A year out of the rat race

Tired? Stressed? Disillusioned and dreading that commute and the daily grind of seemingly endless meetings? Frustrated with crap sandwiches eaten hunched over your computer or during a meeting, leading you to over-indulge in over-priced coffees to get enough supposed pep to look like you care?

This isn’t an advertisement for a health pill or a spa treatment or an advertisement for an interesting piece of writing about mental health.

This was me, eighteen months ago. Dead in the eyes and held together by a thread of over-caffeinated anxiety.

Why I chose to skedaddle

I was in my twelfth year of working in clothing retail. I was a Menswear Buyer for a mid-sized company, having worked my way up to what would be considered to be a covetable position. I studied Fashion Design at University, I didn’t have much of a plan after that other than get a job in a Head Office in London. I did that and sort of fell into buying rather than design. I found I had an aptitude for the figures involved in Buying that did not reveal itself in my studies. I was unsure at first, but the allure of fabric trade shows, travel far and wide and making big decisions with money and stock was alluring. It was seductive, though not in a Nick Leeson and Barings Bank way. I thought that this is what success was meant to look like.

As with many living a corporate life, however glam it may seem on the surface, the novelty wore off. The transition into middle management and the reality of repetition really started to wear me down. Gone was the fun, in was a grey monotonous routine of managing stress and working long and late. Normal sleep, as I had known it, had long left me. I was perpetuating the cycle of frustration further by not really having the energy to deal with my day-to-day work activities. Worse still, it was impacting my personal life and relationships. I was short tempered and negative most of the time. Under my paper thin veneer of a contented smile was a whirring mess of calculations and playing out of possible scenarios; of all the tasks and people dynamics I was trying to manage.

The decision

I didn’t feel myself any more. I wasn’t sure what else I wanted to do, but I knew, for sure, that this path was no longer it. Before this, I had decided a couple of years previous to take up a new hobby beyond my current routine. I decided to try out two things- learn mandarin, and learn how to make bags. Bags was a creative outlet that I felt I had lost, and let me brush up on the skills learned in my degree. I fancied tackling mandarin as I was regularly traveling to and working with China. Mandarin fell by the wayside in favour of me cutting and sewing things again. Zàijiàn.

In my bagmaking I found sources of leather I hadn’t thought about- old sofas and sometimes old clothes. In my studies before my working life I had focused a lot around ethics and sustainability and this was coming back to the fore. This re-awoke my want to do something good in terms of my own environmental impact. I also felt the need to interrogate and question the current accepted retail fashion system, which encourages excess and waste in an almost unfathomable scale when you really look at it.

I had reached the level I wanted to in buying, I had no aspirations to go further.

I looked at the people in the jobs that I would progress to and felt totally uninspired. This is not a dig at them, but more an observation that none of them appeared to have even an ounce of the happiness I was looking for.

With the support and encouragement of my partner, the decision was made. I quit corporate life and took a chance on independence and entrepreneurship. I had read so much self-help by this point that the jargon nearly made it feel easy.

Then I was out

Just like that, at the end of January last year, I was done. I had finally paid off the last of my student loan, I had some money put aside to let me last out a year, and so everything felt in sync. It felt good. I decided, that as I was really making decisions for myself now in a way that I never had before, it would be wise to consider all my options. I knew the bag project was my most likely path; it was what I felt in my gut. I just wanted to give myself the feeling of options, so I threw a few ideas around- study psychology, train to become a yoga instructor, work in the charity sector, study something completely new. I also allowed myself flexibility and time to have fun. Real fun. Like the no responsibilities kind of fun you forgot you ever had. I travelled a bit, connecting to family in the States I don’t see near often enough, and having what some could call a spiritual experience in Ibiza…

A new reality

The adjustment to my new reality has been a steep learning curve. I was initially all gusto and took on what I now know to be way too many things- practicing yoga nearly every day, learning to drive, sewing, drawing, looking into the logistics and gritty bits of setting up my own venture, charity volunteering, the list goes on. I had also rediscovered my predilection for party excess. I wasn’t the hardest working student at University, but damn did I have a good time. My financial forecast had not accounted for this particular reawakening in myself, and so my annual budget was getting pretty stretched in half the time. My venture was far from generating enough cash to live off at this point so upon return from a long trip home to Ireland (a good chat with parents is always good for grounding oneself I feel), part time work was needed.

I e-mailed a bunch of pubs, clubs and comic shops. I have done the barwork gig before, and figured a comic shop job would be a fine way to spend some time. Club work fell into place the next day. Very quickly I was behind the bar and serving the public, something I hadn’t done in a long time. I wouldn’t say it was humbling per se, but it did hit home that my choice to leave a structured corporate path wasn’t going to be easy, and that I would need to be flexible. It also made me realise that I am really at the beginning of rebuilding myself, set on a new trajectory.

This new path has to date included a nearly daily struggle in feeling positive or negative about how I am dividing and spending my time. It is a swing of a day full of distractions to a roundabout of pushing myself too hard to complete a bag or set task within a day. I have had to hide away my phone for the working part of my daytime to avoid distractions, having a little flick through social media or falling down a YouTube hole is far too easy when you have nobody to answer to but yourself. The feeling of shame and frustration after time misspent is much stronger when I am solely accountable, sometimes to the point of beating myself up a bit too much. The shift in my financial position can be frustrating. My old contemporaries are buying houses and starting families. I am making bags out of old sofas. This personal reset has set me back on some life goals, but when I think it through positively these life markers serve as a motivation. It does, however, take some effort to get to positive conclusions when you can feel behind and in a minority.

A New Outlook

If my first year of my new venture was one of exploration, blowing off some steam and starting out anew, then my second year is one of focus and finding a balance. When I started out fresh I thought I would be further along by now than I am, but I have learned that the path I am on is a bit more changeable and multi-lane than the structured ladder of progression I was used to. I have mixed feelings about my time in corporate life. I learned a lot but I also felt myself becoming something or someone I never intended to be. The completist part of my brain is aware of the shortcomings I had as a leader and manager, and part of me regrets I couldn’t have practiced myself to being better at that before I pulled the plug. That said, I can’t help but feel the life lessons I am learning now are more powerful and profound. I have met some wonderfully creative like minded free spirits that are on their own journeys, and some of the support I have received from strangers as well as friends and family has brought a tear to my eye on more than one occasion. To them I say thank you.

Some might say I committed career suicide. I am having fun dancing on my grave in the afterlife though. I thought quitting was difficult. Not quitting quitting has become a full time job. Except if I fall down a YouTube hole or a Spotify door flies open I am not getting paid for that time (I never really did this at work before, honest). These days it’s my own party entirely, and if the dancefloor is empty it’s awkward because it’s all my fault.

Lord knows I can’t afford therapy, so some self indulgent ramblings will have to do.