Last year, after working 20 years in jobs ranging from cafeteria worker to engineer, I came to a new milestone. My wife and I had been saving for years, and with our net worth exceeding a million dollars, we were financially independent. Tired of chasing money, I wanted to be able to pursue new hobbies, travel, and learn. So I quit my job. A year later, I can say this has been the most incredible experience of my life.
The first 6 months
Immediately after quitting, I felt like a hyper dog who’d been pent up in a cage for years. Suddenly set free, I was going to run until I collapsed. Even though I had every day off, I was still treating each day like a fleeting Saturday.
We went on road trips to Colorado, New Mexico, Nova Scotia, and Maine. I finished some renovations on our house, tinkered with toys I found in the dump, fished, sailed, gardened, and chopped firewood. I travel hacked our free trip to Jamaica, and went surfing in Costa Rica.
It was like a never ending weekend. I remember thinking, “This is the most insane vacation of my life.”
Finally settling in
Days seemed really long at work, but now they feel too short. While things are starting to calm down, random opportunities seem to pop up.
Just last week, I ran into my neighbor who had some interesting intel. He pulled out his phone and showed me a picture of a trout stocking truck with a guy dropping fish over a bridge near my old work. We decided to head over and try our luck.
When we got down to the river, we started catching fish right away. I let a bunch of trout go, but kept a nice one for dinner. As we rolled past my old work, my neighbor commented, “You coulda been in there right now.”
While random stuff keeps popping up, I finally started finding time for new hobbies.
As humans we have an incredible capacity to explore whole worlds within our own minds. There is a sea of creativity in our brains, and I only ever explored a small part of it. I never really had any art classes, and wanted some time to explore things I never had a chance to try.
A few years ago, I bought a guitar, but never got far with learning. Now I’ve been able to devote time to learning songs. I’m slowly picking up some theory as I go, and it’s interesting to see the patterns and logic that bind a lot of tunes together.
I have been recording some of my progress, and considered sharing. But after looking through the videos, I figured an image would be adequate…
As an engineer, I wrote papers that explore and explain the physical world. I never dug up memories or emotions from my life and put them on paper. This blog has been a new experience, and it was crazy pondering the past when I wrote a post about about my grandfather who passed away decades ago. I never had a chance to reminisce and just think about things.
I feel like I was a robot for years, and having time to practice the arts has allowed me to look at life through a different lens.
After sitting at a desk for more than a decade, posture became a problem for me. When I was turning 30, I started having a lot of back pain. I thought it was something that came with age, but the real problem was lack of exercise.
In addition to going to the gym, I’ve been working on correcting my knee and back issues. After starting a daily routine of lifts and stretches aimed at improving posture, I’ve seen a huge difference. I hardly get any back or knee pain, and can lift more weight than I did in college.
I feel healthier than ever, and it’s just awesome that I can take my bike and hit the trails when a nice sunny day comes along.
To help slow my mind, I started meditating. I thought it was about sitting there thinking about nothing, but it’s been an opportunity to take a step back and examine where my thoughts are going. It can be surprising to see where the traffic in your head goes on its own.
Hedonic Adaptation is a hell of a thing. My old neural pathways were being smashed and new connections slowly being made. But while I’m adapting to this new way of life, I am still noticeably happier overall. I think the answer to that is a combination of reduced stress and gratitude.
The stresses of coming Mondays, looming deadlines, or shitty emails are gone. I spend less time arguing in my head and more time relaxing, practicing hobbies, and studying self improvement strategies.
Gratitude is also one way to boost overall happiness, and right now it seems to be coming to me pretty easily. Any time things don’t go my way, all I have to say to myself is, “well, you could be sitting at work.” That puts a smile on my face pretty quick.
I actually remember coming home from work with my eye twitching on extremely stressful days. Those nights, I would try to relax with a few beers while Mrs. CK and I both vented about the latest catastrophes at work. These days, we enjoy our brews with laughs and jokes. Instead of work problems, our conversations revolve around hiking, gardening, chickens, workouts, food, and vacation planning.
I do miss my community of friends from work, and the paychecks. Sometimes I contemplate going back. But then I think about what I’d achieve by earning more money. One day I asked myself, “Where do I want to be 5 years down the line?” The answer is that I’d like to be retired, maybe writing a blog, playing music, gardening, learning new skills, fishing, and traveling…
Another aspect about work is the prestige. I used to be a subject matter expert working on the cutting edge of a narrow field. Now I’ve become a student of a few arts and master of none. No longer being at the pinnacle can be hard to come to terms with – a jobless amateur guitar player isn’t going to command much respect… But if you want to climb more mountains, you have to come down from the one you’re on. I’m enjoying the new challenges.
All the traveling, napping, biking, fishing, and generally doing whatever I want has been awesome. An added bonus has been learning things about myself that I didn’t know were there. I left work because every day was getting to be the same, and there were other things in life I wanted to experience. I haven’t been disappointed. I still value my time just as highly, but the education and experiences of this past year have been priceless.