world.
But the “honeymoon phase” didn’t last long, and I was soon met with disappointment. I wasn’t prepared for the sudden change of being home every day. Everything I promised myself I would not do—sleep late, stay in my PJs all day, binge-watch certain TV shows, etc.– I did. Now, I will admit that for a while I enjoyed relishing in my newfound freedom. Instead of queen for a day, I felt like a queen for about three months.
But something was missing. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but I was starting to feel—sad.
I had read that that mysterious feeling of let-down after we’ve experienced a big, happy event– a move, a long-awaited vacation, or in my case, a career change–happens because our body cannot differentiate between “bad” stress and “good” stress. But could what I was going through be more than that, I wondered. Is it possible to go through a “mourning” period after leaving a job, just as you would after a death in the family or a breakup? Even if you wanted to leave and knew you were doing the right thing? According to Tracy Brower, a sociologist who specializes in work-life fulfillment and the author of The Secrets to Happiness at Work: How to Choose and Create Purpose and Fulfillment in Your Work, the answer is a resounding yes.
“We literally refer to it as a grieving and transition period,” Brower says. “You’re re-setting and re-calibrating. You’re re-defining your life’s purpose.”
However, Brower says, something deeper is at work—no pun intended.
“The #1 reason people say they come to work is for socialization,” Brower says. “They need that social identity or support. Even that everyday relatively superficial exchange with co-workers is meaningful.”
It makes sense. Over the 10 years, I had a lot happen. My father passed away rather unexpectedly, and five years later, my uncle (who was also like a father) passed away. Of course, I had also celebrated happy occasions—my sister had her third baby, and my nephew graduated high school. Through all the changes, having “somewhere to be” with co-workers I could share my feelings with was one constant in my life that I could expect.
But when you don’t want to go back, and you want to go forward despite not knowing what awaits, what do you do? How do you sustain yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally?
I asked Brower for some tips, and I was happy to know that I was already practicing many of her suggestions.
“The most important thing is to give yourself time.,” Brower says. “Any kind of transition takes time. It’s like baking a pie.”
So don’t give yourself a guilt trip if you just allow yourself to relax for a while. Brower says this is a great time to be very intentional about reflecting on your transition.
“Ask yourself, what do you miss about what you did before? What do you love that you’re doing now?” Brower says.
Brower highly recommends keeping a journal, which I do. I have always kept a journal, even as a child, but when you’re going through a pivotal time as I am, writing down your feelings is truly cathartic. If you’re a writer like me, this will be second nature for you, but if you’re not in the habit of writing down your feelings and counting your blessings, you will be amazed at how therapeutic it can be.
“If you’re really intentional about expressing gratitude, that can be a big antidote to anxiety and depression,” Brower says.
But journaling won’t just benefit your mental health. If you’re concerned you may “fall off the wagon” when it comes to your diet and workout routine, keep an eating and exercise journal. If you overeat or skip a workout, make a note of it and write down how you were feeling.
Brower says without having somewhere to be every day, keeping a routine and structure and holding yourself accountable—even if just to yourself—is critical.
“People way underestimate the importance of having a routine. There’s something about having somewhere to be, knowing that ‘someone is counting on me.’”
Brower recommends making a weekly plan for action that will give you that sense of structure that you had with a regular work schedule.
“You can say I’m going to work out Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 11 a.m.,” Brower says. “ I’m going to connect with two new people on LinkedIn, and I’m going to submit three new job applications.”
One of the first promises I made to myself when I left my job was that each week, in addition to my usual checklist, I would write down career goals for that week. For the first few weeks, my main goal was to finish posting all my articles to my website. I also set a goal to learn more about personal branding and network with other writers.
Brower says if you’ve made a transition to working from home as I have, and you’re accustomed to being around people every day, you will need to be more intentional about staying connected.
“Be really intentional about making new connections and staying in touch with old connections,” Brower says. “This may be time to join that book club you’ve been interested in.”
If you know what to expect, you can navigate this time in your life much better. Sometimes when you’re looking to a wide-open future with lots of questions and anticipations, you can lose perspective of all the positives in your life and how far you’ve come from previous challenges. When you’re navigating a time of change like I am, the basics are very important: sleeping well, eating right, exercising, and taking care of your mental health. If there’s one thing in life that needs to be a constant, it’s taking care of yourself.
I had chosen May 27, 2022, as my last day at work. How serendipitous that I’m now writing this piece on the same day, one year later. This last year, I have experienced probably every human emotion possible—happy, sad, scared, anxious, excited, disappointed, regretful, depressed, frustrated, and yet, through it all, thankful. I don’t know exactly how all of this will play out, but they say once you find your why, the “how” will work itself out. I know what I love to do and I’m doing it. I trust God to lead me in the right direction.
A proud graduate of the University of Alabama’s top-ranked Department of Journalism and Creative Media, Carmen Shea Brown has worked as a freelance feature writer, copy editor and writing coach for the past 20 years. Visit her website at http://www.carmensheabrown.com.