A recent revelation: If you find yourself suddenly free of something that you feel you’re supposed to be doing, it has the potential to produce stark internal conflict.
Let me explain:
I’ve held a job consistently (save for a few months of being laid off) since I’ve been 15 years old.
I worked full time for more than a decade.
And while I would never say I’ve done it all alone (quite the contrary), I’ve played the role of main breadwinner for many of those years. This role and responsibility continues today.
Going to work and providing an incrementally improving quality of life year in and year out was just something I was supposed to do.
I take pride that I was able to move my family from a shitty apartment to a lakefront home.
I take pride that with the help and encouragement of a good man, I’ve turned my financial situation around, making me feel more secure and a better provider.
But recently– my ego, my brain, my something, my everything started screaming at me.
You see, I quit my full time job several months ago to devote more time to other pursuits.
While I don’t regret the decision to do so (there is a lot that’s grand about it!), it has produced some painful byproducts. It has left me wondering about my identity.
Some guy named Durant (interpreting Aristotle) said:
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
This concept is the basis for a seemingly unshakeable bout of anguish for me.
I repeatedly went to work– every day, all day.
See how that’s past tense? Now I don’t.
I still have some part time work that I do from home– but it’s not the same.
It doesn’t occupy as much of my time as my career did.
It requires less effort (some days). It pays less money (most days). It therefore, obviously, is by comparison an insignificant, inferior contribution to my household.
My MIL used to call me the worker bee.
She would tend to the inside of the house. My guy would tend to the outside of the house. And I would go to work to make sure we could still pay for the house.
Of course, I am still paying the mortgage and meeting all other financial obligations during this period of my life. I planned for this before I quit my job.
And my family has experienced no difference in their day to day lives– apart from me being home more.
But I still feel lost, like I should be doing something that I’m not.
I realize that I will need to up the income ante in a year or so to prevent any disruptions to our normal fiscal routine.
I suspect that the temporary nature of this arrangement is directly correlated to my grief–the need to make this period uber productive intensified– but maybe not.
I thought that I owed it to myself, to my family to spend time, to finish some projects and to explore possibilities that didn’t require me to work away from the home.
But– no matter how I tried to spin it, I was still in a funk over this. My purpose, my identity was suddenly very murky.
I thought I could mitigate this restlessness, this depressing unease, by doing other things around the house, helping my mother in law and my guy.
I suck at housework.
And–I’m not handy.
So my presence at home doesn’t feel like it contributes anything.
I keep trying. I cut myself some slack.
These were never my roles before. I need to learn how to do new things.
But right now, I feel pretty useless.
I actually had a breakdown recently, complete with inconsolable sobbing.
I had hit a snag in my school research– so the project was at a standstill. I felt like I was disappointing my family, who is waiting not-so-patiently for me to graduate.
Then, I was trying to help my guy lay some rocks in our front yard landscaping. I didn’t understand what he was asking of me and he basically shooed me out of the way and took over so he could just get it done.
I felt like a total failure– like I was letting everyone down. The work was easier when I WASN’T helping.
That was it. That was all it took.
All of the self-worth stealing gremlins constantly sitting in my ear, combined with these situations, tipped me over the irrational edge.
I came into the house, sank into the rocking chair and bawled.
I wasn’t earning (to the level I was before). I wasn’t excelling in school. I wasn’t able to assist with a simple landscaping task.
I was failing in vocation, education and domestication.
What the hell good was I?
Who am I if I’m not working full time? I’m not the worker bee. I’m not a homemaker, that’s become evident.
Some of my current work does preserve my nest egg so our financial security is prolonged.
But some is for future potential.
I’m working on a doctorate with who knows what opportunities available on the other side. I’m writing a blog, outlining a book and planning a business. But again– those aren’t paying the bills right now, either.
It’s all so uncertain, so intangible, so lofty.
My contribution before was quantifiable, concrete and logical.
My MIL fortunately/unfortunately saw my breakdown and assured me that I was doing fine, that I was taking too much pressure on to my shoulders.
Maybe she’s right.
Since my pity party, I have tried to keep things in perspective. Life is full of uncertainty. Potential is exciting. And I didn’t embark on this journey because I was craving security– I was craving happiness and a fresh start.
I had planned well enough to provide the financial stability needed to really make the most of this time.
What I didn’t count on was this whole feeling of irresponsibility, worthlessness, uselessness cropping up.
I thought these would be some of the most relaxing months I’ve had in years. (In some ways, they have been. And, in some ways, they still could be- if I let them.)
Instead, I’ve been busier than ever and my anxiety has been through the roof.
I’m trying to find a silver lining to this stress.
I think this semi-retirement period is great preparation for when I’m able to truly retire. I’ll already be equipped to deal with some of the emotions that come along with the territory.
I’ve read that many folks who have achieved financial independence have grappled with these types of feelings– at least to a degree. It’s reassuring to know that this is normal.
I’m also trying to reconcile who I am and what I’m worth outside of my career, trying to think of myself as more than a work horse.
Maybe I’m a blogger? A writer? A wannabe entrepreneur?
All of those things are still kinda, if not directly, work related.
It’s pretty obvious that this exercise will be a work (ha!) in progress for me. Let’s try again:
I know that I’m a daughter, a partner, a friend– a damned good person to have in your corner when shit gets real.
That’s more like it. That last part.
I’m fiercely loyal. Usually generous. Calm under pressure (unless it’s drama of my own making– like now). And overzealous with ambition.
So how are those traits going to manifest into my new habit, into my new way to exude excellence? Time will tell.
I’m trying to wait patiently for things to evolve, helping them along the way when I can.
I’m hoping that my purpose and identity reshapes itself into something that makes me and others proud and makes me feel whole.
For those that have achieved financial independence, how did you adapt to your new role(s) in life? Please drop me a comment & follow my blog to see how I figure it out!
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