It’s been a hundred days since I left my job to pursue a completely different domain. Planning helps, but doesn’t fully prepare you for the psychological transition of leaving a job, a paycheck, and a mission. You can only process the transition while you are in it. You gotta do the work when it comes up. When you do, there is richness and growth on the other side. These are some of my notes on my process that might help you in thinking about a major life transition.
First month – the party ends, guilt begins
The first few days are vacation with family and it really felt like vacation. All the corporate apps and access are removed from my phone as of 12 AM January 1st, 2023. That’s it, no more work obligations, no more chronic stress of being available. I feel free. I celebrate, starting at midnight. I relish the feeling of waking up with no obligations other than to my family and myself. Those new obligations would become even more important than ever.
We visit my family first. I get to tell my Mom that I left my job to go back to school and help others get more joy out of their lives. She can’t believe that I could leave my job, telling the story about how she had to work two jobs to pay the bills for most of her life. I tell her the reason I can do it is because of her support. She supported my early interests, spending her last dime on whatever electronics or computing project I was into at the time. She bought me my first computer, got me my first consulting gig at 14, and always encouraged my growth and learning. The rest of my career I owe to that early support. I am eternally grateful for how she supported me, as as single mom, working two jobs, and going to school at the same time. She is an inspiration to me and always has my back. I tell her how much she means to me. She sees all her kids together at the same time for the first time in a decade (long story). We have a wonderful, too short, time together.
Next, we visit Kerri’s family and spend some lovely days in Florida. Our kids play with their cousins, stay up all night, jump into the ocean at midnight for Ashley’s birthday, we play music for hours, and just enjoy each other. I stop drinking after one particularly hard night and spent the rest of the month (mostly) sober.
My body manufactures stress. I wake up earlier than I need to because I am conditioned to prep for 6 AM calls. I feel fidgety and unfocused. In order to reset my central nervous system, I add more acute stress to my schedule with exercise. I run, swim in the ocean (at least for the first 9 days), and complete a 30 day fitness challenge with some buddies. My parasympathetic nervous system starts to catch up with my sympathetic and I am able to fully recover for the first time in a long time. It feels like a long exhale over several days.
I graduate from the High Flow Coaching coaching program at Flow Research Collective after 16 weeks of learning and practice. I celebrate with our cohort and then start thinking about what to build next. By week three, I start building Be Well Mind, catch up on graduate school, and spend more time with the family. My body is waking up. I decide to continue the fitness challenge for another month. I am ten pounds lighter.
I start to feel guilt for no longer bringing home a paycheck. It feels selfish to pursue my passion when we have bills to pay. I had planned for this but nothing prepares you for the reality of living off your savings. We get hit by two financial blows that are unpredictable and create new stress. I start talking to Kerri about it, telling her how I feel so that I don’t have to stress alone, and it just creates more stress. I feel like the plan is flawed. I do my best to not look at our investments every day, but I have the guilt of someone who did something terribly wrong and was asking “what have I done?”
I tell myself “you have enough, keep going”. This helps a bit but doesn’t really kick in until month three. I work through the guilt as best I can – with coaches, friends, and Kerri. The guilt/anxiety is accompanied by feeling of true freedom.
Second month – working towards something new
I launch Be Well Mind, start a beta of the High Flow Lifestyle program, and get my first clients. This brings me focus. If the first month felt like party and guilt, the second month feels like structure and work. I create structure in my day and week, start having coaching conversations, launch my website, and create my curriculum. I meet a bunch of great people. It’s nice to have a schedule, a backlog, and some goals to work towards.
In parallel, my body is responding to the workouts. I spend more time on the mat, add 10Ks into my running, and push my body harder. I add cold immersion to my active recovery protocols. I used to be afraid of it. I ease my way in to it one minute at a time. By the end of the month, my entire shower will be cold. I use habit of ferocity to jump right in like I would an alpine lake. Cold immersion helps me focus, recover, and is a good trigger for flow. It is now a regular part of my weekly protocol.
I experience awe, joy, and flow pretty regularly. I take a couple trips to the mountains and work in solitude for several days. I tap into flow with mundane activities by adding novelty and challenge. I engage more directly and mindfully with my kids and wife. I still have anxiety about money but it is no longer a panicky feeling, it feels more like a nagging background noise. I get a couple outdoor adventures in with the family – mountain biking with my older son, working on the cabin with Kerri, and camping with the kids in the high desert. I am no longer directly emotionally affected by the rise and fall of our investments on a daily basis, trusting in the strategy that we put in place. It takes some time, but the self talk of “you have enough” is starting to work.
Third month – settling in
I start the third month with a good baseline of fitness and want to mix it up. I choose speed and agility as the two things to focus on this month. I target 5K and 10K distances and wanted to see how fast I can get. I start focusing on chest and hip openers in my yoga practice to counteract the unilateral motion of running. This combination works out great! I am getting faster every week, have less back pain, and am down fifteen pounds.
I experience flow regularly now by implementing more flow triggers, removing blockers, and setting up conditioned stimuli that drop me into flow almost automatically (first sip of coffee after asana, vinyasa and meditation). The days start to feel “flowy” and I am getting more done with less work. I read a bunch of Csikszentmihalyi books and publish my research on Group Flow for Business Teams.
I get traction with Be Well Mind, scheduling several hours of calls a week, learning from other coaches and practicing my craft with some amazing people. By the end of March, I have completed over 100 hours of conversations with 79 people, with the goal of helping them get more joy, meaning, and impact out of their lives. I test the product, practice my craft, and get more confidence in this new domain.
I recognize my first revenue this month and it feels good. Feedback on the beta is valuable and positive and I refactor the program to make it better. I become more patient with myself and focus on how many conversations I am having and less on revenue. This helps me re-frame some of the guilt I feel from leaving my income behind. I complete another class in my Master’s degree “Psychology and neuroscience of affective disorders” and start studying psychosis. I find a groove with my academic life that helps me learn and retain information better. I start adding in Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS) to my study time while continuing my research on neurofeedback ( will write about that in a future blog).
Emotionally, I am feeling more even and balanced. Still have fear and anxiety but manage it with self-talk and courage.
So far, so good. My life is full of richness, risk, and joy that I haven’t experienced in over twenty years ( see One Way Ticket to Somewhere). I have more ease than I did at the beginning, I mix adventure, work, family, and self care in appropriate amounts. I laugh freely way more often than I used to. I weigh 15 pounds less than I did 100 days ago. I feel lighter and faster and can think better. I set measurable goals for the business and have stabilized my routine. I have been catching up with old friends and new friends, investing in a community of amazing people who I value and who value me. I am planning three backcountry trips for the summer with good friends, which always gets me excited.
For anyone contemplating a major life transition, you can read all the books (this was my list), you can plan your finances down to the month, you can anticipate the impact of leaving your role, title, impact, career but nothing can prepare you for the psychological transition you have to go through. You have to do the work while you are in it. For me, the work was on the mat, it was with coaches, with friends and family. For me, the feelings include doubt, fear, anxiety, and guilt which are complemented by freedom, excitement, motivation, joy, and contentedness. My work was done in my last role. Now I have new work to do. Change is good.
Your self-worth does not come from your title, income, or possessions. Your self-worth comes from how you live, how you treat others, and your wellbeing. Your wellbeing creates the opportunity to help others even more. These are things to focus on when going through large life transitions.