“I chased promotions at a corporate job for 20 years… and then I reached my burnout.”
By Claire Sanders, Unsettled Bali alumni Sept 2017
Rewind to February earlier this year. I’m sitting on a serene beach on Little Corn in Nicaragua. It’s paradise. But I just can’t seem to relax. “
What is wrong with me?
I didn’t realise it then, but the truth slowly crept up. I was heading for burnout. I recognised the signs as I’d felt them before. I promised myself I wouldn’t let it happen again. Yet, here I was, going down the same path. Again. After 20 years of back-to-back jobs, climbing the ladder, chasing the promotions in advertising agencies and being a corporate slave; all of it had finally taken its toll.
Some people read books to chill out, I started reading “The Escape Manifesto: Quit Your Corporate Job. Do Something Different” to find my purpose.
By the time I finished the last chapter, I had a plan. It felt achievable. Scary, but not impossible. I felt empowered and excited, and the rest of the trip reflected on my positive mood. I reconnected with my love of travelling, met inspiring people and experienced new things.
When I arrived back at work in the UK, I felt dreadful, but this time, I had a plan and didn’t feel lost. Well, or so I thought.
The cliche goes that the universe works in mysterious ways, and this time the stars did align themselves for me. There was a restructure in the marketing department, which meant big changes in the company and headcount cuts. I knew what I had to do.
I said to my boss: “So, I’m ready for a change. Is there any way that you can make my job cease to exist?”
As the words came out, I felt relieved. My boss was hesitant, ‘Are you sure? You can change your mind?’ but I knew I had to hold my nerve. When I finally held the redundancy letter in my hand, I felt elated. Not only did I get to quit, but I had a healthy compensation pay-out to tide me over for about a year.
I kicked into action. Drew up a mind map. Made budget spreadsheets. Created lists of people to talk to. Dismissed a few ideas. Discovered others.
Scrolling through Instagram, I saw an Unsettled post. Spookily, I had ordered a new laptop that morning, and had pictured myself working remotely in a sunny spot.
It was the universe again!
Fast forward to July, and I walked out of those corporate doors for the last time. My team had me in tears, saying I was an ‘inspiration’ in my leaving speech.
After a crazy summer, including starting a new long-distance relationship, I was ready for my first Unsettled trip in Bali. I couldn’t wait to embrace my love of travel again, and I was excited to meet my fellow Unsettlers.
I won’t lie, the first week was a bit overwhelming. Thirty-two new people to get to know. A new country. Jet-lag. Missing my partner. Learning how to ride a moped. Adapting to being part of a co-working community. I’d lined up a side project for a charity to work on pro bono during my month in Indonesia, which gave me a taste of freelance life.
But one question kept haunting me, what’s next, Claire?
Those words were a constant in my head. But slowly I learned to listen to my free-spirited voice, rather than my rational one. Over the course of the month, I started to embrace the moment, go with the flow, and trust that it would all fall into place.
When the redundancy was first confirmed, I imagined I would simply get another senior marketing role, but in a more meaningful organisation. But letting my mind wander and explore different options, and after some life-coaching, I kept coming back to freelance consulting. It had been an idea for years, but I’d never been brave enough. After all, it meant giving up a stable salary with a mortgage to pay.
But Bali was the perfect place to explore this lifestyle. It’s the go-to destination for digital nomads. A number of Unsettlers were already freelancing there, and it was great to hear about the pros and cons of this new life I was diving into. Plus, the future of work is changing. How many of us will continue to work in the same way in the next 10 years?
So what did all of this teach me?
I’m rubbish at working by the pool or in the villa. I need to be in a co-working space to be productive. Working from home in pyjamas isn’t for me. These come with too many distractions. And while I enjoyed the charity project I helped out with in Bali, I’ve realised that I need more challenging, strategic work to be truly fulfilled.
It’s all part of the journey. What works. What doesn’t.
Since coming back to the UK, I’ve been accepted into a freelance collective, I have networking meetings set up and an even longer list of people to get in touch with in the coming months. I’ve given myself permission to have the rest of the year off, and I’m now using the time wisely to get set up for 2018!
People ask me how I’m feeling about it all? I tell them that I’m 80% excited and 20% scared. Some days, the ratio is definitely the other way around, and I feel a rising sense of unease. But I’m learning to embrace that fear. It’s the only way that change can really happen.
I’ve always followed the rules and minimised risks. Now I’m totally winging it. What will life look like in 6 months’ time?
I don’t know, but that’s OK.