… or what I learned while I was considering quitting my job.
For the past year I’ve been hyper aware of a restlessness inside me that’s slowly grown over time. Some call it the “seven year itch,” a quarter life crisis or just blame it on living in New York City for over five years. As a creative, it’s incredibly important to be inspired and excited about life and work. Design extraordinaire Stefan Sagmeister takes a year-long sabbatical every 7 years to work on personal projects and to keep the creative juices flowing. His idea is that we shouldn’t work our entire lives away until we retire. Why save all the fun stuff for when we’re old and wrinkly? Better to do it now and stay inspired throughout your entire career and life.
Recently, I decided to take a career break, a “radical sabbatical” of sorts, to assess what’s next. But I didn’t get here overnight. Below are ten things I’ve learned the past year, both practical and inspirational that helped me get to this point. I hope it will encourage you wherever you are on your journey.
1. It’s gonna be okay.
There is a season for everything. Seasons come and go. Don’t be discouraged that you’re feeling stuck. Everyone goes through it at some point, but have faith it’s all going to work out for the best. We all have dreams, whether or not we’re aware of what they are. They often reveal themselves throughout the journey. There’s so much to look forward to.
2. Be open to new ideas. Talk to people outside of your normal circle.
Sometimes we just need to get out of our own heads and explore alternate viewpoints or expose ourselves to different ideas. You can find a local Meetup or event for something you’re interested in but hadn’t considered attending in the past. Or you can take a friend out to lunch or promise yourself to meet someone new at an event. During my year, I invited everyone I thought was interesting out to coffee to learn more about what they do and how they think. It was a fun way to reconnect with old friends and colleagues and hear their life stories. Often, they would make an introduction to someone else I should talk to, which further widened my network. It all felt very natural and authentic because there was no pretense or expectation, opposite of what most people think of when “networking”. Just cool, interesting people getting to know one another.
3. Take a class or teach one.
A great way to explore a possible new career direction or learn a new skill is to take a class. It’s an easy way to see if something is worth exploring or if it should stay a hobby. Throughout my year, I took a few classes, from a UX Design Intensive at General Assembly to studio photography at SVA to multiple culinary classes at the Institute of Culinary Education. These classes were all different, but they allowed me to explore facets of my creativity, pursue various interests and meet lots of fascinating people! Teaching and mentoring is also a great way to share knowledge, lead better and improve at your craft. I’ve been a mentor with ERA, a startup accelerator program for the past 3 years and have really enjoyed meeting with fresh, young companies to improve their branding and marketing.
4. Lean on your community.
During this time, it’s easy to shy away from friends and family because they ask a lot of questions and you don’t have any answers. Instead of pushing them away, invite them into your journey of figuring it out together. The support of a community–family or close friends–is invaluable as you’ll need the encouragement and discernment of people who know you best. I would not be here writing this list if it had not been for my “people” who gave me the courage to take a leap (PS: you know who you are…THANK YOU).
5. Stay humble and embrace change.
Being humble is to be free from pride and arrogance, open to the advice of others and knowing you can’t do it all on your own. It’s being at peace with each day you’ve been given and not comparing yourself to other people’s seemingly amazing lives on social media. It’s being fully aware that things will not always be the same. Like most people, I don’t like change but knew it needed to happen. Life was a constant balance of being content in my everyday and also being open to new possibilities.
Change is inevitable so might as well get on board.
6. Don’t be lazy.
You might feel stuck, but don’t stay stuck. Get off your butt and do something about it, like taking that class or getting coffee (Points 1 and 2). I made lists and goals that I wanted to accomplish by certain weeks. I reached out to interesting strangers I wanted to have coffee with, knowing I might not get an answer back.
Measurable goals with timeframes are imperative in order to track progress. Be specific. For example, a measurable goal is, “In the next 2 weeks, I’ll have coffee with 4 people” versus, “In the next few weeks, I’ll reach out to a few people for coffee”. Get it? Also having an accountability partner throughout all this will keep you credible and moving forward. WorkFlowy makes it easy to make lists of goals and eventually check them off.
This journey takes work, but we only have one life so make the most out of it.
7. Be patient. Take it one day at a time.
There will be ups and downs. The excitement of a new class or beginning shows great potential, but then the class ends and you’re not sure what to do next. It’s okay. Sometimes just getting out of bed in the middle of a cold NYC winter is enough reason to pat yourself on the back. I used to buy myself chouquettes from Eric Kayser Bakery as a mini reward every time I made a significant discovery or met a milestone. If you’re in NYC, head to the one in the Flatiron and go eat them in Madison Square Park. The squirrels may try to steal them from you but remember, you’re bigger than them.
8. Be present.
Learn from what you’re going through now so you have added perspective and wisdom to bring it into your next chapter. No experience is wasted. Write it down. And by write I mean type it into your iPhone. I love keeping track of ideas on my Day One Journal app, though for journaling I do keep a notebook.
9. Know when it’s time to move on.
Being present is often knowing when to let go of the past. The only way for new things to come in is to make room by getting rid of old baggage. As Elsa would say, let it go.
10. Be brave. Embrace your story.
If there’s something buried in your heart, it probably won’t go away. Believe there’s a bigger plan and purpose for your life and you just need to step into it. Take that first leap of faith and it’ll all work out for the best. Don’t fix your eyes on the present but fix your eyes forward, onto what’s to come. As one of my favorite authors C.S. Lewis said, “There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.”
The best is yet to come.