I quit work – again

Me at the Canberra Innovation Network. Photo by April Mack.

Two years ago, on Halloween, I quit work. And it’s become almost an annual tradition to blog about it. And this year, I’m able to share that I quit work – again.

Goodbye and hello again

Again? Didn’t I leave?

Yep. In a You-Only-Live Once (YOLO) Financial Independence Retire Early move, I left a stable and on the surface glamorous Commonwealth public service career after 20 years. I resigned. I could have taken a leave of absence, but no I totally resigned.

And then, earlier this year, I was back. You might wonder why I would do that, but basically, I was approached by a former colleague (who I held in high regard) to work on a 12-week contract. After that finished, I sought another contract in a related area.

When I was first asked to return, I felt conflicted. When I left two years ago, I had been working in a toxic section. The experience had left me wracked with anxiety about my professional competency, although oddly I didn’t feel such qualms about my writing or podcasting. While I always felt that leaving was the right decision, I wondered if I could have handled the situation better. Perhaps I could have found ways not to let it stress me out so much, or to be more professional? And what if I returned to work and the anxiety came back? Was I emotionally ready?

I also had worried for a long time about whether leaving, under those circumstances, meant that I had a black mark against my name. I knew I had done nothing wrong and that I valued teamwork. But I also felt it was likely the other person would have said some not so nice things. Basically, I worried that I might not have a good trail of referees to rely on should I need it.

Going back to work

Being back again was interesting, and I have a few observations from my experience.

  1. My experience was still relevant. I had worried that after 18 months, my professional expertise might have expired. It was still relevant – and in fact, my post-work entrepreneurial interests meant I had a broader range of opinions and experiences. While some organisational and policy settings had changed, these were easy to learn. Those wanting to retire early need not worry that the door will be shut forever; it is always open for people with good communication skills and a willingness to learn.
  2. My networks remained strong. I had worried that the toxicity of where I had worked might have meant that I was perceived as bad or difficult. What immediately struck me was the strong networks I had. People were genuinely pleased to see me again, and I was happy to see them. I was approached for opinions on areas where I had knowledge. I could pick up a phone and ask someone a question – and I often knew exactly who to ask. I was working in a dynamic area with a collaborative work culture and some great coworkers and bosses. I wondered why I had let one person affect me so much when the bigger picture was much brighter.
  3. I loved the intellectural rigour of work – at first. Having been predominately working at home by myself (other than being in a coworking space one day a week), at first I was super excited to be back in the office (pre lockdown, that is). I enjoyed learning new things and getting across issues that were often in the news. But I realised I had changed. Yes, I could go back into doing what I was told to do and being a cog in the wheel, but I had become a free thinker. I saw things in different ways, wanted to innovate and change and became easily frustrated by same same. And then I started getting bored and frustrated.
  4. I reconnected with my why. Eventually, one of my more senior bosses asked me to clarify my intentions. He was (perhaps understandably) nervous about having a staff member who was semi-regulatory in the media. While I was always careful to follow internal policies that included not talking about work, I realised I was towing a fine line having an independent voice. It made people nervous; I was free-spirited and used to being out in public whereas their training was about being risk adverse and keeping a low profile. I say this not to criticise as I have great respect for my former colleagues and their tradecraft. But being asked to make a choice, I chose to return to doing what I was truly passionate about – including helping people live more abundantly.
  5. The stability of a steady paycheque was alluring. Both two years ago and now, when I have decided to leave work the universe has tested me. “Are you sure you really want to go without a reliable pay cheque,” it seemed to taunt, throwing up things like unexpected bills. This time, it was hubby needing expensive root canal dental work plus a speeding ticket (we follow road rules but on this occasion were caught out by some rezoning). My eldest son will also need extensive orthodontic work soon. I realise you can so easily get used to having the stability of the paycheque to the point where it can become a security blanket. I’m not suggesting people stop going to work ‘just because’, but once you have that stability, letting go is scary.

Being part of the Great Resignation

When I left, my boss said that his ambition was to have more full-time staff who would be happy working in the office. At that time, my team had two remote workers, one part-time worker (me) and I worked from home during lockdown as my kids were not able to go to school. I didn’t mean to be part of a bigger trend of resigning in search of meaning (something I started back in 2019), but I guess that’s what happened.

Interestingly, my former division is having a hard time finding staff. I’m not surprised, as I could have told my former boss that we are in the midst of a massive candidate shortage, an issue I discussed on the podcast recently with recruitment specialist Roxanne Calder.

It’s never been a better time for people who are job hunting – especially in professional roles. But that said, job-hopping just to get a bit of extra money will hurt your career in the long run. Someone pointed out on Facebook that it might not matter if you are on a Financial Independence Retire Early journey and just want to retire as soon as possible. Maybe. But you never know when you might choose to go back into the workforce. I believe it’s best not to burn your bridges if you don’t have to, and far better to leave with a good CV intact.

A key takeaway for me from my chat with Roxanne is how important attitude is. Having a good attitude is everything, and recruitment specialists and employers respond well to positive, can-do people. This counts much more than more formal qualifications. In an era of rapidly changing technology, I also believe it’s no longer enough to rely on a degree you may have been awarded decades ago.

As for me, I realised my attitude towards my public service work wasn’t where I wanted it to be. I was always a conscientious employee, and I always prided myself on being helpful, organised and efficient. Others told me I was positive and upbeat, even as I was transitioning out. But I found myself becoming jaded and a tad cynical about my work, and this wasn’t consistent with the person I wanted to be.

How I’ve been celebrating

The day I finished, we packed up the car and headed to the South Coast to visit friends for three days. My final day coincided with some COVID restrictions lifting, and so it seemed fitting.

In the week since finishing, I’ve had to take time away from my writing to take a child to get a COVID jab, picked up school uniforms for high school next year, taken another child to get a COVID test (bad hayfever season in Canberra but you can never be sure), taken my husband to get root canal work (and got a post lockdown haircut while waiting for him), and looked after sick kids at home for a few days. While I’m not earning money while doing any of these things, I loved not having to ‘ask’ for leave or to wait for it to be granted.

And that’s just it. I feel sometimes that modern work has become a religion. It’s not 8.30am to 5.00pm. The hours are much longer and anything that infringes on your private life is frowned upon. And after hours, you still need to be ‘at work’ in some form. What I was working on was frequently in the news, and there was a What’s App group with links to news articles pinging back and forth, often waking me up of a morning. And then more pinging recommending people stop to watch things on the news (or listen to podcasts).

There was a time when I loved all of that. And part of me loved the buzz of it while I was there. But I’ve reconnected with my why and want to do it full-time. The hype around work seemed just to be a distraction.

What’s next?

I’m working on a few things:

And I would like to hear from you? What type of content would you like from me? More writing? More recipes? More YouTube videos? More podcasts? Training courses?

One comment

  1. Loved this piece, and it really resonated for me. Good on you for following your heart.
    I’ve spent the last few years reassessing my own career, for many of the same reasons as you: workplace stress, the desire for flexibility, following my passions.
    For me, the solution (for now) seems to be one that involves two tracks. I have a writing career, that I nurture and love and am ambitious about. And I have a day job, to pay the bills. After some experimentation (eg, different jobs) I’ve recently found a flexible, four-day-a-week role that is interesting, challenging enough, but not all-consuming. Finding the right day-job wasn’t straightforward – my pride mattered more than I thought it would and, like you, I value having the flexibility to be there for my family in practical ways.
    But it feels like, now, I’ve found the right balance between my job, and the career that I’m actually passionate about.

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