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Rat Race Withdrawals
Ongoing sabbatical reflections
Three months have passed since the beginning of my sabbatical. All the preparation, the goals, the intentions I set ahead of taking this break are now playing out.
I’m experiencing withdrawals. I’m marching forth.
Earlier this week, I stayed at this cute boutique hotel with a semi-private beach. The rooms were styled after huts typical of the region, but just with enough comforts and amenities to not deem the entire experience glamping.1
I was the only guest for most of my stay (like Will Smith’s I Am Legend, but way less traumatic). Life gave me an opportunity to use this sanctuary for rest—to dwell in peace with birds, iguanas, and crickets. Yet for the majority of my stay, I timed my naps, made to-do lists I knew I wouldn’t get to, and gazed at the stunning horizon while thinking “you need to figure out what’s next for you.”
Old habits die hard.
A couple of weeks before embarking on my Colombia trip, I felt like I was taking the idea of being in a liminal space too literally—as if I could float in the sky without fuel or wind endlessly. The doubt introduced was the ego at work2, hugging me tightly like I knew it would, catching me in a vice grip I could not dispel.
It doesn’t help that at the same time my mind was hosting the “What about…?” 2023 Conference. Featuring guests like:
What about your health insurance?
What about your savings?
What about your critical thinking skills?
What about your ability to manage crises?
Each of these questions laid on top of my mind like a well-intended soccer celebration where the player that scored is ambushed by their teammates who pile on top and make them regret having scored at all.
No big life change is free of doubt. Very few decisions aren’t second guessed. And embarking in this somewhat indefinite sabbatical will have continued periods of withdrawal.
What I think hit me the hardest was the following: The pride felt working for one of the most demanding companies in the world (people love to shit on Google, but I’d like to see them try to thrive there). And not only working there, but performing at a high level, getting promoted a couple of times, and being recognized as a leader. My title and company have also opened doors and conversations that I would otherwise wouldn’t have access to. All the business travel. The camaraderie (yes, even in commiseration).
I’ve been working in a corporate setting for about 12 years nearly non-stop. You don’t do that without some genuine enjoyment. All these elements are starting at me in the distance, asking me to come back to them. It’s tempting.
But I’m marching forth.
I’m marching forth because even the slightest taste of my previous circumstances makes me cynical, dejected, and ambivalent. Another way to think about it is through my favorite journal prompt: “How are you complicit in creating the circumstances you say you don’t want?”3 Returning to the unsuitable environment I stepped away from would be like driving the getaway car from the crime scene.
It’s not the greatest thing to make decisions based on the unsuitability of your status quo, but it sure beats denial stemming from a false sense of safety.
Also, as I continue in life, the stakes will get higher and the dependencies others have to me will continue to increase. Hopefully, I’ll meet a partner, we’ll become a power couple and maybe have a family. I think kids are precious and a wonderful addition to life. But they raise the stakes immensely. Your greatest love (generally) becomes them. The dialogues to keep the status quo tend to get firmer once you add kids to the mix. Therefore, I’ve realized that if I was going to question my ideas of worth, work, and fulfillment, the time was now.
Recently, I realized that we waste far too much time thinking about a decision and not realizing that the most important thing is what we make of the decision we took. Expectations on our ideal outcomes will hold sway, but the key is realizing our own power in making our decision the best one we can. In the worst case it doesn’t play out favorably, we should realize that our decisions (and consequences) tend to be more reversible than we think, or the consequences are survivable, at least.
If you ever embark on a journey similar to mine, know that withdrawals will come in waves as unrelenting as a full moon’s tide. Micro-fits of despair will come after well-meaning people ask you “what do you have in mind after your sabbatical?” You will wonder whether you are a fool for trying to play the game of life with no instructions. You will catch yourself longing for times when things were more straightforward.
But if your heart is not signing where you are—do not relent. You may not be able to make wholesale changes (your own stakes may be too high for radical action), but never lose sight that there is something else out there, nor the intention to pursue it to the best of your ability.
What fulfillment will look like for you is very different than what it might look like for me. Perhaps you are dead set on making sure that your job IS your passion and that you get paid for it, or it could be in designing a life where your passion and your work are independent, but complementary. It looks different for everyone.
What I’ve realized the longer I’ve gone on this journey is that the magic doesn’t lie in comparing our paths with others (in our penchant to turn everything into a competition), but to admire how thoughtful they are about the path they are in, feed from their energy, and collaborate if your paths take you in a general direction.
Ride the wave and march forth.
The hotel I stayed at is called Playa Koralia, located ~20 minutes east of Tayrona National Park in Santa Marta, Colombia. Despite being the only guest, the staff made me feel welcome, accommodated my odd requests, and served delicious food night after night. Plus, it has direct access to one of the most beautiful and relaxing beaches I’ve ever been in. Highly recommended.
I wrote about what the ego does to “keep you safe” in the latter part of this essay: So, you got laid off.
Credit to Jerry Colonna and his book Reboot for this prompt.