I started working with a life coach, Ellie Burke, in February. After trying out different therapists and failing to find one I liked, I went looking for help in less traditional places. I knew if I was going to make positive steps forward in my life, I would need to work with someone I trusted and felt connected to, who could inspire me to make real change.
Last November, I took a workshop with Ellie at Rebelle Con, the Richmond-based female empowerment conference, and I felt an immediate connection. When she talked about knowing our social self versus our essential self and putting self care first, I knew she was speaking directly to me. This was the inspiration I was searching for.
During our first session, Ellie asked me to describe my what my perfect day would be like if money and time and current circumstances didn’t matter. I closed my eyes and began:
I wake up naturally with the sun. Peter and Lilah are there, and I’m in my house in Church Hill. I get up, take a shower, put on a silk robe and go downstairs. I let Lilah outside and start the coffee. I listen to the NPR hourly news update while I make a yummy, nourishing breakfast like granola with yogurt or a green smoothie. I bring my coffee and breakfast out on the front porch. With a blanket across my lap, I catch up on Instagram or listen to a few minutes of a podcast. I finish my breakfast and head upstairs to get ready, leisurely, with time to take pride in how I look. Then I head out to do some work, around 10:00. Because I work for myself, I go to The Broad, a beautifully designed co-working space, where the environment itself inspires me. I work at my own pace for a few hours doing freelance marketing or writing.
At this point, tears were streaming down my face. We stopped the exercise. I opened my eyes and Ellie asked what I thought was making me so upset.
I was upset because what I described seemed impossible. It seemed impossible that I would ever be able to enjoy the morning, or work for myself, or even just not dread getting out of bed each day.
At the time, my husband Pete was out of a job with no end in sight. The added pressure of being the sole money-maker made me feel even more trapped in a job that I increasingly disliked. I could never leave or get fired or work any less because we had to have an income.
Luckily for me, that time eventually passed. Pete got a new job with good benefits, and I began to see a light at the end of the tunnel. I continued to work with Ellie, who reminded me that my perfect dream day wasn’t all that crazy. I already had or could already do most of the things I described. It was just my job that didn’t quite fit.
The answer was simple then — I needed to leave my job. It was easy enough to say, but actually doing it was much more difficult.
I looked for other full-time jobs I was qualified for, but the options only made me more depressed. It wasn’t the company I worked for or even the position that bothered me, it was the entire system. I was tired of sitting at a desk for 40 hours, just to prove I was working. And when I looked at my other full-time prospects, I couldn’t bear the thought of trading one job for more of the same.
And what upset me even more was the very fact that it upset me so much. I had a steady job with a decent salary that I was pretty good at. Why couldn’t I just stick it out and at least save some money while I found something new? Plenty of people worked more than I did in tougher jobs for less money. Why couldn’t I just be grateful for the opportunity I had?
These thoughts lingered with me. After that initial session with Ellie, I spent eight months soul searching, wavering and reflecting. I sunk myself into the podcast. I listened to self-help books on my daily walk to work. I spent the weekends channeling my creativity in collaging, embroidery and writing. I tried to make the most of my situation.
I waited for some kind of sign — either a new job or a new calling or even a straw that would break the camel’s back. That sign eventually came in the form of a Facebook post in a group for female entrepreneurs in Richmond. A local residential designer posted that she wanted part time-time help. I started to daydream about leaving my firm and going part-time. I joked on the podcast about how awesome it would be to be able to leave my job and be like Karen from Will & Grace, working part-time for an interior designer.
On a whim, I messaged her about the job. When I spoke with her, something inside just clicked, and I knew this was the sign I’d been looking for.
All the self-help books I’d listened to had told me some form of the same thing: I needed to make space in my life in order for new and better things to come in. I thought of the quote, “leap and the net will appear” (which is either an ancient Zen proverb or a quote from naturalist John Burroughs).
Taking a part-time job was the leap I needed to take to make the space for something really great.
I counseled everyone around me for advice on the move. When I described leaving a steady, well-paying job at an established company for less than half my salary at a brand new design firm of two people, the responses I got were surprising. To a person, everyone I talked to agreed I should do it — even my ever-practical in-laws.
Then on a Friday in September, I dug deep for some courage and gave my notice to my boss. It was terrifying yet freeing. I’d never quit a job for any reason other than moving away. This was the first time I had to admit to a boss that I actually wanted to leave.
Now a month in at my new gig, I’m still in the idyllic learning stage. I haven’t quite gotten used to the freedom I now have or the discipline required to make the most of my time. And what I’ve ended up actually accomplishing is a topic for a separate blog post.
But I do know this — I quit my job and the world didn’t end. The agency I left kept going on without me and I kept going without it. I may decide at some point that I need to return to working full time, but for now, I’m enjoying my flexible schedule, I’m working hard to make the most of my time, and I’m seeing what it’s like to get closer to that perfect day I envisioned back in February.
For more from Maggie, check out her profile on Medium.