Awkward or Amazing?
Adjusting after a travel sabbatical
I got back to South Africa, ready to settle back into my cushy corporate job. I remember feeling completely unencumbered by whatever life threw my way. I just imagined my feet in the soft talc-like sand of the Caribbean whenever I started to feel frustrated.
But after two months back from my 6-month adventure, imagination was no longer enough to cope with the realities of life. I started to get panic attacks and after a while, I was living with near constant and severe anxiety. A feeling of dread that I just couldn’t shake. It felt like someone was sitting on my chest the whole time and I just couldn’t breathe.
I tried to hide it, but my friends and family noticed that my personality had disappeared along with my Caribbean tan. I knew it was time to see the doctor. I got some anti-anxiety medication and booked several sessions with a therapist. We had to sort this out.
Stuck in transit
After long and expensive discussions, we’ve come to the analogy that I had found myself in a psychological transit lounge. I was severely unhappy in my corporate job. It took a six-month break to realize that I just wasn’t fit for the corporate life. Being a cog in a well-oiled machine didn’t sit well with me. There was a lot of other stuff too, but I don’t want to rant. I had no growth opportunities in my company and moving to another company would just mean more of the same, or becoming further embroiled into the dog-eat-dog corporate world. And that was just not how I rolled.
So there I was. I’ve accomplished a lot of things that many people only dream of by the age of 33. I’ve got a Ph.D., a black belt in karate and I’ve traveled around the world for 6 months. I’ve camped in Antarctica, for heaven’s sake! I’ve figured out that corporate was not how I rolled. Great. But what next?
I could choose to stay where I was or I could choose to board a flight. Any flight. And if that flight didn’t’ take off. I could just board another flight. Or I could stay where I was. And that was where a lot of my anxiety was coming from. Sitting in a virtual airport with literally no idea of which flight to take.
I spoke to a lot of people and applied for a lot of jobs. Some in my field and some in adjacent fields using my transferable skills – writing and data wrangling.
The big interview
I got a call-back for a Skype interview from a research institution in Austria for a role as a science writer. The interview went well enough. The next week they wanted to fly me to Austria for a face-to-face interview. Thank God, my Schengen visa was still valid, so I was able to beg 2 days off work to fly to Austria on incredibly short notice. The second interview went well, but in the end, my lack of German didn’t work in my favor. I got such a nice letter from the head of the department about how strong a contender I was, that I couldn’t even be mad or disappointed. It just was what it was.
It did make me realize that if a successful international institution thought that I could be a full-time writer, that maybe I could actually be one. One thought led to another and suddenly I was envisioning how I would travel the world, mixing it up between writing for clients and exploring my surroundings. I saw myself living in small villages for months to just soak up the culture, traveling slowly through the world while I worked.
I quit my job
I did the math and managed to figure out how to buffer myself financially for some months until I get the show completely on the road. I quit my job, giving my manager two months to find a replacement. I left my old company, for whom I’ve worked for nine years, with mixed emotions. I’ve left a lot of great colleagues behind, but I had a bright, albeit incredibly uncertain future ahead of me.
I’ve boarded a plane called freelance writing and I’m finally out of the transit lounge. I’m no longer living in constant anxiety. In fact, I even have a few clients. Some of my paid work is even online already. And I’ve got my own website and everything.
There’s still a lot of work to be done. But I finally have a job that’s easy to explain.
I’m a writer.
Life List Entry: Quit job to become full-time writer