About a year ago this week I quit my job. I decided to, for once, step away from the grind of productivity and into the unknown. I chose to finally take some time to focus my energy and attention on my writing for a full year. Instead of early morning writing sessions and late night editing, working around my career commitments, I’d make writing my commitment for a year. It was the scariest and best decision I’ve ever made. It opened me up to so much about myself as a writer and gave me new insight into what I want to do with my life. I had a plan and clear intention for the year. (For the record: nothing went according to that plan and that’s okay.)
Here are the key lessons I learned from quitting my job:
I am not defined by my work or productivity. This was a big one for me. My entire sense of self was wrapped up in my career and my accomplishments professionally. The choice to step away from the path that would keep me on an upward trajectory professionally and to instead stop, breathe, look around and make new choices felt like a hug risk professionally, financially, and spiritually. Who was I without my impressive title and cool job? This year off helped me find out.
It’s okay to be scared. Like, terrified. Dear in headlights frozen at the thought of the uncertainty and not knowing what life could look like a year from now. The pandemic taught us all that I think and this year has reinforced the lesson for me. Because bravery is not lack of fear, it’s acting despite the clenched gut and fists. Uncertainty is scary—I’m a type A, Virgo, enneagram 5 who didn’t grow up with a huge safety net—it is truly petrifying for me. But what was scarier was the thought of never doing it and looking back and wondering about what could have been. Whether I fail, do just okay, or surpass my wildest dreams, for me it was scarier not to try than to dive in, cross my fingers, hold my breath and hope for the best (and work towards it).
Disappointment is part of the process. I got a lot of rejection letters for my novel this year. Encouraging ones, but rejections all the same. There were tears, but also acceptance. I have a little bit of magic in the shape of my novel that I want to share with the world, but getting there is taking longer than I would have liked. My novel isn’t an easy one subject-wise, but I believe in the story and what it has to share with the world so I’m okay with it taking time. Whatever comes of it, it is worth the effort to me. So I will continue to try even as I take on new projects and grow my business.
Good things happen. I know, it’s a simple one and almost makes you want to say, “duh, Chantaie,” but it was a lesson I think I’d forgotten somewhere along the way as I got caught up in the stress and miasma of doing work I enjoyed but perhaps wasn’t my soul work. Joy is a thing I let go of as I focused on success and accomplishment instead. This year has reacquainted me with joy and with the fact that it’s okay to embrace it—even if bad things occur, good things also come too. I can be happy and hold onto that feeling knowing that if I face a challenge I have an internal store of joy simply from embracing and holding on to the good things when they happen.
Magic lives in the space between. It happens when you least expect it. The most important thing I did in choosing my sabbatical (and continuing to choose it when job offers came up) was to make space for possibility. I sat in a liminal space between productivity and creativity and sought the right balance for my life. I had room to consider new ideas and new projects and to be open to possibilities that seemed foreign just a few short months ago. I have things on the go I wouldn’t have imagined last year (and that I CAN’T WAIT to share as they come to life) that would not have been possible for me to even take on much less do well if I hadn’t taken the year.
The Universe shows up and supports when you step into faith. A step off the path can lead to experiences you could never have imagined. I took a year. It wasn’t given to me. I saved money, worked more than was healthy and then gave myself the gift of time. It was hard, but it was worth it. But I was also taking a chance on me and every time I needed it, I got a boost or nudge or reminder from the universe (in the form of moments, opportunities, and projects) that seemed to whisper, “keep going, you’ve chosen well.” Whether you believe in God, some other deity slash creator force, or nothing specific, this was an important lesson for me that I wanted to share.
People are what make a life. The people in my life are my greatest gift. My family, my friends, my community (which includes you) are what made this year possible and made it one I’ll never forget. My people have supported me, cheered me on, shared their wisdom, and believed in me and in this maybe wild thing I had decided to do. Maybe I was blowing up my life, but there was only one way to find out and my people were there for me either way. They made room for me to reflect and consider and try new things and to just be. They made me feel safe stepping off the path and letting go of my plan. I felt supported in a way I never knew was possible in this year and I plan to take that with me into the next.
Sometimes you need to slow down in order to go fast. It’s important to sometimes stop so you can truly see your life and the world around you. Leaving my job gave me room to breathe that I didn’t know I needed. I thought I needed creative space and time, stepping off the treadmill helped me see I needed so much more. Self care? Sure; but more importantly a shift in how I think about my life, my career and what matters most. I finally had time to consider what my true impact could be. Writing this newsletter played a huge part in uncovering that for—sharing with you each week truly has been one of the best gifts and I honestly feel honoured by each and every one of you deciding to go on this journey into storytelling with me. If I haven’t said it enough, thank you, doing this with you has truly made me a better human. I plan to do it for as long as you’ll have me and for as long as there are stories to be shared and people who need a bit of help sharing them.
I actually didn’t write that much this year in the end. In fact, I took almost four months off—only working part time—to focus on healing from burnout. But I learned so much about myself and who I can be as a creator and storyteller in that time. I stepped into play and into my own as a writer and found inspiration in new places. Which is why I’ve decided not to return to a job (I don’t think I ever really intended to). Instead, I’m going to spend the next month setting the foundations for my business to flourish long term. Then I’m going to take four months to just write—I have a new project I’m really excited about getting the time to finally sit down and devote my days to. (I got a Canada Arts Council grant to help make this four month break from client work possible.)
So I guess the biggest lesson I learned was how to believe in myself and what a life can look like when I step into the fear, choose bravery and decide to do things a little differently. It is a DEEP DEEP privilege to have been able to do this, I also know it’s not for everyone, but what I think may be for us all is carving out a little space in our days that leave room for possibility, however we can given our context. Just a little to start with and see where that takes you.
Thanks for going on this journey with me. I look forward to sharing more as this adventure in storytelling continues.
A Story Well Told
The world lost a light in Michael K Williams last week. I haven’t fully processed it and, to be honest, I don’t have the capacity to dive into the many deserved yet somehow tragic homages to this artist and storyteller. But this older profile from the New York Times feels less steeped in the tragedy of his death and more in the harsh beauty of his life and impact, which I think is what I want to dive into now as I remember him. I hope you find it helpful.