Sometimes it’s good to have a plan. Before going on holiday, leading up to a big event or a job interview – these are times when it’s good to work through a checklist, making sure all bases are covered. But what about having a plan for life?
Growing up, I’ve had quite a few friends who have a clear list of goals and a plan of how they wanted their lives to run. For some it was career-focused, but for most it was all about marriage and children. I’ve seen friends fall apart when they reached their late twenties unmarried, realising that their goal of having children before 30 was becoming more and more unlikely. I’ve always thought I rejected the idea of having such a defined plan but in the last few years I’ve realised that while I didn’t necessarily have such a specific timeline, I was just as guilty of putting pressure on myself.
While, I’ve never been obsessed with getting married, the thought of getting closer to 30 and still being single filled me with dread and anxiety from the age of 25! When it came to my career, while I didn’t know exactly what job I wanted or where I wanted to work, I had goals like earning £30k before 30. I was putting a lot of pressure on my future 30-year-old self! When you think about it, the idea that we should have our lives sorted by the end of our twenties is pretty ridiculous. But the expectations feel overwhelming.
Christmas 2015 was when everything started coming to a head for me. I was living at home but didn’t want to be, I was working in a job I didn’t enjoy, I was single and I hadn’t had a holiday in four years. I had two weeks off work over Christmas and New Year but hadn’t got anything to do with my break. I spent day after day watching mindless TV shows and sitting around in the house I didn’t want to be living in, dreading going back to the job I didn’t want to be working in. I was frustrated, stressed and more than anything, anxious. My heart was racing when I woke up in the morning and my mind was overflowing with conflicting thoughts. One minute I’d decide that I’d look for a new job in a new city (that’d kill two birds with one stone). Then I’d worry that I wouldn’t like the job or that I’d be lonely. I’d decide to go on more dates then convince myself there wasn’t any point because maybe I’d be moving in a few months’ time. Then I’d decide to stay put. It was a constant cycle of thoughts just like that. It was exhausting. I was absolutely terrified of the unknown. I didn’t want to take risks for fear of failing. I wanted change but I was scared to go out and get it.
I carried on in this mindset when I went back to work in January. I continued to interview for other jobs that I found underwhelming, just hoping things would turn around. Then eventually, I reached a crossroads. I was offered a job I knew wasn’t right for me. Instead of turning it down straight away, I agonised over whether or not to take it. I got caught up in the idea of what I ‘should’ do. Applying that logic, I should’ve accepted it. It was more money and an easier commute. But I just knew it wasn’t right. After a lot of debating, I turned it down… but I handed in my notice too. It was such a surreal moment. I’d never been much of a risk-taker and here I was walking away from a comfortable (albeit) dull job straight out into the unknown that scared me so much.
My notice period was one of the most stressful months of my life! On more than one occasion, I thought about retracting my notice. What was I thinking? I had no plan, not even a loose idea of what I was going to do next. Driven by anxiety, I interviewed for more jobs. I convinced myself that I needed something lined up for when I left. After all, who would hire someone who voluntarily left a job for no good reason? Surely, I’d come across as a risk for potential employers. But I realised I’d be jumping out of the frying pan into the fire. Now I’d taken this huge step, I couldn’t just run into another dissatisfying job because I was scared. So I stuck to my guns and finished my notice period without a job to go to.
I was out of work for four months after that and I wouldn’t change the way things happened. I learned so much more in those four months than I had in the two years I’d worked in the job I walked away from. The comfort of my job before had allowed me to hide away, however miserably, from taking charge of my situation. Once I left my job, I had no choice but to embrace the uncertainty because I was living it. Not having the safety of work forced me to make changes and I gave more thought to the jobs I was applying for. I wasn’t prepared to go back into the workplace just to pay the bills.
I started seeing a therapist who really helped me. She encouraged me to look at what I enjoyed doing and what motivated me. She made me see that I was focusing too much on what I ‘should’ or ‘ought’ to be doing rather than what made me happy. I started exploring yoga more to help calm my anxiety. Instead of wishing things would change, I began to look at things I could do to improve my life. I ended up going on a yoga retreat – alone. So unlike me at the time! Now solo is my favourite way to travel. Slowly over time, I’ve taken more little risks and definitely chosen a path that has a lot of uncertainty. I’m currently working a fixed term contract and started teaching yoga, neither of which will allow me to ‘climb the corporate ladder’ of promotions and pay rises. But I’m so much happier. I like the flexibility, the freedom to explore other things. I’m no longer fixated on getting my life together by the time I turn 30. I’m finding that uncertainty is actually what drives me forward now.
For me, the change in how I feel towards uncertainty is all down to the shift in thinking. When I recognise that I’m having a thought relating to what I ‘should’ be doing, I remind myself that it’s an unnecessary pressure, whether from me or someone else. Bringing it back to what I want to be doing or enjoy has led me to new career opportunities, travel and friendships. That would be the once piece of advice I would offer to anyone else in a similar situation.
I turn 30 next year and I’m single, with no mortgage or permanent job. Right now I wouldn’t have it any other way! I’m not upset or anxious that I’m falling behind friends who are getting married or buying houses anymore. I can be happy for them, because I’m carving out my own path. I have no idea what’s ahead of me but I find that really exciting!