My career was my identity. My self-worth tied to this one piece of me.
Like many of us, I fell into the trap of going down the expected path of life. I graduated high school, went to college immediately, secured a job after graduation and started working my way up the career ladder.
Life After College
Sure, I appeared to have a life outside of work. I traveled, went to the gym, and hung out with friends. But looking back, I was never truly present in those moments. Work was always on my mind.
As the years went on I took on more and more responsibility, and stress, in an effort to continually prove my worth. In my mind, to be successful and move up the ladder, as expected, I had to work 50-60 hours a week, have employees report to me, be tied to my cell phone and work weekends.
Unfortunately (or fortunately?), my chosen career path was not me. I saw others killing it, but it drained all of the life out of me. I burnt out. And as time went on, I felt a nagging sensation that there was life beyond my fast paced, stressful career.
I don’t know when it happened, but there came a point when I couldn’t do it anymore. I felt broken.
I no longer had the strength or will to claw my way up the career ladder just because I was supposed to. I was making great money and future growth was likely, but I dreaded going into work. I needed a change.
Enter my current career
When starting my search for a new job, I knew I wanted to find a position where I could improve my work life balance, earn at least 80% of my current pay and decrease my commute. With a little effort, I was able to find a position that checked off these three boxes.
I now have less responsibility and am essentially a worker bee completing projects as they are assigned. I work 40 hours a week with only the occasional overtime. And more importantly, there is no phone tied to my hand. When I leave work, I barely think twice about it.
Years later, I can say it has been one of the best decisions I have made in my life.
My job is no longer my sole identity. I have a life I can thoroughly enjoy and be present for outside of work.
When making this career change, I knew my life would change in a few obvious ways. But there has been one career slowdown benefit that has taken me by surprise.
The expected benefits of slowing down my career
1. More Time for Non-Work Shit
When I first slowed down my career, I didn’t know what to do with all the time.
In addition to working less hours, my total commute time was now 60 minutes shorter every day.
When I factored in working less with the shorter commute, I gained 20 extra hours of personal time each week! And that doesn’t even include the hours I no longer spent thinking about work.
How the heck was I going to fill all this extra time I had?
At first, I was bored and filled my time with mindless activities.
I was used to constantly being busy that I didn’t know how to relax.
After a while, my brain did settle into the downtime and easily figured out how to fill those extra hours. I was finally able to consistently get to the gym, spend quality time with friends and cook at home.
Looking back, I can’t imagine a life when I didn’t have all this time outside of my work life to recharge and pursue other endeavors.
2. Less Stress
It’s a fact. Stress is like a wrecking ball destroying your body one stressful day at a time.
According to the American Institute of Stress, chronic stress can result in irritability, anxiety, depression, headaches and insomnia—all of which can take a toll on your overall well-being.
In my past life, I was consistently feeling stress and pressure in my job. I recall times I completely zoned out due to no longer having the mental power to handle simple tasks. There is no doubt in my mind that all of the stress was wreaking havoc on my body and mind.
I’m grateful that I found a position where I can leave office stress at the office. My body feels lighter and my overall sense of well-being is heightened.
With more time and less stress, my mind and body now had the opportunity to be used for things outside of the office. This is where the unexpected benefit of a career slowdown started to unfold.
The Unexpected benefit of slowing down my career
As the years went by after my career downshift, I started to notice how having more space in my life that wasn’t filled with work or stress allowed me enhance my life in unexpected ways.
You might be thinking, what do I mean by space?
For me, space means having the time and mental capacity to devote to a priority. When I was working my butt off in a job that consumed all of my mental energy, I barely had the strength to feed myself, let alone make space for other priorities in my life.
So how did creating more space by slowing down my career improve my life?
slowing down my career Improved My Relationships
After removing myself from an all-consuming career, I now had the time, energy and mental capacity to create and sustain valuable relationships.
Improving Relationships with Others
While working in my stressful career, I recollect my roommate, who was a good friend of mine from college, telling me that she didn’t like living with me because I had a bad aura. At the time, I thought she was nuts. Who the heck tells someone they have a bad aura?
But I get it now. I was closed off and the stress from work radiated out of me. She didn’t enjoy being around me. My negative vibes and lack of energy ultimately led to a loss of connection between us. The crazy thing is that this was one of my best friends from college! How could I have let that happen?
The good news is that we are still great friends today because I made the necessary changes in my life that allowed us to reconnect.
It wasn’t just my relationship with my roommate that suffered during this stress-filled time. When I hung out with my boyfriend, friends or family, I was barely present. My head was at my job, and my eyes were constantly on my work phone. I had blinders on—unable to see and feel what was going on around me and connect.
It was a sad existence. Thinking back, I can’t believe I treated my relationships with such little respect.
Thankfully, slowing down my career created space for me to be present for both new and old relationships.
As life has gone on, it has become more and more apparent to me that taking the time and energy to foster a support system through relationships is valuable beyond measure. During tough times, the relationships I created space for and nurtured have been there to support me in tough times. For that, I am thankful.
Interestingly enough, my relationships with others were not the only relationships that were affected by my career slowdown.
Improving the Relationship with myself
This one actually gets me a little teary eyed when I think about it. When looking back, I’m amazed and saddened by how poorly I knew myself and my dreams.
In the past, stress and lack of time squandered my ability to get to know ME. There was no space for reflection, for personal growth or for simply feeling what was going on inside me. I wasn’t present for myself and only had the mental capacity to fill my limited free time with mindless tasks.
I was basically coasting through life in a mental fog, completely unable to process and feel what was going inside of me.
As I created more space in my life by slowing down my career, the mental fog started to lift. I had the strength to grow, to learn who I was, and maybe more importantly, to discover what I wanted in this one precious life. I no longer wanted to waste life barely being able see two feet in front of me when I could open up and experience everything life has to offer.
This all came to light for me a few years ago when I found myself devastated by the end of a relationship. There were times during the healing process that I didn’t think I was going to ever feel better. But guess what, I made it through!
I made it through because I was able to take the time and energy to reflect and gain a better understanding of who I am, what I want in life and how I want my relationships to feel.
I realized that this healing was a choice I made. It didn’t just happen because I had the space to reflect.
I could have easily thrown myself into another hobby or distraction and ignore the pain. But creating space by slowing down my career at least gave me the opportunity to choose how I was going to respond. I’m not convinced that I would have had the strength necessary to heal if I had still been working in an all-consuming job.
I am grateful each and every day that I had the space to reflect and dive into self-care to get me through a trying time.
We Got This
My life is no longer revolves around a job. It’s liberating.
It still amazes me how simply changing jobs has so profoundly affected my life.
When I chose a career slowdown, all I knew is that I needed a break from the mental strain that a job was taking on me. I had no clue that it would not only give me more free time and reduce stress, but would also make space for me to create a thriving life outside of my job by improving my relationships with myself and others.
I’ve learned that career slowdowns are great for us mentally, physically and emotionally. But I’ve also realized it that it takes intention to fill the space created with positive things.
In the end, the choice is ours. But if we create space, we at least allow ourselves the opportunity to intentionally think about what we want in this life.
Do you have experience with a career slowdown or are thinking about one? Has there been other choices you made that have created space for positive things in your life? I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.