Creating a life beyond full-time work

By Spike Spearman

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For me, leaving conventional full- time work has taken time, had false starts, been filled with angst, joyful, scary, wonderful, stressful and adventurous all at the same time.

The starting point:

It was in my mid 40s when I realised full time corporate work was no longer for me. I was running my own PR consultancy but somehow the joy had gone out of it and I was burnt out. It was time for a new direction.

I craved variety, stimulation, new challenges and realized spending all my time as a “cubicle warrior” in the corporate world was breaking my spirit.

My first step was to take some time out. This became a sabbatical - five months out of the country visiting friends in the Cayman Islands, England and France. I also managed to have time in Italy and hit New York on my way back home.

It was with reluctance that I returned to Kiwi-land. I wasn’t ready to face reality but knew I needed to. My time out had highlighted things I needed to sort out in my life, plus being single at the time I had to rebuild my dwindling coffers.

My first attempt:

The next few years were a roller-coaster. A mix of full time contract work – yes, it’s oh so easy to get tempted back to the cubicle warrior role if you’re not careful - to periods of not working and periods of project work.

I finally settled into working in freelance consulting fashion and that of course has its ups and downs. You gain flexibility, but you lose the sense of financial security. I ended up spending more time worrying about money instead of enjoying myself. I found that I always looked to fill my time with work-like projects rather than personal experiences.  The only fun activity I allowed myself to embrace was acting - an interest and passion from my university days. Even this I endeavoured to make into work (and lost a bit of the love for it) by getting an agent.

Part of my issue (aside from being a money worrier) was that I simply didn’t know what “pushed my buttons” outside the work environment. Work had always been my driver, my safe place, my identity.

Therefore, I sought help in the form of life coaches, advice books, articles, conversations and realised my transition wasn’t going to be as easy as I thought. It was going to take time, energy, support and determination.

Enough already!

This year, I’ve cut any corporate work right back. I finished up a major part-time contract at the end of last year and decided enough is enough. If I’m committed to exploring and experiencing other things besides work I needed to take definite action! 

I know that the indirect planning I’ve done over the previous years has really helped me with this. I’ve made some major changes in my life myself including getting married for the first time, as well as developing new skills and interests.

It’s taken me a while to get into the groove, but I’m getting there and it’s worth it.  

What I’ve experienced and learned:

  • Lack of identity - people asking you what you do becomes a dreaded experience as you’re so used to identifying with your career and don’t know how to describe yourself. Spend time getting to know your story and feel very confident telling it. People are delighted, amazed and envious at how I now spend my time and often say they “want my life”.

  • Lack of self-worth - you get the feeling people think you’re a bit precious (first world problems) and you start to wonder what you really have to offer the world. This simply comes down to beliefs. I still believe that I have an incredible amount to offer simply by being me.  Explore your talents and celebrate them. I made a list of all my achievements over the years and this was a great morale booster. You don’t need to get paid to feel worthwhile.

  • Financial worry – will I go through all my capital? How can I top it up without having to sell my soul? Help! Fortunately, I’ve had help with this. My husband has worked with me to look at how I could make better use of my capital and earn more money passively without undertaking traditional work.

  • Isolation - it can be a lonely place when you don’t have a work tribe anymore and you need to find a new tribe. You do need to take some action here. Be proactive and reach out to people, arrange catch ups with friends, join new groups. I’m discovering amazing people, and it’s fun getting to know them.

  • Giving to myself rather than filling in my time. I worried so much about how I’d fill in my time. The days can seem long and meaningless if you’re not careful and don’t have a plan of how you want your new life to be. This required a mindset shift. I needed to stop seeing it as simply filling in time and rather, that I was giving to myself (and indirectly others) by doing more of the things I loved and energised me. I realised that going for long walks, regular exercise like Qigong and weekly endurance training sessions, sitting in cafes writing my journal, going to movies, theatre, being in nature, meeting new people, sharing my wisdom and experience to help others were all those things.

Bringing it all together:

I’m at a point where I can tell a rich and meaningful story about who I am and what I do. I share with people that I’m fortunate to spend my time doing things I enjoy, including some freelance (paid) projects, learning new skills and trying different things – all of which allow my creative-self freedom, plus use my business nous gained over the years.  It’s a wonderful, colourful, satisfying mix!

The time it takes is worth it.

Jake Waddell