One year ago, I made one of the most terrifying decisions of my life. With every last bit of courage left in me, I handed in my resignation letter. After work that day, as the rain pitter-pattered outside, I burst into tears in the car. Then I got into an accident (no one was hurt, but my wallet took a hit).
You’re probably wondering, “Why did you get so upset? Leaving a job is just part of work life, isn’t it?”
To me, it was a big deal. It was my first job. I was a copywriter in an advertising agency. The work itself was alright and I was doing well. The problem? I wanted to try something new.
I’ve always loved writing stories, poetry and pieces on culture and travel. I get that warm, fuzzy feeling when people come up to me to say that something I wrote has connected with them. It was why I chose to write for a living in the first place. Being in advertising wasn’t taking me there.
I wanted to see how far I could go, down the other path.
Although resigning was the logical choice, it scared me nonetheless. I didn’t know what to expect, how people would react. I was close to my then-colleagues and wondered if we would drift apart. More than anything – the truth was – there was no backup plan. No job waiting for me. No clue what I wanted to do.
As uneasy as that experience was, it has changed my attitude towards life and career. These are how it did, one year on.
# 1 Sometimes a leap is what you need
It is easy to delay quitting that job to wait for that “right” moment. It is normal to get comfortable and feel uncertain about starting from the bottom again.
I’d thought about leaving before, but had always put it off thinking “maybe I should wait until I know exactly what I want”, “maybe I should get a job offer first” or “other companies/ industries may not be that great anyway”.
Flash forward to a few weeks before I gave my notice. It hit me that I was more afraid of standing still, waiting and wondering “what if”, than actually venturing into the unknown.
My heart was telling me to just go. It could be a bad decision… or it could lead to better things. If I don’t even try, I will never know for sure. It was fly or fall, never or now.
# 2 Fear can be exciting
Everything that happened after that was riddled with uncertainty. It honestly scared me out of my wits. There was the fear of having no income, the fear of possible regret, the fear that even after everything, I still might not find any answers.
After that initial stage of shock and “oh my god, what have I done”, the fear became easier to manage as time went by. Beyond that fear was pure freedom.
If I don’t even try, I will never know for sure. It was fly or fall, never or now.
For the first time in a while, there was no “9-to-7-and-beyond” job holding me back. Letting go of the fear and responsibility also helped me remember that there is more to life than just work. It’s good to take time to nurture the you beyond work – because that’s all that’s left once that job is gone.
For the first time in a while, I was prepared to fail.
For the first time in a while, I remembered what it meant to be brave.
#3 You’ve got time
After getting back from my trip, many people immediately asked:
i) Have you found a job? What’s your plan?
ii) You’ve had such a long break. Isn’t it time to go back to work?
iii) Have you started applying?
Although they meant well, that phantom timeline loomed in the background, telling me everything should be in order by now. Every now and then, I wondered if I am falling behind. Maybe, I thought, I shouldn’t be so picky.
I almost applied for some positions for the sake of it.
Each time, I had to remind myself that I was too far down the road to give up and settle for anything. I took my time, continued researching and only applied for jobs that I could see myself giving five days of my week.
# 4 It’s not The End
Change, though inevitable, never fails to scare us. I was afraid that a huge change – like getting into a different industry – might put a hold on my career progression. Why start over and maybe find that it isn’t all that great?
It was only while I was job hunting that I realised it depends. A career change is driving down the road and deciding to go somewhere else. You could turn at the next junction or make a U-turn. You could totally drive off the course until you get to the next road. Either way, you are getting there, your way.
Where you take that career depends on how you can mix and match past experiences to build it.
Which leads me to #5.
#5 Tomorrow is yesterday
A few weeks before I found my current job at LokaLocal, I was talking to some old colleagues and they suggested: “Why don’t you go into travel writing?”
“Yeah, like magazines or websites. You love travelling. You have your blog as a portfolio. You’ve gone backpacking.”
I laughed. “I would love that, but it’s not easy to just get a job doing that. There is a lot of competition and many good writers out there. Most people take years to build a portfolio before they get anywhere near that.”
Sometimes I wonder if I was just lucky to find a job in the travel industry that was the right fit. Looking back, it got me thinking about how all my past decisions, however small, somehow made sense in the end.
If I hadn’t started Set in Stories, gone into advertising or gone backpacking…
If I hadn’t quit without a plan and only started applying for jobs when I did, I probably would not be where I am now.
Perhaps this is luck. Perhaps this is fate.
If you really think about it, where you go tomorrow depends a lot on how you connect the dots from yesterday and today.
So if you really need to leave, just go. Get out of there. Get scared. Get excited. Be prepared to pick yourself up again. Whatever it is, trust yourself. It’s your choice. It’s your life.